A pastor friend of mine once said, “Being a pastor is a pain in the neck.” The struggles he faced in his church led him to embrace a negative perspective on ministry work. I met with another man to discuss his recent experience of interviewing with a church. The search committee explained, “The pastor should have a prominent place in the community, move in certain social circles, and spend his time running the roads.” This reflects a bad misunderstanding about the role and work of a pastor.
This article begins a new series of posts looking at perseverance in Paul’s letters to Timothy. This study will generally apply to anyone serving the Lord but will specifically address those laboring as pastors/elders in the church. By pointing to specific themes in these letters, I hope to encourage us to persevere in our service.
In his letters to Timothy, Paul repeatedly uses the word, “good,”11 Tim. 1:8, 18; 2:3; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:4, 6(x2); 6:12(x2), 13, 18, 19; 2 Tim. 1:14; 2:3; 4:7, which should inform our understanding of serving as a pastor/elder and shape our perspective on the role and service of leaders in the church. While the world is bad and we lament the spiritual state of many churches, Paul points us to the good in Christian ministry. This recognition should help us persevere in our service.
Recognize Serving as a Pastor to be Good and Noble Work.
Paul tells us, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble [good] task” (1 Tim 3:1). The struggles that assail faithful pastors may lead some to conclude that our work is bad. Our families often bear scars received from serving in the church. The difficulties attending pastoral labor, however, do not make it bad. We must not confuse the pains we experience with the nobility and goodness of this task. In calling Timothy to persevere, Paul refers to the suffering and persecutions he faced while doing the Lord’s work (2 Tim 3:11). Pastoral ministry can feel like moving from one struggle to another. When we think we’ve overcome one trial, we meet some new obstacle. Remembering how God defines this service as “good” helps us overcome temptations to view it despairingly.
Recognize the Activities of a Good and Noble Servant.
Not only does he define the role of the overseer as “noble,” Paul also describes the good activities of a faithful servant. The apostle writes, “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 that you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6). The word “good” appears twice in this verse—the good servant is trained by good doctrine. The rest of 1 Timothy 4:7–16 expounds upon the activities and responsibilities of a good servant.
Notice in this outline how attention to doctrine/teaching brackets the description of the “good servant” (1 Tim 4:6, 16):
- The good servant doesn’t follow myths (v. 7, like the false teachers in 1 Tim 1:4 and 2 Tim 4:4).
- The good servant trains himself for the purpose of godliness (v. 7).
- The good servant toils and strives for the life to come (v. 10).
- The good servant commands and teaches these things (v. 11).
- The good servant sets the believers an example (v. 12).
- The good servant devotes himself to reading, exhortation, and teaching (v. 13).
- The good servant practices these things and immerses himself in them (v. 15).
- The good servant keeps a close watch on himself and on the teaching (v. 16).2Spurgeon’s first discourse in Lecture to My Students is, “The Minister’s Self-Watch” based on this text.
As pastors, we want to be good servants; but what does it mean to be a good servant? What good works should characterize our ministry? So many pastors busy themselves with activities labeled as “ministry.” Scripture must define which ministry activities are good and which pursuits should occupy our time. Don’t turn to modern philosophies to develop a paradigm for good ministry; use Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 4. Paul knows better than any contemporary author what makes for an excellent ministry.
Consider these diagnostic questions:
- Are you being trained by good doctrine?
- Are you working for the life to come?
- Are you commanding and teaching with sound doctrine?
- What kind of example are you setting in the key areas outlined in verse 12?
- Are you devoted to and immersed in the reading, teaching, and exhortation?
- Do others see your progress in doctrine and faithful living?
- Are you carefully monitoring your life and your teaching?
If you’re not currently serving as a pastor/elder, you should ask these questions of your church leaders. Are they following the pattern of a good servant outlined in 1 Timothy 4? What are your pastors devoted to (v. 13)? What are they immersed in (v. 15)?
Sadly, many churches pressure their pastors to be devoted to all sorts of activities that have nothing to do with being a good servant. Some churches have expectations of pastors based on their traditions and desires. I’m convinced that many churches do not know what a pastor is or what a pastor should do, never having seen a good servant as defined in 1 Timothy 4. As a pastor, do not conform your ministry activity to erroneous views. That would only propagate this kind of confusion. Follow Paul’s paradigm for a good servant. Pastors/elders, preach and teach the word to God’s people. We must patiently instruct our churches about the activities and responsibilities God prescribed for pastors.
Recognize the Fight for the Faith as a Good and Noble Fight.
Paul employs military imagery to characterize our service in the church and describes our battle as good and noble. In his clash with false teachers, Paul urges Timothy to “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim 1:18). Later he commands him to “Fight the good fight of the faith.” This iconic phrase could be translated, “Struggle the good struggle of the faith.” Paul also calls Timothy to “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3). In his final words, Paul affirms, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). Paul repeatedly connects the imagery of warfare with the idea of suffering and struggling.
Consider how Charles Spurgeon describes the Christian life:
Now, if God saves us, it will be a trying matter. All the way to heaven, we shall only get there by the skin of our teeth. We shall not go to heaven sailing along with sails swelling to the breeze, like sea birds with their white wings but we shall proceed full often with sails rent to ribbons, with masts creaking, and the ship’s pumps at work both by night and day. We shall reach the city at the shutting of the gate, but not an hour before.3Charles Spurgeon, from the Sermon, “The Inexhaustible Barrel.”
Consider John MacArthur’s view of ministry:
First of all I understand that this is a war; this is a struggle; this is a battle; this is an agonizing effort with an immense amount of energy expended. . . . This is a war. I don’t have a lot of expectations in war except that it’s going to be hard; it’s going to be sometimes depressing; it’s going to take every effort I have, and there are going to be wounds in the process. That’s my view of ministry. I do not expect to go flying through comfortable, having a happy time with everything going exactly right. If you take that expectation into the ministry, you’ll be a casualty because you can’t go dawdling around in the middle of a battlefield without getting shot fatally. This is war.4John MacArthur, from the sermon, “The Epitaph of a Faithful Preacher.”
Warfare is painful, challenging, and difficult. Fighting often results in wounds and battle scars. God defines this struggle as good and noble.
We must remember what we’re fighting for—the “faith.” We battle for something noble and good—the “faith” (1 Tim 6:12). The “faith” refers to the collection of sound doctrine, the deposit of the truth that Paul has handed down to Timothy (1 Tim 6:20). Similarly, Jude calls his readers to “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This gives us a noble reason to engage in this warfare—and persevere!
Focus on the Good not the Gravel.
The Christian ministry demands perseverance. We face spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12) and must endure challenging and painful circumstances. Pastors watch as members separate themselves from the flock. We witness false teachers rise in notoriety and popularity. We struggle against the elevation and acceptance of worldly philosophies over Biblical doctrines in the church. It can all be really disheartening, depressing, and overwhelming. Focusing on the good can help you keep your bearings when discouragement assails you. Remembering the noble service of the overseer keeps us from abandoning ship. Meditate on the above Scriptures and adopt Paul’s good perspective. Memorize 1 Timothy 4:6–16 and deploy the biblical paradigm of a good servant. While we endure the sufferings of spiritual war, remember, it’s a good fight.
|1||1 Tim. 1:8, 18; 2:3; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:4, 6(x2); 6:12(x2), 13, 18, 19; 2 Tim. 1:14; 2:3; 4:7|
|2||Spurgeon’s first discourse in Lecture to My Students is, “The Minister’s Self-Watch” based on this text.|
|3||Charles Spurgeon, from the Sermon, “The Inexhaustible Barrel.”|
|4||John MacArthur, from the sermon, “The Epitaph of a Faithful Preacher.”|