ďA Middle-Aged MinisterĒ†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† August 25, 2013

1 Timothy 4:5-16

 

SI:1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

Paulís main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

†† church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

†† that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 

Iíve written these things so that you will be able to show people how to behave

†† in the church, which is a pillar and foundation of truth.

 

In this passage, Paul tells they young pastor Timothy

†† what it takes to be a good minister, how he is to view his life and calling,

†† how he is to conduct himself as the pastor of Godís people so Gospel magnified.

 

INTRO:I came this close to doing something today that Iíve never done before.

I almost skipped this passage of Scripture, and preached on the next one.

†† You may have noticed that my practice is to preach through a book of the Bible,

†† passage by passage, not skipping anything.

That approach to preaching has a fancy Latin nameóitís called lectio continuaó

†† which means ďcontinuous reading.ĒIt has a long and honored tradition in church.

Lectio continua forces the preacher to deal with every subject in the Bible.

†† He canít stick to his pet subjects, favorite passages, and he canít skip hard ones.

†† Because whatever comes up next, he has to preach on it.

The benefit to the congregation is that over time, it gets the whole counsel of God.

 

Now, there is no law that says a preacher canít skip.

†† There are perfectly good reasons to skip.

†† And there are many good preachers and even great preachers who do skip.

Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Pres, in New York City skips.

†† Listen to any of his sermon series on books of the Bible,

†† and without any reason or apology given, heíll skip passages.

Thatís the prerogative of the preacher.

 

So this week, as I was getting the bulletin ready for Judy to print,

†† I put down the Scripture text as 1 Timothy 5, and I put in another title.

And I said to myselfóIf Tim Keller does it, then I can too!

 

But my conscience got the better of me.

†† Because the reason I wanted to skip is that this passage cuts too close to the bone.

†† It puts me in the spotlight in a way that I find very uncomfortable.

But thatís not right.Because I havenít skipped on behalf of other people.

†† In the past, when Iíve come to passages that deal with divorce, for example,

†† Iíve preached those even though they probably made some people uncomfortable.

Whatís good for the goose is good for the gander.

 

There is probably no passage in the Bible more convicting for pastors than this one.

†† Of course the Bible convicts you in many places as a Christian,

†† or even more specifically as a Christian spouse or Christian parent.

But as far as the inspired Word of God speaking to pastors as pastorsó

†† this passage is like a sledgehammer and fire.

The last line of verse 16 alone is enough to make you fall down like a dead man.

 

This October will be the 20th anniversary of my ordination.

I thank God for continuing to give me a sense of calling.

Anything good that has come from my ministry is because of his grace.

†† Surveys say the average tenure for pastors in America is less than five years,

†† some say three years.Iíve been at Christ Covenant 17 years.

 

When I was a young minister I asked an older minister I admired, a man who had

†† been in his church 30 years, to tell me the secret to longevity in the ministry.

He said:The secret is to have a very tolerant and loving congregation.

†† Iíve known many men better than me, who God gave very hard churches.

 

One friend of mine was seven years in a church, it was all he could stand.

†† After he left, he was talking to another former minister of that congregation,

†† who said:Brother, donít you know that years in that pulpit are like dog years?

†† You have to multiply by seven.You were really there 49 years!

All that is to say, that my many years here are because God has been gentle to me.

†† I had no idea what I was getting into when we moved here in 1996.

†† But God knew how fragile I was, so he gave me a tolerant, loving congregation.

Thatís just one example of how every good thing has been all his grace.

 

And every bad thing has been my failure.

One sentence in this passage that I find painful to read is when Paul says:

†† Let no one despise you because of your youth.

Timothy was a young pastor.He was where I was 20 years ago.

I tried to remember what I thought about this passage back then.

†† Iím sure I mostly thought of it as a challenge, marching orders.

Yes, I can do this.Iím going to be diligent and be this pastor described here.

 

I still feel that force in these words and their motivating power to be a good pastor,

†† but I also have something now that I didnít have thenóI have regrets.

The names and faces of people I failed pastorally.

†† The prayerless decisions that have come back to haunt me.

†† The bad pastoral habits that once seemed easy to overcome, but feel like chains.

I havenít been the pastor described here and I know it.

†† And yet Godís grace has been even more abundantly shown in my failure.

I trust that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will mitigate my failures and

†† even work them for good, and that he will be merciful to me on that day.

 

So this morning, as you can tell already, Iím going to preach to myself.

†† And you get to listen.

 

Even though this message might be better suited to a seminary graduation

†† or to a service at Presbytery, I think it will benefit all of you because

†† this passage is fundamentally about life in Christ.

And no matter what your callingówhether you are a minister, a butcher,

†† a baker, or a candlestick maker, itís your connection to Christ that must

†† be cultivated in every season of life.

 

I want us to look at this passage under two pointsóthey both come out of vs 16.

These are the ways Paul tells Timothy to cultivate both ministry and life in Christ:

†† 1.Keep a close watch on yourself.

†† 2.Keep a close watch on your teaching.

Everything that Paul says to Timothy fits under those points.

 


 

MP#1Keep a close watch on yourself

Pay close attention to yourself, another version says.

†† That sounds very therapeutic.Pay attention to yourself.

But Paul is not talking therapy, about pampering yourself

†† Heís not saying:Timothy, you need to get away.You need some me time.

†† Heís talking about Timothy in the ministry and he is basically saying:

Donít let the ministry keep you from Jesus.

†† Thatís exactly what will happen if you donít keep a close watch on yourself.

Pay attention to yourself as a man of Godó

†† and the first part of that is to be a man of God, to walk with Christ.

 

How could it possibly be that the ministry could keep a man from Jesus?

†† It just doesnít make sense.Ministers deal with the Bible week after week.

†† They are called upon to give thought and judgment to spiritual matters.

They stand in the pulpit from one Lordís Day to the next expounding Scripture.

†† How is it that they handle the very Word of God that leads people to Jesus,

†† and yet here is this warning that they might be kept from him.

 

I was in another city this summer and passed a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop

†† and the light was flashingóHot doughnuts now!Hot doughnuts now!

My car turned in on its own accord and before ordering, I watched the doughnuts

†† running down the conveyer belt, into the hot oil, flipped, and then up through

†† that wonderful shower of glaze.I ordered a dozen and said to the clerk:

We donít have Krispy Kreme in our town.Arenít these great.

†† And she said:Honestly, I used to love them, but Iíve lost my appetite for them.

 

It starts in seminary.

If you go to a seminary that believes the Bible and has godly professors

†† (not all of them do) then itís great.

†† I went to a seminary like that and it was profoundly positive.

Three years studying the Bible, reading good books, listing to thought-provoking

†† lectures, conversing and debating with fellow students, thinking big thoughts

†† about the Kingdom of God.

But something happens to you there for the first time.

†† You have to deal with the Word of God as an assignment.

 

You have a paper thatís due on this or that passage of Scripture or on this or that

†† doctrine but you are working a part-time job, you are doing an internship in a

†† church, perhaps you are married, maybe you even have a baby at homeó

You want to be a good student so you just buckle down and do it.

†† But if you arenít careful, a little callus can form on your soul.

†† Because rather than allowing the Word to lead you to Christ, just get it done.

Then you get out into your first church, and you are just swept along for the first

†† five or ten years, you wonder what on earth you are doing,

†† itís hard but itís exhilarating at the same time.

Your studies all your pastoral duties lead you right to the feet of Jesus

†† because you feel so inadequate and you need him so much.

 

And then, as life moves on, you accumulate more and more responsibilities.

†† Your children are getting older, your congregation is growing,

†† you get more deeply rooted in the community and peopleís livesóall good things.

But responsibilities are like barnacles, they slow you down,

†† take up more of your time.

There is the weekly preparation for preaching.

†† You know as you spend more time in the same pulpit that people expect more.

†† And rightly so.They are growing and want to be fed, itís your job to feed them.

 

Whereas you used to pray and even agonize over Scripture in your study

†† and beg God to give you some message for his people,

†† there are now very predictable paths your thinking follows.

By this time youíve gained some level of competency,

†† so you just bear down and get it done.

And those calluses from way back then start to thicken.

 

Whatís missing?Whatís the dynamic force in your study and ministry

†† that is no longer there?Itís communion with Jesus Christ.

Itís listening to his Word.Itís talking to him in prayer.

†† A young minister thinks that could never happen.

Iíll never become a pastor like that, just going through the motions,

†† a back-slapping sermon machine.But Paul says:Oh yes you can.

†† Watch yourself.

 

Someone has said that the most important things in life donít have deadlines.

†† Talking to your wife doesnít have a deadline.

†† Visiting your aged relatives doesnít have a deadline.

†† Spending time in quiet communion with God doesnít have a deadline either.

But the things with the deadlines can dominate us.

†† The 8:00 am school bell, the 2:00 pm conference call.

And for the pastor, the Sunday morning worship hour.

I donít have time to prayóIíve got a sermon to write.

†† That sounds crazy, but itís real.

 

As I mentioned earlier, this October 10th is the 20th anniversary of my ordination.

The sermon at that service was preached by my bossóDr. Bruce Fiol.

†† His passage was Luke 10, Mary and Martha.

You remember the story.Jesus had come to visit the sisters.

†† Martha was busy with all the preparations and Mary was sitting at Jesusí feet,

†† listening to him teach.Martha came in and said:Lord, donít you care that Iím

†† doing all the work myself, and sheís just sitting here?Tell her to help me.

Jesus said:Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things,

†† but only one thing is needed.Mary has chosen what is better and it will not

†† be taken away from her.

 

Bruce simply said:Donít let the busyness of the ministry keep you from

†† sitting at the feet of Jesus.Watch yourself.

I feel the force of that even more today than I did then.

†† Is your life going to get simpler?

†† Are you going to have fewer emails to answer next year?

†† Fewer text messages?Is your work going to get less complicated?

Are your childrenís schedules going to get simpler?

 

Are all the pressures of modern life that keep you from regular worship,

†† and life in the body, to say nothing of your private life with Godó

†† are those pressures going to be lessened?

Of course not.And thatís life.Paul understood that.

†† Life in that time was not fundamentally different from ours now.

 

And so the question is:Are you going to watch yourself?

Are you going to grow in your reliance upon the grace of Jesusó

†† so that people who know you sense that you are a man or a woman

†† vitally connected to him?

Itís not a question just for ministers, but for all believers.

 

 

 

 

 

Brings us to the second point:

MP#2Keep a close watch on your teaching.

The New International Version says:Watch your life and doctrine closely.

†† What does that mean?Whatís Paul telling this young minister?

I listened to a very interesting sermon by a professor at Southern Baptist

†† Theological Seminary on this passage.He told the young seminarians

†† that what Paul was exhorting Timothy to do was to be a life-long learner.

He said that the way you watch your teaching is not to let your mind grow rusty.

†† Keep reading, keep studying.

 

There is certainly a lot of truth to thatóI feel the force of it as a minister.

†† It is easy to get rusty and not to read and think.

One of the very last things Paul himself wrote was when he was near the

†† end of his life, in prison, and he asked Timothy to come and bring him his books,

†† and especially his parchments.

Up to the very end of his ministry, even with his death looming, Paul studying.

†† So thatís a very good word.

 

But, I donít think thatís Paulís point here.

When he tells Timothy to keep careful watch on himself,

†† he means, donít let the ministry keep you from Christ.

And when he tells him to also keep careful watch on his teaching,

†† he means, donít let your teaching keep other people from Christ.

 

Think about it:Thatís Paulís point throughout this passage and this whole letter.

†† Heís concerned about teaching that focuses attention on things besides Gospel.

Here he tells Timothy to avoid silly myths, to devote himself to Scripture.

†† This sentence literally says:Keep a close watch on the teaching.

†† That phrase ďthe teachingĒ is a way of referring to the body of doctrine,

†† the foundational truths of our faith which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Paul is saying, Timothy, make sure, keep watch, so that your teaching is always

†† Christ-centered.Preaching and teaching can be about all sorts of interesting

†† things, even things that people like to hear and find useful, but if your preaching

†† is not fundamentally about the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you are missing boat.

 

My professor of preaching in seminary (we called it homiletics) was

†† Dr. Bryan Chapell.This was the very heart of everything he taught us.

 

That the person and work of Jesus Christ and the grace of God had to be the

†† ultimate focus of all of our preaching.

There were a number of ways Dr. Chapell pushed this home.

Every passage of Scripture is either about man needing salvation

†† or God providing salvation.Bible fundamentally not about what we do,

†† itís about our great need and God meeting that need in Jesus.

 

God is the hero of every story.Abraham isnít the hero, David isnít the hero,

†† Peter and Paul arenít the heroes.They are all flawed men.If they achieve

†† anything, it is all Godís grace.Find that grace in the story and peach it.

He would even say:

†† Donít tell people just to be like Jesus.

†† Thatís the most depressing sermon in the worldóbe like Jesus

†† Who can be like Jesus?

Preach Jesus Christ as your savior and your enabler before you ever get around

†† to preaching him as our example.

He would say:Gentlemen, the rules donít change, but the motivation does.

†† Donít motive by guilt or shame, donít tell people to pull themselves up

†† by their bootstrapsóit must always be the grace of God.

 

There was a story told about Dr. Chapell which I never heard him tell,

†† but it was true, it really happened.

He had great natural speaking talents.

†† He started preaching when he was just 16 in a little country church.

So when he came to seminary, he was head and shoulders above everybody

†† else in terms of his confidence and delivery.

He was clearly the best preacher on the campus.

 

The day came for him to preach his first full sermon in his first homiletics class.

He put his heart into it, he pulled out all the stops.It was a masterpiece.

†† All his fellow students were both in awe and in despairó

†† knowing that they would never rise to this level.

 

He submitted his sermon manuscript to the professor.

†† The professor was an elderly minister, Dr. J. S.

†† A very kind and winsome man.†††

And the next day, Bryan Chapell got his sermon back in his box.

†† He pulled it out and there on the front page was a big, fat red F.

†† And scrawled across it was one word:Moralism.

He was crushed.He didnít even know what that meant.Moralism?

†† Went to Dr. S. with his sermon in hand.

Where is Jesus in this sermon?Here, I mentioned Jesus here and here.

†† Yes, but if you hadnít mentioned him at all, your sermon would be

†† fundamentally unchangedóbecause itís all about what you must do.

Itís about being a good person, doing the right things, keeping the rules.

†† A Jewish rabbi could preach this sermon.

†† A Unitarian minister could preach this sermon.

††

You have to preach our inability to do anything God requiresó

†† and how Jesus, through his perfect life and shameful death

†† has done everything for us.

And then, only then, do you say:Now, because of his grace,

†† and in gratitude for his grace, and relying on his graceóthis is how you must live.

 

This convicts me so deeply.Many times Iíve left out Godís grace in my

†† preaching and especially in my pastoral dealings with people.

Because the default mode of my heart is moralism.It is about performance.

†† Motivation by guiltóWhat kind of Christian are you, that is so wrong?

†† Motivation by shameóHow could you do this to the Lord, you ingrate?

†† Motivation by fearóGodís going to get you for doing that?

†† Motivation by briberyóKeep the rules, follow the steps, obey the law

†† and God owes you.

 

It sounds a lot like parenting, doesnít it?

†† After all weíve done for you.How dare you treat your mother that way.

†† You are going to get it.You donít want to see me when Iím mad.

†† Do what I tell you to do and Iíll give you what you want.

It sounds a lot like marriage, doesnít it?

†† How can I manipulate, threaten, punish, bribe my spouse to see things my way

†† and do what I want?

In fact, it sounds like all of our dealings with people in every area of lifeó

†† whether school or work or family.

 

See, this is not just for pastors.All Christians are preachers.

The way you deal with your childís disobedience is a sermon to that child.

You are either preaching moralism or grace.

†† Either, keep the rules and God owes you, or you are a sinner just like your mom

†† and dad.We need Jesus to be good and you do to.

The way you deal with your spouse is a sermonó

†† When you are wronged or you do the wrongóitís either the cross and humility

†† and forgiveness requested and forgiveness granted, or itís hell to pay.

 

Keep a close watch on your teaching.Be growing in grace.

Remember, the rules donít change, but the motivation doesó

†† Itís the cross of Jesus and your gratitude for his amazing salvation.

 

Keep a close watch on your lifeó

†† Donít let the busyness and the urgency of life, the barnacles of responsibility

†† keep you from the important business of growing closer to Christ.

Take time to worship with his people on the Lordís Day.

†† Donít let other things intrude.Take time to pray and meditate.

 

Keep a close watch on your teachingó

†† In all your dealings with people, especially those close to you,

†† keep the cross of Christ and the grace of God in the forefront of your mind.

That means you are constantly reminding yourself that you are sinner saved

†† by grace, and that gratitude drives you and motivates you.

 

And finally, I ask that you remember me in your prayers.

That the Lord will help me in both of these vitally important areasó

†† that my walk with him will be close, and that my preaching, teaching,

†† and all my conversations with you as your pastor will be full of grace.