Healthy Relationships in Church Life
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp have written a helpful book entitled Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. In one of their chapters, they ask the question, “Why bother?” Of course, they are asking “why bother” with relationships at all in light of how they are often painful and troubling. Lane and Tripp argue strongly, and biblically, that instead of calling for a détente on all relationships, we should see them from this perspective:
God wants to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we would see our need for a relationship with him as well as with others. Every painful thing we experience in relationships is meant to remind us of our need for him. And every good thing we experience is meant to be a metaphor of what we can only find in him.
I mentioned in the first post of this series (Here) that there have been pains and struggles in the pastorate. Not only have I had to deal regularly with my own sinful attitudes and tendencies, which makes life hard, but I have had to work through painful relationships in the course of living my life as a Christian.
God’s plan is not to avoid problems, but to work through them by his grace and for his glory. The relationships in a local church become the training ground for all believers to learn to love as Christ loves us (Ephesians 4:31,32). We are prone to speak in generalities about loving others. We prefer to love people from afar where they can’t mess up our comforts and preferences. Truth be known, the following describes us well,
To dwell above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory;
But to dwell below with the saints we know, Well, that is another story!
We know such thinking will never fly as a follower of Jesus Christ. God’s plan is for us to live life together which, in turn, allows us to give and receive in important ways. Authentic relationships become one of the strongest evangelistic strategies a church can develop. Jesus said that the world would know that we are his followers if we have love for one another (John 13:34,35). When a church loves in this way, it possesses a tremendous drawing power.
In this fifth installment on pastoral reflections, we find another gem of pastoral wisdom in I Timothy 5. Paul’s disciple in the ministry, Timothy, was a young man probably in his 30’s. Timothy had assumed a position of spiritual leadership in the church at Ephesus. This pastoral assignment was not easy as he faced a daunting task of correcting spiritual issues in the church (Ephesians 1:3-5). I Timothy 5 contains, in an economy of words, the apostle Paul’s instruction to this young pastor to seek relationships in the church that are marked by honor, purity, and compassion.
Paul counsels Timothy that while he may be in a position of leadership, his leadership should demonstrate honor and respect toward others. I Timothy 5:1,2 is a very important directive to pastors and church leaders, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.”
This instruction doesn’t mean that older men and women are never in need of correction, even by a younger pastor. The word Paul uses here for rebuke is a very strong word which refers to a harsh or cutting rebuke. For Paul, to treat them in this way was to beat the sheep, and such behavior was not going to be helpful in shepherding God’s people.
When sin issues are present in a church, repentance and restoration are the goal. This goal is not going to be reached when a pastor resorts to viscious or sarcastic jabs. Instead, Timothy was called to encourage (strengthen) these older members with truth and love. In the same way, he was to treat younger men and women with familial love as siblings in the Lord.
Admittedly, one of the greatest challenges for me as a young pastor was seeking to bring correction to men and women who were older than me, sometimes even three times my age. This verse was a tremendous help. Pastoral leadership must be given, but with honor, especially to those who are older.
Paul also mentioned the need for the church to honor their pastors/elders (I Timothy 5:17-20). The congregation honors them by caring for their physical needs and protecting them from unfair accusations. The church must also hold its Pastors/Elders accountable for their behavior, and those leaders who persist in sinful conduct are to be rebuked publicly. These matters should be addressed publicly because sinful conduct in leadership is a public reproach to Christ. Paul mentioned that such a handling of these situations should produce a healthy fear the Lord for the entire church.
Apart from sinful conduct, congregations should be inclined to follow their pastors (Hebrews 13:7,17). Such a calling and position should be honored in the church, for pastors are described as gifts to the people of God for the purpose of equiping the Body for every good work.
In addition to honor, relationships in the Church of Jesus Christ are to be characterized by purity. Here, purity refers to one’s moral attitude toward sisters in Christ. Few things are more despicable than spiritual leaders violating their calling by preying on women in their congregation. Such actions are a great tragedy, and unfortunately have become common. The carnage abounds of pastors disqualified by inappropriate, sinful behavior with women. This brings a reproach on the Gospel and cripples the testimony of the church for decades.
Purity in church relationships does not happen by accident. We live in a culture that has no boundaries at all with regard to sexuality. One of the ways believers should live counter-culturally, as salt and light, is to relate to one another in purity. The Bible is not silent on this calling and every pastor should lead the way in establishing boundaries in their relationships.
COMPASSION AND CARE
Paul continued in his instruction on relationships in the church by speaking of the care of widows. He gave criteria on caring for widows who were in desperate need. This teaching encourages God’s people to treat the needy among them with compassion.
We learn from the book of James that pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). Our relationships in the Church are to filled with compassion and care for one another. May your church and mine reflect the full dimension of Christ’s love through healthy and sturdy relationships that point others to our awesome Savior.