by Jefferson David Tant
Paul’s letters to young Timothy, his son in the gospel, and Titus, are filled with good thoughts concerning their work as those who spread and proclaim the gospel. Among Paul’s exhortation are two passages we want to consider in today’s article.
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:12).
“In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8).
Note that Paul told Timothy that he should not allow anyone to “look down on your youthfulness.” So, if one does not “look down,” doesn’t that imply that one should “look up?” Isn’t that how we define one who is an example — someone we admire, someone we want to imitate, someone we “look up to?”
Sound in Doctrine
In I Timothy 4:6 Paul writes: “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” In the previous verses, Paul wrote about various matters concerning those who would fall away from the faith and follow the teaching of men. The implication is that Timothy would have to deal with false doctrine at times.
Wouldn’t this entail some “negative preaching?” There are those who seem only to want to do “positive preaching.’ They don’t seem to want to refute and expose errors, but just want to make people feel good. Well, I hope we can make people feel good, but included in Paul’s instructions is II Timothy 4:2: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Paul had written to the church at Ephesus: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
Question: How does one “reprove and rebuke” without identifying what you are talking about? I well remember the words of the popular denominational preacher Joel Osteen, who stated, “I don’t preach on sin. God hasn’t called me to do that. I want my people to feel good.” No wonder you can have a church of some 40,000 members, although the building will only seat 17,000.
Above all, our preaching must be balanced. Too much negative or too much positive will not accomplish what the gospel is meant to do.
Consider the “sound in doctrine” exhortation, I believe we all agree that would involve time and effort. Note Paul’s admonition in II Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”
The King James Version uses “Study” in the place of “Be diligent.” The Greek word is “spoudazo, to use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest:--do (give) diligence, be diligent (forward), endeavor, labor, study.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) The idea is that we need to put some effort into learning God’s Word, and that would obviously include some effort in preparing lessons that preachers are going to present. I know of a preacher who said he got his lessons up as he was driving to his preaching appointment. That was a small church up in the mountains of North Georgia. I don’t think that church still exists. I wonder why. Yes, there are times when we see an excellent sermon outline in a sermon outline book that will be useful, but preachers also need to use diligence from their own studies to develop lessons that will edify. Laziness in this is not what Paul had in mind.
Suppose that I am a car mechanic, and people bring their cars to me for repair. Obviously, I need to know what I am doing. I need to know how to diagnose the engine’s problem and know what tools to use and how to use them if I am to correct the problem.
The same reasoning would apply to knowing God’s Word and how to apply it. I remember many years ago when we lived in New Mexico, a young Baptist preacher lived across the street. I approached him one day to see if he would be interested in us studying the Bible together. He said he had no interest, as he already knew what I believed. I then asked if he would answer one question. I asked him if he believed we are saved by “faith only.” He agreed he did. I then opened my Bible to James 2:24 and asked him to read it. “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” He closed the Bible and said, “That’s not the kind of God I serve.” Case closed! He admitted he had never read that passage, and didn’t know it was in the Bible. Thus it is obvious that he didn’t “handle accurately the word of truth.”
Speech, Conduct, Love, Faith, and Purity
While the foregoing deals with our teaching/preaching, Paul also deals with one’s example in daily living. Preachers need to pay special attention to their conduct, to how others see them. Too many preachers have gotten in trouble because they were not circumspect in their relations with women. Some have become involved in adultery, and while others have not gone that far, they have not been careful to avoid any suspicion.
Yes, there may be times when someone of the fairer sex may want to have a conversation with the preacher about some concerns. Some things preachers have done to avoid any suspicions have included having someone in an adjoining room with the door open. The other person cannot hear the conversation, but of course, there is no provision for any improper behavior. Others will have a meet-up in a coffee shop or some other public place. That just makes good sense.
Should preachers visit the sick and those in prison? He should, for at least two reasons;
- To encourage others by his example, and
- To hear the word “Welcome” on judgment day.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me [something] to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me'” (Matthew 25:34-36).
When they ask whenever they saw Jesus in such a circumstance, he replied, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40)
Then we know the passage goes on to rebuke those who did not do these things, and they were destined to hell in Matthew 25:41-46.
Now, if Timothy and Titus were to be examples to others, wouldn’t that include these acts of kindness and mercy? I have known of preachers who absolutely refused to do some of the acts mentioned, even though they had the opportunity. In serving in such matters, at least three things are accomplished.
- You are obviously benefitting those you are ministering to.
- You are glorifying God. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
- You are encouraging others to do the same.
Sometimes preachers may claim they are “too busy” to attend to some of these things, but that may mean that they are also “too busy” to go to heaven. And who knows what might be accomplished by visiting those who are suffering? I have had Bible studies with those in prison, and have even baptized some, and have baptized two men in hospital rehab pools just days before they died.
“And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy2:2). Without going into a lot of detail, it is obvious that one thing that enabled the gospel to spread to the whole known world in one generation was through personal evangelism. Paul wrote to the Colossians about “the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister” (Colossians 1:23). That was about 40 years after Pentecost.
The apostles couldn’t have covered the world in that period of time. No internet, no radio, TV, or telephone. No fast travel. But note that the Great Commission was not only for the apostles but for every Christian. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20).
So we see that the apostles (teachers) were to teach those they baptized to go and do what the apostles were doing — making disciples, baptizing them, and then teaching them to do the same. So Paul taught Timothy to continue with the Great Commission. And that obviously includes personal evangelism, and the command continues down to us in this day and time.
I have known preachers who seemed to have the idea that their job was pulpit ministry. They felt no obligation to go out and find prospects to teach in the coffee shop, next door, their postman, or the teller at their bank. But if preachers are to be an example, what better example could they give than in winning souls to Christ? I will relate a personal experience concerning my postman, who was an elder in a large denominational church. Our conversations as he delivered my mail led to studies together. He and his wife and two sons were converted. Then one of the deacons in the church, a family of four. And it continued until some fourteen were converted from his contacts over a short period of time. That was over 40 years ago, and now children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have expanded the kingdom along with their own contacts.
Preacher, are you an example of these things? There are other matters we could discuss in Paul’s exhortation, but these things that have been written hopefully will cause us to examine ourselves and the work we are doing to advance the cause of Christ as we prepare souls for eternity.