First Things First
Gifting and calling come from God; training and equipping come through men. The apostle Paul was the consummate trainer and equipper. When he couldn’t do it in person, he did it in writing—and we have two of his training manuals, letters written to Timothy.
We as elders should know these letters well, for in them we learn 1) what Paul instructed Timothy about leading and shepherding the church, 2) what Paul instructed Timothy about his own leadership ministry and 3) what Paul’s own leadership traits were, as can be uncovered in the way he wrote these letters. These letters, in my opinion, constitute the greatest manuals ever penned on leadership in the church. While some people have studied the Gospels for the leadership characteristics modeled by the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul’s writings to Timothy were written explicitly with spiritual leaders in mind! Beginning with this issue of Elders’ ShopNotes, we will be looking at selected studies in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy.
Purity of the Gospel
Central to Paul’s ministry was the foundational concernfor the purity of the true Gospel. This was his proverbial “go to the wall”issue.Any effort to taint, twist, modify or embellish the message would discoverin Paul a staunch antagonist. Twice in Galatians 1:8-9, he says that people who teach contrary to the true Gospel are to be “accursed”. Today the need for defenders of the gospel is as critical as it was in Paul’s day. Movements come and go, many of them trying to redefinethe gospel. Nothing could be more central for carrying on Christ’s mission than fidelity to the true message. The book of Galatians, thought by many to be Paul’s first book, was his flagship writing in this regard.
As Paul’slife and ministry moved on in years, the necessity of leaving well trained, adequately equipped younger men was essential. Around A.D. 63, after all of his extant communication with the churches was completed, he turned his pen to one of his young associates, Timothy. In his two letters, Paul reflects some of what he hadtaught Timothy in person through years of traveling and ministering together (2 Tim2:2).
Tested and Proven
Timothy was, by the time of writing, field-tested and proven. Paul had written a few years earlier to the believers in Philippi: “But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because … he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Phil 2:22 NIV). He was an example to believers of Christ-like “other-centeredness,” whose focus of ministry was to “… genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” (Phil 2:20) So Paul was not writing to a novice, but to a seasoned veteran, albeit a young one, who was doing well in ministry. He writes to kindle the flames of Timothy’s ministry so that Timothy would become more of a self-starter and would himself, “… fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…” (2 Tim 1:6). Timothy’s training was just about complete, he was able to propagate and defend the precious truth of the Gospel. He would probably never see Paul again.
The Leader’s Visibility
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope… (1 Tim 1:1)
Paul begins his first letter to Timothy in the usual fashion by clearly identifying himself—the very first word is “Paul.” This was not an occasion for misplaced humility in obscuring his identify. He modeled the importance of a teacher or leader taking full responsibility for his teaching. Paul was willing to stand up for and by his teaching. I am reminded of anonymous letters or tracts I have received over the years arguing this point or that, from people unwilling to stand by what they say but willing to be more forthright by their obscurity than coming out into the open. Fortunately, Paul was unlike that.
The Leader’s Ministry
Paul confidently stated up front his authority to write, calling himself “Paul, an apostle…” In some circles today people are reticent to identify their spiritual gifts for fear of sounding arrogant. Yet the apostle, who wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5 KJV) had no fear of contradiction or hypocrisy. He was simply stating the facts. His apostleship was no cause for self-promotion, the cost of his spiritual gift being too high for such low ambition. He embraced the immense personal sacrifice (1 Cor 4:9) and suffering (2 Cor 11:23-33) because of the “hope” that he found no where else but in Christ. He had the burden of all the churches to carry as well (2 Cor 11:28)! For a person to identify his gifting from the Lord is to humbly accept the burden of responsibility and the cost that comes with it. This is true for everyspiritual gift—especially for leadership. There is absolutely no room for “high mindedness,” but there is humbleness in identifying your gift and embracing it.
The Leader’s Identity
Paul consistently claimed his identification with Jesus Christ. Immediately in his introduction to the letter, he makes this clear: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…” He did not attach himself to a religious movement nor a set of principles, however biblical they might be. Rather, at the core of his commitment was his Savior. To the Corinthians he said, “…but we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Cor 1:23) and, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). To the Philippians he confessed, “I want to know Christ…” (Phil 3:10).
While he preached many practical things, such as morality, relationships and even church order, as he does here in his writings to Timothy, they were all somewhat peripheral to the core of his message, namely Jesus Christ. Even in talking with the seasoned Timothy, Paul did not leave this to be assumed. These were not idle words, or just “Christian” lingo. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ. That absolutely colored all he did and taught. For those of us who are elders, we are elders of Jesus Christ. Leaders are leaders of Jesus Christ. What ever our calling or gift is, we are “that” of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to let this slip. We should never allow identification with a denomination, a movement or a set of principles modify our identification with Christ.
There is only one identity worthy of those who have been bought with the price of Christ’s blood. This is not just a matter of words. The reality of Christ’s presence in our ministries, not just the words to that effect, must be jealously guarded. This must precede all of our ministry, even on a daily basis. Thus, as he embarks upon instructions to his co-worker, Paul keeps his perspective clear. First things first!
The Leader’s Mandate
The apostle never forgot that his ministry was not a volunteer position; he was on assignment, “by the command of God our Savior and of Christ.” He did not take this upon himself for his own benefit. He did not arrogate to himself the pedestal of glory. In fact, he found the experience of his ministry just the opposite, “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men” (1 Cor 4:9). He was driven simply by obedience. “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).
What can we learn from this as elders? Our calling as elders is by God’s design and direction, as much as Paul’s apostleship was by God’s design and direction. It was not left up to us to volunteer for it. Paul exhorted the Ephesians elders that, “… the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). However, like Paul, we as elders should wholeheartedly embrace this assignment from God, as Peter adds, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…” (1 Peter 5:2) . The NASB translation’s ill-advised use of the word “volunteer” here obscures the point, whereas the word “willing” used in other translations conveys the sense much better. Clearly, we should fully embrace our calling as elders. But ultimately, we serve at His pleasure!
The Leader’s Motivation
Paul’s reference to Christ Jesus as “our hope” underscores the overriding motivation in his life and ministry, the end-game, so to speak, the big picture. Anticipation of the day when His Savior would be fully revealed provided incentive for laboring hard—all his aspirations would be fulfilled then. The hope of Christ’s coming saturated his life. And as elders and leaders, we too ought to keep Christ’s coming constantly in our mind. That provides motivation during difficult times when you may want to throw in the towel.
The Leader’s Signature Characteristics
To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.(1 Tim 1:2)
Before launching into the bulk of what he has to say, Paul provides his signature introductory emphasis on “Grace, mercy and peace.” Every one of his writings begins with graceand peace, while some, like this letter, also include mercy. And every one of Paul’s writings concludes with grace. Again, Paul is not given to words that, in this case, amount simply to a routine greeting. For him grace was the cardinal theological truth, the center of the pure Gospel. While his focus was on Jesus Christ, the reason for this focus was because of his profound understanding of grace, which points to the defining relationship between Christ and himself. Ministry, as this implies to Timothy, must be bathed in grace.
Being a letter about leadership in the church, this message is sorely needed. Elders must be all about grace in every aspect of our ministry. People should know that we really are willing to sacrifice our own good for theirs. Not because they deserve it, but because God has been gracious to us, overlooking our faults and shortcomings. Even when He allows suffering or chastises us for pride, He is being gracious—for these are all designed to help us become more Christlike in our ministries. His grace in Paul’s life in dealing with pride became the source of strength (2 Cor 12:9-10)! When we see other Christians exhibiting the fallen nature of sinfulness, we should remind ourselves of God’s grace toward us and extend that same grace to others. Rather than being quick to criticize them for not being mature, or being too swift to discipline them for moral failures, might we first put the arm of encouragement around them, identifying with them and even sharing somewhat of our struggle with sin —and testifing of God’s grace to us. Such humility allows God to flow through us, in a sense, to help others see God’s grace that can powerfully change them.
Paul desired for Timothy (and for us) the experience of grace from God in daily life, and to experience it to the full. The irony of this is that grace can only be experienced through humility, because grace towards us presumes failure and shortcoming on our part. To the degree that we cannot admit our sin, to that degree we cannot experience God’s grace.
Additionally, Paul wants for Timothy to experience peace and mercy. Peace, because leadership of God’s people brings a great amount of inner turmoil, self-doubts and personal conflict. Mercy, because leaders frequently make mistakes—and there are many people who will point out your mistakes! When I get discouraged in leading God’s people, when I am overcome with my own inadequacies, fears and insecurities—my failures and sinful actions at times—I am reminded of these things. It is only those who embrace God’s grace, peace and mercy who stay with it. Someone once said, “Lesser men give up.” I don’t want to be among lesser men; I want to embrace God’s grace in my life, rest in His peace and relish in His mercy. That’s what keeps me from throwing in the towel. Paul’s message to Timothy—be reassured of God’s grace, peace and mercy.