What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part TwoSaturday, April 24, 2010
2. A Church Leader Should Be Strengthened by the Grace of Jesus Christ
“…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1)
I can attest many times over that leading a church requires strength beyond comprehension. You simply are expected to do things that seem impossible. You are expected to be able to run further, jump higher, and last longer than the “average, ordinary human being.” Some of this is expectation is ridiculous, because of people’s various strange and unbiblical expectations of a church leader. But much of it is accurate. Local church leadership requires broad shoulders, strong back, and massive legs in order to squat and bear the load God puts on men in this position. It requires a strength that is impossible to an “average, ordinary human being.”
Yet Paul expects Timothy to be strong. This implies fighting and working and laboring hard…until the job is done or until you’re dead. Paul wants Timothy to minister and work hard as a church leader until the very end, and never, ever give up. Giving up in fighting means giving up on people, which means giving up to the enemy, who’s ready, willing, and able to enter into our work and wreak complete chaos and havoc. That’s why Paul urges all Christians in Ephesians 6:10 and following,
“Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand” (NET Bible).
The word “be strong” here in 2 Timothy 2:1 should actually be translated, “be continually strengthened,” because it is a present passive imperative. This simply means that the “being strengthened” is an activity that should be ongoing (present), but that the strengthening is being done to him, and not by him (passive). So Paul is commanding (imperative) Timothy to sustain himself in ministry by maintaining a position of receiving God’s strength. This is about daily empowerment, seeking the filling of the Spirit in order to receive the strength that is necessary in order to lead a church.
This strength is only rooted in and watered by the grace of Jesus Christ. Grace is the soil of strength in leadership. The Greek should actually read, “be continually strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ,” because this is an instrumental use of the word “grace” here in this text. Grace, therefore, is the means or method or channel or instrument by which God delivers strength to a church leader, or any of His children for that matter, since all Christians are “in Christ.” One commentator wrote,
“As such, this same empowerment is available for all Christians, not only for some select group whose members think they are empowered by some special grace” (Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, 46:504).
Laboring in your own strength is the soil where legalism grows. There needs to be a soil transplant each and everyday of the week for the church leader, and for all Christians. When we do not put ourselves in a position to receive God’s grace, then we obviously have to resort to someone else’s strength – either ours or someone else’s. Either way, our strength and efforts suddenly becomes not God’s. And that should scare us all. It should especially scare church leaders. It has scared me on more than one occasion, as I am guilty of this pastoral crime multiple times over.
When I labor in my own strength, rather than in God’s strength, I do not acknowledge that I need grace. So I choose instead to proceed in my own strength, which is acknowledging that I’d rather minister in legalism. The root of legalism is really simple: trying to do what God wants you to do in your own strength (rather than God’s), and by your own efforts (rather than the perfect and substitutionary efforts of Jesus Christ on our behalf).
I have no doubt whatsoever that my trends toward legalism in my life, marriage, parenting, and pastoring are all absolutely rooted in a lack of God’s grace. I have to strive so much harder to make ministry happen when I don’t have God’s grace. I have to come up with all sorts of creative methods and outlines and lessons and sermons and counsel and programs and systems to make up for the strength I don’t have. It’s ironic that without God’s grace, I actually grow weak by attempting to be strong. And that’s because the source of being able to lead a local church is not found within me but within Jesus Christ.
Instead, when I submit to the need to be daily empowered and filled with the Spirit and strengthened by the grace of Jesus Christ, I am humbly acknowledging that I cannot do what is required of me. I am humbly acknowledging that this ministry is His ministry and not my own. The same strength that sustained Jesus Christ to finish suffering and dying for His church is the same strength I need to do the same. And that happens by Him doing it through me. Paul wrote about this to the Roman Christians, and here is a truth that especially needs to be true of those who would desire to lead in this or any other local church.
“Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you” (8:12, NET Bible).
Local church leaders ought to labor as Paul himself did, teaching Christians...
“what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead…” (Eph. 1:19-20, NET Bible).
Laboring and working and ministering and leading by the grace of Jesus Christ will most certainly lead to lasting strength in local church leaders, as well as all Christians, but also lasting results. This is such a welcome remedy to labor and effort that is too often expended with so little genuine results to show for all the hard work. Instead, let’s work for the kind of results that will never wither away. This is only possible when local church leaders are continually strengthened by the grace of Jesus Christ.