Pastoral ministry on behalf of Christ is a desperately needed, wonderfully difficult, and potentially dangerous calling. Rewarding as it can be, no one ever said it would be easy, safe, or even what we expected.
With such realism and love for fellow ministers, Bill Crowder, the vice president of teaching content for Our Daily Bread Ministries, opens his heart in the following pages. By combining the wisdom of Paul’s words to Timothy with his own years of experience, Bill brings us back, in his words, to “what we do, why we do it, and how we do it—so that through the communication of God’s Word, people might know and embrace the great and awesome love of God.”
Martin R. De Haan II
As a child growing up in the 1950s, I was part of the Disney generation that cut its teeth on The Mickey Mouse Club and The Wonderful World Of Disney. I dreamed of someday making the pilgrimage to my childhood mecca— the “magic kingdom” of Disneyland.
What I most lived for, however, were the adventures of those historical heroes Walt Disney presented to us each week. Whether it was Texas John Slaughter, Zorro, or the “Swamp Fox” (Francis Marion), I imagined myself by their sides fighting for justice and liberty. Yet those special moments were surpassed each time I sat breathlessly watching Disney’s depiction of the exploits of Davy Crockett.
Ever since the days of Fess Parker (in the title role of Davy Crockett: King Of The Wild Frontier), I have been fascinated not only with Crockett but also with that ultimate episode of heroism when he fought for liberty alongside Jim Bowie, William Barret Travis, and 180+ other Texicans at the Battle of the Alamo. My interest was intensified when John Wayne made an epic movie about the Alamo in the early 1960s— with Wayne himself filling Crockett’s moccasins. To this day, I continue to read almost anything I can find about that watershed event in early US history.
PEOPLE EXPECT THINGS
Imagine my excitement when I heard that the Disney company was filming a new version of the Alamo saga that would be released in 2004. In that movie, Billy Bob Thornton (who looked eerily similar to the old lithographs of the actual Crockett) had a particular scene as Davy Crockett that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.
In the scene, Crockett was standing guard on a wall just after a messenger had slipped through the enemy lines and away from the mission-fort to seek help for the troops there. As he considered his options, Bowie came to Crockett’s post and, as if reading Davy’s mind, said, “Makes a man ponder the possibilities, don’t it?”
Crockett’s reply was priceless: “People expect things If it was just me, simple ol’ David from Tennessee, I might drop over that wall some night and take my chances. But that Davy Crockett feller— they’re all watching him. He’s been on these walls every day of his life.”
In Crockett’s quote, I keep coming back to the words “people expect things.”
THE POWER OF EXPECTATIONS
Expectations are a powerful thing. We find ourselves responding to them, living up to them, being crushed under them—even complaining about them.
The one thing we cannot do, however, is escape them. People expect things.
We cannot escape expectations. People expect things.
This is true in the church as well. Those who teach the Word of God are subject to constant evaluation by the congregations they lead. Together with a watching world, our own people expect things of us. And the burden that flows from those expectations can be overwhelming.
On a recent trip overseas, I was struck by an observation made by one of my co-workers. As we drove from his home to the office, my friend asked me a surprising question. He said, “Why are so many old pastors bitter?”
“Why are so many old pastors bitter?”
After thinking for a moment, I responded, “Well, first of all, speaking as an old pastor, I can say that not all old pastors are bitter. But having said that, I think there are a couple of reasons many of them are.
“First of all, pastors get very little encouragement. Yet they deal with people who are most often in the darkest and most challenging moments of life. It’s a draining work.
“Second, though, is that the expectations people have for their spiritual leaders are so high that failure is almost inevitable. Years of giving oneself for the needs and welfare of others, while constantly being criticised for not measuring up to some arbitrary and often unfair standard, can really get under a pastor’s skin. It can wear him down.”
People expect things. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, kindly or unkindly—people expect things. And those expectations can be crippling to someone who is charged with leading the flock of God.
The expectations people have for their spiritual leaders are so high that failure is almost inevitable.
So that we can keep our focus clear and our priorities straight, those of us who serve others in the name of Christ can benefit by reminding ourselves regularly of what matters most and why. While it’s important to know what our congregations are asking of us, it’s far more important to recalibrate our thinking about the whats, whys, and hows our Lord Himself expects of us.
The apostle Paul understood how challenging local church work could be. He also understood that for servants of Christ (young and old alike), pastoral leadership with all of its expectations could be overwhelming. This is at least part of the motivation behind Paul’s writing of three of our New Testament books: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.
A CONCERNED MENTOR
Paul had trained Timothy and Titus and wanted to continue to invest in their spiritual and pastoral development. To help them be effective servants of Christ, he wrote with ongoing instruction. In these letters, often referred to as the “pastoral epistles,” we see some wonderful things about Paul’s care for these young servants of Christ. We see in Paul’s words:
• his affection for them (1 Timothy. 1:2; 3:14; 2 Timothy. 1:2; 4:9; Titus. 1:4),
• his concern for them (1 Timothy. 4:12; 5:23; 2 Timothy. 1:8; Titus. 2:15),
• his challenges to them (1 Timothy. 1:18; 4:14; 6:2- 11; 2 Timothy. 2:1; Titus 2:1).
With assurances of his deep affection and prayer for them, Paul was committed to helping these young shepherds.
Timothy and Titus were joining Paul on the front lines of spiritual warfare. The insight, wisdom, and experience he shared with them was invaluable. As a veteran of many battles, he guided them through the challenges they were facing. He reaffirmed their doctrinal foundation and framework while offering them hope and encouragement in the work of the gospel. Most significantly, Paul gave them a point of reference by which they could clearly understand the expectations and priorities of their pastoral mission. For these young men, that would mean keeping their focus on what was most important while facing the challenges of false doctrine, personal fears, sexual temptation, and even the spiritual defection of co-workers.
Paul gave them a point of reference by which they could understand the expectations of their pastoral mission.
A PLACE TO BEGIN
Paul opened his first letter to Timothy with a fatherly greeting. He began by expressing his heartfelt desire for his son in the faith to know “grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:2).
Paul then moved quickly to what was on his mind. He challenged his young protégé to show courage in the face of those who were giving themselves to theological speculation rather than to the foundational matters of faith that had been entrusted to them (vv.3-4).
Uppermost in Paul’s thoughts was to remind Timothy of what he had told him previously. They could not afford to let dangerous and misleading ideas take root in the church. Those who were accepting ideas that promoted theological speculation were in spiritual jeopardy, and it was Timothy’s task as their shepherd to try to pull them back in.
A PURPOSE STATEMENT
In the context of all these challenges, Paul wrote one of the most important statements of purpose ever crafted.
Such a statement is timely. We live in a world that values corporate mission statements. These statements declare why an organisation exists and how it hopes to fill its niche in the corporate jungle. Whether building a better mousetrap, curing the common cold, or creating a more flavourful fast-food hamburger, these organisations live and die by their mission statements. Those declarations of purpose give focus and clarity to all that they do in their corporate endeavours.
Paul wanted young Timothy to approach ministry in the local church with a similar sense of priority. To that end, after greeting and challenging him, Paul focused Timothy’s attention on the heart of effective ministry. He gave him a mission statement for pastoral care that encompasses all the significant elements of the task of shepherding as well as the reasons behind them. It even incorporates a strategy for accomplishing the work. In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul gave his mission statement:
The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (NASB).
There, in one verse, we find answers to the significant questions—the what, the why, and especially the how of what we are called to do in the name of Christ. The answers to these questions explore the significance of what we do in our service for Christ and give clear definition to the heart of effective ministry.
THE APOSTLE PAUL’S MISSION STATEMENT FOR MINISTRY:
“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)
ANSWERING THE “WHAT” QUESTION
In the first church I pastored, one of our members proved to be particularly handy. Wendell had a world of abilities in a variety of fields related to the building trades. He understood plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning, carpentry, and even the project management elements of general contracting. For that reason, when the church family purchased an older facility and began remodelling our building, we leaned heavily on Wendell. In fact, we hired him as our general contractor for the duration of the project.
The project proved so successful that, when I moved to California to pastor another church where, once again, construction expertise was needed, we brought in Wendell and his wife to help guide us in the renovation project. Wendell was a true jack- of-all-trades who was able to grapple with building codes, volunteers, and sub- contractors. He wore many different hats and did a myriad of tasks skilfully and successfully. Such men are hard to find.
Few jobs or callings carry such diverse expectations as pastoral ministry.
Having said that, few jobs or callings carry such diverse expectations as pastoral ministry. The expectations on the jack-of- all-trades is trumped by the demands on those who are called to lead a church. In many congregations today, a pastor:
• needs to be an expert counsellor, fundraiser, visionary, speaker, leader, caregiver, servant, and CEO.
• needs to be able, with equal agility, to relate to senior adults, young families, baby boomers, and Gen Xers.
• needs to be able to comment with wisdom and insight on matters of history, ethics, current events, and pop culture.
With those kinds of demands, it’s easy to see why many pastors feel overwhelmed. This would be a daunting list for Superman—let alone the normal people with feet of clay who are expected to lead and feed the flock of God. That’s why spiritual leaders themselves need to refocus on what is most important.
CLEARING THE FOG
To help Timothy cut through the fog of the varied expectations of his own day, Paul took the various roles, tasks, and responsibilities of a pastor and boiled them down to the one common denominator alluded to in the phrase, “the goal of our instruction” (1:5 NASB).
Ministry must be concerned with incorporating the Word of God into the lives of people.
At the risk of oversimplifying the point, instruction by word and by example is the basis of all ministry. No matter what else is taking place, spiritual shepherds must be concerned with feeding the Lord’s people with the revealed words, thoughts, and values of God. While churches provide an array of important services to their people, nothing is more important than helping people in all stages and circumstances of life to understand the wisdom and truth of the Bible. Notice the significance Paul gives to the content of a pastor’s teaching.
Instruction And The Pastor’s Role.
Teaching the Word of God is so central to a pastor’s responsibilities that Paul linked the two concepts together when he wrote, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Some Bible scholars feel the two terms in this passage (pastors and teachers) form one role, that of pastor-teacher, because teaching is so essential to shepherding a healthy flock. It is this primary teaching role that provides both background and foundation for all the other elements of pastoral work.
Instruction And The Church’s Welfare.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he added another element to the role of teacher. He said, “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). It is in the role of grace- filled instruction that we are able to fulfil the tasks of convincing, challenging, and encouraging. This is significant because we are regularly reminded of the natural limitations of the usefulness of our own words. But the life-changing power of the Word of God is lifted up as we instruct, preach, and counsel those in need of spiritual guidance.
Instruction And The Believer’s Growth.
The care and feeding of God’s people with the Word of God is a two-way relationship. Peter taught that believers themselves need to respond to those who are feeding them: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). As a newborn requires nourishment to develop in a healthy way, this is also the believer’s formula for growing in the attitudes of Christ. Opening the Word of God to encourage a clear understanding of Christ is a pastor’s highest calling. Paul wrote, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). This is our challenge: to open the Scriptures to encourage believers to grow in Christlikeness and biblical character. Of all the tools in the minister’s toolkit, the Scriptures rise to a level of unequaled significance, for they affirm truth and give life.
Paul’s pastoral letters continually drive home the primacy of the Bible in ministry. Spirit-enabled instruction in the Scriptures is the essence of the shepherd’s care. It feeds the soul with milk and provides the meat and bread of life. Paul’s challenges to Timothy and Titus echo the challenge issued to Peter by Christ Himself when He told Peter three times to show his love for Him by feeding His flock (see John 21:15-17).
The value of our own words is limited, but the words of the Bible have eternal value.
FULFILLING THE COMMISSION
Returning to the priority of teaching might require a radical retooling for some of us who have allowed the many pressures of ministry to crowd out our study time. But such a change will be good for us. Putting the ministry of the Word of God front and center will not be a departure from the historic thinking about pastoral care, nor will it amount to the latest “hot topic” pulled from a ministry seminar. Instead, it’s a foundational element of Christ’s commission to His disciples and to the church they would establish. In Matthew 28:19-20, He said:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and
lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.
It’s interesting that in many churches this Great Commission is relegated to missions conference week and almost exclusively viewed as an outreach passage. But that’s an unfortunate and incomplete perspective.
The main verb in this passage tells us what to do: Make disciples! The Greek word for disciples means “learners.” How do we make these disciples, or learners? The three participles in the passage tell us how:
Even in the most evangelistic statement ever given by the Lord of the church to His servants, the role of instruction is still significant. A person’s acceptance of forgiveness in Christ must be followed by and grounded in the instruction and application of God’s Word.
SETTING THE STANDARD
There are compelling reasons for us to be concerned about and committed to the instruction of the Word of God. It is the only way to build believers who can discern between truth and error. It is the only way to grow in true Christlikeness. It is the only way to be equipped to represent Christ in the world. The apostle Peter issued a strong challenge in this regard when he wrote:
You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen (2 Pet. 3:17-18).
This reminds us of the importance of the teaching ministry of the Word of God and the impact that it can have on the lives of people we minister to. We cannot change hearts, but the Word of God can. And this is the significance of our instruction. It allows us to be God’s instruments in making the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.
ANSWERING THE “WHY” QUESTION
As a parent, it has been my experience that the number one question a child asks—and perpetually asks—contains only one word: “Why?”
No matter what the issue or concern might be, children always want to know why. In fact, their pursuit of this question can be pretty exasperating. As the father of five, I understand that sometimes kids can push this issue just to irritate us (a skill children seem to be born with). But at the root of the pursuit to understand the why behind the what is a desire to cut through all the surface stuff and get to the heart of the matter. Understanding the answers to the why questions of life may be at the very root of wise living.
Somewhere along the way, however, we stop asking “Why?” and start asking “So what?” We turn a corner and become less concerned about why things are significant and become more concerned with what works or even with what we might get out of it. The question may not leave our lips but is often very active in our minds, causing us to wonder, “What’s in it for me?”
The question may not leave our lips but is often very active in our minds: “What’s in it for me?”
WHY THE “WHY” STILL MATTERS
Unfortunately, this thinking has invaded the church as well. Instead of seeking to understand the eternal purposes for what we do by pursuing the “why” issues, it’s easy to be preoccupied with the pragmatic issues of what works. The Bible makes it clear, however, that the “what” issues of ministry must take second place to the issues of “why”—why Jesus came, why He had to die, why we preach the gospel, why good people sometimes suffer, why the motives of our hearts speak louder than our actions. Similarly, in all of these things, our ability to perform the “what” elements of pastoral work is conditioned by our grasp of “why” we do it.
Our ability to be effective in the “what” elements of ministry is conditioned by “why” we do it.
WHY THE “WHY” MATTERED TO JESUS
Jesus often emphasised the importance of heart motives. He was constantly driving both His followers and His opponents to dig deeper—to go beyond the pragmatic elements of what and to force consideration of purpose and intent. To Jesus, the why mattered because it moved past the act to the issue of the heart motive behind it.
Notice just a small sampling of Jesus’ pursuit of the motives behind the deeds:
• “So why do you worry about clothing?” (Matthew 6:28).
• “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
• “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
• “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
• “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
At some level, to understand the significance of motive is to understand the priorities of Christ Himself. This passion for purity of motive must thoroughly engulf our thinking about ministry as well.
WHEN “WHY” DRIVES MINISTRY
Beyond the motives of God the Father and God the Son in relationship to the redemptive work, there is another significant “why” question: Why do we do ministry? What drives us, compels us, and motivates us? Perhaps this is what makes 1 Timothy 1:5 such a wonderfully balanced purpose statement for ministry. Notice that a purpose statement helps us come to grips with why we do what we do, and may even condition how we seek to do it.
Why do we do ministry? Paul’s answer is profound in its simplicity: “The goal . . . is love.”
This is a surprise!
Paul has been described as having the mind of a theologian but the mentality of an Old Testament prophet. We might expect to hear from him that our goal is to see people come to Christ or grow to maturity in Christ, or to establish growing, life- impacting ministries, or to manifest holiness and right living. All those things are noble and biblical goals, but Paul chose to express his goal as love. Everything else, then, becomes a means to experience the love of God and to love Him with all of our heart, and to love our neighbour (and even our enemy) as ourselves.
This priority reflects a commitment to put God’s love on display, not just in the ministry efforts we engage in, but also in the methods we use to accomplish those tasks. It means that God’s love becomes the driving force behind our work.
This priority reflects a commitment to put God’s love on display in our ministry.
An example of this is seen in Paul’s own commitment to evangelism. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul was challenging the church at Corinth to be more evangelistic. There were many good reasons for such an effort:
• We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (v.10).
• People face eternal judgment (vv.10-11).
• In Christ, a person’s life is transformed as “a new creation” (v.17).
• Believers are called of God to serve as His ambassadors (v.20).
Every one of those reasons for outreach is significant. Each one is weighty. Yet, in the midst of these vital ministry values, Paul made it clear that even though each of these issues is important, they were not what drove him to reach people with the message of Christ. What was his motivation?
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Ultimately, what drove Paul to be faithful in his ministry was “the love of Christ.” In fact, he said it compelled him. This is a strategic word. In the Greek, it denotes that which held a soldier at his post to perform his duty. In their Bible commentary, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown say this of Paul’s “compulsion” to serve:
This irresistible power limits us to the one great object to the exclusion of other considerations. The Greek implies “to compress forcibly the energies into one channel.” Love is jealous of any rival object engrossing the soul (2 Corinthians 11:1-3)
Ultimately, what drove Paul to be faithful in his ministry was “the love of Christ.”
When the love of Christ is the driving motivation of our service, that love will colour and influence our hearts and characteristics with His passion.
WHAT “WHY” LOOKS LIKE
First Corinthians 13:4-8 reminds us of the character of this love. It is to be the pulse of our lives, as well as the expression of His life in us.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Love is to be the driving force in our ministry efforts. It will change who we are and will enable us to become more like the Christ we serve:
Love will change who we are and will enable us to become more like the Christ we serve.
• As we allow our hearts to be driven by His love, it will influence our character.
• As we allow His love to mould our character, it will affect our values and priorities.
• As we allow His love to change our values and priorities, it will develop in us the heart of effective ministry.
ANSWERING THE “HOW” QUESTION
Few things are more common today than home-improvement resources. In addition to home-improvement warehouses and supply stores, there are dozens of books, Web sites, television programs—and at least two entire cable channels (HGTV and DIY)—devoted to helping people learn the how-to of home repair. These resources show the easy (and safe) steps to follow if we want to improve the investment we have in our homes and our quality of life. What are the kinds of things we would normally think of when we ask “how”? Perhaps things like:
• Three easy steps to hanging drywall.
• Three easy steps to wiring a light fixture.
• Three easy steps to planting a home garden.
• Three easy steps to repairing a roof.
• Three easy steps to . . . whatever.
I love three easy steps. In Paul’s mind, however, there were not three easy steps to anything in the wonderful but difficult task of shepherding people. In fact, by his way of thinking, the “how” of pastoral work had very little to do with methodology. It had to do with character.
E. M. Bounds seems to reflect Paul’s attitude when he reportedly said, “The church is looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men.”
To that end, Paul wanted Timothy to see godly character as the ultimate “how” issue of our spiritual service. What is the platform for this kind of ministry? How can we go about performing such eternally significant tasks? Paul said such ministry flows from three qualities of spiritual character rooted in our relationship with Christ: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
“Pure as the driven snow” is a fairly common expression to describe the beauty of something that is untouched and unpolluted. Perhaps that is why, in my growing-up years, one of the enduring advertising campaigns maintained that “Ivory soap is 99.44% pure.” That is close enough to perfection to make it very attractive. The message was simple: If you want to be clean, you must rely on what is pure.
Pure is more than just clean, however. It is “cleansed.” When something is pure, it has been purified by the removal of impurities. This not only works for drinking water (the “Instapure” filtering system), 100% pure virgin olive oil, or automotive motor oil (Purolator automotive oil filters), it is true in our hearts as well.
A pure heart is a heart that has been purified by faith.
In Paul’s challenge to Timothy, the launching pad for what we are offering others in the name of Christ is “a pure heart.” This speaks specifically of a heart that is honest before both God and man. It is a condition of the soul that despises deceit and dark motives. It refers to people who are so aware of their own inclinations that they are regularly praying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
The Key To Meaningful Worship.
In Psalm 24, David used this phrase to describe the person who is able to approach God: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully” (v.4). Without a pure heart, worship becomes just a mechanical exercise that is void of passion, spirit, and devotion. Why? Because we cannot worship God until our hearts have been cleansed by God.
The Key To An Ongoing Relationship With God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord declared, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Purity of heart is something God produces in us so that we can enter into fellowship with Him.
The Key To A Godly Example.
Paul instructed Timothy that, in living out his faith, his example as a spiritual leader would find its root in a heart that’s right before God. He wrote, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
There are many other examples of the significance of purity in the heart of God’s child, but the point is clear—a necessary ingredient in our “how to” of spiritual ministry is that we ourselves must embrace the faith that we seek to lead people to. We must be able to show the impact of living faith on our lives and hearts if we are to be useful in leading others to share in that faith.
We must be able to show the impact of living faith on our lives and hearts if we are to be useful in leading others to share in that faith.
Years ago, I heard Del Fehsenfeld of Life Action Ministries preach a message titled, “Phony- Baloney Christians.” In it, he shared his own faith journey, telling how he had grown up in the midst of religious activity and had picked up the ball and run with it. President of his youth group, sidewalk evangelist, and “spiritual leader,” Fehsenfeld was respected as an up-and- coming dynamo for Christ.
As Del told his own story, however, he pointed out that the faith he powerfully proclaimed to others had not yet gripped his own heart. He reached the point that he could look back and see that he had been saying and doing all the right things, but his own heart was unchanged. It was when he himself came to Christ that he realised that, in his words, he had been a “phony-baloney Christian.” Once Del embraced faith in Christ, however, he became truly effective, and God used him in powerful ways to impact the hearts of others and to bring many people from religion to faith in the living Christ. I was one of them. Del would be the first to agree that having a pure heart made all the difference in his ministry.
In the movie Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius, there is a scene where the legendary golfer of the 1920s is competing against Walter Hagen in the US Open golf tournament. His drive had gone through the fairway and was in the pine straw of the rough. As Jones prepared to hit his next shot, he abruptly stood up and called for the official. “Sir, I caused my ball to move,” Jones explained, effectively calling a one- stroke penalty on himself.
A discussion followed among the tournament officials, after which they returned to Jones, telling him that they had checked with Hagen (his opponent), the other officials, and even some people in the crowd about the matter. No one had seen Jones’ ball move. It gave Bobby Jones a way out—a way out he refused to take. “No. I’m sure I caused it to move,” he reaffirmed. The official responded, “Young man, you are to be commended.” To which Jones replied, “That’s like congratulating a man for not robbing a bank. It’s the only way I know how to play the game.” Bobby Jones lost the US Open by one stroke—the result of his self-inflicted penalty—but he had a clear conscience.
“It is better to keep a good conscience with an empty purse than to get a bad opinion of myself.” Davy Crockett
In the book Three Roads To The Alamo, historian William Smith examines how Jim Bowie, William Barret Travis, and Davy Crockett followed very different paths to arrive at that fateful battle.
In discussing Crockett, Smith says that Davy had struggled with debt his entire life but was always determined to make good on his obligations. He once walked over a hundred miles to repay the loan of a single dollar. Crockett’s motto? “It is better to keep a good conscience with an empty purse than to get a bad opinion of myself.” Crockett’s reputation for fairness and integrity became almost as legendary as his frontier exploits.
In our world where the end is always seen as justifying the means, the idea of such concern for a clear conscience seems quaint, maybe even archaic. It is neither. A good conscience is an absolute necessity if we are to live effectively. And this is even more vital as we approach ministry. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews would agree. He longed to be marked out as a person of integrity:
A good conscience is an absolute necessity if we are to live effectively.
Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honourably (Hebrews 13:18).
As Paul continued to paint a picture of the character that forms the “how” of ministry, this matter of a good conscience is pivotal. What is a good conscience? It’s a conscience that has been cleared from guilt. It affects our lives in a variety of ways, as Paul stressed over and over in his letters to the young shepherd Timothy:
• “. . . holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19 NIV).
• “. . . holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9).
• “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day” (2 Timothy 1:3).
Beyond all of that, Paul cherished the freedom that can be achieved only by a clear conscience. In his defence before Felix the governor, Paul was able to declare:
I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and men (Acts 24:16).
I’m convinced that this last text is really at the heart of Paul’s concerns for Timothy and his spiritual service. Remember, Paul had persecuted believers, imprisoned people, and displayed episodes of self- will and anger. But he could say what he said to Felix because he had done the hard, necessary work of making things right with God and with those he had hurt.
Few things are more liberating than knowing that we are maintaining our relationships . . . in appropriate and meaningful ways.
It can be difficult, and even embarrassing, to acknowledge that we have failed others. People may refuse our attempts at reconciliation. But we must try. It is the only way to have a good conscience. Few things are more liberating than the confidence that we are maintaining our relationship with our Lord and with one another in appropriate and meaningful ways. As Paul told Felix, a “conscience without offence” takes work.
Few things will be more of an impediment to our effectiveness in ministry than the bondage of broken relationships. In my more than 20 years as a pastor, it didn’t happen often, but on rare occasions my wife and I would have a “disagreement” on a Sunday morning before heading to church. It didn’t matter if I was occasionally right and she was wrong— what mattered was that I was heading to the pulpit to tell people about the beauties of God while there was a wall of separation in the most significant relationship of my life.
When I stood on the platform, it was as if all I could see was a 20-foot- tall image of my wife’s face and the hurt I had caused her. I would slug my way through the morning sermon, all the while fighting the distraction and determining that I didn’t want to go to the evening service without fixing the problem. Once I made things right with Marlene and our relationship was restored, the way was clear to minister more effectively.
We must never underestimate the power of a clear conscience.
In ministry and in life, we must never allow ourselves to underestimate the power of a clear conscience.
The call to “a sincere faith” would have had great significance in the ancient world. The word sincere means “without hypocrisy,” that is, without a mask. The term hypocrite was used of actors who changed their emotion and expression by using different masks bearing the necessary emotion of the moment. In effect, it spoke of someone pretending to be what he is not. It echoed the words of the cynic who counselled a young person: “The toughest thing to master is sincerity. Once you learn how to fake that, you’ve got it made.”
By contrast, Timothy was challenged to model a sincere faith—one that is without hypocrisy, and as a result is genuine and authentic. Bible scholar William Barclay wrote:
The greatest characteristic of the Christian thinker is sincerity. He is sincere in both his desire to find the truth—and in his desire to communicate it.
A sincere faith is one that is genuine and authentic—without hypocrisy.
These ideas combine to give a profound definition to the word sincere. It is genuine and authentic, does not wear a mask or pretend to be what it is not, and has no hidden or conceal ed agendas. When applied to our faith, it is an honest faith that seeks to follow the Saviour.
Sincere faith is an honest faith that seeks to follow the Saviour.
In Paul’s final letter, he wrote to Timothy encouraged that he was seeing just this kind of faith modelled in his life:
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well (2 Tim. 1:5 NASB).
What a marvellous legacy for a grandparent and a parent to pass along to a young person—the example of a sincere, genuine faith! What a powerful role model for a pastor to exemplify for the flock of Christ! To have a sincere faith is a wonderful gift—a gift that we live, and give.
THE SUM OF THE MATTER
This is “how” you do ministry. Granted, Paul didn’t give us three easy steps. Instead, he gave us three challenging character qualities and made them the platform from which life-changing ministry occurs. In Hebrews 10:22- 23 the writer brought all of these elements together:
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
It’s not easy, but it is simple. It is the call to be Christlike, and to let Him work freely through useful vessels—jars of clay that are authentic, have been cleansed, and can be used with the confidence that only a clear conscience can bring.
This is what we do, why we do it, and how we do it—so that through the communication of God’s Word, people might know and embrace the great and awesome love of God!
In the Academy Award winning movie Gladiator, Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius was preparing to lead his troops into battle. While calling them to fight for Rome with strength and honour, he challenged them with one of the most profound lines ever spoken in film. He said to his cavalry, “What we do in life echoes in eternity!”
Those words should ring in our hearts and resonate in our minds. As children of God, we are called to serve Him—to serve Him in things that will echo in eternity. A task this important cannot be done halfway or shrugged off. Because Christ has given Himself for us, we are to give ourselves to Him in service. Isaac Watts captured this thought in the hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” when he wrote: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
“What we do in life echoes in eternity!” ~ Maximus Meridius in Gladiator
What we do matters because of who our Saviour is. It matters because of what our mission is. It matters because what we do in life echoes in eternity.
So again, in our desire to serve others in the name of Christ, let’s carefully consider Paul’s words of challenge to Timothy.
“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)
Lets prayerfully examine the heart of effective service to others that those words describe.
If you are not actively engaged in spiritual service, would you consider the claims of Christ—and more important, His sacrifice on your behalf? Is He not worthy of your service?
And if you don’t know Christ and His gift of eternal life—whether you have never been to church or whether you have been “religiously active” your whole life—let the Saviour cleanse your heart and give you forgiveness and eternity. It is the purpose behind His coming and the passion behind His cross. Trust Him today, and then join us in our desire to reach as many as possible, in the time that remains, with a heart for effective ministry.
“The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)