What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part Three

Sunday, April 25, 2010

3. A Church Leader Should be Recognized as Faithful and Trustworthy

“And entrust what you heard me say

in the presence of many others…
to faithful men…” (2 Tim. 2:2)

Faithfulness is hard to find in a world where a man’s word means nothing. But in leading local churches, men must first and foremost be those who reflect the character of God. And our God is a faithful God. A. W. Pink, in his book The Attributes of God, has commented on this issue with great clarity.

“Unfaithfulness is one of the most outstanding sins of these evil days. In the business world, a man's word is, with exceedingly rare exceptions, no longer his bond. In the social world, marital infidelity abounds on every hand, the sacred bonds of wedlock being broken with as little regard as the discarding of an old garment. In the ecclesiastical realm thousands who have solemnly covenanted to preach the truth make no scruple to attack and deny it. Nor can reader or writer claim complete immunity from this fearful sin. In how many ways have we been unfaithful to Christ, and to the light and privileges which God has entrusted to us! How refreshing, then, how unspeakably blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful--faithful in all things, faithful at all times.” (Source: Grace Online Library)

In the middle of this same chapter, Paul describes this faithful God to Timothy.

“This saying is trustworthy:…if we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful, since he cannot deny himself”
(2 Tim. 2:11, 13, NET Bible).

Pink continues to exhort us about the faithfulness of God.

“Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word. To every declaration of promise or prophecy the Lord has exactly adhered, every engagement of covenant or threatening He will make good, for 'God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?' (Num 23:19). Therefore does the believer exclaim, 'His compassions fail not, they are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness' (Lam 3:22,23).”

So much more could be said about this truth. But for the sake of our time today, let’s just simply observe this main principle here, that Timothy’s task was to entrust the gospel with faithful men, and that faithful men are those who strive to reflect this attribute of God, doing with His good news what He himself did with it.
The word faithful here is pistois and the emphasis is on character. Faithful men will be trustworthy as well as accurate in teaching the gospel (Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, 46:504, 506).

The word basically sums up the life and character of a local church leader in one word. Paul then contrasts faithfulness in ministry with the unfaithfulness of other so-called leaders in the church Timothy was leading.

“Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen…But avoid profane chatter because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene. Hymanaeus and Philetus are in this group. They have strayed from the truth…and they are undermining some people’s faith…But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness…” (2 Tim. 2:14, 16-18, 23, 24, NET Bible).

Instead, the faithful local church leader sees the big picture and doesn’t get caught up or snatched away in worthless things. He doesn’t allow any other details and arguments to master him except for those relating to the gospel which was entrusted to him. He doesn’t allow any desires or ambitions to lead him, except for those which take him and others into the kingdom.

“…there are few who sincerely labor to preserve and perpetuate the remembrance of the doctrine intrusted [sic] to them. Some are impelled by ambition, and that of various kinds, some by covetousness, some by malice, and others are kept back by the fear of dangers; and therefore extraordinary faithfulness is here demanded” (Calvin, Commentaries, 21:209).

So what exactly is faithfulness? In short, it was Timothy doing what he saw Paul do, being who he saw Paul be, saying what he heard Paul say, loving the things he saw Paul love…or, simply imitating Paul. This is exactly what was intended behind Paul’s words, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses…” (v. 2). There’s an interesting feature in 2 Timothy that points our attention to what faithfulness really is for a local church leader. That feature is the repetition of the following words (with their references).

• “I remember…” (1:4)

• “I recall…” (1:5)

• “I remind you to…” (1:6)

• “Hold to the standard of sounds words that you hard from me…” (1:13).

• “Remember Jesus Christ…” (2:8)

• “Remind people…” (2:14)

• “You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my life, my endurance…” (3:10)
• “You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about…” (3:14).

There is this common thread of remembering, recalling, reminding, following, and continuing in what was seen, heard, and learned. Faithfulness, then, is doing just that…making those things alone your focus and aim in ministry. This requires spiritual fathering, as I mentioned earlier. You have to have a model in order to have a measure for faithfulness. Faithfulness is sticking closely to the model you’ve been given. That’s exactly why Paul is putting Timothy in charge of the Ephesian church, and that’s exactly why Paul is telling Timothy to do the same thing for men in his church that he did for Timothy. Model it. Give them what they’re supposed to imitate. Show them how to live and love. Teach them what to believe and teach to others. So faithfulness requires a living example of faithfulness in order for a potential local church leader to know how to be faithful. This is just how Paul encouraged the Corinthians to think of him.

“One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1-2, NET Bible).

Charles Spurgeon, in his book entitled, An All-Round Ministry, wrote a chapter entitled ”Stewards” (pp. 252-281). In this chapter he lays out the following reflections of a faithful steward. He spends the first half of the chapter laying out the meaning of a steward.

• First, a steward is a servant, and nothing more (p. 256).
• A steward is a servant of a peculiar kind, for he has to superintend the other servants, and that is a difficult thing to do (p. 257).

• Stewards are servants under the more immediate command of the great Master. “We should be as the steward who daily goes into his master’s private room to receive orders” (p. 260).

• Stewards are constantly giving account (p. 261).

• A steward is a trustee of his master’s goods (p. 262).

• A steward’s business is to dispense his master’s goods according to their design (p. 265).

• The steward represents his master. “Ought not the steward act after his master’s manner?” (p. 267).
Spurgeon then moves to describing the attribute of faithfulness for the steward.
• “We may fail to be faithful through acting as if we were chiefs instead of servants” (p. 269).
• “We may become false to our trust by acting as men-pleasers…The minister must be overwhelmingly influenced by the Lord his God, so that other influences may not warm him from his fidelity…There must be no holding back to please one person, no rushing forward to satisfy another, no moving an inch even to gratify the whole community” (p. 271).
• “We shall not be found faithful stewards if we are idlers and triflers. Do you ever met with lazy ministers?...If you plan to be lazy, there are plenty of avocations in which you will not be wanted; but, above all, you are not wanted in the Christian ministry…If we are not labourers, we are not true stewards; for we are to be examples of diligence to the King’s household” (p. 272).

• “When we misuse our Master’s property, we are false to our trust. We are entrusted with a certain amount of talent, and strength, and influence, and we have to use this trust-money with a single purpose” (p. 273).

• “If we would be faithful as stewards, we must not neglect any one of the family…Brethren, let us hunt up destitute localities, and see that no district is left without the means of grace…May every piece of ground be rained upon by gospel influences” (p. 275-6)!

• “Another things must not be overlooked; in order to faithfulness, we must never connive at evil…I have no power but that which gentleness and love have brought me…Yield in all things personal, but be firm where truth and holiness are concerned” (p. 277).

• “Some neglect their obligations as Christ’s stewards by forgetting that the Master is coming… If we would feel that each day may be our last day, we should be more intense in our work…This expectation will tend to quicken our pace. The time is short; our Lord is at the door; we must work with all our might” (p. 278).

John MacArthur in his work, Shepherdology (1989), writes in chapter 12 about “Understanding the Duties of the Minister,” where he describes the local church leader as “The Excellent Servant” (pp. 129 ff.) Here are the reflections of faithfulness in the excellent servant.

• The Excellent Servant Warns People of Error

• The Excellent Servant is an Expert Student of Scripture

• The Excellent Servant Avoids the Influence of Unholy Teaching

• The Excellent Servant Disciplines Himself in Personal Godliness

• The Excellent Servant is Committed to Hard Work

• The Excellent Servant Teaches with Authority
• The Excellent Servant is a Model of Spiritual Virtue

• The Excellent Servant Has a Thoroughly Biblical Ministry

• The Excellent Servant Fulfills His Calling
• The Excellent Servant Is Totally Absorbed in His Work

• The Excellent Servant is Continually Progressing in His Spiritual Growth

Toward a more practical list that connects to us here at Church in the Boro, a faithful man who wants to lead this or any other local church should have demonstrated…

• A faithfulness in gathering together with the body, both on Sundays and our current Care Group. Faithfulness to the command of Hebrews 10:23-35 is required in your own life if you want to be a model of that command.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (NLT).

• A faithfulness in following existing leadership. This demonstrates a faithfulness to the command of Hebrews 13:7 and 17, which is obviously something necessary in your own life before you can preach and teach to as well as require of others.

“Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith… Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (NLT).

• A faithfulness to pray regularly for those in your life. Praying is a simple demonstration of dependence upon God and therefore submission to God. Faithfulness in prayer then, is consistency in dependence and submission toward God. This means praying for believers everywhere, as well as your current local church leaders.

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them…” (1 Timothy 2:1, NLT).

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God's mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.” (Ephesians 6:18, 19, NLT).

• A faithfulness in the demonstration of your character and lifestyle. It is hard to teach others to do what you yourself do not do. This is the very first qualification of a Pharisee in Matthew 23:3. “… but don't follow their example. For they don't practice what they teach” (NLT). Your lifestyle is what you are asking people to imitate, not just the theology and doctrine you say you believe. In fact, the disconnect between your theology and your lifestyle is actually considered false teaching. Here’s how Paul describes it to Timothy.

“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don't know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently… The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders,* liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:5-7, 10, 11, NLT).

Did you catch that? His reference to “anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News” isn’t doctrinal heresy (though that certainly is). Rather, it’s connected directly to sinful behavior and lifestyle. To the Roman Jews Paul wrote a warning along these lines.

“You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things” (Romans 2:1, NLT).

James, the brother of Jesus, pastor of the church in Jerusalem wrote to his followers regarding the same problem of so many who want to become teachers but cannot control their behavior, especially their mouth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way” (James 1:1, 2, NLT).

This is why Paul spends time in 1 Timothy 3 laying out the character traits of someone who wants to be a local church leader. And he does the same thing again with Titus in chapter 1. What’s interesting to me about these two lists is that there is only one reference in each passage to teaching doctrine and theology. The rest of the qualifications are character traits…reflections of one’s behavior and lifestyle, both of which are more significant than what he teaches, since the way he lives evidences what he truly believes. More will be said about this later.

Faithfulness, therefore, is all about persistent, consistent, persevering character in a man who wants to lead a local church. All of these qualities, including the ones listed from Spurgeon and MacArthur, should come first and foremost from a living-color example, a mature model, and grace-filled measure of another man who leads a local church. As one wise pastor told me once, “It is difficult to lead people where you have never been.” If you’ve never seen or experienced a model of faithfulness as Paul describes to Timothy, it will be difficult to be faithful yourself, since you’ve never seen it all in action before.

This is why it takes a team to model that for you. I am so fallen and so filled with mistakes it almost goes without saying. But I am trying to be that faithful example to you, despite my never having been poured into like Timothy was with Paul. Now, as a pastor and teacher and church planter, my relationship to apostolic leadership in my life has provided me with a spiritual father who pours into me and shows me this example, and commits to me the same gospel he received, and charges me with the same commitment with which he was charged. Hopefully, as I watch and follow and remember and recall and continue, I will become more that example that those who would be leaders here in the future can follow.

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