November 11, 2012

What makes “a good minister of Jesus Christ”? (v. 6)

(1 Timothy 4:4-11)

Part of the Saxon Pericope Gospel list series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen. Our text this morning is recorded in 1 Timothy, the 4th chapter, the 4th through the 11th verse, reading as follows:

Dear fellow redeemed sinners, redeemed by God, for our text says that Jesus Christ is God along with the Father and the Holy Ghost. The fifteenth through the twenty-third Sundays after Trinity cover the Christian in various relations with others in this world. Last week we heard of the dealings between children and parents, and servants and masters, or employees and employers as we generally have today. In the final Sunday of this segment of the church year Paul speaks of “a good minister of Jesus Christ.” Congregations and pastors must know in what a good pastor of Jesus Christ consists. God gives information and instructions in selecting a pastor in Titus 1 and again in 1 Timothy 3. Here in our text He speaks more about the work of that person. Yet all too often people do not know what a “good minister of Jesus Christ” is. Perhaps he must be handsome, even as the people were so pleased with tall, good-looking Saul as their first king? (1 Sam. 9:2; 10:23f) Maybe he should be an eloquent speaker, having fine vocabulary and turning a phrase even though he tell errors or intentionally set forth smooth lies? He should be the graduate of a prestigious seminary, whether that seminary teach some generic “Christianity” or be blatantly liberal and reject the Word of God? He ought to be a good singer, an organist to lead the children in vacation Bible school, an athlete, etc. All these things are nice, but they are not essential. Paul writes the Corinthians about faithfully “declaring the testimony of God,” and then reminds them how he “determined not to know anything among [them], save Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1f). In our day, however, there is much carelessness and indiscretion in choosing a pastor. This morning, then, we ask on the basis of our text –
What makes “a good minister of Jesus Christ”? (v. 6)
First, he nourishes the people in the path of faith and sound doctrine, and
Second, he exercises himself in godliness.
First, a good minister of Christ nourishes his people in the path of faith and sound doctrine. There were many false prophets already in the first century of the Christian Church. Paul often had to confront various different groups, as we hear a brief mention in our Epistle lesson (Phil. 3:17). John also warns of many antichrists, contradictors of Christ, before the coming of the ultimate Antichrist (1 John 2:18). Often these people are “sincere,” though not always, and they actually think that they are correct. Immediately before our text Paul speaks of some who insist on abstaining from certain foods. They could note that, after all, the Old Testament prohibited some foods. They are being “holy” and “Biblical.” How logical that sounded. Others glorified celibacy, even forbidding to marry (v. 3). By all these things these false prophets divert attention from Christ the Savior to one’s own deeds. They may give the idea of superiority or meriting at least in part salvation. They destroy Christian liberty when Christ has made us free (Gal. 5:1). In contrast: Paul writes at the beginning of our text: Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. These food ordinances are a thing of the past and all foods are now available for them according to their personal tastes. Yet this early pattern continues still down to our day. The Roman Catholic Church is famous for its fasting and mandatory celibacy for priests and monks and nuns. The Methodists and Pentecostalists of various stripes have many manmade rules of do or don’t. The Seventh Day Adventists’ very name promotes their holding to the Old Testament worship day as well as its dietary laws, especially abstaining from pork. What is Paul’s response? It is recorded in verse four. Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. We say our table prayer and gladly accept the food God provides for us. Already Jesus Himself in His ministry stated: “Whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man” (Matt. 15:17f). It is not what we eat, but the wickedness of our heart which is the problem.
We have today’s modernist teachers. “Modern” and “scientific” are seductive buzzwords. They are magic words which bamboozle the gullible. Pause to note that all errors at one time in history were regarded as modern and scientific. When we hear them now, we laugh at how stupid people could be to believe such things. They have been proven wrong and replaced. Yet people swallow new whoppers. True scientific facts never are in conflict with God’s Word. Many “ministers” sadly know more about philosophy than theology, psychology than doctrine, social theories than God’s principles. Perhaps some of these things make interesting tales and speculation, but they convert and save no one. Thus in verse seven our text urges: Refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. That is what he exhorts all faithful pastors to do. Forget the nonsense and hold to the pure Word. We do well, however, to beware of these silly things so that we may correct them. Above all, we need to point people to the one thing which shall matter throughout eternity, their Savior Jesus Christ. Preach and teach the certainty of God the Creator’s Word. We would think that now people would stop swallowing such silliness but they merely find some new thing to replace the old. Besides nourishing the people in the path of faith and sound doctrine with the Word of God, the second point our text makes is that the “good minister of Jesus Christ” –
Exercises himself in godliness. He writes: If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. Yes, knowledge and good doctrine was taught them, and this is what they should pass on to others. Pastors do not develop doctrine, but rather study God’s Word closely, scrutinize the vocabulary and grammar and see what it actually says (e.g. Gal. 3:16). We investigate Scripture’s statements elsewhere, which may clarify a question we have on “dark” texts. Thus our explanations must never contradict other clear passages of Scripture. Sometimes we study solid commentator’s thoughts and read their reasons for a certain position, carefully judging them for ourselves. True pastors like Paul do not want to be idolized. Acutely they feel their own sins and shortcomings. In so far as they are Christian, they look only to Jesus and rejoice in Him as their Savior. Often this means going against common ideas, those “old wives’ fables” and false ideas held by so many, as, for example evolution today. “A good minister of Jesus Christ” desires to deliver only pure doctrine unmixed with any human ideas. “Refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness,” he emphasizes. We are always to put Christ first: For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. Christ is the heart of the Christian Church and of all faithful preaching. Where Christ is absent, there also God is absent. Where He is scarcely mentioned, there the people are cheated. We also do seek to live in accord with the Bible, wanting to practice what we preach. We desire to set a good example to our parishioners and to the whole community, as he notes in 1 Timothy. 3:7.
Paul writes in verses eight and nine: Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. The Greeks praised athletes. That is the foundation of the Olympics. The winner received all sorts of honors and perhaps even a house and food for life. They did not have profitable commercial endorsements like today, but they had the equivalent. They were heroes in their community. The people of the time loved the body and athletic contests. The emphasis was on what we can see and measure. Now, admittedly, we certainly do wish to use our God-given body for God and our neighbor rather than primarily for our own aggrandizement. We are not to neglect or abuse our bodies, as the Gnostics taught, who scorned the flesh and the things done to it. Yet all social projects and bodily exercise is of limited value in this world. He acknowledges that bodily exercise profits a little; there is some limited value in it in this world. But if only people made half the effort in their study of Scripture as they do to improve their body, how much better it would be for them and others. While bodily exercise profits a little, godliness has the promise not only of that which now is, but of that which is to come. Spiritual exercise endures through eternity. What can a man give for his soul? (Matt. 16:26) Only God’s Son can and does redeem our soul. In Him is our only hope; else we must be cast away. But faith in Christ also brings eternal health, for the Lord at the resurrection on the Last Day will restore and glorify our weak bodies. So St. Paul notes at the end of our Epistle reading (Phil. 3:20f). Yes, even pastors are to exercise their body, but this is always in second place. First comes Christ Jesus.
Our text concludes: These things command and teach. May congregational members always diligently search for pastors like St. Paul. No, he was not perfect, and the men whom they select will not be perfect, but they will endeavor to please God rather than men (Acts 5:29). We must all ever look to the Lord Jesus Christ as our mutual Savior. We must insist on faithful pointing to and praising of Jesus, rather than drawing attention to ourselves or so-called “felt needs” and what entertains or makes us “feel good” for the moment. We have the bad reality of sin and the equal certainty of the good news of a Savior. That is the core of Christian preaching. Only then may God say to both pastor and people, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 26:21). May we all be privileged to hear those blessed words from His loving lips. Amen.
HYMNS: 483, 485 (1-3). 485 (4-7), 491
November 11, 2012