Ephesus was a tough assignment. The church was broken. False teaching poisoned the atmosphere. There was an intimidation factor among the leadership. Young widows were being manipulated, creating havoc in benevolent efforts and overall church affairs. They dressed scandalously and spent their time gossiping while on the church dime. The church treasury was being plundered by greedy preachers who also served as elders. In fact it was they who were stirring up the women and poisoning the church- guys like Alexander and Hymenaeus.
Into this mess Paul sent young Timothy.
In reading the two letters that bear his name, you get the impression that he was not quite ready for it. Repeatedly Paul had to prop him up. Paul knew of the fire-pit Timothy had been thrust into and knew the tremendous task that awaited him- as well as the great need for Timothy to succeed in leading this church back to good health. (Just read 1 Timothy 1). But Timothy seemed to struggle.
So Paul urged him to “fight the good fight.” He reminded him to live up to the anointing he had received. He counseled him not to be intimidated because he was younger than the treacherous Ephesian church leadership. He encouraged him to overcome his shyness and fear to speak boldly and fearlessly for God. He repeatedly used words like “command” to nudge Timothy to be more forceful in carrying out his work as an evangelist- while at the same time providing him meticulous instructions on how to proper handle himself to best guard his reputation in the volatile climate of that church. Paul even continually reminded Timothy of the kind of healthy teaching he was to share in order to counter the popular but unwholesome fables which were wrecking that church- almost as if Timothy was himself in danger of being sucked into these controversies.
Among all of this advice, instruction, reminders, warnings, and encouragement is this:
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and frequent illnesses- 1 Timothy 5:23
So Timothy had stomach problems. Really? It should come as no surprise considering the pressure he was under. The church had made him sick!
Outrageous? I don’t think so. If you have ever been involved in anything like what he was dealing with- you can relate. Could it be that Paul’s teaching to men about “raising holy hands” in prayer was meant not only just to teach a prayer posture, but to prevent them from using their hands to harass and hurt each other?
Yes, the church can make you sick, Not the beautiful bride of Christ in all of her splendor and glory, but the weak, misguided, flesh-bound folks who, by grace, make up this church. We can make that much of a mess- and when we do it ain’t pretty. Timothy lived it in Ephesus.
So what did he do?
He hung in there. He endured hardship. He did the work of an evangelist. He continued to emphasize healthy teaching. He avoided being sucked into foolish and empty discussions. He demonstrated a better leadership model than previously seen in Ephesus. He worked to squash quarrels. He unashamedly testified about Christ. He knew Jesus was the answer to make that church whole again. He leaned on what he had known since his infancy- God’s Word. He never gave up, quit, ran away, or considered a job change. He guarded what Paul had entrusted to him. He gave it all he had- for the kingdom’s sake. Ephesus was, after all, still God’s church.
It wasn’t easy for him. Who likes to be sick? But he endured and by the time we read about Ephesus again- it was a healthier church.
So remember Timothy if the church ever makes you sick. Don’t give up. Rather work to bring healing. It may be why you are there.
“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”