People as Trains

Others aren’t always as they seem. That shouldn’t surprise us we aren’t either. A smile, for instance, doesn’t mean all is well.

In the latter half of 1 Timothy 5, Paul is speaking to Timothy about elders. He advises his young protégé not to ordain too hastily. In verses 24 he says why: “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.”  Some men’s sins are clearly evident. These men are readily passed over—and rightly so—to shepherd God’s flock. There are others, however, whose sins are not so clearly evident. They take awhile to emerge. The danger is to ordain them prematurely, before their sin is exposed and disqualifies them.

Though this teaching targets church officers, the principle is instructive elsewhere. An employer can become enamored with an employee and quickly move him up the company ladder; even jumping competent and longer serving employees. A young woman can become infatuated with a young man, giving him her heart before she really knows him. There is something to be said about taking things slow when it comes to relationships.

Over the years, I have picked up a few people at the train station. Amtrak announces the arrival of a particular train at a particular gate. But when you go to that gate, you greet the engine; behind it, spilling out of the cars at other gates are all the people. Likewise, when we meet someone, perhaps there is wisdom in viewing them as trains. In a new relationship or in one that is casual, what we see and greet first is the engine; it takes awhile to become acquainted with the cars pulled behind and what will soon come out of them.

This doesn’t mean we are cold or impolite; it actually means we are discerning and wise. Our Savior knew what was in the heart of man (John 2:24-25); we don’t. We have to give man time to show us. Even adequate time isn’t always enough; as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9). Many of us have heard some tragic story; one that ends something like this: “I thought I really knew him but I guess I didn’t.” Perhaps we have said it ourselves. We may think we know someone well but like an onion, there always is another layer.

“Simon and Garfunkel” sang long ago that they had “no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain….If I never loved I never would have cried….I touch no one and no one touches me.” They conclude: “I am a rock, I am an island.” And why is that good? Because “a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.”

That’s not what the apostle is advocating to Timothy—no command to be a rock or an island here. What he is insightfully teaching is that “the sins of [some] trail behind them.” Let’s try and make a habit of remembering there are cars and a caboose behind most every person we meet.

Pastor Rich Hamlin
June 28, 2012  

“Amending the Soil” Christian Education Conference

Register or volunteer for Bible Day Camp now