Setting an Example

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I'm off to the Pembrokeshire coast tomorrow for a week's sun-soaked walking on the cliffs. That's the theory, anyway. But just imagine that instead of walking on the cliffs I fall off them - and you're left looking for a replacement. It begs the question: What would you look for in a new 'minister' for JPC? Let me give you a pause to answer that to yourself.

Now if we're thinking 'Christianly' we should ask ourselves the question, 'What would the Bible tell us to look for?' 'Where does the Bible tackle this question?' And the answer is: especially in Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus - which have a lot to say about the minister who teaches and leads the local church. And this month of Sunday evenings, we're looking at 1 Timothy.

A quick bit of background. Timothy was in a place called Ephesus. And Paul had left him there as acting leader of the church. Now often in Paul's letters you find a verse or two which sums up why he was writing. And in this letter it's 3.14-15. Paul says:

14Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

So, Paul's two big concerns for any local church are: conduct and truth. That we live in a way that advertises the Lord Jesus well to the non-Christian world. And that we hold onto the truth about the Lord Jesus and get that out to the non-Christian world, too. Now The New Testament (NT) says that all Christians are 'ministers' (which just means servants) of Jesus. We all serve him in our conduct and truth-telling, 7 days a week. But some Christians minister by teaching and leading the local church. And their conduct and truth-telling matters above all for the health of the local church. And that's what tonight's passage is about.

Now you may already be thinking, 'This isn't going to be relevant to me because I'm not one of those ministers.' But in fact, it's utterly relevant to all of us - for three reasons:

Reason no.1: You need to know what to look for in a minister of a church. So that you can pray for those things to be true in us who minister by teaching and leading the local church. And so you can call us to account if they're not. And so that if and when you move away, you choose a next church wisely.

Reason no.2: If you're a Christian, you are a minister, as I've said. You are teaching and giving a lead about the Christian faith to non-Christians around you, and to Christians around you - even if it's just your little brother or sister.

Reason no.3: Some of you should be church ministers. Some of you at some stage in the future should leave your jobs to do gospel-work full-time. (I co-lead a national organisation, '9:38' whose aim is to help people consider whether that is what God is guiding them to do. We have two conferences - one in September for those beyond student age; and one in December for students. Please do pick up a leaflet about those on the Welcome Desk - or please do ask me about them. Or visit the website:

So stay with it. It is relevant. What should you look for in a minister?


Command and teach these things. (v11)

Now I take it that 'these things' refers to everything Paul has said from 2.1 onwards. Have a look at 2.1:

I urge, then, first of all, that… (etc)

From 2.1, Paul tells Timothy what to tell the whole church. And in 4.11 he tells Timothy to tell them. Ie, Timothy is to command and teach what Paul commands and teaches. Timothy is to be completely unoriginal. He's to take Paul's message and deliver it to the congregation as the unchanging, up-to-date Word of God. Unashamedly. Uncompromisingly. The same goes, of course, for the message of the whole Bible. But at this point of the crisis in the church in the west, the acid test of a minister is quite literally this one of 4.11. Does he or does he not command and teach what Paul commands and teaches? It's that simple. And the homosexuality issue is a test-case.

Or take a different example. Two Saturdays ago I preached at Beth Jump's - now Williamson's - wedding. Beth was on the staff here and was Jumpster the dog in last year's Holiday Club. (Don't tell the kids, but Jumpster the dog is now married and on honeymoon with her dream hound.) Tom and Beth asked me to preach on Ephesians 5 at their wedding, so I had to command and teach, 'Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.' And at that point you can tell those in the congregation who are not Christians because they're glaring at you. And you're faced with the simple choice: will you teach the Bible, or please people?

Verse 11: 'Command and teach these things,' says Paul. But he anticipates a problem. Verse 12:

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young…

In Paul's time that word 'young' applied to people up to and including their thirties. (So I still qualify!) And Paul realises that it would be easy for older members of the church to look down on Timothy and to treat his teaching and leadership with less respect because he's young. And that's a live issue today. I'm conscious that I'm always preaching to a good number of people older than me in both life experience and in the faith. It's true in many ministry areas in our church that older people find themselves being taught and led by younger people - whether staff or non-staff younger people. And by implication, v12 calls on those of us who are older not to look down on the teaching and lead of those who are younger - but to respect it and encourage it and be loyal to it.

But the main point of v12 is to call on those of us who are younger teachers and leaders to give people no reason to look down on us. Verse 12 again:

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

And I'd call this the authority of integrity. Paul is saying to Timothy and all younger leaders: you may not have the authority of age and experience. But you can have and should have the authority of integrity - the authority of practising what you preach. So let's look at the details in v12:

'In speech.' Leaders are to watch their tongues first and foremost - to watch their truthfulness; their promises; their humour; their cleanness of speech; and how and when they voice criticism.

Then, v12, 'in life'. And you can imagine Timothy's heart sinking a bit at that point - because he'd been hoping for something a bit more manageable than that. Because 'life' is pretty comprehensive isn't it? But the point is: leaders are never off duty. I remember driving a car-load of our students to a conference I was speaking on. And after the weekend Simon Price - who also used to be on the staff here - talked to one of them about how he'd found it. Simon told me that he'd asked this student what he'd learned from the weekend. And his first comment was: 'That Garrett believes in the speed limit.' I gave three talks that weekend. But I was on duty - I was teaching - from the moment I started the car. And the same goes for those of us involved in Holiday Club next week. You're on duty - you're teaching, you're leading, whether you realise it or not - from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave.

Then, v12, 'in love'. There's to be no 'professional distance' in leaders. Leaders are not to think of a job to get done but people to love for Jesus' sake.

Then, v12, 'in faith' - ie, dependence on God. Beware the leader who projects an image of strength and self-sufficiency. Leaders are not to be models of self-sufficiency, but of dependence on God. Eg, leaders are to model dependence on God for forgiveness. It helps no-one if leaders pretend to be perfect and model a view of the Christian life that suggests that after a while you get completely sorted and don't fail any more. I want you and my Home Group and the student team to know I'm a sinner depending daily on forgiveness because that is the Christian life this side of heaven. And I don't want to model anything else. And leaders are to model dependence on God in their ministry. Eg, if you've ever talked to me about the preaching you'll know I always say, 'Pray for us.' Because a leader shouldn't model the message, 'I'm really competent and can always deliver.' A leader should model the message, 'I'm completely useless unless God takes me and uses me.'

Then lastly, v12, 'in purity.' Leaders quite simply should be transparent. People with nothing to hide. Not leading a double life of public ministry and private ungodliness.

So, if you are relatively young in a Christian leadership role - in a Home Group, on the leadership team of a camp for the first time, in Holiday Club next week, whatever - then be encouraged. Set an example and you'll have the authority of integrity. And that is a very powerful authority indeed.

But Timothy's ultimate source of authority lies in v13:

13Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14Do not neglect your gift [which I take to be his Bible-teaching gift], which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. (vv13-14)

Ie, Timothy's ultimate source of authority is the authority of the Bible.

Paul says, v13, 'Until I come'. Paul had the unique authority of being one of the apostles who received his understanding of the gospel direct from the Lord Jesus (eg, see Galatians 1.11-24). So if Paul could be with us this evening, needless to say I would sit down quickly and let him take the floor. The question is: what do you do in Paul's absence? Where does ultimate authority in the church lie when you don't have a living apostle with you? That was Timothy's situation. That's our situation. And the answer is, v13:

Until I come [ie, in my absence], devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.

And 'Scripture' for us now means the whole Bible. In his next letter to Timothy, Paul wrote this: 'All Scripture is God-breathed.' (2 Timothy 3.16). The picture is that just like you breathe out words, as I'm doing now, so God breathed out words through human writers like Paul and Isaiah and the others, so that the Bible is the one place where the words of men are also 100% the words of God. And since they're the words of God, they carry the authority of God. So this book is the ultimate source of authority in a church - in JPC, in any other church. Authority to say what's true and false, right and wrong does not lie with people - eg, like the Pope, who sets himself up as a rival authority to the Bible in official Roman Catholic teaching; or like many current Anglican bishops, who set themselves up as a rival authority to the Bible in an unofficial way. No, authority lies in the Bible because God stands behind its every word. And people divide around the Bible. You either submit to its authority or you rebel against its authority. There's no third way. 'Reinterpreting it for today' is not a third way; it's just a clever way of rebelling against it. Which is what people like Rowan Williams and Richard Harries are doing at present.

So, v13 speaks of the authority of the Bible. But it's also a snap-shot of what good preaching looks like. Good preaching has three ingredients according to v13:

Ingredient no.1: It's based on a reading of Scripture. In good preaching, it's obvious that the aim is simply to let the Bible speak for itself. Eg, the aim tonight is not for me to get across my thoughts about ministry, but for me to get across Paul's thoughts, which happen to be God's thoughts, about ministry.

Ingredient no.2: It includes explanation of Scripture - that's the 'teaching' word in v13. Good preaching is simple and clear. The sign of good preaching is not that you come away saying, 'Isn't he clever - I could never understand the Bible like that.' The sign of good preaching is that you come away saying, 'Wasn't that obvious? I could have worked most of that out by myself.'

Ingredient no.3: It includes appeal to respond to God. That's the 'preaching' word in v13 which literally means 'appeal to respond'. Good preaching does more than just explain the Bible. The Bible is God's Word. So what we're doing right now is having an audience with God. And if as we go, I'm not appealing to us (including myself) to respond to God, then this isn't good preaching.

Now it's pretty obvious what this part of God's Word calls on me (the preacher) to do. But v13 is for all of us. And surely it calls on all of us to want this kind of preaching - preaching that takes time and a willingness by all of us to work at the Bible. So can I call on you to want this kind of preaching? And can I call on you to pray for us who preach to serve you with this kind of preaching - and to say something appropriately if and when we don't? Can I also say that preaching is a congregational activity, not a spectator sport. It's your responsibility to come prepared to listen to God. I suggest that means praying for the preacher and that God will speak to you; and reading over the passage beforehand so that you're not coming at it from cold. Then it's your responsibility to work with the preacher. I've worked hard to be listenable. You need to work hard at listening. And hopefully we'll both finish our work at the same time! Your work involves checking what the preacher says against what the Bible says. Believe and act on nothing unless you are convinced it's a true explanation of the Bible, or application of the Bible to life today. And then there's the work of remembering what God has said and checking that we do actually respond. Which is why, without saying it's bad if you don't, I do recommend bringing a pen and writing down what most strikes you on the sermon outline. But you may have a better memory than me.

More could be said on v14 - but I haven't time. Look for someone who'll teach and live the Bible. Much more briefly:


15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (vv15-16)

'Be diligent…give yourself wholly…' In 2 Timothy, Paul likens being a church minister to being a soldier, an athlete and a farmer (2 Timothy 2.4-6). And those are all-absorbing occupations. They're not 9 till 5 stuff. It doesn't work like that when there's a war on - which spiritually there is. It doesn't work like that when things are growing and you're struggling to keep up with the harvest - which, thank God, is partly the story of our church at the moment.

Paul is saying there's a real single-mindedness about ministry. So that's also something to look for. It's also something to protect. You can't have the v13-ministry of God's Word if you expect the ministers responsible to be 'jacks of all trades' - administration, finances, project management, etc. The ministry of God's Word has to be protected at every level. Eg, I was talking to one of the people involved in the technical side of Holiday Club. He said to me, 'I'm technical support. I can't teach children. But I can support the people who can.' And that's spot-on. People who can do the ministry of the Word at every level need to be protected so that they can do it single-mindedly and well. Which means people with ministries of lots of other things are equally essential.

Verse 15 again:

15Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (vv15-16)

Paul doesn't mean that people are saved by their own activity for God. We're saved from God's judgment by Jesus' activity for us - by his dying in our place on the cross to take away the punishment that our wrongdoing deserves. We're saved by trusting in Jesus, and nothing else.

But the trouble is: people are easily deceived about what to trust in - people trust in anything from their own goodness to the Virgin Mary. And people are easily deceived into thinking that saved people can just go on living as if they were unsaved people. And that deception is going on right now over the issue of homosexual activity.

So Paul says to Timothy, v16: 'Watch your life' - show people what a saved life looks like, so that they're not deceived about that. And 'Watch your doctrine' - teach them Jesus and the cross; teach them to trust in him for the forgiveness he paid for; teach them they can't save themselves, so that they're not deceived about that, either.

So look for someone who's single-minded about salvation. That doesn't mean that such a minister won't give time and attention to, eg, marriage and the family, or issues for Christians in the work-place, or public ethics. But: if those become the centre of a church's ministry, you have to ask whether such a minister really believes in the judgment of God and hell. Or whether he thinks the most we need saving from is bad relationships or bad laws.

Look for someone who's single-minded about salvation


1Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (5.1-2)

A friend of mine was a maths teacher. And whenever she was asked, 'What do you teach?' she always said, 'Children.' Which is a brilliant answer. Not, 'Maths', but, 'Children.' Not a subject, but people. She saw teaching as a deeply relational thing.

And so does the Bible. The Bible does not see Christian teaching according to the modern, western model of education. The Bible does not see the church as a school or a university. The Bible sees the church as a family, modelled on the biological family. And the Bible sees the biological family as the place of personal education and formation. Read Proverbs if you doubt that. So the Bible's model for church is not the classroom or lecture theatre. (You probably know that definition of a lecture as 'the transfer of notes from the paper of one to the paper of many, bypassing the brains of all'.) The Bible's model for the church is family time - a deeply relational, life-to-life thing; not just a pad-of-paper-to-pad-of-paper thing.

And that comes across in 5.1-2. Timothy is not to be the headmaster who never gets in among the kids; or the university professor who emerges from his office twice a week to lecture the undergraduates and is never seen again. He's to be in among the family of the church - otherwise how on earth can he do what he's told in 4.12? You can't set an example from your desk. And I think this is one of the big challenges to us as we grow. It's going to be tempting to think we can grow as Christians by modelling the church on the school or the university - by 'getting information out' by large gatherings or electronically or whatever it is. But at the end of the day, that's not the Bible's model for how people become Christians, or how Christians grow. It happens as life shapes life. And whatever ministry area you're in, you need to think hard about that. How will your life, not just your teaching, overlap with and touch those you're responsible for? I find the size of JPC makes that a real issue.

Two details and I'm done. Verse 1: 'Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.' Paul returns to the age-issue that he raised in 4.12. 'Olders' need to be told not to look down on younger leaders. Younger leaders need to be told to respect the age-gradient as they minister. Notice that Paul doesn't say, 'Do not rebuke an older man. [Full stop]' He says, 'Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.' If there's something that needs saying - a nettle that needs grasping - in your area of ministry, you're not to cop out because of the age-gradient. But you are to do it carefully, appropriately to the age-gradient.

The other detail is at the end of v2: 'Treat… younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.' Chapter 3 says we must be above reproach (3.2). And in this area of relating across the sexes, especially where younger people are involved, everyone - inside JPC and outside JPC - must have total confidence that we operate by the highest standards.

So, that's the 1 Timothy 4 answer to the question, 'What should you look for in a minister?' If I do fall off the cliff, it's great to know you've got all the wisdom you need in the Bible. And this part of it says: Look for someone who'll teach and live the Bible; for someone who's single-minded about salvation; and someone who treats the church as God's family. Pray for these things in those who minister to you And pray for, and develop, these things in yourself as you minister to others.

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