The first area is in speech. You cannot be boasting about leaving a pile of dead bodies in the wake of your leadership. I once heard a local pastor tell people if they could not reconcile with another sheep then they needed to leave the church! Talk about not understanding the 99 and the 1! The second area is in our conduct. The Bible says that pastors are to be above reproach. Is that a high standard? Absolutely. It needs to be a high standard because so much is on the line. Last week a mega church pastor was arrested for drunk driving. How many have fallen for sexual affairs? How many have fallen for chasing filthy lucre and greed? It seems a pastor today has no sooner released his press statement about his fall from grace when the conversation automatically turns to his "restoration" to ministry. Enough! The third area we are to be examples to the sheep is in love. I do not mean the sugar coated, "let me do what I want" love that is floated around by so many in the church today. It is not love to withhold the truth from someone. It is not love to stand up for a false teacher who is slaughtering hundreds of thousands of sheep. We are to love the sheep and love the lost. That means as pastors we do not post angry words spewing venom at politicians we may not like. It means we do not tweet about people in other countries in hateful ways when God still wants none to perish. It means we have to check our flesh and crucify it. There is a higher standard beloved. There is a stricter judgment. The fourth area is in faith. A pastor's faith cannot be fleeting. We must be all in. Instead what do we see? Pastors who preach that maybe not all of the Bible is to be taken literally. Maybe we can change this doctrine or that for the sake of inclusion, generational differences or societal pressures. No. We must be steadfast in our faith. Fifth, we need to be an example in purity. This wave of young gun pastors lack reverence. Cursing from the pulpit. Sexual innuendoes from the pulpit. Celebrating worldliness with the ripped jeans and tattoos movement. Look, I am not saying preachers need to be in a three piece suit. I am all for casual because Christ accepts us for who we are but when we come to Him there is supposed to be a change! Nowadays, we see pastors trying to look like the world. Trying to seem relevant to the culture that is sending people straight to hell. They do not need to see a pastor with a faux-hawk, skinny jeans, a leather jacket and tats all over his body. They see that every day on the streets they have to walk. We are supposed to be a shining city on a hill. We are supposed to be a peculiar people.
Next in the key verses we see what preachers and teachers are supposed to devote themselves to. Notice it is not writing books. It is not trying to get rich. No beloved. We are supposed to devote ourselves to the public reading of Scriptures, preaching, and teaching. How many mega church pastors barely even use Scripture and when they do it is ripped horribly out of context? Joel Osteen is on record as saying he will not apologize for not bringing in Scripture until the end of his messages. Since he rarely seems to understand Scripture, that may not be a bad thing. It is however an unbiblical thing. There is nothing we can say that will break any yokes off of people enslaved to Satan and this world. We do not have the words of eternal life - only Jesus does.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." - John 6: 66-69 (ESV)
Besides the public declaration of Scripture, we are supposed to devote ourselves to preaching and teaching. Are we sensing a theme here from Paul? It is supposed to be about the Word of God. It is supposed to be about the Gospel. Seminars on how to improve you marriage should be saved for days other than Sundays. We have transformed the sanctuary into the set of Dr. Phil and it needs to stop. Lives are on the line. You can have an improved marriage and still be going to hell. The next reminder in the key verses is that those who labor in preaching and teaching have been given a gift. It is not to be squandered. It is not to be misapplied. It is not to be neglected. We are to be diligent in these matters. We are to give ourselves wholly to them. This is not a part-time endeavor beloved. This is why double honor is due to those who labor in preaching and teaching. It is not a job; it is a calling.
The final consideration from the key verses is verse 16. It is a very well known verse. I quote it often in my writing. Paul tells Timothy to watch only two things closely. His life and his doctrine. We need to watch our lives because if we err there then our testimony is ruined. If our testimony is ruined, the Gospel suffers as well. How many people never returned to church because of the fall of a pastor? How many never returned because they were hurt by a pastor or eldership? We are to watch our doctrine because what we profess to believe is equally important as how we live our lives and are often intertwined. I know that many mega church pastors today and people into experiential Christianity have tried to turn doctrine into a dirty word but it is crucial for us as believers.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. - Ephesians 4: 11-16 (ESV)
Unity is not some pajama party where we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Unity is not agreeing without caring what the substance is that we are agreeing to. Unity is rooted in and held together by doctrine. It is doctrine that ultimately saves. False doctrine leads people to hell. Correct doctrine leads people to Christ. We cannot take on the responsibility of preaching and teaching the sheep of God and then not care what we feed them. Feeding them lies will kill them and as we have seen, their blood is then on our hands. The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not need to be altered. It does not need to be made relevant. It does not need to be sugared up or watered down. It does not need to be sold. It does not need to be marketed. It does not need to be dressed up or stripped down. It simply needs to be preached. Not with our human wisdom, lest the power of the cross be emptied of its power. These are serious matters and they require serious people who will understand that doctrine is not a dirty word. It is what unifies us in Christ.
Verse 16 and thus the key verses end with a very telling instruction. Paul says we must persevere in our life and doctrine. To persevere means to persist despite obstacles, difficulties and discouragement. Just like we can expect obstacles, difficulties and discouragement in our lives; we should also expect it in our doctrine. People will challenge us to go with the flow; to compromise. To look at the vast numbers of people attending these false churches. They must be doing something right? Wrong. The road that leads to destruction is broad because there are a lot of people on it. The gate that leads to eternal life is narrow and few find it. We cannot sell out doctrine for the sake of "growth" or "reaching as many as we can for Jesus." If you change the doctrine, then you change the Gospel. If you change the Gospel then you are reaching them with a false Jesus who cannot save them.
Lastly, all of these things are important because the very salvation of our listeners is at stake. If we persevere in them then we will save both ourselves and our listeners. The job of those who labor in teaching and preaching is not to make this life comfortable. It is to ensure where people go in the life that is to come. Notice though that it also saves us; the preachers and teachers. So we come full circle. Those who labor in teaching and preaching will be held to a higher standard. We will give account for every sheep that was entrusted to us. Not just the ones who agreed with us. We will answer for every dead body we leave lying in our wake. To be called to be a watchman on the wall is a serious matter. Blood is always on the line when we step up to speak. The only question is who will be held to account for it. Those should be some very sobering thoughts for us all.
Reverend Anthony Wade - September 29, 2014