Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse
Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages
“…Why has the land been ruined and laid waste like a desert that no one can cross? The Lord said, ‘It is because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them; they have not obeyed me or followed my law.’” ~Jeremiah 9:12b-13
The prophet weeps over the sin and rebellion fermenting in his homeland. He can hardly bear to see it. Jeremiah is so troubled that he wishes to leave. If only he owned a place far away, out in the wilderness, where he could get away from everything and everyone! (The Hebrew word translated desert is more akin to our English word wilderness. It means “deserted place.”)
Jeremiah is specifically troubled over the fact that while God’s people have received the “sign of circumcision,” a physical reminder that they belong to God, the physical marking penetrates no deeper than the flesh. There is no heart change in response to this symbolic mark of God’s ownership. (Scholars still debate the precise meaning of circumcision, but its significance is not in question.) In this way, God’s people are like the surrounding nations. They practiced circumcision also, and they were not devoted to the Lord either (Jer. 9:25-26).
What God really desires from His people, what He has always desired, is a change of heart. He wants to see kindness, justice, and righteousness, but He gets instead a people determined to do as little as possible to serve Him and as much as possible to serve themselves. They go to church (though not faithfully), give offerings (though not generously), and worship the Lord (though not wholeheartedly). They litter the land with beautiful idols made of silver, gold, and wood wrought by skilled artisans. Deception is commonplace. Employers deceive employees. Government officials lie to the people. Businesses cheat on their taxes. Workers defraud their employers. Children lie to their parents. Ministers fail to preach the truth.
Jeremiah’s woe isn’t recorded only as a history lesson. It’s a vital sermon we all need to hear. We can stand in judgment of these foolish people, tsk loudly, and go on about our day, or we can learn from their mistakes. God values supportive devotion between people; He delights in fairness, equality, and the people who fight for those things; and He desires that His people do the right thing! That is the kind of God He is and the life He calls us to live. We glorify Him by living out these virtues that He loves.
One of the things young pastor Timothy was responsible for in the city of Ephesus was leadership development and assignment, which is why Paul gives to Timothy a checklist of sorts. Timothy is looking for a particular kind of leader to lay hands on.
As Paul lays out the requirements for leaders, he doesn’t even note that those chosen as overseers (aka, elders, pastors, bishops) should be able to lead, that is a given. These positions demand people who are good at overseeing or leading things. In addition, they must be people of solid character who are committed to the Scriptures. Really, that pretty well sums up Paul’s requirements. Dismantling the text, as if it actually were a checklist, skews its meaning. The deacons (literally “servants” or “assistants”), those selected to help and support the overseers must also be people the church can look up to.
Church leaders and those who help them must be people the rest of the church, as well as the surrounding community, can respect. That is the simple message of 1 Timothy 3. When churches fail to take leadership selection seriously, the church suffers. So much (if not everything) rises and falls on leadership.