Pastoral PurityConrad Mbewe
It is a well-known fact that the future of anyone's preaching and pastoral ministry depends on how he himself develops in the years ahead. This explains the apostle Paul's advice to Timothy to "watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16). This was to be a life-long watching. It was to be a watching that ensures proper rather than warped growth and development. It was a watching that ensured a development that is full-orbed, i.e. encompassing his spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual and domestic life. A preacher is not a disembodied spirit. Once he is affected, say, in the physical faculties his being even the spiritual will be affected as well. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every preacher to ensure that his whole redeemed humanity undergoes a positive life-long development.
However, one of the chief enemies against this full-orbed development is that of inordinate affections--a defiled heart. If anyone is going to exercise a growing and effective pastoral ministry he must deal with the issue of his own sanctification regularly. He must pursue pastoral purity in an ever-growing measure. That is why this subject is so vital.
We shall address it by drawing our attention to the charge given to Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:13-16. In it the apostle Paul says to Timothy, "In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, that you keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time--God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen."
Our first task is to ascertain what command Timothy is being charged to keep "without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." One of the very first rules in biblical interpretation should be sufficient to help us here; namely, that of context. Paul's concern in the context of our text is that Timothy must, as a man of God, be conspicuously different from others by a contented godliness (6:3-8). While others are pursuing monetary gain as an end in itself (6:9-10), Timothy should single-heartedly pursue godliness (6:11-12). Paul makes it clear that this is not some advise for Timothy to take or leave, but a command that he should keep to the very end. It is part of his duty as "a man of God." So the charge is for Timothy to single-heartedly pursue godliness.
The Need for this Holiness
Although New Testament pastors are not priests as exclusively as those in the Old Testament were, their role in the church gives them similar privileged responsibilities. For instance, Old Testament priests had charge over the Temple to ensure that biblical standards where upheld in divine worship. That was why in the book of Malachi God puts the blame for the declining spirituality in worship squarely on the shoulders of the priests. This was also the responsibility of New Testament pastors, hence the very reason why 1 Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy. Paul said, "Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). It is the responsibility of pastors to ensure that worship is conducted in a God-honoring manner.
Why am I drawing this parallel? It is because just as in the Old Testament the priest was called to holiness, so also is it the case with the New Testament pastor. In the Old Testament, the priest wore a sacred diadem made out of pure gold on which were engraved an inscription with the words "HOLY TO THE LORD" (see Exodus 39:30). Also God was so concerned about this that he did not allow those Levites who had backslidden into idol worship to return to serve him as they used to before they served idols. In Ezekiel 44:10-16 he said, "The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin. They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the house of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign LORD. They are not to come near to serve me as priests or come near any of my holy things or my most holy offerings; they must bear the shame of their detestable practices. Yet I will put them in charge of the duties of the temple and all the work that is to be done in it. But the priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok and who faithfully carried out the duties of my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign LORD. They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and perform my service." The priest was also called to wholeness, symbolized by his exclusion from the altar if he had any physical impairment (Leviticus 21:17). All this was necessary because the priest more than anyone else was invited into the closest possible contact with Israel's God.
Surely if God was as jealous about this in the days when worship was more of symbols than substance, he must be even more jealous about this today. Therefore, pastors must be men of very high personal godliness. In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul tells Timothy to train himself to be godly. Similarly, in 2 Timothy 2:20-22, he tells him that "in a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Anyone who reads this will soon appreciate that the office of pastor is nothing less than a vocation to holiness. This is not just for the sake of acceptance before God but also because the nature of the pastoral ministry is such that your spiritual power is linked with your walk with God. Athanasius said it well: "You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself." To speak with a note of urgency and unction that cannot be imitated demands an ongoing single-eyed culture of the inner life.
The Need to Guard the Heart
The first responsibility in this single-eyed pursuit of godliness is the guarding of the heart. The wise man spoke well when he said, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The minister's heart is the heart of his ministry. Be sure of this: Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Keeping the eye and heart and spirit and conscience pure is the future of a man's ministry. So, beware of sins of the heart--pride, envy, jealousy, lust, greed, anger, and sloth. No wonder that history has dubbed them "the seven deadly sins"! Long before a person makes visible shipwreck of his life and ministry, his heart has been allowed to be a citadel of sin. I say again, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
This is the greatest battle you will ever wage in your life and ministry. We may all keep away from physical adultery and actual theft. But how many people have reduced their ministries into ego-centric showrooms that have absolutely nothing to do with the glory of God? How many men's once robust ministries have shriveled because they were envious of other men's ministries? How many good men have been driven by jealousy into riding a hobbyhorse of what the Chinese call "killing a fly on the forehead of a friend using a hatchet"? What about that wandering eye that fails to see a member of the opposite sex without thinking of the bedroom? How many men are presently laboring outside God's will, all because of seeking a more lucrative ministry? The list is endless. Brethren, these are the sins that kill the spirituality and power of our ministries long before any overt sins are visible to our people. There is no doubt that to keep your ministry alive and kicking year after year, you must train yourself to be godly.
Attaining and Maintaining Devotion
An important question needs to be asked. How does one pursue this single-eyed devotion? Remember that true devotion never grows out of mere resolve. There must be action as well. Now, whereas the public means of grace (such as church services) will do a lot for others, those of us who are pastors have to rely a lot more on the private means of grace. This is because we are so often pre-occupied with the details of our church services that we lose out on the benefit of the injunction: "Be still and know that I am God." Therefore, for us the single-hearted devotion will have to be largely the fruit of a soul that retires for Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and other private means of grace. We often rationalize our absence from these soul-cleansing exercises by using duty as an excuse. And, granted, sometimes it will be inevitably so. But when this begins to go on week after week, then just know that you are on the decline and are killing the inner life of your ministry. God never intended it to be so. If your place in the closet has been vacant for some time, then get back as soon as you can to your devotional exercises! It is in the place of secret prayer that the truths of the man of God come clothed in the fiber of his being. It is there that the matters of grace are kept fresh. You abandon the secret place to your own undoing.
The Enemies of the Devotion
Let us be honest here. The reason why so many of us fail to maintain disciplined private exercises for the soul is not because we do not know these things, but because we fail to persevere in them. Anyone can run the hundred meters sprint because it is short. All you need is to put in your all and before you know it you have reached the finishing line. However, the marathon race is a different kettle of fish. It demands perseverance because it is a long haul. That is where the difficulty comes in with the work of ministry. Many start well but fail along the way because of "the long haul." That was Paul's concern for Timothy. He wanted him to persist, to continue, to abide in Christian faith and conduct. And so he says to him, "Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (6:12-14). It is not enough to throw a few good punches at the beginning of the fight, you must last the entire bout. The charge must be kept without spot or blame "until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." In other words, until the final whistle! The tendency in ministry is to grow weary and tired of this single-hearted devotion and standards of personal godliness along the way. By and by you begin to play where angels fear to tread. You merely maintain the outward form of your ministry, but inwardly you have long lost the power and passion that you once had. Brethren, that ought not to be!
Apart from the fatigue caused by the fight with the flesh (i.e. the fallen nature that still resides within us), the other source of fatigue is the bad influence of those who we look up to in the Lord's work. Therefore, if you are to pursue a single-eyed devotion to God in ministry you must beware of the company you keep in your ministerial life. The apostle Paul's warning applies both to the laity as well as to those in church leadership, "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character' (1 Corinthians 15:33). The warning of Paul to Timothy in this regard is vital. He says to him, "But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them" (2 Timothy 3:1-5). There are men out there in the ministry who answer to this description. Whenever you are with them you come away feeling soiled in the soul because of their talk and attitudes. They make you feel as if you take your Christianity and ministerial functions too seriously and ought to let down your guards a little bit. From such people, flee. Do so before their cancerous effect upon you spreads too far in your soul!
Too many ministries have been short-circuited because not enough emphasis was placed on this duty in the personal realm. Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. The apostle Paul certainly saw the seriousness of this by making it a charge "in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus …" To fail here is to fail everywhere. Let each one of us use all the means available to keep the charge. May God give us grace to fight the good fight of the faith victoriously at this front to our dying day. Amen!