Preached on November 8, 2022 in Dallas Theological Seminary.
In 1967, a young man graduated from DTS at age 26. He returned back to his hometown to teach in a bible college for a few years. And then, he was called to be the pastor of a Baptist church in Chicago. It was a large church. After a few years of ministry, he became weary of the many details and responsibilities expected of a pastor. His wife thought they were too young and unqualified for the role.
Pastoral ministry is tough. You are expected to teach and preach weekly in various situations. If preparing for three sermons is tough in a preaching course, think about how much tougher it will be to prepare for sermons, or bible study or devotion every week. You are expected to work with, learn from, and care for the elders, the deacons, and various ministries leaders. You are expected to shepherd the people under your care, be it a small group, a man’s group, a youth group, or even the entire congregation if it is a small church. No matter how much you try to do your best, somebody will criticize you for not doing enough.
Pastoral ministry is tough. The Barna group, the famous evangelical polling firm, had a survey and March 2022 on pastors with this question, “Have you given real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year?” 42% answered yes. Up from 29% in 2021. And then, the survey asked, “what is the reason they considered quitting full-time pastoral ministry?” 59% answered, “the immense stress of the job.” The survey also asked the pastors who have not considered quitting full-time ministry this question, “what is the factor that has negatively impacted your ability to lead at the church?” The number one reason is “the immense stress of the job.”
Pastoral ministry is tough, and it is even tougher when you are young and inexperienced in life and ministry. They are many needs in the church that will demand your time and energy. There are programs to run, events to host, marriage issues to counsel, sick people to visit, children to care for, church politics to navigate, and senior pastors and elders to submit. Are you worried? Will you be frightened? Will you be able to handle the pressure? Are you prepared? What do you need to focus your energy on as a pastor?
The subject I want to talk to you about is “What must you do to be a good servant of Christ Jesus?” Again, “What must you do to be a good servant of Christ Jesus?” Why do I choose a good servant of Christ Jesus? Because that is what a pastor is, a good servant of Christ Jesus. Because it was what Paul told the young Timothy to be in 1 Timothy 4:6. Looks at 1 Timothy 4:6 with me. “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” Therefore, I will be sharing with you what I learned by studying the two letters from Paul to the young preacher, Timothy, when I was preparing for this sermon. We will be looking at three texts today. All of them are in 1 and 2 Timothy. They are 1 Tim 4, 2 Tim 2, and 2 Tim 4. We will look at three principles of how to be a good servant of Jesus Christ based on the two letters from Paul to Timothy.
First Principle: Receive your strength by grace in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1)
First thing first. What is the most important principle for a good servant of Christ Jesus? It is to receive strength by grace that is in Christ Jesus. I get this principle from 2 Tim 2:1. Please look at 2 Tim 2:1 with me. It reads, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
The first thing this verse tells us is our strength ought not to come from ourselves but from the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastoral ministry demands a lot of strength from us. If you serve with your own strength, you will be weary eventually. If you serve with your own power, you will eventually feel powerless. If you serve by drawing from your own well, you will eventually be dry as the desert. If you serve by drawing from the deep well of Christ, you will never be dry. You need to be constantly connected to the power source, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you serve with your own strength, you will be like mowing a lawn with a small manual hand-push lawnmower. If you serve with the strength from Christ, you will be like mowing a lawn with super powerful diesel power, riding lawn mover. Our strength ought not to come from ourselves but from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second thing I learned from this verse is we need to be strengthened by Christ continuously, all the time. Paul used a present passive imperative here. Present tense means we not only need Christ’s strength on Sunday when we preach, we need Christ’s strength on Monday when we rest. We need Christ’s strength on Tuesday when you prepare the next sermon. We need Christ’s strength on Wednesday when we visit the people under our care. We need Christ’s strength continuously, all the time.
The third thing I learned from this verse is we need to be in a posture to receive strength from Christ by grace. The verb “be strengthened” is a passive verb. Christ is active in this power-generating process. Christ wants to empower you to serve Him! All you need to do is to be in a posture to receive strength from Christ. If Christ wants to empower you, it does you no good when you are not in a posture to receive His strength. It is by grace. It is not something we earn but something we receive from Christ. A good preacher knows how to be in a posture to receive strength from Christ by grace.
Where did Paul get his enormous strength to preach, to serve, and to face challenges faithfully in ministry? Paul knows how to be in a posture to receive strength from Christ. Look at 1 Tim 1:12 with me. 1 Tim 1:12 reads, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service.” Paul thanks the Lord Christ Jesus because it was Christ who supplied the strength to Paul so that Paul could be faithful to his calling. Now I want us to look at the end of 2 Timothy. 2 Tim 4:17 reads, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Again, Christ is active in the strengthening process. Paul knew to be in the posture to receive strength from Christ by grace.
A young preacher who was mightly used by God in the mid-19th century Scottland is Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Although young, he preached powerful sermons and lived a godly life for Christ. His biographer, Andrew Bonar, wrote this about M’Cheyne, “he must first see the face of God before he could undertake any duty.” The young Robert Murray M’Cheyne knew to be in the posture to receive the strength from Christ by grace to serve His church.
How about you? Are you in a continuous posture to receive strength from Christ by grace? No matter how busy you are, you need to make your relationship with Christ your first priority in life. If you developed the habit of drawing from your own strength to write sermon outlines and manuscripts now, to do research, to crank out papers, what is preventing you from drawing from the same power in ministry? I read an article today. If you want to care for your aging parents, you need to care for yourself first. If you want to provide soul care for others, you need to care for yourself first. If you constantly draw from your own strength, you will grow weary in ministry, and you will be burned out. The air plan safety emergency plan always tells you to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others. The Lord Jesus is your oxygen mark. Jesus is your spiritual air supply. Without air, you will die very quickly. You need to slow down in seminary. Take a deep breath. Spend some quiet, quality time alone with the power source. Make sure you see the face of Christ first before you see the face of man. Learn from Paul, Timothy, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Be in a continuous posture to receive strength from Christ by grace.
Second Principle: Live the Word Faithfully (1 Tim 4:6-8)
Once you are in the continuous posture to receive the strength by grace from Christ, you will have the power to live the word faithfully. The second principle of a good servant of Christ Jesus is to live the word faithfully. Please look at 1 Timothy 4:6-8. 1 Timothy 4:6-8 reads, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Paul instructed Timothy in order to be a good servant of Christ Jesus, he needs to focus on training himself for godliness. It means to live a godly, sanctified, holy life. It means to live the word that he preached. It means to apply the Scriptures first to ourselves first before we apply to others. John Calvin said, “It would be better for him to break his neck going up into the pulpit if he does not take pains for him to first follow God.”
Paul gave the reason why preachers need to train for godliness. It is because God gave premises to godly people in this life and the life to come. As a preacher, we do not only preach the word faithfully; we need to live the word faithfully. We are not only called to deliver the word of God with our mouths; we are called to deliver the word of God with our life. Your life is to be an example for the flocks of God. Please look at verse 12 with me. 1 Timothy 4:12 reads, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Do you see this, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example!”.
How do you live the word faithfully? We need to train for godliness. Paul used this illustration of bodily training to help us to understand this spiritual truth. He compares spiritual exercise with physical exercise. In the physical realm, if you want your weak bicep to be stronger, you train for it. You go to a gym, you lift weights, starting from lighter weights. You break the bicep muscle down so that it can be rebuilt into stronger muscle. And then you add more weight to your training. It is similar in the spiritual realm. If you want godliness in your speech, you train for it. You speak edifying words to your classmates. And then you add more weight to your training. You speak encouraging words for your friends and family to lift them up, to point them to Christ. If you want godliness in your love, you train for it. You start to pay attention to the needs of the people God has put into your life. And then you add more weight. You can show the love of Christ by sincerely asking how they are doing and offering to pray for them. If you want godliness in your purity, you train for it. You start to take an inventory of movies that you watch or websites that you visit that are affecting your purity for Christ. And then you add more weight. You can make a commitment to Christ that you will keep your purity for your future spouse for the glory of God. Think about one weak area in your spiritual life, and train for it, starting now.
I read an interesting article lately. It says some people are addicted to exercise. But I think the issue for most people is not addiction to exercise. The issue for most people is we do not exercise enough, physically and spiritually. We like to parse the verb for apagao, but we don’t want to train to love our neighbors. To be a good servant of Christ Jesus, we need to train for godliness.
Third Principle: Preach the Word Faithfully (2 Tim 4:1-5)
Living the word faithfully will give you the ethos, or the credibility, to preach the word faithfully. The third principle of being a good servant of Christ Jesus is to preach the word faithfully. When I hear preach the word, my heartbeats rise up. I think you all may feel the same as me. After all, this is an advanced preaching course. You do not have to do this, but you choose it. After all, this is why we are here at DTS, right? What is the motto of DTS? κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, preach the word! This verse is from 2 Timothy 4:2. Let go there with me. I like to read 2 Timothy 4:1-5 for us. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
A full exposition of this passage will require another sermon. I just want to point out one thing, some people do not like sound teaching, they have itching ears, and we will be tempted to preach to please men instead of to please God. Alistair Begg said this in his recent sermon, some people will come to church with this thinking, “tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.” Chuck Swindoll said something like this at the most recent chapel. He was fired up in the sermon, “there is a famine in the land, and people are hungry, feast on the word and lavishly serve the banquet of God’s Word to God’s people.”
You will be tempted to water down the word of God. You will be tempted to focus on other things in ministry. Commit to κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, preach the word! Write it down in your bible. To be a good servant of Jesus Christ, you need to commit to preaching the word faithfully.
The young DTS graudate in 1967 was Erwin Lutzer. To prepare for this sermon, I read his autobiography, “He Will Be The Preacher: The Story of God’s Providence in My Life.” It was a fascinating read. When facing pressure from pastoral ministry, he received his strength from the Lord by grace, lived the word, and preached the word faithfully. The testimony of his life is that God used him mightily as senior pastor for the Moody Church for 35 years. Imagine if you faithfully obey these principles from the Word of God, how you can be a good servant of Crist Jesus, and how God will mightily use you for His glory in your life and ministry.