Text: 1 Timothy 5:3-6:2, Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:13-16
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
– 1 Timothy 5:21, ESV
My arms ached from carrying his newly walking little brother. The 15-hour time change between California and Hong Kong meant waking while it was still dark and a predictable afternoon crash. With only one short week to spend visiting my parents, we determined to squeeze in all we could. The rocking motion from the ferry ride across the Hong Kong harbor put my younger son to sleep, but my preschool aged son knelt on the wooden bench. He strained his neck in order to peer out the window as the ferry carried our family across the dark green colored water. Jonathan watched, eyes barely blinking, as new sights, sounds, smells and an unfamiliar language filled his naturally inquisitive mind.
The long walkway brimmed with people as we exited the ferry. Jonathan skipped along ahead and then I watched as he slowed down, almost to a stop, and tried to make sense of what he saw. A man with no legs, no teeth, matted hair, covered in soot and sores, sat on a flattened cardboard box, begging. A few coins clanked against the metal canister he tapped on the cement. Scores of people hurried by him acting as if he was invisible. I watched Jonathan tilt his head; his young mind had no category for people living in such poverty.
I transferred my sleeping son into my husband’s arms as a quote from the Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason came to mind:
“If man really is fashioned, more than anything else, in the image of God, then clearly it follows that there is nothing on earth so near to God as a human being. The conclusion is inescapable, that to be in the presence of even the meanest, lowest, most repulsive specimen of humanity in the world is still to be closer to God than when looking up into a starry sky or at a beautiful sunset.”
Taking Jonathan’s hand, I pulled him over to the side. Once we moved out of the center of the steady stream of people, I knelt down so we could look straight into each other’s eyes.
“Buddy, did you see the gentlemen over there sitting on the cardboard?”
“I want you to know, Jonathan, that this gentleman is made in the image of God. And because he is made in the image of God he is more beautiful than the sunset. He is precious to God.”
Image bearers are precious to God. All image bearers.
In 1 Timothy 5, the Apostle Paul gives instructions to the young leader-pastor, Timothy, on how to treat people in the church. He covers the gamut by addressing the “least” in the church, the widows (v3-16), and the “greatest,” the elders (v17-20). He begins by instructing Timothy to honor both the widows and the elders and to “do nothing in a spirit of partiality” (v21). Widows, during the writing of this epistle, lived without any government assistance and occupied a vulnerable place in society, having no authority and often living in extreme poverty. Elders, on the other hand, gave leadership to the churches. Paul addressed both ends of the socio-economic and cultural spectrum as he called Timothy to honor all people in the Church.
Like Timothy, we also are called to honor image bearers.
To honor means to give high esteem and respect.
You and I, and every single person we see, have intrinsic dignity and worth because we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). David describes us as fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).
This passage of Scripture challenges me to consider how I view people. Do I show partiality and favor to those who have status, or come from a similar or higher income bracket? Do I honor those who are not like me? Those who come from different ethnicities or backgrounds? Am I willing to extend God’s love to those different from me who sometimes hold different beliefs? Do I honor myself as an image bearer? My family?
My prayer for each of us today: “God, give us eyes to see people as you see them. Amen.”
Vivian Mabuni is an author and speaker, and a sushi, white Christmas lights, coffee-with-friends-lover. She has been on staff with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) for 26 years and serves with Epic Movement, the Asian-American ministry of Cru. Vivian is the author of Warrior In Pink: A Story of Cancer, Community and the God Who Comforts.