It is important to get the right portrait of the right person.
Once upon another life, before I was a minister, I did a lot of other things. I was even a caricature artist. One day, as I was pursuing my work amidst a gaggle of people all gathered around me at a fall festival, I was commissioned by a father to draw his child. I began to draw the person in front of me. It was a tremendous portrait if I do say so myself. There was only one small problem: when I handed the portrait to the father he said, “This is not my daughter.” I had drawn the wrong kid. The portrait was a perfect rendition of the child in front of me, but it was not the man’s daughter! It is important to get the picture right!
We know that as fathers. And so we look to the model of fatherhood in the Bible to draw a portrait of the man we should be. We look to the Bible to get the right portrait of a godly mother and wife and everything else in life. It is important to get the portrait of a pastor. We may have all sorts of ideas about what a pastor should do or shouldn’t do, what he should or shouldn’t look like.
Once I was getting my haircut, and I discerned that the barber was not a Christian—indeed had little or no background in the faith. As we were talking, I felt I had finally broken through, when he said, “May I ask you a question?” “Yes, of course,” I said with some hope for a breakthrough! “Do all priests and monks and ministers like you have this little round place cut out in the back of their heads?” Well, he had the wrong picture of a minister to be sure!
It is important that we get the right picture, the right portrait of what God is calling us to be. This is important for a seminary. This is important for a local church. It is important for your own walk with the Lord. Now before you check out and say, “This is a good sermon for preachers; but since I am not a preacher, this is not for me,” remember that God’s Word has something to say to every man and woman and boy and girl here today. For as the Lord gives us a portrait of a minister approved by God, we also see features of the believer approved by God.
Context and depth and perception are important in painting. It is so here. You see, in 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul painted a portrait of apostasy. So he turns to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6 and paints the portrait of faithfulness to resist the apostasy and even to save himself and others from the deadly consequences of such teaching. And so it is in this context that Paul the apostle instructs Pastor Timothy: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.”
Because we live in a world of distorted images drawn by men, it is important to focus on the portrait of a pastor approved by God. Paul speaks of Christ Jesus and calls Him, in this passage, “the living God.” He emphasizes the divinity of our Lord Jesus by calling Him this. So let us follow Paul’s language and speak of a minister approved by Christ Jesus. Exactly, what are the features of this portrait of the Christ-approved pastor (and remember, we can take the same features and apply them to a “disciple approved by Christ Jesus”)?
The first feature is this:
A minister approved by Christ Jesus is a disciplined minister (vv. 6-8).
The training that Paul speaks of in verse 9 is in fact “discipline.” One of the best books I have read on discipleship is based on this very verse and is called Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Paul is calling for Timothy to be practiced, disciplined, trained as he goes out. The minister is not naturally given to the life of servanthood and sacrifice and trial that is going on at Ephesus. He must be “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine.” Moreover, we read in verse 7 that he should be “trained in godliness.”
At Reformed Theological Seminary, where I serve, we call this training outcome “a mind for truth and a heart for God.” This is the Pauline combination of faith, doctrine, as well as godliness. But what is clear is that God expects training to be in place for ministers and in fact for all of God’s people, but especially for ministers of the gospel. I once had a young deacon, naive about the ministry and sadly ignorant about the Word of God, tell me, “I see you give a speech a couple times per week and then get all this vacation time. This sounds like a pretty good gig to me! Where do I sign up?”
In the training of Timothy, Paul trained him in order to bring about God’s kingdom to a most unruly situation. Just look in 1 Timothy and see what this man faced.
- Timothy faced false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3;
- Timothy faced the need to be transparent, like Paul, in laying his life bare before enemies in order that they might become, like Paul, a trophy of God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:12); and he would have to learn that the power of Jesus to plant churches and revitalize churches lies not in his strength but in the power of Jesus moving through a broken man before the cross;
- Timothy must hold to the faith with a good conscience in spite of hardship and in the presence of others who are slipping away (1 Timothy 1:18);
- Timothy must deal with controversies in worship (1 Timothy 2:1);
- Timothy must address the issue of how to integrate faith and politics in praying for kings and all in authority (1 Timothy 2:1);
- Timothy must untangle the messy problem of women in teaching positions in the church, and he had to address the issue of the role of relationships of men and women in ordained ministry (1 Timothy 2:8);
- Timothy had to make sure that the people knew the qualifications for elders and deacons as well as the deacons’ wives (2 Thessalonians 3:1); and just to go up to our text and not go any further;
- Timothy had to face off with demon-possessed false teachers who were deceiving the flock and imposing ungodly rules about marriage and diet!
Now, who wants to apply to be a minister?
The Bible is clear. The work of the gospel is opposed by Satan, not naturally accepted by the flesh and resisted by the minister himself, once he comes into contact with the demonic and the anti-Christian attitudes of not just the world but those who bring the world into the church! In order to face these perils, we must encourage those who are called to be ministers to submit their lives to other pastor-scholars for an extended period. During this time there will be Pauline-like oversight, instruction and spiritual formation in order to produce the soldier of the Lord for the battles we face in our own day. For in the training up of ministers, we build up the church.
But let me ask you: How do you approach your life as a believer? No, you may not be called, but you are a soldier in the army of the Lord, as well. The answer drawn from this and many other places in the Word of God is that you, too, need training. For some of you that may even mean coming to a seminary. But for most it means sitting regularly under the preaching of the Word of God right here. It means involvement in a small group or Sunday School class. It means daily Bible study and time with God in His Word. It means seasons of prayer, formulated from the Word itself.
How are you doing in your training in godliness? So this is the first feature: discipline. Now look at the second feature of this Scriptural portrait.
A minister approved by Christ Jesus is a diligent minister (v. 10).
For we read in verse 10, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” The minister approved by Christ Jesus is one who is not just diligent in keeping busy. He is not diligent in becoming a veritable ringmaster of programs and executive oversight of a religious store. No, this man is diligent in preaching Jesus Christ as the Savior of all people.
It was Lesslie Newbigin who said that if the church does not exist to fulfill God’s purposes on earth, then it ceases to be the church. And we must say that this passage would lead us to affirm that and to add that if a minister is not toiling and striving to preach Jesus as Savior to the whole world, if a minister is not looking to preach Jesus as Savior to his flock, to his community, and also to the whole world, if he is not a global-minded minister concerned about the purposes of Jesus Christ in the earth, then he ceases to be a minister of Christ.
I am a reserve Army chaplain. Recently I did my duty at my new duty station at the Pentagon. While there, I talked to a number of our military leaders. And I heard over and over again that one thing they are concerned about is that our nation seems to forget that we are at war. Things look peaceful because there are no firefights in the streets of New York. And many in the media seem to focus on other things. But the truth is we are at war. Our troops are holding the peace we won in Iraq and battling with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world. They were telling me that we are acting like we are at peace. But we are at war. And thus we must work and pray and support our troops in the battle.
One of the greatest devices of the devil is to make us believe that we are at peace. But the Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual warfare. And we are all soldiers in the Army of the Lord. Our work is spiritual, not physical. Our weapons are supernatural, and the work of the minister is to toil and strive to preach Jesus as Savior to the world. This is a ministry and a minister and a believer’s work that is approved by God.
The first feature was discipline and the second diligence. A third feature of the portrait is this:
A minister approved by Christ Jesus is a godly minister (v. 12).
Nothing could be more plain when we read these words: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Before Paul gets to doctrine, Paul focuses on life because if you can recite the Shorter Catechism backward—or for that matter recite the whole Book of Psalms perfectly—but you have not love, have not godliness in your speech and in your faith in Jesus and in purity of life, what good is it? Indeed, all of the doctrine in the world is useless without godliness. And so Paul begins with a heart for God.
At the seminary we like to say that we want to produce pastors who have a mind for truth but who also have a heart for God. And if we have a heart for God we will want to please Him with our very lives. Recently I spoke to a young woman who is at our seminary to be trained to become a missionary. She wants to minister to Muslims in the Middle East. She has come here to get her doctrine, to be trained in the things of God, to learn the Bible’s teachings, to sit under godly pastor-scholars in order to be filled with the truth of Christ’s teachings so that she can bring that teaching to others. But before she did that, she first had a love of Islamic peoples. Love drove her to learning. Love drove her to minister.
And this is the pattern in the Word of God: “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.” Love led Jesus to come to us. Love of Christ leads us to love others. And love leads us to minister. And whether you are old or young, eloquent or plain, people will not despise those who come to them in love. We must produce pastors who love. But you also must love Christ and love others in order for them to receive your message.
Here is a fourth and final feature I would draw your attention to in Paul’s portrait.
A minister approved by Christ Jesus is a devoted minister (vv. 13-16).
In the last three verses of this passage, Paul calls Timothy to “devote yourself,” to “not neglect the gift you have,” to “practice these things, devote yourself to them,” to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching,” and finally to “persist in this,” for in doing so you will save yourself and your hearers.
To be called to the ministry is to be called to a life of devotion. Indeed, to be called to be a Christian is to be called to a life of devotion.
We must all be devoted to the Word of God. For the minister, he is to devote himself, as we see here, to the public ministry of the Word, to reading it as well as preaching it. I believe that the minister of the gospel is to be so involved with the public ministry of the Word in worship that nothing in the service goes outside of his purview.
I was the 12th pastor since 1838 when I served at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. One of my predecessors was Dr. James Fowle. And I have heard, by those who sat under his ministry during the late ’40s all the way through 1968, that he apparently spent as much time working on the pastoral prayer as he did the sermon. Some said he spent as much time on practicing the reading of the Scriptures as he did in preaching them!
But this is an example of what the Bible is saying. We aim to produce ministers who hear this message. In an age where so many want to be entertained, we believe that pastors ought to spend time in the Word and lead worship according to the Word of God. And for all of us, as the people of God, where is our focus in worship? Where is our focus in discipleship? It must be in the Bible. Some bizarre things have come into the church because preachers have given in to the strange, television-influenced cravings of our people. Oh, that God would raise up a generation of Christians who demand the Word of God in worship! Then would our pastors become all the more encouraged in doing what God has called them to d to be devoted to the public reading of the Word of God.
We also must be devoted to watching over our own lives. The devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and lions like weak prey. A minister who has lost his way, stopped devoting himself to the Word and to prayer, lost his love of the gospel of grace in his own life, lost the love of his flock and lost a love of the lost and of seeing the Kingdom of Jesus going to the ends of the earth is like a wounded gazelle who has strayed from the herd. He is a prime target for the crouched lion to spring at him and rip him to shreds. The percentage of ministers who are falling is astounding. It is, in fact, epidemic. A study was revealed by the Schaeffer Institute: “…30 percent [of pastors they interviewed] said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.”1
We must devote ourselves to Jesus each and every day. Oh, that Christ would take me home to be with Himself rather than let me fall into sin and hurt my wife and son and our children and our seminary and our church and the body of Christ. But it doesn’t have to be that way—for me or for you—if we devote ourselves to the faith personally and privately each and every day and all through the day. The prayed-up preacher, the prayed-over believer, is safe from the fiery darts of the devil. Keep watch over yourselves.
But we must also surely devote ourselves to the teaching of Jesus Christ. It is so easy to preach a “do this and do that” religion rather than the gospel of God’s grace. Remember that this is what is before Timothy and what has precipitated this charge. There were those who were teaching that holiness came from doing certain religious things. “Refrain from this and follow this rule.”
But the gospel is that nothing can provide the righteousness we need but the life of Jesus. Nothing can take away our guilt before a holy God but the blood atonement of Jesus Christ at Calvary, where He died as a sacrificial lamb on the Cross. Nothing but faith in Him, this Savior of the World, this Christ Jesus, this divine God-Man, this carpenter from Nazareth who is God, can save us from our sins. This we preach to others. This we preach to ourselves. And if we persist in doing this—that is, if we continue in this doctrine of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone to God’s glory alone—we shall save ourselves and those who hear us.
The portrait of a minister approved by God is clearly shown to us. And is this not, I say again, a picture of a passionate believer? Is this not what Christ is calling all of us to be?
- Disciplined in our training for ministry?
- Diligent in our laboring in ministry?
- Godly in our example before the flock?
- Devoted to the Great Commission?
A young man in our seminary told me that he had made a trip after he graduated from college in South Carolina. He said that he and a buddy flew to California and drove back, just to see the country. And they stopped in Salt Lake City. They took the tour of the Mormon Tabernacle. While there, as he listened to the young lady give the tour and speak of a faith that seemed so far from the grace of Jesus, it overwhelmed him and he had to leave.
He told me that he wept. He wept that so much was being given for a lie. And he wept for the people who were not hearing the beautiful grace of Jesus Christ offered to all who would simply receive this free gift. He told me, “I think that God wants me to plant a church. I hurt for these people. There are more Bible-believing, grace-centered Christians in Egypt than in Utah. That breaks my heart.”
I could see the pain but also the passion in this young man as he spoke. Then he said, “Is it just boastful and wrong to think this way? You see, I think that the gospel guarantees success. I am not saying that I am going to be the greatest church planter, wherever the Lord sends me; but I am saying that the gospel is more powerful and more compelling to hurting people than all of this.” No, son. It is not wrong to boast in Jesus’ power to transform human beings and to build His church in the midst of false teaching and even apathy. It is not naïve to believe that the gospel of God’s grace will save human beings. And it is not wrong to weep for the lost and to be bold in Jesus to save them. It is not wrong.
It is, in fact, the portrait in 1 Timothy 4:6-16—it is the portrait of a pastor with a heart for God’s Word, a passion for God’s world and a commitment to God’s grace, all wrapped in a love for the Savior who lived the life you could never live and who died an atoning death for your sins. What a picture! That is the portrait of a minister approved by God. And let us be sure we understand this: This is also the portrait of a disciple of Jesus, whatever your role is in the body of Christ. This is a portrait of a true believer approved by Christ Jesus. Is this a portrait of your life?
Photo credit: ©Unsplash/BenWhite
1. Richard J. Krejcir, “What Is Going on with Pastors in America?” (Schaeffer Institute, www.intothyword.org), accessed on Nov. 3, 2008.
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.