by Jason Finizza
Words. We use them to communicate desires, needs, hurts, and joys. We use them to build up and we use them to tear down. We use them to preserve control and to manipulate. We also use them to free people from bondage and pain. While words are one of the most amazing gifts God has ever given us, they are not always as precise as is necessary. Take English. This language has taken the modern world by storm and is used by billions of people worldwide. Yet it is an imprecise language when compared to other, older languages like ancient Greek. This becomes a problem in reading the Scriptures.
The Book of Timothy, as one of the Pastoral Epistles, gives us great insight into how leadership is to relate to their flock. It shows us how leadership is to act and how they are to help point us to God. Simple, right? Not so fast! When we read it in the English (which is translated by imperfect humans) we see a top-down structure where the Pastor and leadership are firmly in charge delivering spiritual “services” one-way; collaboration is marginally present in small groups (which generally reinforce the weekly delivery of religious “services”). It is very much a continuation of our scholastic behavioral conditioning by other means. The biggest problem with this is that the underlying Greek does not much support this. To explore this, several key words will be considered separately.
One of the primary Christian distinctives is leading/service/mentoring (what discipling genuinely is); the development of the Body, if you will. Here, words need a precision that even the superiorly descriptive Greek lacks. Words, as mentioned above, can empower or diminish. In order to avoid the accumulation of power and control that is natural to any human, we must rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
In 1 Timothy 4:11 we see Paul exhorting Timothy to “Command and Teach.” Here command, in the Greek, is paraggello. It can be translated as “to transmit a message from one to another; to announce or declare.” It also means to command; charge. Here, the primary duty of an elder is to announce sound doctrine (an oft confused word we shall define shortly) and transmit to others. The elder(s) is also to command those he or she is charged with leading. Interestingly the primary definition of command is to “direct with specific authority.” This word, paraggello, is the word used to describe most of Jesus’ communication with the disciples and others. And we know Jesus was about freedom in Him as our sole mediator. Finally, it is clear that Paul seeks the cooperation of the layperson instead of the control given language such as it is found in 1 Timothy 5:1.
Moving to the word “teach” it is didasko in the Greek. As one would expect, it means teach. Pretty straightforward, huh? What’s more interesting here is model of teaching suggested. The primary mode indicated is “didactic discourses.” Didactic simply means for the purposes of instruction. Shockingly, the word discourse is defined as a conversation or a talk (in the sense of a back-and-forth dialogue, NOT a lecture). So, putting the two things together, Timothy is directed to declare and announce while charging people appropriately. How is Timothy directed to do this? By having discussions designed to teach people.
So far this discussion has shown us that we are intended for a collaborative pursuit of God where the lay people pursue God under the discoursive guidance of the eldership. The elders are simultaneously charged with pointing the people who would accept wholesome words via doctrine.
Doctrine. The fuel of arguments and church splits alike. But what is doctrine exactly? Teaching. Doctrine is simply translated as didaskalia. So Paul is speaking of the eldership using discourse to communicate sound instruction. A final note of significant key words in Timothy. There is a word, wholesome (1 Timothy 6:3), that is used to describe those who err in their teaching. If we look at the Greek word, hygiaino, we do not see the expected admonition to refrain from impure speech (though that is certainly a biblical directive). Instead we see a charge to be free from true speech mixed with error. Later in the verse Paul speaks of doctrine (teaching) that leads to godliness.
So elders are tasked with engaging their flock in error free instructional collaborative discussions that lead to godliness and error-free Christian opinions as opposed to the current structure which is more reminiscent of grade school social conditioning than a fluid, Spirit led organic entity. The ultimate question is whether or not we embrace community defined by guidelines or a religious form of social control that is dusted off every decade or so and given a new coat of paint in the form of updated jargon, flashier lights, and an easier “walk” with Jesus. Do we remain in bondage to feckless traditions that hold us back or freely strain toward a God who should be our everything?
[A short word about the logical parameters and resources I employed. I use the NKJV (which isn’t important because I go to the original Greek) and a concordance with a Greek dictionary (which is important as it best represents the original intent of God). I am using a dictionary to further define the key words in the Greek dictionary definition – to get to the simplest, most basic idea of what God is saying. In the use of virtually any dictionary, the first definition is the most used and most recognized. The second is the second most used and accurate and so on.]
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.