Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church includes enduring to the end - 1 Timothy 4:16

1 Timothy 4:16 "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you willensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."

Today will conclude what has been our blog series on the subject of "shepherding Christ's church". Our aim has been to understand the five responsibilities a pastor has per what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4. Thus far we have considered the pastors shepherding responsibilities as including:

1. Exposing Error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3
2. Emphasizing Doctrine. 1 Tim 4:4-6
3. Exemplifying godliness. 1 Tim 4:7-10
4. Excelling in preaching. 1 Timothy 4:11-15

Today we want to wrap up things by consider how when shepherding God's flock in the local church, the pastor needs to endure, running the race of faith. Since the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) are written to pastors and church members alike, this means by extension, the church membership needs to endure and run the race of faith.

Shepherding Christ's church includes Enduring to the end. 1 Timothy 4:16
As a pastor, when I consider what we have been discussing these past several days, as well as our main subject for today, I recognize how much I need to grow in all that has been explored. When I write what I write in these blogs, I do not claim to have arrived nor do I assert that I am already practicing these things perfectly and completely. 1 Timothy 4:1-16 is the measuring rod for every pastor. In one respect it can be overwhelming to try to measure up to the tall order of commands issued forth by Paul in these verses. 

Timothy was no novice. He undoubtedly had demonstrated his loyalty to Paul in his missionary journeys and had come to the point where he was now assuming a pastoral position at one of the leading churches in the ancient world - Ephesus. Still, Timothy had never pastored and thus was in the "deep end of the pool" so-to-speak. I'm certain he too felt this sense of inadequacy as he read this letter mainly addressed to him. 

Thankfully, as a pastor, I know that my own love, level of practical righteousness, will-power and so-called talents will wilt in the face of these commands. I'm thankful because it is to my Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, that I look. The greatest thing my church needs is Him - His righteousness, will, unlimited grace and glory. As a pastor, I don the garments of his righteousness and lean on those in the practice of the Christian life. His love flows through me, a dry river bed. His will works through my otherwise impotent will to achieve His desires. 

When Paul wraps up what he has written in 1 Timothy 4:16, he urges not only pastors, but church members to focus on two main areas in their Christian lives and ministries. The first area is "take heed to yourself" and the second is "and to your teaching". 

As a pastor, if I fail to take stock of where I am spiritually and forget who I am and Whose I am, I will do as James writes in James 1:23-24 "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." The failure to do self-examination in the Christian life is among the leading reasons for moral and spiritual failure. To endure the hardships that afflict both the inside of the heart and the outside pressures of this world and the kingdom of darkness, a pastor must know who he is as a man of God. 

A good question to ask yourself, whether as a pastor or as a person in the pew is: "am I keenly aware of the 'shadow-side' of my soul wherein dwells the left-over residue of sin from my pre-conversion life?" Like a dish sitting on a counter that has not yet been washed, the remaining remnants of food can become poisonous. Daily the dish must be washed. In like manner, both pastors and people in the pew need the daily bath of God's Word, time in prayer and simple obedience to God's leading by the Spirit. In the monthly or periodic life of the local church, participation in the ordinance of the Lord's table ensures we are reminded once again of Whose life we digest on a daily basis. The bread and fruit of the vine signify the reality of the believer's relationship with Christ. Abiding in Him is a daily reality and thus we must take heed to ourselves. 

So then how do we describe and nourish this first part of 1 Timothy 4:16 to "take heed to ourselves"? The second part is where we find the answer in the command: "take heed to your teaching." As we have explored in previous posts, regular exposure to sound doctrine is the chief way in which we gain nourishment for endurance in the Christian walk and ministry. As we have noted in past posts, doctrine is not only concerned with pouring data and information into the mind. 

Undoubtedly cultivation of the Christian mind is where true spiritual growth begins. (see Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31) Yet like a pond needing an outlet, if doctrine only remains in the mind, stagnation can result. The conscience is the proper creek bed that takes what is in the mind and brings it to the heart. The heart (which in the Bible represent the causal center of a person, including thinking, feeling and willing) is the control center that weighs what has been poured into the mind. Essentially, whatever the mind has deemed to be the greatest good, the heart sends forth the conviction that the instruction must needs be carried out. (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37-39; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 14:15; Ephesians 1:16-18; Jude 1:20-23). 

Taking heed to doctrine entails both studying the writings and books of those gifted by God to unpack the historic truths of the Christian faith. Good theology not only ignites the mind but must result in right practice. This is why Paul closes out 1 Timothy 4:16 with these words: "for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."
Such efforts encourage the pastor and the people to both endure: endure hardship, endure what can be at times misunderstandings and to endure the weariness of the flesh, this world and the kingdom of darkness. We need to take heed to ourselves and we need sound doctrine. Both the pastor and the people need to work together in enduring for the sake of Jesus. 

Closing thoughts
We have considered five responsibilities that pastors have in shepherding the flock of God in the local church. The first and second of these had to do with exposing error and emphasizing sound doctrine. Darkness needs to be dispelled by light, and sound doctrine, rightly applied, enables the pastor and the flock to see the damaging effects of false teaching. 

The third responsibility is in the area of example. Lest a pastor lives before His people what he is preaching in the realm of his personal life and family life, his efforts will be in vain. Example reinforces the nails of truth and ensures they stick in the wood of Christian faith and practice. 

The fourth area of pastoral responsibility has to do with excelling in one's preaching. I aim to do it better next week than I did this week. Relentless pursuit of excellency in preaching is not for my sake, but for the Lord's glory. God's people deserve good preaching. God has ordained by the preaching of the Word to bring about conversions and to encourage the saints. 

Then finally, the pastor must endure. Both the shepherd and the sheep are called to run the race of faith together. We must take heed to ourselves and to the teaching of the Word if we expect to run the race of faith swiftly and strongly. My prayer is that these posts have informed and illumined those aspiring to pastoral ministry, those who want to know how to pray for their pastors or those who truly love the church for which Christ shed His blood and ever reigns as its Living King.

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