Up sleeves and dirty hands

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." Matthew 5.11


The case of Timothy 1 of Baghdad sheds an interesting light on what distinguished those venerated as "saints" by those sections of the church which elevated certain believers above other followers of Jesus, on account of their personal holiness. By any reckoning Timothy's record is impressive: his 43 year reign as Patriarch, his missionary endeavours which reached China, Turkey and Tibet, his commitment to scholarship and learning, his legendary debates with the Muslim Caliph, al-Mahdi. There was a dark side, admittedly. He anathematised the so-called Messalians, a pre-hippy sect of hyper-spiritual mendicants who wandered around in unisex caravans, peddling allegedly heretical theology and mystical practices. Among their claims was that because God spoke to people in dreams, being constantly in prayer meant being in a constant state of drowsiness!


Entering into doctrinal disputes is usually a messy business, especially for flawed human-beings, none of whom is prefect - in wisdom or behaviour. The demands of Timothy's office also obliged him to enter the similarly contentious field of law-making. He took up these challenges, both as a duty of office but also out of his concern to protect the flock of Christ from succumbing to the ever-encroaching predations of their Muslim rulers. So there was an undeniably noble element in Timothy's wielding of secular authority, alongside his ecclesiastical responsibilities - or even as an essential aspect of them.


Is being prepared to enter controversial - and potentially compromising - situations, one aspect of using our own gifts in response to the call of God? In a fallen world this is probably inevitable. That being the case, we can take inspiration from Timothy. That he was deprived of the accolade of apotheosis (being elevated to sainthood) should not deter us who belong to that section of the church which prefers the biblical interpretation of saint as referring to all followers of the Lord Jesus. Yet rather than being a license to abuse, we should recognise the danger to our integrity, witness and purity of being "contaminated by the world" and therefore the need to tread carefully and humbly, availing ourselves daily of the "full armour of God".

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