This week would have been my father’s 83rd birthday. Without fail, I remember my parents birthdays and spend parts of the day reflecting on their influence in my life, and what it might be like if they were still alive. While it can provoke a sense of melancholy on those days, it also tends to help by being reflective on their lives.
My father was a simple man. As a child growing up in the depression era, he only finished the sixth grade. Working to help support the family seemed to be more important than an education. I was always amazed that my dad had a large dose of common sense to make up for whatever he may have lacked in classroom time. I would like to think that some of that common sense may have been passed on to his children.
While reflecting on my own life, I found myself thinking about the Apostle Paul, and the relationship he had with a young preacher by the name of Timothy. For some-time-now, I have been studying the book of First Timothy on a word-by-word basis, and I found myself reflecting on what Paul passed on to his son in the faith in the first few passages of the book of First Timothy. I hope you will find this helpful:
1. STICK WITH IT (1 Timothy 1:3)
It would be wise to pay attention to the first command the seasoned Apostle gave to Timothy. Namely, “remain at Ephesus.” I had a great mentor, who was my pastor when I came to Christ. William L. Gaddis, who has served as Senior Pastor of the same church for as long almost as long as I have been in the ministry. He decided early on that he would not move every year or two, but would give his entire ministry to the one church. He recognized the need of ministering to generations, instead of a rotating crowd. Now, his church is not the largest by far, but over his tenure, dozens of ministers have gone out from under his leadership, and have been quite successful. In my own ministry, I’ve preached all over the United States and ministered in other nations…no doubt this was “fruit” of Pastor Gaddis’ ministry.
What preacher do you know that hasn’t thought about quiting at one point or another. They are just like anyone else, with one difference; they live in a fish bowl environment where the pressure is intense and the expectations can seem to be unreasonable from everyone from the congregation to the community and the Bishops who appoint them. Sometimes the overwhelming urge is to “just move on.” However, this is not always the right thing to do. Sometimes, you have to continue on in the “meat-grinder” of life, and allow the difficulties and hard times to “temper” us in the fire of trial and affliction. On the other side of the trial will be a fulfilled life, and a “well done good and faithful servant.”
2. BE HONEST (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
Honesty is the best capital a minister has to expend. Paul probably felt like Timothy might have questioned his command to “stay put,” in Ephesus, but he went on to explain why.
“…that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange docrines or pay attention to myths and endless geneologies…which give rise to speculation rather than furthing the work of God.” (my paraphrase)
Let’s face it, you really don’t get to know anyone in a short period of time. By living honestly among people in all seasons, you build your credibility, and in a sense, you grow with the people. When a church goes through multiple pastors in a short period of time it becomes terribly difficult to build strong congregations, and strong relationships. This enables the pastor to preach, teach and model strong doctrinal positions that help bring the people closer to the Lord, not scatter them every few years.
Paul realized that preaching the truth, fighting false doctrine with sound exposition and consistent living was what the saints at Ephesus needed.
3. CONCENTRATE ON THE MISSION
Paul continued, “But the goal is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5) The truth is that we don’t win our arguments in this post-modern (and some say post-Christian) age with clever arguments or witty “comebacks.” We win when we model love to people. When we share the love of God with honesty and pure faith people will pay attention.
Our love flows from a “pure heart,” one that models the genuine love of Jesus Christ. Someone once said, “people don’t care how much you know; until they know how much you care.” How sad that we could possibly have the right doctrine but have a wrong spirit. The spirit of a bully that is demanding and overbearing is NOT the Spirit of Christ. Remember, shepherds lead their flocks while cowboys drive their herds. We must constantly be on guard of our spirits and our attitudes so that we never bring reproach on the message we are trying so hard to share.
The best way I know how to deal with a difficult situation is to stay focused on the mission at hand…to reach a lost world with the love of Christ. If we can learn the secrets of overcoming, there is no obstacle so difficult that we cannot overcome. Remember this simple formula: 1. Analyze 2. Adapt 3. Overcome. How is this lived out? In your difficult moment, analyze the situation against the word of God, adapt your attitude to that of Christ, and overcome by the Power of the Holy Spirit.
4. HOLD UP THE STANDARD (1 Timothy 1:6-10)
False teachers almost always have a kernal of truth in their teaching. Think about it. Some mix the law with grace, while others mix logic with faith. We are saved by grace. Enough said. That grace is through faith. Enough said. It is not from our own works so that we won’t begin to take credit for the work of God. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
From time-to-time, I encounter those who are like the Judaizers, who intend to add good works to the finished work of Christ. They want to add requirements to the Gospel of Christ. In my younger years of ministry I didn’t always have an answer…but I’ve learned that the answer is not in my logic, my reasoning, but in holding up the standard of God’s Word. I’ve learned (with many years of experience) that many of these teachers don’t understand the things they are trying to teach. They will hold to an emotional experience or the traditions of men to prove their point…the reality is that their circular arguments only reveal them for what they are. False teachers who are more concerned with their own well-being than that of the people of God. We MUST HAVE NO TIME FOR THESE DISTRACTIONS…but rather must hold forth the Word of God…using the “Word” to interpret the “Word.” Don’t be ashamed of it…don’t shy away from the debate…but stand firm in the TRUTH of the Scripture.
5. BE OBEDIENT (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Paul made it clear to Timothy that he was to “fight the good fight” keeping a “good conscience” to avoid shipwreck. We often forget that we are in a battle. While some may classify ministry as an occupation, we know that it is a calling to spiritual battle. (Ephesians 6:12) You won’t always feel like fighting the fight…in fact there will be times you would rather run away and let someone else do the battle. But, you can’t. You must stand strong at all times, recognize that your weapons are not carnal…but rather they are spiritual, and they are mighty, and you will be able to pull down the “strongholds” that have been built up against you by your enemies.
When we are obedient, we know that we can walk into the fiercest of battles. There is a certain sense of spiritual freedom that comes when you know that you are on the right side of a fight…you know that they may take your life…but they will never take away that freedom!
Remember, we don’t lean on human reason, logic or pay attention the the conflict around us…but rather we stay focused, we keep our hearts and hands pure and we serve the Lord with enthusiasm. I personally believe this is the greatest peace you will ever have.
Finally, back to my dad. I remember in my early years of ministry, I was asked to give up my position on a certain issue based on someone else’s conscience. I struggled with it because of the great respect I had for the one asking. I remember sitting down and talking to my dad, and waiting for him to tell me to go ahead and give in. But instead, he told me…”son, don’t ever give in when you know you are right…stand your ground…stand up…be a man.” As I look back on my dad’s advice…I realize that giving in would have brought short term gain, but long-term tyranny. He was right…his common sense underscored our common faith and I am a better man for it today.
Thanks dad…I miss you.