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David's Slingshot

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Reconsidering 1 Tim 3

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David asks if the Bible actually excludes separated or divorced people from pastoral ministry

Speaker: David Thomas
Series: David's Slingshot
Date: April 18, 2020
Scriptures: 1 Tim 3:1
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Topic:  Reconsidering marital failure as a disqualification for ministry

This message is aimed at people who are mature in their faith.  This is more for theological students and elders to consider. 

READ:  1 Tim 3:  "this is a trustworthy saying, whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be a reproach faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,”  

Note: "faithful to his wife " and in the King James:  "the husband of one wife, " This has been taken in our culture to mean that a pastor should be a married man. Now of course, we've been hiring single men as pastors, yet we inconsistently treat this passage like a set of rules. And there's a problem with that,  simply because there are many great men of God who have not met all of these qualifications.  I want to teach you today and to have you consider the question: " is it reasonable for a church to consider a separated or divorced man for the Christian ministry?


Now of course I've got personal things at stake in this. I never thought I'd be in this position. I am now a single separated man. I've been faithful to my wife, I treated her well, I apparently failed her as I have sinned against her in that I have my failings and have confessed them to her deeply, asking her to have grace and forgiveness. But very painfully, she has written me off, and doesn't want me around. 

My believing children think that this is a matter of mental instability or a mental disease. So the last five, six years of my life have been the most painful years that I've ever lived. Re-examining my faith, re-examining my walk with God, being very critical of myself and accepting full responsibility for every one of my sins and praying and weeping. 

It was the Lord himself that drew my attention to this because if he hadn't drawn my attention to the truth that I'm going to share with you today, I would likely have died by now physically. But his word has given me hope. And his salvation through the blood of Jesus has given me life and a reason to live and a reason to function and a reason to even try to share something with you today. Even though I know a bit about your church backgrounds, your philosophical leanings, that you would tend to resist what I am sharing today, still I will go ahead. 

 I want to talk to you about a man who entered the ministry some years ago. He became a great leader, but he had a failed marriage. He had been adopted by a very well to do family out of a desperate situation. Growing up, he had no respect for faith or for the Lord. But then he looked into his birth family's beliefs. As he was growing, mature and growing older, he discovered that he loved the faith of this God that his birth family had worshiped and something started to split with him off of his rich, well-to-do worldly life. 

And he became a follower. I believe that this raised all kinds of tensions in him. It seemed that at the beginning of his ministry, he tried to leverage his position of power to help people to, bring them out of their, pain and their hurt. And he wanted to bring the life of God to them. But he failed at that and nobody wanted him as their leader, as their pastor. And so he withdrew and he spent about the next 30 years or more in complete obscurity, working at a job completely way below his abilities, way below his educational attainments and below his gifting and skills. 

Then he had an encounter with God. God himself met the man and he claims that he had a visitation from the Lord. He says that this was the totally life changing thing about him. 

I wanted to mention that he had married during this 30  year time and had children. And so he wanted to bring his wife and his children with him and to the ministry. And they set out on that path. But then there was one day on the journey a dramatic altercation arose between him and his wife that broke his marriage. 

This is a man’s resume didn't look good at all! I don't think you would have hired him if you checked him out against your perception of what 1 Tim 3 is teaching. You would have rejected his resume right away. And yet time has proven that this is one of the greatest leaders of history, one of the greatest men of God, and one who is achieved more for God than almost anybody else. And I'm hoping that you know your, biographies and your history well enough to identify this person by now. 

I wish I was with you in person today. It would be a lot of fun to have you throw your guesses at me. So why don't you just take a second to get your guess as to his identity in your mind and then I'll reveal to you who Ive been hiding. And this man has influenced literally, tens of thousands of people who would swear that this is the greatest man of God.

His name was Moses. 

And let me turn you to the incident that broke his marriage. A lot of interpreters agree with me.   I knew nothing of this at all until one day as I was weeping before the Lord, and I asked him: "God Almighty, I need an answer to my broken marriage. I desperately need to hear from you! " 

And the Lord’s Spirit sent me on a long walk to a church I'd never visited before. It was like walking into the throne room of God himself . He supernaturally led me there. Out of 40,000 churches in Canada, I was in what I sincerely believe was the only one where I would have heard this message about moses' broken marriage. After a scripture reading on Isaih 6 that was mind-blowing to me as an indication that God was willing to call me, a man of unclean lips- the pastor got up and announced that the Holy spirit had put it on his heart to preach that day about Moses' broken marriage. I had never heard such a thing before in my Life. The Lord answered the desperate cry of my heart, and he utterly transformed the way I saw my situation, and that of others in similar straights. 

Out of a random choice of a church that day and a Spirit-guided walk into a church I had never been to in a city that I rarely visit, the preacher got up and preached this message . I felt:" Oh my God, you've answered my prayer. "  

So we read the passage in Exodus 4 where Moses was heading back to Egypt and it says that "he had taken his wife and sons and started back to Egypt and took the staff of God in his hand and then at a lodging place along the way. ... The Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, (that's the name of his wife ), and he cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses feet with it. Surely you're a bridegroom of blood to me. She said, so the Lord let them alone. And at that time she said, bridegroom of blood referring to circumcision. "

There's a lot going on here and there are some controversies, but  there are a number of things that are really clear. One is that the Lord is killing Moses. Another one thing is that Zipporah, his wife sees it and intervenes by circumcising one of his two sons, probably the oldest. Now this couple had been married for likely at least 30 years. So I don't think these were babies. These were young men, possibly fully grown adults. 

And so what's going on in this motel room as I see it- is extremely violent. The Lord is killing Moses. There's much drama going on. Zipporah somehow perceives that there's something going on that she can avert by circumcising her son, so she grabs a flint knife. And can you imagine a mother circumcising a fully grown man? 

What craziness in that hotel room! And this violence somehow satisfies Yahweh and the Lord departs. He leaves. The boys, we know from the Abrahamic covenant of which Moses was a part, should have been circumcised by this time. Moses had apparently failed as a leader in his home and Zipporah, a Midianite woman did not have this as part of the cultural practice in her family. And so the chances are, and it's not that hard to deduce from the text that Zipporah and Moses had an ongoing tension in their marriage over the circumcision issue. So when this violent scene takes place, she realizes it's time- I've got to circumcise the boys. My husband can't do it, I'm doing it. She grabs the knife, does it, and she throws the foreskin at him. In some texts it's interpreted that this too is a violent action, and she also assaults him verbally saying, "you are nothing but a husband of blood to me" In that culture, you just don't treat a husband like that. ! Moses would not have accepted her attitude- the rejection of the covenant he was going to Egypt to implement as a leader. 

The Lord departs from the scene and it ends. No more mention of it, no discussion as to the meaning of what went on here. We are expected to figure it out for ourselves. In terms of interpretation, there are many opinions but most are fantasies with zero evidence in the text. Applying Occam's razor is important, and I am doing that, by attributing the simplest possible cause and interpretation to a complex interaction. But what's interesting is that it is obvious from scripture that Zipporah, never went to Egypt with him. The journey of the united family ended right here. There's no debate about it.

This is evident , because in Exodus 18 after the great things of Moses' leadership and bringing the people up out of Egypt, it says. 

" Jethro, the priest of Midian, and the father in law of Moses heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people, Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt after Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father in law, Jethro received her and her two sons, one son was named Gershom and so on, and he had sent a letter to Moses. He had sent word to him saying, I your father in law Jethro, and coming to you with your wife and her two sons. "

So apparently there was an attempt at reconciliation mediated by the father in law, but there's no evidence that it ever took place. In fact, later on we see that Moses is married to a Cushite woman, an interracial marriage. There's never another mention of Zipporah in scripture. Later on actually destroys the Midianite people, the relatives of his wife's family. So the the thing based on scriptural text itself is that Moses had a broken marriage. 

Moses, the greatest leader, the man of God who spoke face to face with the Lord - this man, by your judgment, by your ways of looking at resumes, by your ways of assessing a man's qualifications for ministry, this man, the man of God's own choosing, Moses the "man of God" could not have been your pastor. You would have ruled him out. You would have never considered him as an overseer over your congregation, because you have an inadequate frame of reference for how you view a ministry led by God.

I've prayed a lot about this, and since the sermon the Lord led me to hear that fateful day last summer, Ive been doing a lot of exegesis on the text, and actually put it by my Hebrew professor at Prairie College, who agreed this appears to be the intent of the Hebrew in the scriptures. I see  that a this man who murdered the Egyptian, the man who had failed in his destiny and in his calling and spent 40 years wasting his life was a man that God himself called . If the Lord wants that man. why wouldn’t you take him?

Zipporah did what Moses failed to do. She circumcised the boy - and my belief is that when the blood was shed, the Lord was reminded of his own precious son whose blood he was to shed later on the cross. In fact, the Bible says that the blood of the lamb was shed from before the foundation of the world. When God covered Adam and Eve's shame over thier broken fellowship with him, he killed an animal and the blood that the Lord shed that day would have served as a foreshadowing for him of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, that he was going to shed on the cross at Golgotha. So I think when the Lord saw the blood of the circumcision in that room, his anger went away and in heartbreak, he looked on the blood spilled between Moses and his angry wife as a sign of the eternal covenant of salvation. 

In recognition of the atoning power of his own Son's blood, Jesus, Yahweh averted his anger and withdrew and so Zipporah's intervention saved Moses' life. But tragically, this violent interaction appears to have broken their marriage. He could not go on with a woman who despised the covenant. She discovered that she really did not agree with her husband in a fundamental way. Their marriage broke, and was not apparently ,salvaged. He felt he could not tollerate her hositilty. He sent her away. The word for "send away" is actually the same exact word that's used in the legislation later of a divorce. In Leviticus 23 it says "When a man finds something unsuitable about his wife and he sends her away, he is to to give her a certificate of divorce." This is Moses own words later, and the exact same word is used in Exodus chapter 18 he "sent her away". In fact, there's even more evidence that this was a broken, dysfunctional marriage. So I just wanted to consider you to consider it today, friends, that the blood of Jesus covers every possible kind of sin, including a broken marriage. God accepted moses' ministry, and God allowed him to do it without the presence of his wife of 40 years.

In summary, It is rather trite of us to take our interpretations of these rules like in 1 Tim 3 and judge externally, superficially. That way we are likely to actually negate and despise the work that God has done. If God has done a work in that man, and if God has covered that man by the blood of Jesus Christ, then every single sin has been covered. Then 1 Timothy 3 becomes just some guidelines. It's not another book of law that supersedes the law of the blood of Jesus Christ. So consider it. Consider this message and consider how you judge people.
 But above all, everything else, remember that it's only by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ that any one of us has any hope .
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