Five Marks of a Good Minister
Central Bible College Baccalaureate
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Reverend John Lindell
Turn to 1 Timothy 4. This is an important time in your life as you prepare for a new chapter of ministry, a new beginning, a change, a new direction. It is important as you negotiate these next few weeks and months that you head in the right direction.
University of Illinois football coach Bob Zupkee was renowned for his fire and brimstone halftime pep talks. One time his team was trailing at halftime. They had played miserably. Zupkee decided he needed to fire them up so he began to talk. The longer he talked, the faster he talked, the louder he got until finally his speech came to a crescendo and he said, “Now go out there and win this game!” He pointed to the door. The team jumped up, they ran through the door only to discover it lead to the university pool and one after another they dropped into the university’s swimming pool. You need to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. That’s important.
How does a person know the right direction ? The apostle Paul answered that in 1 Timothy 4. Paul not only gave Timothy a list of what to do, but more important, he gives him a list of what to be.
Ministry is not so much what you do as it is what you are. This passage has probably, more than any other passage, influenced my view of ministry, my understanding of ministry, my thoughts regarding the role of the minister. Paul told Timothy how to be a good minister. The key verse might be verse 6, “if you point these things out to the brothers you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the Faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.”
Paul presented several factors that are a part of being a good minister. Earlier in the chapter he mentioned that a good minister warns people from error, and keeps himself from doctrinal error. Paul wrote that the good minister is involved in personal godliness. But in verse 12-16, Paul gave five marks of a good minister. Five things that he wants Timothy to pay attention to. I want to share them with you tonight.
First, a good minister is a model of spiritual virtue.
Look at verse 12. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example.”
The greatest single tool of leadership is an exemplary life. The puritan Thomas Brooks said, “Example is the most powerful rhetoric.” The apostle Paul knew that. Paul lived a life others could follow and he reminded them of that. Look at the following verses:
1 Corinthians, 4:16, “I urge you to imitate me.”
1 Corinthians, 11:1, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
Philippians in 3:17, “Join with others in following my example.”
Philippians 4:9, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, put into practice.”
1 Thessalonians 5, “You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord.
The greatest message you ever will preach is the one you preach with your life. The example you set is absolutely critical. Notice what Paul says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example.” He is telling Timothy, Timothy you’re young. How old was Timothy? Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey. He was probably in his late teens maybe early twenties. By the time he received this letter, 15 years have passed so Timothy is somewhere in his thirties. In that culture he is still considered young. Paul said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”
The question for you tonight is this: How do you as a young minister gain respect? What will you do? How will you get the respect of others? For people to follow you they must respect you. But if you are young, how do you gain their respect? Let me put it this way: You earn it. You gain respect by revealing yourself to be a model of spiritual virtue. If a person is going to offset their age and their few years of experience. If they are going to be followed; if they are going to be believed; if they are going to be respected, it will be because the flock they are leading ignores their age and follows their example. They have to see virtue in your living. What kind of virtue?
Paul gave some criteria for gaining respect: “don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young, but set an example for the believers in speech.” The first place you set an example is in what you say. Usually the first thing people know about you is what they hear you talk about. The conversation of a good minister is exemplary. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart does the mouth speaks.” What should your speech be like? I am reminded of Ephesians 4: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.”
In a day of sensuality when the moral fabric of our country is in decay, the last thing people need to hear from their spiritual leader, their shepherd, is sensual innuendo with double meanings, trying to be funny, but doing it in a way that really is corrupt. Paul is more pointed in Ephesians 5:4: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” A good minister’s talk isn’t filthy, it isn’t crude, it isn’t coarse, it isn’t foolish. Rather, it is uplifting. It is speech that speaks of a higher set of values, of a higher purpose. It is speech that is full of grace, seasoned with salt.
Paul said, “Set an example for the believers in speech.” The NESB reads, “conduct.” The issue here is lifestyle of behavior. It has to do with living a righteous life. The preacher is to be a model of righteous living in every area of his life. The places you go. The things you do. The things you buy. The way you live. This is absolutely critical.
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan writer put it this way, “When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruit of it. Your prayers and praises and doctrine will be sweet to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God, that which is most in your heart is like to be most on their ears.”
When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold. When my heart is confused, my preaching is confused. I can often observe in the best of my hearers that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold, too. The prayers I hear from them have become too much like my preaching. Oh brethren, therefore, watch over your hearts. Keep out lusts and passions and worldly inclinations. Keep up the life of faith and love. Be much at home and much with God. Take heed to yourselves lest your example contradict your doctrine, lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongue. You must be an example in your life.
Third, an example in love. I’m not talking about being a backslapper. I am not talking about being a hand shaker or a baby kisser. I am not talking about the warm, fuzzy kind of love. What I am talking about is self-sacrificing love. The kind of love that is based in serving others in laying down your life.
Paul told Timothy that he must do the same. How will you overcome your youth in the eyes of people? Through your sacrificial giving of yourself to them and to the call of God upon your life.
Be an example as well in faith. You could say faithfulness, loyalty. Maybe better yet, consistency — so you never deviate from the path. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:2, “Now it is required of those who have been given a trust they must prove faithful.” There will always be those who are a “flash in the pan.” There will always be those who are able to wow the crowd, but the mark of a good minister is his faithfulness. The mark of a good minister is that he is consistent, steady, and is given to the things of God day in and day out, not just when he is in the limelight.
Then Paul said to be an example in purity. The word here is hognea. It means purity in the area of sexual chastity. A good minister is sexually pure. A good minister lives a sexually pure life. This is an area the enemy would love to attack because it has such a devastating effect. So a good minister is a model of spiritual virtue. Don’t let anybody look down on your youth, but set an example that they can follow by being a virtuous person.
The second mark of a good minister is that a good minister has a biblical ministry.
In verse 13, Paul said, “Until I come. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture to preaching and to teaching.”
The verb for devote yourself is proseko. It is present active indicative, which means that Timothy was to be continually devoted to the Word. In other words, Paul is telling Timothy that when it comes to your life, Timothy, a way of life for you is to be a student of the Word of God.
The public reading of Scripture would be the equivalent of what we would call the sermon. To understand its function in the Early Church we need to understand how it functioned in the synagogue. In Luke 4, Jesus stood up and unrolled the scroll. He read from the scroll and then explained what it meant. You see a similar pattern in Acts 15. You see a similar pattern in Nehemiah 8:8 where they read from the Scripture then gave meaning to the Scripture. So in 1 Timothy 4, Paul has in mind the reading and exposition of the Scripture. This becomes especially critical the farther we are removed from the culture, language, geography, history of the biblical text. It becomes necessary to recreate those dynamics so it can be understood. This will require you to devote yourself to studying the Word.
A good minister reads the Scripture, studies the Scripture, explains the Scripture, preaches the Scripture, and challenges people to obey it. In fact, he not only challenges them to obey, but in verse 11, he commands.
There are certain things that are nonnegotiable. There are certain things where we cannot compromise. The student of Scripture understands that. A good minister knows that and gives his life to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. It’s only been in the last 100 years that the church has gotten away from this. For centuries the church always understood that the primary role of the minister was to be a student of the Word of God.
Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, described the typical worship service of his day: “On the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country and the writings of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites us to the imitation of these noble things.”
J.R.W. Stobb writes of the fourth century preacher, John Crisostum. He is generally regarded, “As the greatest pulpit orator of the Greek church.” Four characteristics of his preaching are mentioned. “First he was biblical. Not only did he preach systematically through several books, but his sermons are full of biblical quotations and illusions. Second, his interpretation of Scripture was simple and straightforward. He followed the Antioch school of literal exegesis. Third, his moral applications were down to earth. Fourth, he was fearless in his condemnations. In fact, he was a martyr of the pulpit for it was chiefly his faithful preaching that caused his exile.”
In the 1800s there were men like Alexander McClarin who preached at the Baptist Union Chapel from 1858–1903. The result was 32 volumes of exposition. Joseph Parker pastored City Temple in London, England in 1869. He preached to 3,000 people. He preached twice on Sunday and in 33 years he preached through the Bible seven times. It resulted in 25 volumes called the People’s Bible. Parker spent such considerable time in study that he was once asked why he was not more available to the people, to which he replied, “If I talked all week I could not preach on Sunday. That’s all.” He went on to say, “If I had attended committee meetings, immersed myself in politics, my strength would have been consumed. That’s all. Mystery there is none.”
The call to the ministry is a call to be a student of the Word of God. The apostles said we will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. A good minister’s primary spirit labor is to be in study of the Word of God. Graduates let me encourage you to make that your life pursuit.
Graduating from CBC, earning a degree is not the completion of understanding the Word of God. It is simply the introduction. Over the next years you must pour yourself into the Scripture and poor the Scripture into you. The great commentator Adam Clark put it this way, “Study yourself to death, then pray yourself alive again.”
It’s sad we live in the day when so many ministers are doing many good things, but they are not doing the best things. Unfortunately, many congregations have not been taught or instructed to value the study and preaching of the Word of God, because the preacher has not studied the Word of God. He has come into the pulpit ill prepared and his people, wondering what the preacher does with his time, have become more and more demanding of the preacher’s time. If you will prepare for when you minister. If you will study the Word so that in the words of Charles Hadden Spurgeon your blood becomes “Bibline,” the people will no longer question the expenditure of your time. And I can assure you, you will do more for them through the Spirit empowered and anointed preaching of the Word of God than you could do in hundreds of hours of service. You must be a student of the Word of God. There is a place for the other things, but the priority is on prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Third, a good minister fulfills his calling.
There are people who go into the ministry and unfortunately bail out. Let me warn you tonight that one of Satan’s greatest weapons is the weapon of discouragement. The enemy of your soul, the enemy of our Savior, wants to discourage you so you will lay down your weapons and quit fighting. You must not let that happen. Paul understood that. He said to Timothy in verse 14, “Do not neglect your gift.” This indicates that Timothy was in the balance — that maybe things were getting tough. Or maybe he had already neglected his gift. He was at the point that a lot of people will find themselves at one point or another in the ministry — where you may find yourself saying “that’s enough, I’m getting out. It’s enough pressure, I don’t need this. It’s not happening for me like I thought it would happen and God must not really have called me.” Timothy must have been feeling that way. In fact if you read 1 Timothy you get an idea things were desperate.
Timothy found himself in a difficult situation at Ephesus. The church was filled with false teachers. The opposition was fierce. The discouragement was great. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:3, “I constantly remember you in my prayers.” In verse 5 he wrote, “I’ve been reminded of your sincere faith,” as if to say Timothy, “I remember your faith. You have been a person of faith. I remember your heritage. Remember your grandmother Lois, remember your mother Eunice.” He continued in verse 6, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands.” It is possible that Timothy had forgotten that God had given him a gift, and that this gift was now falling into disuse. So Paul said, “Timothy, have you forgotten these things?” He was in a tough church, he was about ready to give up. He had become timid and fearful so Paul wrote, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline.”
Paul was in prison. Persecution was on the increase. Maybe he was afraid, maybe he was ashamed, so Paul said in verse 8, “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord.” In verse 13, Paul wrote, “What you have heard from me keep on as the pattern of sound teaching.” Timothy, please don’t turn away. Please don’t walk away from these things. Verse 15, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me including Phygelus and Hermongenes.” Everybody’s leaving, don’t you leave Timothy. Do you get the picture? The pressure was on.
The ministry is not a life of ease. There is an enemy. There is a battle, and there will be times when you will be pressed beyond measure. And in that moment you must remember your calling.
You will face times like that. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift.” Do you know what he was saying to him? The ministry was not your choice. You did not choose this, God chose you. He called you. He’s had His hand on you. He spoke to your heart at that altar, alone in your home, in that place where suddenly it was hallowed ground, God spoke to you. He’s had His hand on you. You were called by God, you were chosen, you were gifted by the Holy Spirit. You didn’t choose this and you have received from the Lord a spiritual gift and you cannot neglect it. You must hold to it. Paul wrote, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” He is saying, “Timothy, you can’t quit now. You would be neglecting your gift. You would be rejecting the spirit’s confirmation. You would be ignoring the affirmation of the church.”
Some of you have already received credentials. Some of you will receive credentials in the near future. It will be the affirmation of the church that there is a call of God on your life. That is part of God reminding you that He has set His hand on you. You cannot neglect that. You must remember it. So a good minister fulfills his calling.
Who knows where God will lead you. It has been my experience that God leads one day at a time. You cannot know what the future holds or where the Holy Spirit will lead you. But you can know that He will be with you. So you must be true to Him. Whatever He has called you to do, stay at it.
Fourth, a good minister is fully absorbed in his work.
Paul said in verse 15, “Be diligent in these matters. Give yourself wholly to them.” Paul told Timothy that he must be whole-hearted about the ministry. This is the greatest cause. It deserves the maximum effort. This is not the place for a person who is half-hearted. This is not the place for a person who has 50-gillion deals on the side. This is not for the person who can’t decide what they want to do so they try several things along the way in addition to the ministry. Your calling is to serve God.
May I encourage you tonight not to find yourself getting caught up in side business deals here and there and multi-level schemes here and there and construction projects and this and that and doing all these different things on the side to turn a deal, to make a buck. Be careful about that. You can’t be doing the ministry and doing everything else. You ask, John, what about home missions pastors? There may be times when it is necessary for you to be a tent maker. There may unique people whom God calls to live that lifestyle. I’m not diminishing that. But as a general rule for most of us we do best when we focus on one thing and do it well. When we give our heart to it, a good minister is fully absorbed in his work. You must be committed to it wholly. It’s not I’ll do this and if it doesn’t work out I’ll do something else. That kind of commitment will never weather the storms that are a part of serving God.
Fifth, a good minister is constantly growing spiritually.
Look at what Paul wrote, “so that everyone may see your progress.” So that everybody can see it. Let’s face it, no minister is all that he should be or will be given time. A good minister is one that is growing. A good minister is one who knows he has not arrived and that people benefit by seeing his growth and development. You cannot lead growing people if you are not growing. You cannot hope to produce spiritual development in people if you are not spiritually developing. There will never be a time when you will be adequate. There will never be a time when you will say, “I have arrived.” There will never be a time when you have all that you could possibly have or will you have grown as far as you can possibly have grown. You have to be committed to growing spiritually.
As you start ministry, spiritual development comes more easily because there is a greater sense of inadequacy, which results in a greater dependence. You’ve never done it before. You’ve never stood up and led before. You’ve never been solely responsible for that ministry before. You’ve never experienced that before. You’ve never been in that situation before. You’ve never encountered that problem before. You pray, “Oh God, You have to help me.” But, as time goes by competency begins to develop and if you are not careful, as competency rises in you life, dependence on God decreases and you will stop growing. You must guard against that. A good minister is constantly growing.
What are the main keys to spiritual growth and development? Time with God and that’s prayer. Time in the Word, that’s study. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them. Because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the Word of God. I pray Lord for these graduates that as they go from this chapel to the ends of the earth that as they go they would be good ministers. Lord that You would, by Your Spirit, take the truth of Your Word and let it dwell richly in their hearts and minds. God we thank You for Your Word for it makes us sufficient. It’s all that we need to know how to minister and what to do. Lord may it live in all of our hearts I pray. Amen.