The word of the day is “charge.” Today, we read 1 Timothy 5:11-21, and we find that Paul is continuing to instruct the young Bishop Timothy on establishing order and harmony in his congregation. In this passage, Paul continues to recommend policies on sensitive matters that might disrupt the congregation’s life. Among these volatile topics are the treatment of young widows (vs. 11-15), the wages of the elders (presbyters) (vs. 17-18), accusations against elders (vs. 19), and the judgment against elders convicted of open sin (vs. 20).
Today, we learn that the apostle’s instructions are not merely recommendations that can be “bent” to the leader’s own interests and purposes. They are unbending commands for the good order of the church. As a bishop, Timothy has the sacred duty to administer them fairly and without bias (vs. 21).
Paul Solemnly Charges Timothy With Responsibility
To underscore this responsibility, Paul interrupts his long list of mandates and speaks directly to Timothy: “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elected angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (21).
The word “charge” has the root of “to witness” and has the sense of “to attest to something.” (Strong’s #1263,66). In Greco-Roman society, this term called on the gods to witness to one’s testimony (Strong’s #1263, internet comment). Paul uses this form of speech to call on the true God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the “elect angels” (vs. 21). It is unclear what Paul means by the term “the elect angels.” But the word “elect” denotes those angels who are chosen or perhaps those who are favored (Strong’s #1588, 81). Perhaps Paul is just intensifying his already forceful words.
In this reading, we learn how important church order is to the life and mission of the Church. Order reflects the nature of God’s holiness. The Church is called to witness to that divine sacredness in worship and life. Already in 2 Corinthians, Paul insists that “God is not the author of confusion but peace…” (14:33). The original Greek word for “confusion” comes from the thought of “instability.” It refers to the disorder that degenerates into tumult and chaos (Strong’s #181, 11). The opposite of such disarray is “peace,” that is, quiet, harmony, and concord (Strong’s #1515, 78).
From this viewpoint, we can say that frenzy, unrestrained spontaneity, and the clamor of dissonant and strident voices in worship deny the holiness of God. With this in mind, Paul restricts those who speak in tongues, that is, ecstatic speech, to two or three in turn (vs. 1 Corinthians 14:27). In contrast to noisy mayhem, worship that is “meet and right” has dignity, majesty, and modest serenity.
As In Worship, So in the Life of the Church
As it is in worship, so it is in the life of the church. The book of James states, “Where there is envy and self-seeking, there is also confusions and every evil” (James 3:16). These four children of disorder go together, and they mutually support each other. Church leaders like Timothy must deal with these disruptions to the life of the Church as soon as they surface. The church’s overseers should pull them up by their roots from the ground of disorder. Thus, they should restore peacefulness and harmony.
The decorum of the Church did not appear in full flower at once. But in the book of Acts and the letters of Paul, we learn how the Church began to order its worship and life step by step. The emergence of the Tradition of the Church’s structures and practices was the Holy Spirit’s work through the apostles, church fathers, and ecumenical councils. As we are learning, the letters of Paul were the basis of much of this development. We who are Orthodox have a deep-seated commitment to order in the Church not only in doctrine but in spirit. Today as we read Paul’s directives for Church leadership, we must thank God for the orderliness that we enjoy. But like Timothy, we must also guard it as much as we cherish it.