The first letter to Timothy that we are studying is a personal letter to Timothy on the one hand, but it is also scripture, and as such it was meant to be read publicly in the church. And the purpose of that was two fold as well; to give instruction in regards to the qualifications of pastors and teachers in the church, but also to inform the church as to what to expect from a pastor/teacher.
And I think that is very necessary today. I believe that many pastors and teachers are obviously wrongly informed as to what their job is supposed to be, and many people in the church have a wrong view as to what to expect from the pastor. Pastors seem to have the impression that their primary job is to be kind of like the general manager of the church, orchestrating all the various parts so that they work together and present a comprehensive service. And then in addition to that they think that they are to be an entertainer of sorts. They must be witty, be able to get a good laugh now and then from the audience, and able to speak fluently and articulately in such a way as to leave the audience with the vague impression that he said something meaningful, comforting and encouraging, without being insulting or offensive in any way. That’s the pastor’s perspective.
The church people’s expectation is somewhat of a mystery. I think there are as many different expectations as there are individuals in the church. So the pastor in some respects has failed before he starts, because there is no way he can meet the expectations of everyone there. Some wish to be merely entertained. Some wish to hear things which validate their own beliefs. Some wish to be comforted and encouraged in regards to some personal crisis that they are going through. And a few, albeit I believe a very few, desire to hear the word of God, irrespective of whether or not it seems relative to their own particular interests. But above all, most people’s desire is that the pastor be as brief as possible.
I think it is necessary and helpful for today’s audience to hear what the apostle Paul says is to be the primary function of the pastor. Because after all, it is the Lord’s church, and the pastor has been called by God to that role, and God has established certain qualifications for the pastor, and so it’s God’s prerogative to determine what the pastor should do and say. Since God hires the pastor, He is justified in determining the job description for the pastor. And that will serve to inform the congregation as to what they should expect and desire from the pastor.
So Paul has been warning Timothy in the beginning of this fourth chapter about the deceiving nature of false prophets who will arise in the church, and draw away many after them by teaching fables and false doctrine such as asceticism and Gnosticism. Paul’s response to that false teaching was to say that bodily discipline profits but a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, for it offers a promise for this life and the life to come.
So now as Paul instructs Timothy in what a godly pastor is to teach, he begins by saying, “Prescribe and teach these things.” Prescribe is from the NASB, but the KJV and others say “command and teach these things.” Prescribe sounds a little more politically correct. But the emphasis in the original language is a bit more strenuous than that. Paul says in effect that Timothy, or the pastor, is to command certain things to the church. In other words, there is to be no equivocation in preaching these truths. There is to be no watering down of the truth to make it more palatable. These truths are non negotiable. They are not to be emasculated by the current culture. If God says it, then that is enough and it’s to be accepted as the word of God. There is no alternate truth.
And we all know what it means to teach. That means to explain, to expound. The great thing about God’s commands, God’s word is that He doesn’t just give us absolute imperatives without also giving reasons for His commands. Sometimes they aren’t explicitly stated directly afterwards, but when you compare scripture with scripture, and interpret scripture with scripture, then you can usually see the reason for God’s injunctions. And it’s the pastor’s job to teach, to answer the questions why, what, how. To show from correlating scriptures what God is saying in it’s fullness and completeness.
That’s really what I think my job is as a pastor/teacher. Its to be an expositor of the word. To expound the word. To use the common vernacular of the day, to unpack it. There is a lot that can be contained in a single sentence of scripture. And so the pastor is to prescribe the word as a remedy for a certain malady, to command the word as the will of God, and teach the word by explaining it and applying it.
What things is Paul referring he should prescribe and teach? Well, everything that came before verse 11, and even those things which come after. Specifically though I think he is referring to teaching sound doctrine, the principles for godly living, in contrast to the worldly fables and old wives tales that the false prophets were relying upon to keep their audiences attention on themselves. He has emphasized the importance of godly living, which is another way of referring to sanctification, which means to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
There is a church in the area that on it’s advertising says, “nobody’s perfect.” As in don’t worry, we’re not going to hold you to any standard of perfection. Nobody’s perfect, and we don’t plan on trying to be either. Well, actually, Jesus is perfect. And according to Romans 8:29 we are supposed to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Peter said in 1 Peter 1:14-16 “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” So I guess that means we are to be perfect. We may fall short of that perfection, but that is what we are to be striving for, modeling ourselves after. Being holy is not a feeling, but a life style that follows in the footsteps of Jesus. And the path to holiness is through the gate of repentance, not by insolently taking offense at the standard of holiness.
Then there is a seemingly odd statement here by Paul concerning Timothy’s age. He says in vs 12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but [rather] in speech, conduct, love, faith [and] purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” Now some think that this is an reference to the age of a pastor, as if Paul is concerned about how old or how young a pastor should be. And there may be some merit to one’s age if it is measured by one’s spiritual maturity. But I’ve met some spiritually adolescent 70 year old pastors as well. So their biological age is not necessarily the issue here, but their spiritual maturity is very much the issue.
The word that is translated as “youthfulness” is according to Greek scholars comes from a word that denoted the age of a military male. And you were considered to be of military age up to 40 years in those days. And so he is not talking about a teenager. Actually, it’s believed by most scholars that Timothy was about 30-32 years of age. About the same age as Jesus when He began His ministry. But what he is referencing here is don’t let your relatively young age keep you from being an example to the church. Make sure that your conduct is something that people can look up to.
I just finished saying a moment ago about how we are to be following the example of Jesus in regards to holiness and perfection. And now Paul says that Timothy is also to be a similar example to his church. His life should be one that his people can emulate. Paul says about himself in 1Cor. 11:1 “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” So as the leadership in the church, Paul says they are to imitate Christ, and in so doing give an example to be imitated by the church.
Now how does the pastor do that? Or how are you to be an example to your children, to your coworkers, to your family and friends? I think we are all called to live godly lives as an example to others, regardless of the role which you are given. So first of all, we follow the example of Christ’s life and conduct. Peter says in 1Peter 2:21 “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.”
I think we have all heard the adage, “do as I say, and not as I do.” Well, that may be the world’s way of teaching, but it’s not God’s way. God’s way is that we teach by example. And the pastor should be a good example of a godly life. But so should a housewife, or a school teacher, or a construction worker, or a father. And the example we should follow is Christ.
Specifically, Paul says there are five areas of your life that should be exemplary. Speech comes first. So much damage is done by speech. James writes a lot about controlling the tongue, which he calls a restless evil, full of poison. Godly speech doesn’t mean that we are mealy mouthed, that we can’t speak the truth, or that we have to say thee and thou and intone some pantomime of piousness. But it means we speak peace and not hurt. We speak love and not hate. Our speech is not a fountain from which flows both bitter water and sweet. You want to be godly? Then start with your speech. Knock off the vulgar, foul language. Stop the angry, bitter language. Take control over your speech.
The second is conduct. Your behavior. Behave as a Christian should behave. Jesus, on two separate occasions, took a bullwhip to the temple and drove out the money changers and sellers of merchandise that were taking advantage of the people. So behavior doesn’t mean you always have to be lovey dovey and limp-wrists. If you want to know how a Christian is to behave, ask a non-Christian. They know how Christians are supposed to act. I can tell you that it’s not in drunkeness, sexual immorality, crude speech, lying, stealing, etc. Model your behavior after Christ.
Third is love. Love is agape love. There are many Greek words for love. Eros is one that means sexual love. Phileo is another which means brotherly love. Agape is the third that means sacrificial love, and that is the word that is used here. Someone explained it this way; eros is take, phileo is give and take, and agape is give. We are called to love with a sacrificial love. That is by the way, the ultimate love in marriage as well. That’s the sacrificial type of love we are to have for our spouse.
Faith is the fourth. Faith here is not a reference to believing in something very, very fervently and then presto, it comes to pass. Some think that is what faith means. And I guess they think that a pastor should be really good at faith, and because of that faith in whatever he says or prays, it will come about. That’s a perversion of faith. Faith in this context is belief in Jesus Christ, in who He is, and what He accomplished, and what He will yet accomplish. So really Paul means the pastor is to be an example of being firm in the faith. All the tenets of our faith are held by him without wavering.
And the final example we are to have is by our purity. This is the perfection we were talking about earlier. I guess we do need to be perfect if we are going to be an example of purity to the church. But purity, while it does indicate the idea of perfection, also speaks of the lack of perversion or corruption. His actions are to be above board, beyond reproach, transparent.
Not to read too much into this, but purity may also speak to motive. A pastor may be in that position for the wrong reasons. Some have obviously used their position to try to gain wealth or fame or for other possible reasons. So being pure in his motives for ministry is important.
Having addressed the pastor’s conduct, Paul now speaks to his ministry. He says in vs13 “Until I come, give attention to the [public] reading [of Scripture,] to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.”
The primary job of the pastor is the preaching of the word of God. That is done by public reading of scripture, exhortation from scripture and teaching of scripture. A man who lived during the days of Spurgeon and all the great preachers of the late 19th early 20th century, and had listened to them all, said that the most powerful sermon he ever heard was from the Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte, who simply read through the book of Philippians with only a few words of explanation here and there.
I don’t know that I would necessarily go that far, but I certainly want to avoid the other extreme as well. I visited a multi campus, mega church central office in San Diego a few years ago, and I toured their facility. At one point I was shown a conference table in a room that I was told was for the sermon committee. A large group of creative writers met there to write the message that would be preached the following Sunday. The pastor wasn’t even a part of the committee. He just showed up a day or two before and practiced delivering his lines.
That to me is obviously so far from what God has called the pastor to do as to be ludicrous. But people seem to like it. A more common practice among a lot of pastors is to buy a “canned sermon” or a series of messages from some online source which arrives all prepackaged with power point presentation and witty, whimsical stories and so forth. That’s really popular.
Paul says read the Bible, expound the Bible, give exhortation from the scripture, and teach the scripture. In his second letter to Timothy Paul says, (2Tim. 4:2) “preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Preach the word, in season and out of season. That’s the verse that God used to confirm my call to the ministry, by the way. Preaching the word is hard enough, but the in season and out of season part is really the most difficult part.
And notice this preaching of the word is what Paul refers to as a spiritual gift that Timothy was given by God. “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery.” Now that sounds all ecclesiastical, but I think we need to recognize that the presbytery is just another term for elders. So at some point, Paul and some of the other apostles laid hands on Timothy. But that doesn’t mean that the gift of preaching came from Paul or the elders. The gift came from God, and the elders just confirmed it. But it’s the same idea that we see in our ordination services today, where godly men confirm a pastor’s calling.
But much has been said about this gift of preaching, or gift of teaching. I don’t think we should think of that as some special gift of articulation or oratory. It’s not a gift of being a good story teller. A spiritual gift is just the ability or power to do something that God wants you to do. There are times when I don’t feel like physically I can preach. There were a couple of times when I was in extreme pain from needing a root canal and was unable to get it done before Sunday and had to preach when I could barely speak. There have been times when I was dehydrated or something and I felt like I was going to pass out and had to pray for God to keep me from falling out. I’ve had times when I lost my voice right before I was scheduled to speak. But in those times when physically I felt I could not do it, God gave me the strength or the voice or whatever it was I was lacking, to be able to preach the gospel. No one listening was aware of anything miraculous happening, but I knew that God provided the ability I needed to do what He wanted me to do in that hour.
There is a wonderful, godly couple who come to our church whenever they are visiting Bethany. They’ve been coming here for years. And they have an amazing British accent. Not the Cockney kind of accent, but the sophisticated type. And I’ve jokingly said that if I had their accent I could have been a mega church pastor. Instead, God decided to keep me humble and give me a Southern accent. But what that illustrates is that people can think someone has the spiritual gift of preaching just because of how they sound and how the articulate words. But the gift is simply being able to rightly divide the truth and proclaim “thus says the Lord.”
And sometimes, according to 1Cor. 1:26-29 God choses the opposite type of person that we might choose to give that gift to. Paul says, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” I think that speaks especially of God’s call to pastors. God doesn’t necessarily look for the ex rock star, or ex football star to be who He uses to preach His word. He uses the weak the foolish, to shame the wise.
But Paul indicates in the last verses of this passage, that our gift is not something that we are to become complacent with, but which we are to exercise, to strengthen, to build upon, to practice, so that we might increase it’s effectiveness in ministry. He says in vs15 “Take pains with these things; be [absorbed] in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
So pastors are to work on their preaching. We are to study the word, diligently prepare the message from God’s word. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul said, “Study to show yourself approved unto God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Persevere in preaching, take pains with it, be absorbed in it, so that you will preach the truth of the word of God, which has the power to save.
And that word of truth that we are preaching is the means of salvation for those who hear. Romans 10:14 says, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
1Co 1:18, 21 says, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. … 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
Saved means salvation, and salvation can refer to the full scope of salvation or any part of it, from justification, to sanctification, to glorification. All are essential parts of salvation. So back in vs 16, when Paul speaks of salvation for those who hear you, he is talking about any and all parts of salvation. For those who have been saved, it is a reference to deliverance from the power of sin. That’s the process of sanctification which we were talking about earlier. About godly living. Being under Bible preaching and teaching and exhortation is the means by which we mature, by which we live godly, holy lives, and the means by which we are perfected in our faith.
And that sanctification is the means by which all of us are able to preach a message that is seen by a watching world, that they may want what we have, which is a new life through Jesus Christ. I hope you will show yourselves as an example of godliness in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, as you follow in the footsteps of Christ.