Charity and Triage

1 Timothy 5:3-16 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

Some of Paul’s writings can seem difficult to process or even irrelevant because they are so tightly bound to cultural circumstances that seem far behind us. In today’s example, a reader might want to explore what it meant to be a widow in the early church as it existed in Ephesus, and what particular challenges the church faced at that time.

A trustworthy commentary or study Bible can help a reader uncover some of these important details of history, and such a learning process is always useful. That’s not where I am going today, though. Instead, I want to see if this seemingly anachronistic passage might hold some general principles that remain valuable now.

Let’s begin with a common point every church through time shares: Some churches may seem rich and some may seem poor, but all churches ultimately have finite resources. This means some care must be taken in how resources are distributed among people in need.

If we are to be good stewards, a form of charitable triage is required. In medicine, triage is a process where the wounded or ill are ranked for treatment so as to maximize the number of survivors. I see a kind of triage happening in this passage.

Of lowest priority would be those who demonstrate or express a need, but who also clearly have the ability to resolve their problems on their own. When encountering these situations, a church’s efforts should focus largely on education, showing people the path to independence.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul gave this very direct comment regarding idleness: Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

In situations where people cannot resolve their problems on their own, church leaders still need to carefully analyze the family dynamics, exploring whether some sort of healing needs to happen in  the relationships there. The continuing importance of the family unit within the church comes through clearly in what Paul wrote to Timothy.

Where there is family, church support of people in need would again have to be somewhat conditional. As a pastor, I have seen families try to pass along responsibility for an impoverished or ill relative to the church, wanting to be free of the stress caused by the family member.

The family as a whole could very well need financial and spiritual assistance in supporting the relative. But the family still should take a demonstrably active role in the process, particularly if that family claims to abide by Christian values.

Of highest priority would be those who are truly alone and unable to help themselves. With careful stewardship of resources, a church should be able to offer these people God’s love in powerful and comforting ways.

In all of these situations, grace and gentleness should prevail, of course, with the goal of bringing everyone closer to God constantly in mind.

Dear Lord, may your Holy Spirit help us navigate the often difficult circumstances surrounding charitable work, and may your kingdom be glorified in all we do. Amen.

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.”

Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. Amen.

Who Owns Whom?

“Peter’s Conflict with Simon Magus,” Avanzino Nucci, 1620. Simon is on the right, in black.

Acts 8:18-25 (NRSV)

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”

Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.


By Chuck Griffin

Earlier in Acts, we learn that Simon was a magician, one so clever he astonished the people of Samaria to the point they thought he was tapping into the power of God.

But even this trickster was drawn to the message of Jesus Christ as Savior. Impressed by the signs and great miracles that truly flowed from God through Philip the Evangelist, Simon received baptism and began to follow the preacher about.

Pretty soon, two apostles, Peter and John, arrived on the scene, laying hands on those who had claimed Christ as Savior so the Holy Spirit would go to work in their lives. In other words, new spiritual gifts became available to this fledgling church in Samaria, expressed visibly in new signs and miracles now flowing through these recent converts.

As we see, Simon had heard the message in only a kind-of-sort-of way. It had not moved his heart to a new place. He saw the world as transactional, all about gain and loss. He thought money could somehow let him control this Spirit power.

Here’s what Simon was missing: We do not control God, and God’s work is never intended to glorify us. Instead, we let God control and guide us, giving the glory to him. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross removes the offense of sin from the relationship, and we are able to resume the role of created beings serving the loving Creator.

It’s a struggle that continues today. Even church leaders can become obsessed with the idea that they need to benefit personally from this kingdom work. Certainly, the “laborer deserves to be paid,” but beware of those whose only motive seems to be personal glory and a paycheck, preferably a big one.

Thanks be to God for all who serve the kingdom humbly and without thoughts of entitlement or reward, other than the joy to be found in eternal life with God.

Lord, may your Holy Spirit flow freely among your church, going to and fro to all who call upon your name. Amen.

Even the Worst

1 Timothy 1:12-20 (NLT)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.


If you’ve spent much time trying to lead people to Jesus Christ, you may have encountered an unexpected problem.

A lot of lost people reflect on their worst sins, and they think Christianity simply sounds too easy. “How could God ever forgive that,” they ask, referencing the sin. Others consider the sins of infamous evil people and then struggle with the simplicity of salvation.

All we have to do is confess and turn away from our sins and believe? Really? Regardless of who we are or what we’ve done?

Yep. Believe that Christ’s work on the cross is effective and you’re saved from eternal death, the appropriate result of sin. Instead, receive eternal life, a gift so joyous it benefits this life now.

Over time, all who take this initial step do need to understand the proper response to this great gift of salvation, a response driven by the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. They should find themselves moving into full alignment with God, which is mostly about allowing God to go to work.

But salvation itself really is that simple.

Once saved—to use the Methodist term, “justified”—that ongoing alignment is important because it keeps us from backsliding. Paul made it clear that a believer’s faith can be “shipwrecked.” Having escaped the power of sin, we don’t want to steer toward the rocks and end up in the clutches of Satan once again.

Believers, simply keep in mind that God is always close. Open your Bible. Open your hearts to your savior in prayer. Take time to worship. Satan will flee.

Lord, thank you for how easy you have made salvation. Help us to communicate the simplicity of your plan to those who have yet to accept it for themselves. Amen.

What We Do Next

1 Timothy 4:11-16 (NRSV)

These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.


Paul wrote the above words to a young pastor. Let’s read them as instructions to mature Christians.

Yesterday, I wrote a lament and a prayer regarding events that led to mob violence in our nation’s Capitol building Wednesday. How can Christians help restore a nation’s character?

We’re discovering how dangerous it is to ignore character. For too long now, we’ve been willing to say, “Well, that person lacks character, but he promotes something I like, so let’s give him power.” Many of you will think I’m talking about just one person, but I actually could make a list.

Speech and conduct matter; they are external expressions of the character within. They should exhibit high ideals, and we as Christians believe that Jesus Christ expresses the highest ideals, given to us straight from the mind of God. Christ’s standards are so high, in fact, that they are difficult to achieve—we should always be striving toward what is higher.

Our words should reflect love for all people. We will always be broken into little factions, political, theological and otherwise, and the differences sometimes might be sharp enough that we find it difficult to live in each other’s circles. But one of the beautiful aspects of this nation is that it was designed so we can at least share a common commitment to freedom, with harm of others being the one trait we should refuse to accommodate.

As Christians, we need to use God’s word, referencing it, quoting it and letting it guide us. This means we live as true disciples, taking the Bible seriously. Using it regularly sometimes makes the secular folks around us a little uncomfortable, but only where they find themselves in conflict with God’s will.

Let’s be deliberate about living and speaking as Christians. Our baptismal vows are more than a part-time commitment. We take on Christ to be clothed in undeserved holiness. From there, we are called to project God’s purity to a hurting world.

Lord, make us bold for you. Amen.

God and Governance

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,

There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.


In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.

Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.

So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?

Will you pray for our next president, regardless?

I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?

Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.

The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.

Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.

Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.

We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”

He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.

In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.

Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.

So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.

Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.

Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.

‘Loves To Be the Leader’

By Chuck Griffin
Methodist Life Editor

3 John 9-10

I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us. When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church.


Even the early church had to watch out for people who wanted leadership roles for the wrong reasons. Because of this ongoing danger, healthy churches still need to understand the concept of servant leadership.

As the author of John 3 set pen to parchment, it’s unlikely he thought, “I am now going to write what will one day be Scripture.” The letter is personal, written by an experienced Christian to a friend named Gaius. This friend obviously was struggling with developments in his church in Asia Minor, located somewhere in what is now western Turkey.

The letter isn’t long—I would encourage you to take time to read it all. It has memorialized for all time the dangerous leadership of a man named Diotrephes.

Most of us have experienced a Diotrephes at some point. Certain people simply crave power for the sake of power, perhaps to bolster a bruised ego, gain personal glory or benefit materially in some way. They do not understand that leadership, particularly Christian leadership, requires a surrendering of self.

Diotrephes went so far as to drive away people he perceived as a threat to his power, particularly traveling teachers who moved about Asia Minor in a state of poverty. They depended on Christian communities to support them as they preached core truths about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. Diotrephes even threw out church members who supported these itinerant Christians.

Not only was Diotrephes proving to be a self-centered leader, he also was violating a basic rule of Christian living, the mandate to show love and hospitality to others.

Diotrephes reminds modern Christians that we should always have some sort of litmus test for potential leaders. It can be difficult to fully understand another person’s motives, but we do have scriptural guidance about qualifications for leaders,* and praying to God for discernment certainly helps.

Boiled down, this discernment could involve questions like, How well does this person seem to know Jesus and the word of God? Have we seen this person bear spiritual fruit? Does this potential leader seem overly eager? Will this person submit to some sort of accountability? Is this person’s call to leadership confirmed by others, and by a willingness to surrender some worldly advantages?

If we see a knowledgeable, committed Christian giving up a lot in order to lead, we can feel more confident we have found a leader with a servant’s heart. 

Only a true calling can make a person say, “I must become less so Jesus can become more.”

Lord, we find ourselves in a crisis of leadership in churches and in so many other institutions. Raise up more humble servant leaders so your work may be done. Amen.


*Regarding the 1 Timothy text linked above: Some denominations, citing the patriarchal language here and in other texts, restrict women’s leadership roles, while other denominations do not. I see this as an example of Paul being very context-specific about a situation very different from our present day. In other writings, Paul asserts the equality of men and women and even addresses some women as leaders and vocal bearers of the Good News.