Immerse Yourself in God’s Word
One thing to notice about the Pastoral Epistles is that they do not urge the leaders of God’s people only to know the Scriptures well and to teach them well to others. They also urge them to apply those Scriptures to themselves. Moreover, when leaders of God’s people are being chosen, they are to be people who do this. In 1 Timothy, this is obvious in the advice Paul gives Timothy about choosing overseers and deacons in chapter 3. The striking thing about the list of traits that congregations should look for is the relative absence of gifts and the prevalence of godly attributes that are demonstrated in life.
Such traits include having a good married and family life, being self-controlled, and not being given to excesses or inappropriate use of things such as alcohol, money, and argument or use of the tongue. Leaders are not simply to be devoted to teaching the truth of the Scriptures to God’s people and to outsiders. They are also to be good husbands, godly fathers, non-manipulative leaders, models of godly living, and those who have a good reputation with outsiders. Obviously this would be true not only of those engaged in oversight of congregations, but of all who minister the word of God to the people of God in the variety of contexts in which this happens in the contemporary church.
Nearly every pastor we know can give examples of once godly friends who went through theological training with them or worked in churches nearby, but who are no longer in ministry (or, in some cases, not even in the faith) because of sins of a moral or relational kind. Guarding our lives and our teaching is, therefore, a constant need, one that is captured in the apostle’s advice to Timothy:
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:15–16)
The four imperatives are important: (1) practice these things, (2) immerse yourself in them, (3) keep a close watch, and (4) persist. Basically, Paul is exhorting Timothy to focus on the teachings and duties that Paul has laid out in the previous verses, to take care of his conduct and his teaching.
Such exhortations make clear that guarding our lives and our teaching is a constant need that requires vigilance and focus. This can be helped by meeting with others to urge one another on and to keep one another accountable. It might even mean setting rigid boundaries for ourselves that help us avoid drifting in these areas. God’s leaders are to be people who are growing in submission to Scripture. Their daily lives are to reflect and exemplify the Scriptures that they teach. We are to be those with whom there is no hint or appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:21–22).
As preachers of God’s word, we should be aiming not only to be effective and godly communicators of the word, but also godly practitioners.
What might this mean in practice? If you are heading a team, it might mean issuing constant reminders of such things and fearlessly keeping your team members accountable (or requiring them to be accountable to others) in these areas. Moreover, you should eschew any fear of setting helpful unbreakable rules for yourself and of telling others about them. Apart from anything else, this will be an example to others to set similar boundaries. In the area of doctrine, you might have set habits for reading the Bible, reading theology, and meeting with others who can hold you accountable theologically. In terms of godliness, you might set some appropriate and public boundaries in terms of meeting with others of the opposite sex (such as never meeting privately in a closed environment, such as a windowless office). You might agree with your spouse that either one of you will tell the other if you ever feel attracted to someone else. Whatever you do, recognize that you are what the Bible says, a sinful human, and therefore needy of not just divine help but also wise advice. Using the advice of Psalm 1, don’t even start walking in the counsel of the wicked lest in the end you find yourself standing in the way of sinners and finally sitting in the seat of scoffers (and sharing their fate).
As preachers of God’s word, we should be aiming not only to be effective and godly communicators of the word, but also godly practitioners, particularly in the task of being pastor-teachers of God’s people.
This article is adapted from The Whole Counsel of God: Why and How to Preach the Entire Bible by Tim Patrick and Andrew Reid.
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