Every Pastor’s Priority Pursuit

My entrepreneurial son, Joel, calls me “old school,” but nevertheless I still conduct my ministry by means of a “to do” list. Any given week my legal pad version accumulates a lot of items. With a myriad of responsibilities on the pastor’s plate, how does a man triage them to keep the main thing the main thing, first things first? In 1 Timothy 4:11-16, Paul leaves no question in our minds as to what should be every pastor’s priority pursuit, regardless of what else may constrain his efforts.

Before we get to that remember that 1 Tim. 3:14-15 provides the controlling purpose to this first of the Pastoral Epistles. Paul wants Timothy to know how one ought to behave in the church. At the outset of chapter four, in the first five verses, he addresses the principal threat in Ephesus to that concern, namely the presence of false teaching. In v. 6ff Paul turns his attention as to how to counter that threat. In v. 11-16 he continues with that trajectory.

The main thought, I think, is this: To ensure right conduct in the church, pastors must give themselves to a fanatical concentration on the didactic dimension of their ministry with all its functions. As one writer has put it: The best antidote for error is a positive presentation of the truth.

Paul buries Timothy under an avalanche of imperatives in this paragraph – eleven in all. Command, teach, let none despise, set an example, devote, don’t neglect, practice, devote (again), keep a close watch, persist. Every single one of them without exception is framed in the present tense. This conveys continuous action. These things must represent Timothy’s perpetual focused concentration. And all have everything to do with his principal function – pastor-teacher. Three times, we find same root word – didaske – v. 11 – teach these things, v. 13 – devote yourself to . . . teaching, v. 16 – keep a close watch on  . . . the teaching.

Whatever pastors do they must be Acts 6:4 men above all else – we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. We must fight, claw, struggle, strain, hemorrhage to give adequate time to study, meditation, and the formulation of our sermons. While other components make up our worship services, to be sure, we must get this straight from this text: public reading of the Scripture, exhortation, and teaching — the sermon and its accouterments matter above all else and should command the lion’s share of time and attention in our corporate gatherings.

By way of overview, notice Paul’s concern that in this focused fanatical attention on his teaching ministry, he would have Timothy give attention to three emphases: authoritative confidence, exemplary conduct, and accurate content.

First, his authoritative confidence. Command and teach. Let no one despise you (kataphroneo – to think down). It seems due to his youth and perhaps timidity of character and temperament, Timothy suffered from an inferiority complex of sorts in his pastoral work. Paul charged him to take responsibility for that and teach with authority, even to the point of commanding. Recalling the conditions upon which he was set apart for ministry by the council of elders in the laying on of hands (v. 14) would contribute to that confidence as well and guard him from neglecting his unique calling and pastoral gifts.

Second, his exemplary character. The way to confident authority in ministry is not by throwing one’s ecclesiastical weight around, abusing authority by lording it over the sheep (1 Pet. 5:3), but by setting an example to the flock. Tupos means a pattern to follow. Notice that this must occur on a comprehensive scale — from the words chosen and tones employed in public speech to one’s scrupulous purity, treating all the women of the church as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2). This matters so much that Paul concludes in v. 16 – Keep a close watch on yourself. He echoes his teaching in Acts 20:28 – Pay attention to yourselves and all the flock. Matthew Henry said it well: Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their lives, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.

Third, his accurate content. Teach these things. The these is emphatic in the text. Some eight times this Greek word tauta shows up. By which I presume he means what immediately came before but indeed the entire emphases of the epistle. Again, v. 16 – keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching. Second Timothy 2:15 must be the pastor’s rally-cry, his MO, his preoccupation, his fanatical obsession – do your best to present yourself approved to God as worker who has not need to be ashamed rightly handling the word of truth.

Why? Because the stakes are inordinately high. Consider the end of v. 16 – for in so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. The pastor’s is a rescue mission as a preacher and teacher of the gospel. It starts with himself and extends to his hearers. Everything depends upon his faithful communication of the biblical gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

Who indeed is competent for these things?

Thanks be to God that He makes His shepherds competent as ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).

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