The Lord's Day Morning
September 19, 2004
I Timothy 4:11-16
“The Ordinary Means of Grace”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to I Timothy, chapter four. We’re working through three letters written by Paul that have been called for a couple of hundred years now “the pastoral letters,” or the “pastoral epistles”: I Timothy, Titus, and II Timothy. Some of the last things that Paul ever said in his life to the church, they’re written from a veteran pastor, an apostle, a missionary, church planter to a young man who has been his apostolic assistant in missions work, and to a man who is now pastoring a local congregation, facing all the challenges of not only ministering to the local congregation, but in a time of persecution where Christians were marginal, endangered, and few. And these are Paul's–not only words of advice and counsel–but Paul's divine directions for how ministers ought to be and do, and how the local church ought to be and do. Paul has made it clear, for instance, in chapter three–we've already studies this–that Paul is not simply giving good advice; he is telling us what life is to be like in what he calls “the household of faith, the church of the living God.” He's telling us how all local churches ought to pattern their ministries.
Now, in the passage before us today Paul has some words, very personal words, for a man that he knew and loved very well: Timothy. And it would be very tempting for us…and you’re going to hear the “personal-ness” of this message in the pronouns that he uses. He's speaking “you, you, you, you, Timothy,” and even some of the instructions that he gives are couched in the distinctive personality of Timothy. Timothy was a man who was constitutionally weak, he had stomach problems. He was temperamentally meek, he was given to deference. He had been Paul's right-hand man, and frankly, he was having a hard time transitioning into the role of leadership where “he was the man.” He was young, and all of those combined to bring about certain characteristics and dynamics in the way that Paul speaks to him in this passage.
So it would be very tempting for us to say, “Well, good. We’re getting ready to listen in on what Paul has to say to one minister, and what this says doesn't say anything to me today.” You, if you took that posture, would be in the wrong position! Because every word of Scripture is given by inspiration and every word is profitable for you, for reproof and correction and training in righteousness.
Now, how should you listen to this conversation that you’re going to be allowed to eavesdrop on? Well, let me suggest two or three things. First of all, in this passage what Paul says to Timothy is not only applicable to Timothy; it is applicable to everyone who is a minister of the gospel. So, every Christian here…but let me just ask the ministers and elders who are here, think about these words directly in terms of what God wants you to be and do…but everyone, even those of you who are not called to be ministers, elders in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, you can say, “Lord, this is what You want a minister and elder to look like.” You can pray for your ministers and elders to look like this. You can encourage them to look like this. When the Lord relocates you to another place, and you’re looking for a place to fellowship under the Scriptures, you can look for a church that has ministry that looks like this. That's one thing you can do.
Secondly, however, even in the things that Paul tells Timothy to do here, there is much that is said about what the ministry pattern of the local church is to be, if Timothy does the things that Paul tells him to do in I Timothy 4:11-16. There are going to be certain things that are going to be central to the ministry of the church. As a Christian, you should long, then, for the local church to be like Paul says it ought to be, based on this passage.
But finally, you as a believer can learn much about what you are to be and do from this passage to a Christian minister. Why? Because in this passage Paul says, Timothy, you are to do this in order to be …what? an example to the flock. Well, look. If he's to do certain things in order to be an example to you, what are you supposed to do? You’re to follow that example. And so even though these words in the first instance are spoken to a minister, they’re applicable to every Christian.
And if you are here today, and you have not embraced Jesus Christ by faith, if you don't know Him savingly, you can learn from this passage, too. Because this passage is talking about the means, or the ways, that God does two things: saves sinners, and build up disciples. And so if you don't know Jesus Christ, you can learn here the way that God goes about doing that.
So let's hear God's word. Before we do, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. It's not Paul's word, it's not the idea of a godly religious man about You; it's Your word to us. In it You reveal Your heart, Your ways, and Your will. Help us to see that. Lord God, help us to receive this word as it is, as Your word, not as the words of men. By Your Spirit, open our eyes to understand it. We acknowledge that spiritual things are only perceived through the work of the Spirit in us, enabling us to perceive them. So Lord God, open the eyes of the blind. We need Your help, all of us. And Lord God, move us not only to understand, but also to embrace this truth and to live it. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God in I Timothy 4.
“Prescribe and teach these things. 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. 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 upon you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
What's a minister supposed to be and do? And what is the heart of the ministry of the local church? You know, over the last hundred years in America, there have been more answers given to that question than I can even begin to list for you today. Just about everybody studying the church today agrees that ministers are expected to be more things now than they've ever been expected to be before. Historically, the Christian church expected ministers to preach, they expected ministers to lead in worship, and to pastor.
Today ministers are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades: salesmen, fund-raisers, leaders, counselors, therapists, cheerleaders, coaches….and then along the way somewhere, preach every once in a while, disciple and minister to the people of God in times of need. There's been a multiplication of the expectations on the part of those in the pew for the ministers of the word. That's just something that sociologists tell us. Everybody seems to be telling us that.
What, then, ought to be the job description of the minister? Paul has something to say about that in this passage today. What ought to be the model, the pattern of ministry in the local church? Again, if I were to list all the options that are out there today, we wouldn't have time just to list the options! There is a model for how the church ministry ought to be conducted on every…there are ten models on every bookshelf that you find on “Ministry” in a local Christian bookstore. The church needs to be completely remodeled in order to appeal to seekers. No, the church needs to be completely remodeled in order to be welcoming to seekers. And there's a model for every…there's a philosophy for church life on every bookshelf–gobs of different approaches. What, then, should be the pattern of ministry in the local church? Paul says in this passage today what it ought to be.
I want you to see six things, very briefly, that he directs to Timothy and to all ministers: six things that have something to say to all of us here gathered under the hearing of the word today. The first thing is this. You’ll see it in verse eleven.
I. Speak with authority and instruct your flock with these truths.
Paul wants Timothy's proclamation to be authoritative. The first point that Paul makes to Timothy is that his ministry should be authoritative. He's talking about authoritative proclamation. Notice what he says in verse eleven: “Prescribe and teach these things.” Some of your translations may say “command and teach these things.” That's a perfectly good translation. It's a military word that's being used. “Command” or “prescribe” here is the word that is used to speak of the orders that are given by a superior officer to inferior officers. Paul is saying to Timothy that his proclamation needs to be authoritative.
Do you realize how counter-cultural that is? I'm told by everybody around me today that the pattern of ministry in the Christian church needs to be changed because people don't like to be “preached at.” They don't like a sermon. They like dialogue. They like advice. They’re more into the give and take of therapy than they are in the direct proclamation of a lecture or a sermon. And so we're told on every side the way we go about doing church needs to change, because people don't like that. Well, I've got some news for you: people have never liked this!! There's never been a time when people liked to have their hearts probed. There's never been a time where people liked to have somebody discover where they have been weighed in the balance and found lacking. There's never been a time where people liked to be told ‘you’re dead wrong; you need to go another direction.’
And Paul says that's exactly what people have always needed, whether they like it or not. So he says, “Timothy, prescribe and teach these things.” In other words, in your preaching, be authoritative. You’re not speaking for yourself. You’re not sharing your opinions. You’re not burdening people with your own idea about life. You’re speaking God's word to them, so be authoritative about it! And you know what? Because all faithful Christian teaching has with its view the production of a life of fellowship and obedience to God, it's got to be authoritative because we're not just speaking the word in order to tell you something new or interesting. We’re not just giving you some fun facts to know and tell. Christian teaching has in view the transformation of life. And so it's got to be authoritative.
And as Christians, we ought to want to sit under a ministry that is faithful in the authority of its proclamation. That's something that, if the Lord moves you from this place to another place, that's something you ought to look for. Not a ministry that's ‘dialoguing’ with you; not a minister that's doing a late-night talk show chat on a bar stool; but someone who's proclaiming authoritatively God's word. That's what Paul says we ought to do. This isn't the opinion of up-tight Presbyterians: this is Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit telling you what God wants in ministry.
II. Prove your office by your life.
Secondly, notice what he says in verse 12. It boils down to this: he says, “Timothy, practice what you preach. 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.” Or, show yourself an example to believers. What's Paul saying? He's saying practice what you preach, Timothy. Prove your office by your life. Timothy, you’re young. There are older and more experienced people in your congregation. It would be possible for them to say, “Boy, that preacher's kind of young….” And Paul says, “Timothy, you show that you have every business being a minister of the word of God by the way you live. You practice what you preach.”
And he zeroes in on five specific areas. He says, ‘Timothy, first…notice, first…with your speech show that you’re qualified to be a minister of God.’ This isn't his preaching speech, this is his day-to-day speech. In the way that you talk, Timothy, in the respectful way that you talk to people, in the serious way that you talk to people; in the appropriate way that you talk to people, you show with your language that you’re a minister of the gospel.
And, in your conduct, in your manner of life, show that you are qualified to be a preacher of the gospel. Twenty-four/seven, with your life outside of the pulpit on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, the rest of the week, you show with your manner of life that you’re called to be a preacher of the word of God.
And Timothy, you show with your love. You show in the way that you serve others in love that you put their interests before your own; that you serve them even at your own expense. You show in the way that you love that you’re a minister of the gospel.
And Timothy, you show by your faith. Does Paul mean your trust in the promises of God, or does he mean your fidelity to the truth of God? I don't know. It's kind of hard to say. Sometimes he uses this word to mean “faithfulness;” sometimes he means it to be “faith.” Either would be a true exhortation, wouldn't it? Timothy, by your faith show that you’re called to be a minister of the word.
And Timothy, by your purity…and Paul has especially in view Timothy's sexual purity. The way he relates to the female members of his congregation. As one older minister in the Lord exhorted me and other younger ministers, he said, “Brothers, love the sisters, but take no pleasure in them.” Meaning, you love them like a sister in Christ. You serve them. But do not lust for them. Do not treat them as an object for your gratification. You love them purely, like a sister in Christ. That's what Paul's saying to Timothy.
And he's saying, Timothy, you be an example. Timothy's preaching, his authoritative preaching, is to be preceded by a life that exhibits the fruits of that authoritative preaching. He is to practice what he preaches. And my friends, all true Christian profession shows itself in how we live. And so if Timothy is to be an example to us as believers in these five areas, then we ought to be examples to one another in these five areas. Are you praying that the Lord would grow you in those five areas? Are you praying for your brothers and sisters in Christ here at First Presbyterian Church that they would grow in these areas and be an encouragement to you? And that we collectively would be a witness to the world that God has done a work in our hearts, and therefore in us there is appropriate godly speech and conduct, and love and faith and purity? That's a good prayer to pray for one another, and it's certainly something for us all to aspire to, whether we're ministers or not.
Ministers, elders here today, are you striving to adorn your life with this godliness? That's what Paul's calling us to do. We have an especial burden to strive after this holiness, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
III. Make the focus of your ministry the reading/preaching/teaching of the word.
Thirdly, look at verse 13. Notice that Paul says OK, Timothy, here's going to be the focus of your ministry: give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. In other words, Paul is saying, “Timothy, make the Bible the source, the stuff, the center of your ministry.” Minister, in other words, by the ordinary means of grace. God has given you the means whereby you are to minister to His people, and here's what they are: the read word; the preached word. Make the focus of your ministry the reading and preaching and teaching of the word.
Let me just say that in many Bible-believing churches today you will hear very little or none of the Bible read in the public assemblies of the church. That is a contradiction of the Bible's instruction for what we're supposed to do when we gather together, because even if the minister with the best intentions wants to give a message which is in accord with Scripture, but doesn't read Scripture, we will begin to associate the minister's message with the minister and fail to see that he is simply the messenger for a greater Speaker and Author, the Lord God. That is why we always read the word of God in the service of worship by itself, that we may all recognize that it is the final source and rule of life, and everything that the minister says, pray God, is simply drawn from and in accord with that word, and takes nothing and adds nothing to it. And so the word of God is to be read.
But notice also he goes on to say, “and to exhortation and teaching.” He combines those things. Throughout this letter there has been an emphasis on Timothy's giving himself to doctrinal instruction, to teaching people the truth of the word. But notice how Paul emphasizes exhortation here. In faithful Bible preaching there are always three things: there is the explanation of the Bible, so that you can understand it; there is the application of the Bible, so that you will understand how what the Bible teaches connects to your life. But then there is exhortation. That is, there is a compelling call to you to respond to the word of God.
I’ll never forget, one of my preaching teachers in seminary, the man who taught us preaching. He said, “Men, if I ever come to your church, I'm going to be sitting on the back row with my arms folded. At the end of your sermon, I'm going to be asking you a question: what do you want me to do.” And he was saying that our preaching ought to impel the person to appropriate the application of God's word to their life. And Paul is saying that Timothy is to give himself to this kind of exhortation. He is to explain the word. He is to apply the word. And he is to exhort the people of God to embrace the word. And all wise Christians will value the ministry of the reading and preaching and teaching of the word above all else. Show me a church where those things are being squeezed out of the public assembly, and I will show you a church that will be a dead church in a little while, no matter how many people are in it. When the word of God is squeezed out of the worship of God, you can be sure that trouble in on the way, In fact, trouble is already there.
IV. Don't neglect your spiritual gifting.
Fourthly, notice verse 14. We need three weeks to do justice to verse 14, and I've got about a minute and a half. Do not neglect your spiritual gifting. What does Paul say? “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by presbytery.”
Let me just say one thing about this passage. This passage shows us that even a divine, extraordinary spiritual endowment from the third person of the Trinity can be neglected in the life of a preacher. That's why Paul says to Timothy, “don't neglect that spiritual gift.” Now if that's true of a divine, extraordinary endowment from the third person of the Trinity, how much more true is it of the divine ordinary endowments of the Holy Spirit? If Timothy needs to be careful that he cultivates this extraordinary endowment of the Holy Spirit, how much more should we cultivate the ordinary endowments of the Holy Spirit?
All Christians should take heed to the cultivation of and reliance upon divine spiritual gifting, because what God has called us to do as Christian witnesses is beyond the native inherent power of any human being. What does God call us to do? Be witnesses to those who are spiritually dead, and call them to life. Now, how many of you have the power to raise the dead? That's right. And that's what God says you’re to do in your witness–raise the dead. Speak the word of truth so that the dead will live. You don't have the power to do that. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. Timothy must be dependent upon that, and to be dependent upon that he must cultivate the gift of the Holy Spirit in him.
V. Be absorbed in this gospel business.
Fifthly, look at verse 15. Paul says to Timothy that he is to be engrossed with these things, with a view to making progress. Look at what he says in verse 15–‘Take pains with these things, be absorbed in them so that your progress will be evident to all.’ In other words, Paul is saying to Timothy, “Timothy, be absorbed in this gospel business of right teaching and sound doctrine, and faithful living.” Be absorbed with these things, be engrossed with them, and make these doctrinal and didactic and ethical concerns such a priority in your life that people can actually watch you grow.
He's saying, “Timothy, people ought to be able to see that because you've been in the word and under the word yourself, that you’re growing; and that because you care about holiness of life, you’re growing in godliness.” And that's an example to all of us. There ought to be progress made in our growth in the Christian life. There ought to be maturation, there ought to be maturity; we ought to be growing in grace. And so Paul says to Timothy, be absorbed in this gospel business.
VI. Pay attention to your life and teaching.
And sixth and finally, look at verse 16. Let me say this provocatively. Paul said to Timothy, “Timothy, live and teach as if salvation depended upon it.” Now, I said provocative. I don't’ know whether that's any more provocative that what Paul says in verse 16:
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”
Is Paul telling Timothy that he will save himself by preaching? No. Is he saying that he will save others by his preaching? Or that his preaching will be the ground of their salvation? No. In all of Paul's writing he makes it clear that salvation is of God. God is the one who saves; it is God's grace that saves. But Paul also makes it clear that God uses means, means of grace. He talks about it in Romans 10. Do you remember what he says? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word” (through the message preached). God's sovereignty in salvation is not in contradiction to our being faithful to the means that God has given us, and so Paul is saying this to Timothy: “Timothy, pay close attention to your life and to your teaching, because that will be the instrument that God has chosen for your own salvation and for the salvation of others.”
Now, that's a sobering thought. You know, it would be a terrible thing, wouldn't it be, for a minister of the word to spend his life pointing people to Jesus, and never to go to Jesus himself. It would be a terrible thing for a minister of the gospel to spend his life telling people the way of salvation, and never to enter into the narrow gate himself. And my friends, it's an occupational hazard, because when you talk about God and you talk about loving God, and you talk about trusting God all the time, you can talk yourself into thinking that you’re doing it when you’re not. And so Paul says to Timothy, pay close attention to your life and teaching, so that as you preach the word (that means of grace appointed by God), not only becomes the instrument that God uses for the salvation of those who embrace Christ through your ministry, but as your own salvation.
Six sobering words to a young minister: six words that tell us what ministers ought to be and do; six words that tell us what ministry is. What's the focus of ministry in the church? It's the ministry of the word. When a church goes off kilter on the center of its ministry, when it veers from the ministry of the word as the center of its ministry, it's deviated from biblical direction, from God's direction about the health of the local church. When a minister of the gospel doesn't have a life to match his teaching, or is kind and faithful in life but refuses to teach the meat of the word of God, ministry is off kilter. And Paul has these words for us so that we will know what a faithful minister looks like, and so that we will know what a faithful church looks like, and so that we ourselves will grow in grace, in doctrine, and in life.
Our Lord and our God, grow us by Your word. Make us into the very image of God. Make us like the Lord Jesus Christ, through the work of Your Spirit, in accordance with the word of truth. Help us to understand the importance of the word, and to long and to revel in the glory of the word of salvation given from God to sinners. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.