Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shepherding Christ's Church Involves Exemplifying Godliness - 1 Timothy 4:7-12

1 Timothy 4:7 "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness."

In this series thus far we have been interested in understanding the five responsibilities of pastors for shepherding Christ's local church in 1 Timothy 4. Two functions have been explored in the past couple of posts:

1. Shepherding Christ's Church involves exposing error. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

2. Shepherding Christ's Church involves emphasizing doctrine. 1 Timothy 4:4-6

Today's post expands beyond the pastor's pulpit to the type of life he leads. 

Shepherding Christ's Church involves exemplifying godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-12
At the heart of any pastor's ministry is the need for cultivating godliness. As the old saying goes: "if you take care of the depth of your relationship with God, He will take care of the breadth of your ministry." 1 Timothy 4:7-10 lays out three principles for both pastors and parshinoners to apply in understanding the need for godliness.

1. Godliness is commanded. 1 Timothy 4:7
1 Timothy 4:7 states - "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness". Any pastor can "network" and "rub elbows" with the right people to gain popularity, however godliness takes work and sadly is not prized. The noun translated "discipline" comes from the Greek word whence derives our English word "gymnasium". Godliness is not optional, but is necessary. A pastor who may not start out with a strong sermon delivery can still be looked to for leadership if he is striving to discipline himself in godliness. I was just reading today of another pastor's moral failure in a major church in our nation. The article noted his speaking ability and the hopes had by many that his fresh ideas and youthfulness would lead the declining church. As wonderful as that can be, if we as pastors or church members fail to make godliness our chief priority, all the eloquence in the world won't demonstrate the reality of the sermons we preach. 

Heeding the command to be godly requires a close walk with the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18) and relentless pursuit of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul's command to Timothy to reject "myths" and "old-wives" tales is a command we see repeated several times in the New Testament. (1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim 4:4; Titus 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16). Whatever the exact nature of these influences might had been, we can say at bare minimum that the pastor must not let his conduct be informed by what is most popular, most gratifying to the flesh or self-promoting. In all honesty, if pastors expect the flocks assigned to them to be godly, they too must heed the command of God to do the same. Truth is the nail that holds our faith together and example is the hammer that drives it deeper into the wood of life. So pastors must exemplify godliness because it is commanded, but notice a second truth about godliness in these verses...

2. Godliness is beneficial. 1 Timothy 4:8
1 Timothy 4:8 states - "for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." True godliness ought to be pursued not only on the level of what one "ought to do", but moreso with the aim of what one "should desire to do". I'm so thankful for 1 Timothy 4:8, because we are reminded of the fact that godliness pays out greater dividends than whatever investment we may contribute. Godliness is not just about "sweating and gritting our teeth". Godliness, or to put it another way, "practical rightousness", relies upon the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ given at saving faith. As a pastor, the need to love the unloveable or do the things that many people would rather not do requires a heart not rooted in just my own practical righteousness alone. If I attempt to be an example to the flock on the basis of my own practical righteousness without reliance upon Christ's righteousness, I quickly lapse into self-righteousness. Rather than serving with a heart of gladness, I serve with the secret desire to be patted on the back or to gain the approval of people. 

As Paul uses the metaphor of physical exercise, we all know how beneficial physical activity of any sort can be. However in a comparative sense, physical exercises profits very little in comparison to the spiritual discipline associated with godliness. As I rely upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the awareness of who I am in Him and the ultimate destiny of being with Him in eternity increases. The greatest pastors I have ever known did not pastor merely out of duty, but out of delight for their Lord. Their earthly life and activities were flavored with the sweet savor of Christ and His kingdom. (compare 2 Corinthians 2:14-17) So godliness is needed in pastoral ministry and pew-life because it is commanded and beneficial. Now let us note one last principle assocated with the need to exemplify godliness...

3. Godliness cultivates hope. 1 Timothy 4:9-10
One of the clearest summaries of the Person and work of Jesus Christ is found in 1 Timothy 4:9-10 "It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." As I have talked to many pastors over the years, and even in my own time as an undershepherd, the question will inevitably arise: "is it worth it?" Paul describes his efforts and the efforts of anyone in Gospel ministry by two words translated in our text as "labor" and "strive". The first word  "labor" could also be rendered "struggle, toil, weary hard work". Ministry is hard work, often exhausting and sometimes more draining than rewarding. The second term "strive" is even more striking. This verb in the original language is where our English word "agony" derives. At times ministry can be literally "agonizing". 

Such negative sounding language is mentioned by the Apostle to convey the oft-times reality of the Gospel ministry. However, such "striving" and "laboring" is driven not by duty, nor guilt, nor "tyranny of the urgent", but hope. As we strive to be godly, we discover that hope is pursued and ends up being the main engine of all godly living by both church members and pastors alike. 

As we noted a moment ago, 1 Timothy 4:9-10 gives us one of the clearest summaries of the Person and work of Jesus. The phrase "living God" speaks of His Deity as God manifested in the human flesh and the Lord over His church. (see 1 Timothy 3:15-16) Secondly, the clause "who is the Savior of all men" speaks of Jesus' work in its historical reality being sufficient enough to save all people. The atoning work of Jesus Christ grants space of repentance for all people so that all can hear the Gospel. Then lastly, the closing phrase "especially of believers" gives us the focus and definiteness of the atonement. It is both universal in its appeal for all men to believe and repent and be saved and yet specifying in its effect, granting a definite application and effect of true salvation to those who believe.  

Closing thoughts
As the Pastor preaches and lives out the Gospel everyday, his acquaintance with the Christ of glory only increases his hope. Hence exemplifying godliness is needed because it is commanded, beneficial and cultivates hope. 

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