Written by Pastor Jim Law
I mentioned in my last post that I would be sharing a series of articles on pastoral convictions that have been forged in the context of local church ministry. In my case, a twenty-two year journey with the same congregation.
These brief articles will be based on the book of I Timothy where the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy on how to fulfill faithful ministry in a local body. In what seems to be his purpose statement, Paul wrote to his spiritual son,
“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” ~I Timothy 3:14-15
Paul explained to Timothy that he desired to come for a personal visit, but that he was writing in case that didn’t work out. He wanted Timothy to have specific instruction and guidance on how to lead a local church, specifically, “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.”
In reading the New Testament, clearly the Church is not a civic club but a redeemed family with an eternal purpose. In God’s redemptive plan, the local church is the hope of the world because of the message that is to be proclaimed through the ministry of God’s word and the lives of God’s people.
As I began my pastoral work, I Timothy was critical to getting my ministry bearings. With little experience under my belt, this small letter became a mentor and a friend to a young pastor in desperate need of guidance.
While there are many things Paul addresses in this letter, I would like to begin with his emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel. The grace that flows from the finished work of Christ is to permeate every dimension of the Church. We never graduate from our need for the Gospel. The grace found in Jesus Christ is to undergird every thought and action of Church ministry.
Jared Wilson referred to this Gospel permeation throughout Church life in his very helpful book Gospel Wakefulness. Wilson explained, “Gospel wakefulness means treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly.” That is a vital understanding of what life should be like among the people of God.
In the opening chapter, Paul begins by underscoring Timothy’s assignment, which was not an easy one. Timothy was to remain at Ephesus in order to “to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.”(I Timothy 1:3) Timothy’s ministry was to be confrontational, and doing this work in Ephesus would be challenging indeed. Interestingly, Paul would give his teaching on spiritual warfare and the armor of God in his letter to the Ephesians. It was a city with great dangers and spiritual opposition (Acts 19) .”
In Ephesus, Paul was calling Timothy to a polemic ministry that was to confront whatever was “contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”(I Timothy 1:11) Paul did not mean that Timothy was to be a contentious bully because he stated elsewhere that “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25a)
Timothy’s assignment was to establish Gospel truth as the beachhead for ministry in Ephesus, which would lead to an advance of sound doctrine. The word “sound” carries with it the idea of hygiene, or that which promotes health. Gospel centrality is critical to church health and spiritual fruitfulness. When abandoned or jettisoned for other “effective” or “practical” methods, the Church will surely wither.
Paul closes the chapter with a personal account of his conversion which is one of the greatest paragraphs in the entire New Testament. It was hard to imagine a more unlikely prospect for the Christian faith than Saul of Tarsus, a man who by his own account was a hateful and violent blasphemer whose actions were driven by unbelief.
And yet, God arrested him on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-19), and the drama of that experience was captured in these words, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”(I Timothy 1:15, 16)
Paul was saying to fellow sinners far and wide, rich or poor, “If God can save me the chief of sinners, then he can save anyone. There is no limit to his amazing grace.” The Church is comprised of redeemed sinners. This is our story and our song to this world, and we should never “get over” the wonder of what God has done in our lives. With Gospel centrality comes a beautiful recovery of the miracle of the new birth which is the first prerequisite to covenant church membership.
Faithfulness to this message is how the local church continues as “the pillar and support of the truth.” This happy message of God’s redeeming love in Christ is to be the Church’s anthem, and since the Gospel is the song of heaven (Revelation 5:9-13), we would do well to build our ministries on what is uppermost in God’s mind.