Guarding the deposit of faith isn't about burying a treasure. It's guarded best by investing in its practice and sharing it with others.
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm delighted to be speaking today with Fr. Barnabas Powell. He is the pastor of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene Greek Orthodox Church in Cumming, Georgia, and he's the founder of Faith Encouraged Ministries designed to use the ever-changing social media scene as a vehicle to share the faith with as many people as possible. Welcome, Father Barnabas!
Fr. Barnabas Powell 0:42
Hollie, it's a joy to spend some time with you again. I'm certainly looking forward to our event coming up this fall.
Hollie Benton 0:48
I am as well. It's the Sixth Annual Leadership Conference, September 2022 at St Vladimir's Seminary. The theme for this conference is Money - The Gospel Changes Everything. And the weekend will culminate with your final presentation about the Parish as Steward. Father Barnabas, would you say just a few words about how the gospel really does change everything when it comes to money?
Fr. Barnabas Powell 1:14
Well you know, it's interesting Hollie, this is not going to be new information to you. And it's certainly not going to be new information to several folks that listen regularly to several of these different podcasts and several of us talking about the concept of stewardship, that Jesus talks about stewardship as far as money goes more than he talks about anything else. He mentions money more than he mentions love, more than Heaven and Hell, more than salvation even. And I think the reason why Jesus does this is that he knows that if a man's heart is truly going to be transformed by this resurrected life of Jesus Christ, if I'm really going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, if I'm really going to be transformed so that I can become a disciple of Jesus Christ, then one of the primary icons in my life of proving this spiritual transformation is going to be how I handle my material possessions. We can talk esoterically about cosmic ideas, and I want to love my neighbor as myself. And that's wonderful, and that's good. But eventually, love is a verb. It's not so much what you think as much as what you do. My mama, my grandmother - mama was southern for grandmother by the way - my mama used to say, Honey, your actions are so loud, I can't hear what your words are saying. And that really does get to the heart. Why does Jesus touch this spot, so often because he knows that what a man does and how he views his possessions, what a man does with and how he views what he owns, or how he spends his time, what he invests his attentiveness into, it's going to be where his heart is, in other words where your treasure is, that's where your heart will be. Also, if I'm going to ever make that change and become an actual disciple of Jesus Christ, it's going to touch how I use my money.
Hollie Benton 3:10
That's right. Father, you suggested a few verses from Paul's first letter to Timothy to frame our discussion today. As our listeners might know, the letters to Timothy focus on the deposit of faith, that which we received by grace through faith, we didn't create it, we didn't earn it, yet, we're called to guard it until the last day. And as you mentioned, Scripture draws on imagery of money and wealth and possessions to make its point about something of much greater value, which is the Lord's instruction, the life-giving Word of God. And I can't help but recall the imagery from the parable of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew, where three servants had received the five and the two talents each according to their ability. When the master returned to settle their accounts, the one who had received five talents returned the five plus five more. The one who had received the two talents returned the two talents plus two more,. Both of them pleased the master who said, Well done, good and faithful servant, you've been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. But for the one who had received just the one talent, proved his wickedness and sloth, for he had only hid it in the ground. So if we use the Gospel of Matthew, to interpret this letter to Timothy, we must not think that guarding the deposit of faith has anything to do with burying it and not investing it. So if I may read those verses right now from First Timothy 3:14-15. "I hope to come to you soon. But 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." So my question to you Fr. Barnabas, is how does this deposit of the faith correspond to how one ought to behave in the household of God?
Fr. Barnabas Powell 5:07
Great question. And it really does go to the very heart of why Jesus uses this imagery of money, and deposit and talents, and all of this language that's being used. It really does go to the heart of asking you and me, What do you think the purpose of the faith is? What do you think the purpose of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is? What's the purpose of following Jesus or being a Christian or being Orthodox? Parenthetically, I never will forget, I was with a group several years ago, and I asked them, and this was a group made up of mainly people who had grown up in the Orthodox Church their whole lives. And I asked them, I said, if you hadn't been born in an Orthodox home, would you have converted to Orthodoxy? Knowing what you know about the faith? Right now? Knowing everything you know about the faith? Would you have converted to Orthodoxy? And I said, No, don't answer that question. Because if you answer that question, you may give things away. So so don't answer that question out loud. But I want you to think about it. What's the purpose of being a follower of Jesus Christ? What's the purpose of being a disciple? If I'm going to guard the deposit of faith, if I'm going to be a man or a woman who is an actual disciple of Jesus Christ and a good steward of this treasure of faith, I'm going to have to understand why the faith is what it is. The purpose of the Orthodox Christian faith is to make a man or a woman, by grace, what Christ is by nature. That's why you're Orthodox. You're not Orthodox to preserve a certain favorite recipe, or a certain cultural dance. Those are wonderful things. They're fantastic. But the purpose of the faith is to make you by grace, what Christ is by nature. If that actual transformation is going to happen in your life and in my life, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and living in the sacramental and the Eucharistic life of the church, if that's really going to be happening to me, then I have to allow the message of Jesus, that transformation message, to touch every aspect of my life. It's not just a hobby. It's not just a cultural decoration. It becomes the way I live my everyday life, set my priorities, and use my time, and invest what I have done with my hands. So the faith informs everything. The faith touches everything, the faith affects everything. I had an old preacher one time told me, he said, Son, you want to know a man's true heart, grab his checkbook, and that'll tell you everything he truly believes. Because you invest in what you believe in. You give your time to what you believe in. You give your attentiveness to what you believe in. I was talking to a man the other day and I told him, I said, if you really want to find out who you worship, tell me what holds your attention. Tell me what you give your best attention to. And I'll tell you who your God is. Because what you pay attention to is what you worship. In fact, that's the very heart of worship. And so this deposit of faith that's been given to us by God by grace. There's another great story, Hollie, in the New Testament, Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a man who discovers a treasure hidden in a field. Notice he doesn't run back to his house and get a shovel. No. Jesus goes on with the story and he says what the man does, he goes back to his home and he sells everything he possesses. Everything, lands, houses, T bills, empties out his 401 K, the kids college fund, everything is emptied out, and he goes and he raises enough money so he can buy the whole field so that he can possess the treasure that's hidden there. Jesus said the kingdom of God is like that. You've discovered this treasure hidden in the field. And now you're invited to make that such a high priority. In fact, the prominent priority in your life, that it touches everything else and every other possession that you have, every other relationship you have, is in reflective attendance to that reality. Jesus Christ is number one, the kingdom of God is at the top of the priority list, this deposit of faith, when I understand what's been blessed and given to me by grace draws out of me such gratitude and thankfulness that I am attentive, that every aspect of my life reflects my devotion to that precious deposit. I hope that makes sense. I would love to be able to live that way 100% That's the reason why God gives us the grace of repentance.
Hollie Benton 9:53
That is right. The question of what does your checkbook and your calendar reflect in as far as your time investment. Father, one question I would like to ask with respect to the modifying phrase in this first is whether "the pillar and bulwark of truth" necessarily describes the church, or whether the phrase describes God because this word theos in the Greek is more clearly positioned near the modifying phrase. I can't help it, I'm married to a biblical scholar, and we have these conversations at the dinner table. So here's the verse, the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. However, I must say that nowhere else in scripture is God referred to as the pillar and bulwark of truth, but then also nowhere else is the church described as such, right? There's nothing in the Greek grammar here that suggests that modifies one noun over another. So it really seems impossible to know for sure. I think our language intuitions automatically assume the pillar and bulwark of truth describes the church. And there are certainly a lot of articles out there and commentaries written on the church as the pillar and bulwark of truth. But these are the discussions we have. Really taking this pause on the sentence structure allows us to remember that again, this deposit of faith, this deposit of truth comes from God to the church. Paul is telling Timothy to act as though he is in the house of God. And if you're in his house, you're his servant, you're his slave. You're his doulos. It's not your house. The Lord invites whom He will to feast at his table. And in fact, we won't truly know who is part of God's household, His Holy Church, until the last day. Sure, it can be easy to get comfortable and think if I'm baptized Orthodox, then I've got my ticket to heaven. So would you nuance this difference between sharing the good news and making disciples of all nations, versus making people members of your church or religion, which really is an issue that St. Paul had to address with the Jews and Gentiles in his own preaching and ministry efforts?
Fr. Barnabas Powell 12:04
It's an interesting point you make up does this pillar and ground of truth refer to God or the church? And the answer is very, very simple. It's Yes. It's exactly right. It certainly does. What a wonderful insight. Very good. The further point that you make is extremely important as well. So since I've received a gift, this deposit of faith and the church and God is the pillar and ground of truth. That whole phrase is meant to help you understand, what is the ground that grows your motivations? What is the ground? What's the foundation? There's a great Greek word, what is the phronema, ti semainei phronema? It's bigger than mindset. But every one of us have a framework in life that we operate by, every one of us do, every one of us has the operating system that we use to make our choices. Now many times because all too often, sadly, we are unthinking about that. We haven't really unpacked why, the way we were raised, our education levels, socio economic situation, area, culture that we're in, all of this framework influences how you set your priorities. And it influences what you consider is most important and what you consider as lesser importance, what you're going to give your time to, and what's going to kind of be well, you know, I just really don't have time to do that. So it reminds me of all the times people will call me up and say, Father, I hope I'm not disturbing you. And that's a silly statement. Because if you're calling me, you're disturbing me. I'm not just sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for somebody to call me. The point is, I value that person. So the disturbance isn't a problem. But there's a framework, a mental framework, a spiritual framework, a mindset framework, where that grows out of, that motivation grows out of, and if you don't examine that, and if you don't allow the gospel and the radical message of Jesus that you've been created by God to be God's eternal companion, and you are meant to be in the kingdom of God, with the people of God in the church of Jesus Christ, that formation, that community, that reality, that society, that new society, that informs how you set your priorities, informs how you spend your time and your money and what you invest in most, what you consider most important, if you don't examine what that ground is, the apostle Paul tells Timothy says, listen, the pillar and ground that which holds up and that which is foundational, must be examined, and it has to be examined in light of God loving me so much that he has gifted me this deposit of faith, this precious treasure of Orthodoxy, that now I am paradoxically called, if I'm going to hold on to it, if I'm going to be that guardian of the deposit of faith. Interestingly enough, the only way to hold on to Orthodoxy is to make sure it's given away. Make sure it's shared all over the place everywhere all the time. So that it's shared by as many people as possible. So this pillar and ground of truth, this deposit of faith is guarded and perpetuated by my value system that is informed and shaped and changed by the message of Jesus Christ, I'm to become by grace what Christ is by nature, in the midst of the people of God. And it's kind of radical, Hollie, to be honest with you. So what I try to encourage people to do is, know yourself well enough to know why you choose what you choose. And then allow the message of Jesus Christ, to critique your motivations and your choices. If I'm truly going to be a follower of Jesus Christ, if this isn't just some kind of hobby, or just something that I do a couple of hours once a week or a couple of hours, once a month, or a couple hours, twice a year, it's what it is, if I'm actually going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, I'm going to have to know why it's worth doing this. And I'm going to have to know how to allow that to affect every aspect of my life. And that comes from when I allow the Holy Spirit to directly critique and influence why I set my priorities and why I choose what I choose. makes all the difference in the world.
Hollie Benton 16:32
That's right. The critique, we're doing this Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, and it's all framed by repentance and allowing the Holy Spirit to critique you through the Scripture, through the instruction.
Fr. Barnabas Powell 16:46
The sad part of it is, Hollie, we have allowed other voices to influence us in understanding what repentance is. And we really, we really don't understand what repentance is. We think it's feeling guilty about breaking a rule. And that's not metanoia at all. It really does have to go with changing your mind, changing your mindset, changing your motivations, allowing the gospel to critique and to, I don't even want to say the word judge, but that's a perfect word, to judge why you're set up the way you're set up. Why do you choose what you choose? You need to be confronted with that, if you're ever going to be free, to be the man or woman that God has called you to be. You need that confrontation. I know it's not fun. I hate being confronted with myself. There are places as I'm walking through with the Lord walking through my soul and saying, Hey, listen, can we skip this closet? Do you mind? Can we just come back to that later? That's got some stuff in it. So but I understand that that's a challenge. But it's okay. It's a good challenge. And God loves you.
Hollie Benton 17:56
That's right. That confrontation, that critique, it's a double edged sword. It comes with judgment on the one side, but it's our only hope on the other.
Fr. Barnabas Powell 18:04
And it's also healing at the same time. That's what's so cool about this, is it certainly is unpleasant. It really does feel like surgery. But this two edged sword of repentance, and this confrontation with the Spirit. Because, Hollie, I'm telling you, my biggest problem is I focus on temporary things over eternal things. I struggle with that, I struggle with that over and over again, I'll put tons of energy on something that's so temporary, and that I won't have the energy necessary to really invest in that which is eternal. I'll never forget a perfect example of this. Several years ago, I was busy doing things for God. When I had my daughter say, Hey, listen, can I make an appointment to spend some time with you? Doing good things, not bad things. Sin is love, misapplied. Sin is love misapplied. In other words, so how I spend my time how I spend my money, what I invest in, if I'm investing in temporary things, rather than eternal things. That's a misapplication of love. And my challenge is, I have to have someone in front of me, the icon of Jesus Christ, to show me who I am called to become like, so that I can be confronted with this in a loving way that heals me and doesn't just condemn me.
Hollie Benton 19:28
Father Barnabas, thank you for this conversation today. I'm so excited to be seeing you in September, God willing.
Fr. Barnabas Powell 19:34
Thank you, Hollie. God bless you. And I've already encouraged my parish council and especially my stewardship team to make sure that they're a part of this this year. So you know, you can come in person or even online too, so I hope they will.
Hollie Benton 19:44
That's right, in person or online. You're running my little commercial for me, I appreciate it.
Fr. Barnabas Powell 19:49
Well, I mean, I want folks to be a part of this.
Hollie Benton 19:51
And there are opportunities to attend online even for parish groups. So groups of more than twelve, you're gonna get a great deal. There's no limit if a parish signs up, but we'd love to see you in person too because it really is so nice to be interacting in person with each other encouraging one another Christ.
Fr. Barnabas Powell 20:08
Amen. Thank you, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 20:10
Thank you, Fr. Barnabas!
Transcribed by https://otter.ai