Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Wise Word

Some of the most well-known words that Paul ever wrote came in his letter to a young Timothy, where he says, "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young. But set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, in purity..." (1 Timothy 4:12)

But did you know that's not the only place he says this, and Timothy is not the only person he says this to?

This is important, especially in today's world.

See, Paul also says these words to the church in Corinth. Specifically, he tells the church, "Do not look down on Timothy." "If Timothy one should treat him with contempt" (v. 10-11).

It's kind of in that same vein where we're told that if someone is cold and we tell them to keep warm, we haven't really done anything for them. If they're hungry, and we tell them they should eat, we haven't helped. If you tell Timothy to not let anyone look down on him, he doesn't really have control over that. We haven't done anything. Except set up a stage for some discouragement if others continue to look down on him and what we've essentially told him is to not take it personally. You can only be looked down on for so long before you take it personally.

But if you tell Timothy not to let anyone look down on him and then you tell the church not to look down on him, now you've done something. You've tackled the problem from both sides. It's not all on Timothy's shoulders as the recipient of their scoffing and scorn; it's on their shoulders as scorners, as well.

This runs counter to the "wisdom" (and I use that term loosely) of today's world. Today, we tell everyone that they are responsible for their own selves. It doesn't matter what anyone else does; you are responsible for you. You choose how you respond. You choose how you let things affect you. There are stories of  children being bullies where the solution to the problem is to just avoid the bully. Or just ignore them. Or let it roll off your back. No longer do we tell the bullies to stop being bullies; we just tell the victims to stop being victimized by it.

This is really prevalent in stories of rape, as well. You almost never hear that rape is a problem because there are rapists in the world. Rather, victims dress too scantily. They drink too much. They do drugs. They go to bars, where of course you're "going to" get raped. They don't take care of themselves. So we spend all of our time and energy and resources training women how not to get raped, how to defend themselves, how to keep themselves out of those situations, and we exert virtually no energy at all training men to stop raping women. Not only is it not fair, but it doesn't work. (And I do understand that men are also victims of rape and women are also rapists, but the sheer numbers facilitate the pronouns used above. Brothers who have been victims, I hear you. I'm sorry.)

In a world that says that 1) we're not responsible for anyone else and 2) we are entirely responsible for ourselves, we need more of this two-way dialogue that Paul creates. We need more ministry in both directions. We need more community and fellowship that enables us to understand that no, we aren't responsible "for" anyone else, but we are responsible "to" them and that means not letting them settle for being lesser than they ought to be. It means training and teaching and holding them accountable for their own actions. We need to understand, too, that we are responsible for ourselves, but being responsible for ourselves doesn't mean that we shoulder the burden of the whole world, whatever it decides to heap on us. It doesn't mean that we're supposed to be untouchable, that we aren't supposed to let things bother us. This broken world sucks. It's not fair. Some things hurt. We need to be honest about these things, not falsely "taking responsibility" for ourselves and pretending it's all fine.

We need to look at problems from one more than one perspective and see where it is that we need to speak. Paul speaks two words on this issue, and it's vitally important - for Timothy, for the church, and for us. We need both truths. Desperately.

Don't let anyone look down on you. But also, don't look down on anyone. 

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