Fear of judgement is God's gift to pastors and elders...
(Tim) Church of the Good Shepherd hosted Ohio Valley Presbytery for our Spring Stated Meeting a week or so ago. Here are my sermon notes...
From the Pulpit of Church of the Good Shepherd
Spring Stated Meeting of Ohio Valley Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in America
May 1, 2009
I Have Fought the Good Fight
Sermon Text: 2Timothy 4:1-8
Please turn with me to this week's text, 2Timothy 4:1-8. This is the Word of God, and it is eternally true.
This is the last letter of the Apostle Paul to his son, Timothy, and likely the last he wrote to anyone before his witnessdom. In English we would call it martyrdom. And now we come to the end of that last letter and we see the Apostle Paul rising above his usual intensity or zeal for the souls under His care, the souls purchased with the blood of His precious Savior...
He solemnly charges Timothy, the younger pastor. Or better, the young church planter. (Calvin believes Timothy's calling existed somewhere between a pastor and an Apostle, referring specifically to his work with new churches.)
This is a work of the utmost seriousness Timothy has undertaken; or rather, a post of authority in matters of eternal consequence Timothy has been delegated by the Holy Spirit through the church and the hands of the Apostle Paul.
And if the solemn charge didn't make impression enough, the Apostle Paul adds that this charge is not coming in the presence of the congregation Timothy is serving, nor in the presence of the presbytery concurring in his call, but in the presence of the Living God and His Only begotten Son, Christ Jesus. Messiah Jesus.
Had Timothy forgotten Who Jesus was, the Apostle Paul reminded him of that, too: this Jesus, Paul reminded Timothy, is “to judge the living and the dead.”
Now of course, were the meaning of this that Timothy should show zeal in saving some unregenerate souls from that Judgment by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ, it would be true. And yes, Timothy knew and worked for that.
But here, it's not unregenerate souls the Apostle Paul has in mind, but a regenerate soul.
The soul of Timothy, himself. The Apostle Paul is reminding Timothy that one day soon he will stand before the Lord of the Universe, the Son of the Most High God, to give an account of his work. The Apostle Paul is saying to Timothy that the day is quickly coming when his every idle word, the secrets of his work, of the ministry he's been called to, will be revealed. Nothing will be hidden; all will become clear and God will judge him.
We're not used to the Judgment, are we?
Pastors today are fire insurance agents, but not the fires of Hell so much as the fires of a non-integrated life, of a broken home or marriage, of a life of insignificance, of lives lacking the Christian civic religion that, still today, in most communities and cities is viewed as a necessary aspect of being American.
In other words, the fires pastors call out to the lost to flee from today are the fires of a less significant, a less happy, a less civil life than the life of a Christian. And if they're wealthy and educated, Presbyterianism works well for them. They can avoid some of the cultural opprobrium, maybe even scorn, of being Pentecostal or Baptist.
But are these the dangers to which the Apostle Paul is referring?
No, Paul is speaking, not of the negative judgment of our fellow citizens or family members, but of the Living God. And not of His judgment now and today, but the coming Judgment: “It is appointed unto man, once to die, and after that the Judgment.”
But even those pastors who have kept judgment--That Judgment--in our repertoire wouldn't be caught dead speaking of it as a motivation to fellow believers, let alone fellow pastors.
It's not graceful. It's not edifying. People, especially pastors, just need to be encouraged.
But make no mistake about it: the Apostle Paul here is speaking of the judgment of a believer, of a pastor, and he's doing it in a way that is raising high up, in clear sight, the specter of what Timothy might expect from His Master if he is not found busy and zealous in his work, his commission, the exercise of authority God the Holy Spirit has delegated to him.
When Saint Paul citeth Timothy here before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, know we that he doeth is to bring him in mind of that which is said by the Prophet Ezekiel. That they which are appointed by God to preach His Word, are as watch men, and if they will not cry when they see any hurt or danger nigh, the souls shall be required at their hands. Therefore, if men perish through our negligence, when God hath appointed us His messengers to preach His Word, the blood shall be required at our hands: we shall be judged before God as guilty for the loss of them all… (T)hey which have the office of teaching are more straightly bound, and they shall be guilty of the death, not of bodies, but of souls, if they do not their duty to draw sinners out of the way of destruction.
The right way to awake us is to cite us to the judgment of God, and if Timothy, which was like an Angel in this world, had need to be stirred up after this sort, what shall we say of ourselves, which as so fleshly, which have our minds and wits wandering this way and that way… (L)et us remember, that when we have passed this earthly pilgrimage, we must appear before the Heavenly Judge; all things shall then be made open and manifest. This is the right way to stir us, when the world holdeth us (as it were) fast fettered to itself. …(T)here must be some fear in us, or else we shall never be diligent…
God must be …before us as a Judge, if we will not have Him as our Father.
-Calvin's sermon on 2Timothy 4:1
Now the weight of the charge, both now and eternally, has been stated, and the Apostle Paul gives his beloved son, Timothy, the specifics of the charge itself:
There are nine commands, nine imperatives.
Not nine indicatives, but nine imperatives.
* FG: “Along with the indicative, can't we please have the imperative!”
Nine imperatives; hortatory imperatives at that: eight specific commands and one general command, summarizing those specifics.
Timothy is to peach the Word.
As Calvin points out in his comments on Acts 2, the devotions of the first church began with their devotion to “the teaching of the Apostles.” And from this, Calvin declares: “Doctrine comes first.” It is the foundation that all ministry is built on.
But not just any doctrine: the doctrine of the Gospel contained in “the Word.”
Not man's word. Not Tim Bayly's word, but the Word of God; the Word of the Gospel, the Word of the Holy Spirit. And the Living Word, Jesus Christ, to Whom all of Scripture points.
Preach the Word. Or rather, proclaim the Word publicly.
Not simply in the safety of the privacy of Timothy's comfy church, but in the hurly-burly of the world where men, from unbelief, mock and scorn and ridicule.
And when is Timothy to preach the Word?
...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
He is to preach the word “in season and out of season.”
In other words, when it's easy and when it's hard. When he's ready and when he's inconvenienced. When his hearers want it and when they don't.
He is to make himself a stink in his zeal for the very souls that tell him to shut up.
You remember what they said to Moses when he faithfully preached God's message to the supreme ruler of the Ancient World, Pharaoh?
They were furious at Moses for preaching out of season, and they came to him to tell him to shut up, saying: “You have made us a stench (stink) in the eyes of Pharaoh,” as the King James famously puts it,
Or, the NASB95: "They said to them, “May the Lord look upon you and judge you, for you have made us odious in Pharaoh's sight and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21).
Every pastor pouring himself into his ministry, struggling and working and sweating toward faithfulness, has heard similar words countless times.
Listen to the Apostle Paul's plaintive plea in the middle of his scorching letter to the Galatians:
(Galatians 4:8-11, 15-17) 8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.…
15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.
But Timothy was not to let this dissuade him from the work to which he had been called. He was to preach the Word, in season and out of season, whether those seasons are his own (receptivity or resistance), or the seasons of the souls God has placed before him (their receptivity or resistance).
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
As Timothy preaches the Word, his preaching and pastoral care as a servant of the Lord Jesus is to consist of three things:
He is to reprove.
He is to rebuke.
He is to exhort.
Which of those is upbeat? Which is welcomed as a kind word from Pastor Dively or Pastor Curell or Pastor Stein?
Maybe not, so how about rebuking?
Likely not that either, so how about exhortations?
Then the manner in which it is to be done. Not harshly, in a self-protective way so we can reassure ourselves afterward that their hearts were hard and we got them before they could get us. Not adding to the humiliation of the Holy Spirit's message, but giving ourselves gently, as shepherds tender with the young of their flock--to add no human offense to the offense, to the authority, of God.
The messenger should not get in the way of the message.
Most times we get in its way by not carrying the message at all; or by trimming it of its offense. But when we finally rise up to give it to them straight, it's not unusual for us, at the same time, to engage in behavior and use words in such a way as to prepare and cultivate rejection. But is it really rejection of God and His Word, or rather, rejection of ourselves and our great eminence and dignity?
When the Apostle Paul commands Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction,” he is telling Timothy to lay line upon line with faith in God, not giving up easily, but relentlessly, never giving up and never giving himself to a hissy-fit over the dimwittedness, the slothfulness of his hearers.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Calvin predictably points to Rome and the Papacy as an example of those who teach in accordance with the people's own desires, and therefore oppose sound doctrine, But then he goes on specifically to single out the new reformed church, saying the souls of their new churches, too, have surrounded themselves with such hirelings.
But not really surrounded themselves: what is here translated “accumulate for themselves” has the sense of “heaping up for themselves,” and the clear meaning is that the people will surround themselves with false shepherds as the miser is surrounded by his piles, his heaps of money; as the little child sits on the living room floor Halloween night making himself heaps of candy; so the people pile up for themselves, in heaps, unfaithful shepherds--really, no shepherds at all, but hirelings who are perfectly committed to giving the souls under their care what they desire rather than what God has said and what their eternal souls need.
Pastors and preachers who promise, for instance, their congregants their best life now. Reformed pastors who have the same--precisely the same--message as Houston's prince of preachers, but in a slightly different form that seems to have more legs, theologically: reformed preachers who preach grace, grace, grace--always and only grace.
We must acknowledge much so-called "preaching of grace" is no preaching at all, but the piling up in heaps of words intended to pander to our rebellious sheep. It is scratching their ears for money:
* Martin Luther on Repentance and Faith and Faithful Preaching
Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. If follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience.
Therefore we have instructed and admonished pastors that it is their duty to... exhort the people diligently and frequently to repent and grieve over their sins and to fear the judgment of God. Nor are they to neglect the greatest and most important element of repentance, for both John and Christ condemned the Pharisees more severely for their hypocritical holiness than for ordinary sins. The preachers are to condemn the gross sins of the common man, but more rigorously demand repentance where there is false holiness.
...true faith cannot exist where there is not true contrition and true fear and terror before God.
-Martin Luther in Luther's Works, volume 40; Church and MInistry II edited by Conrad Mergendoff, General Editor, Helmut T. Lehmann, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, 1958. pp. 274,275,294.
Calvin exhorts us to be faithful, fighting the good fight to the very end:
Therefore when the servants of God see themselves thus two or three, against an hundred, it might astonish them at the first blush: but they must be armed with virtue from above to fight manfully: for the truth of God will in the end be conqueror: though it find not many protectors in this world, yea and though the most part hunt away and darken it, and wholly abolish it, yet it shall always get the upper hand. And therefore let us take good hearts to us, to confirm ourselves, when we see the devil raise up men, which seek nothing else but to turn the Scripture upside down, let us conclude thus with ourselves, that we must neither bow nor flee the field, but be valiant soldiers unto the end. (Calvin, the 26th sermon on the 4th chapter of 1Timothy)
Again, our text:
5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.