Introduction to the Pastoral Epistles and Work

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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The Pastoral Epistles were written to leaders in the early church. Yet much of what they say applies to Christians in other workplaces as well. In applying them to nonchurch work, the critical task will be to reflect on the similarities and differences between churches and other workplace organizations. Both types are voluntary organizations (generally) with structures and goals. Both are ultimately governed by the same Lord. Both are composed of human beings made in God’s image. Both face major challenges at times, yet are designed to endure and adapt in future generations. These similarities suggest that many of the same biblical principles will apply to each, as will be discussed in depth.

From ancient times, the letters 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus have been grouped together as the “Pastoral Epistles.” These letters outline the qualification, development, and promotion of leaders; organizational structures for the care, compensation, and discipline of members; and the setting and execution of individual and organizational goals. They are concerned with the good governance, effectiveness, and growth of an organization—in particular, the church. In 1 Timothy 3:14–15 Paul expresses the major theme of all three letters: “I am writing these in­structions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

But there are differences as well. The church has as its mission the calling and equipping of people to commit their lives to Christ, to serve his kingdom, and to worship God. It was instituted by God as the body of Christ, and he has promised it will remain a going concern until Christ’s return. Other organizations have different missions, such as creating economic value (businesses), protecting members (labor unions), educating children and adults (schools and universities), and administering defense, justice, and other civic needs (governments). They are instituted as bodies (corporations or states) by charters and constitutions, and may come in and out of existence. These differ­ences do not mean that other organizations are inferior to the church, but rather that each kind must be respected for its particular mission. Nonetheless, the Pastoral Epistles provide fertile material for reflecting on how relationships within nonchurch workplaces ought to be cre­ated and maintained, while highlighting the special role of the church community. Although the Pastoral Epistles are concerned primarily with organizations, they do not necessarily exclude those who work in families, sole proprietorships, and other such workplaces. For brev­ity, from here forward, the term “workplace” will be used to mean the nonchurch workplace only.