By Rev. John MacLeod, Stornoway
(A paper given in 1992 at the Free Presbyterian Theological Conference).
Part 1 – The Pastor and his Conduct
THIS paper has a very tidy, compact title but we all know something of the breadth of subject matter covered in these three short Epistles of Paul 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy and Titus. Those responsible for allocating the subject to me were aware of this, and as a guideline, they suggested that what they had in mind was “a brief study of the Epistles to Timothy and Titus with a view to bringing out some salient points of the pastoral content, or emphasising the points which have specific reference to pastoral advice.” The structure of the Epistles is such that it would be difficult to prepare a paper for such a conference as this in any other way. There is no thread running through the whole; none of them apart, nor all of them together, can be regarded as a theological treatise, and bearing in mind their personal nature, this is not surprising. As might be expected, when addressed to two of his closest associates, they contain mostly exhortations and encouragements for both present and future responsibilities. Throughout the history of the Church they have been used to instruct ministers of Christ and Church office-bearers in general in regard to their duties and demeanour, and have been invaluable in providing a pattern of practical behaviour for all believers.
Calvin (from whose commentaries much of what is written here has been extracted) wrote in connection with the 1st Epistle to Timothy: “This Epistle appears to me to have been written more for the sake of others than for the sake of Timothy, and that opinion will receive the assent of those who shall carefully consider the whole matter.” Of the 2nd Epistle he speaks likewise declaring that “the Apostle did not write it for the sake of one man, but that he exhibited, under the person of one man, a general doctrine, which should afterwards be transmitted from one hand to another.” Referring to this 2nd Epistle, Calvin wrote words which in my view are well worth quoting: “The chief point on which it turns is to confirm Timothy, both in the faith of the Gospel, and in the pure and constant preaching of it. But yet these exhortations derive no small weight from the consideration of the time when he wrote them. Paul had before his eyes the death which he was prepared to endure for the testimonies of the Gospel. All that we read here, therefore, concerning the kingdom of Christ, the hope of eternal life, the Christian warfare, confidence in confessing Christ and the certainty of doctrine, ought to be viewed by us as written not with ink but with Paul’s own blood; for nothing is assented by him for which he does not offer the pledge of his death; and therefore this epistle may be regarded as a solemn subscription and ratification of Paul’s doctrine.” Here, in the fourth chapter of this epistle, has been preserved what has been called “the moving swansong of the great Apostle.”
Although the three Epistles, as already said, mainly provide a pattern of practical behaviour we do meet here and there throughout them what have been referred to as “gems of spiritual encouragement and theological insight which have greatly enriched the devotional life of the Church.” It is here that we have recorded Paul’s personal testimony to the superabundance of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and how faithful a saying it is and worthy of all acceptation that He came into the world to save sinners. Here also is one of the great scripture proof texts for the doctrine of inspiration – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16,17).
Perhaps it would be as well for us to begin by referring to the salient point of the pastor and his conduct. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Paul said to the elders of the Ephesian Church when he met them at Miletus (Acts 20:28). The same exhortation but in more personal terms is given to Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:16). It is significant that Timothy was at Ephesus when the first Epistle was written to him and constrained to abide there in order that he might “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Most of you will know that Richard Baxter’s great work, The Reformed Pastor, is an extended discourse on the above-quoted portion of Scripture, Acts 20:28. On the necessity of the pastor taking heed unto himself – emphasised in both texts just quoted – the Puritan divine directs attention to four main areas of the preacher’s life which need his constant surveillance: He says: “Take heed to yourselves, lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual workings of that Gospel which you preach. . . Many a preacher is now in hell, that hath a hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. . . Believe it brethren, God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his master’s work. Take heed therefore, to yourselves first that you be that which you persuade others to be.
“Take heed also to yourselves, lest you live in those actual sins which you preach against in others; and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn. . . If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not, why do you dissuade men from it?
“Take heed also to yourselves, that you be not unfit for the great employments that you have undertaken. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge, that will teach all those mysterious things that are to be known in order to salvation. Oh what qualifications are necessary for that man that hath such a charge laid upon him as we have! How many difficulties in divinity to be opened; yet about the fundamentals that must be known! How many obscure texts of Scripture to be expounded . . . It is not now and then an idle snatch or taste of studies that will serve to make a sound divine . . . Oh that men should dare so sinfully by their laziness to quench the Spirit; and then pretend the Spirit for the doing of it.
“Moreover, take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine, and lest you may unsay that with your lives, which you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labours . . . We must study as hard how to live well, as how to preach well.”
Much more is written by Baxter in that strain. Little wonder that Phillip Doddridge called The Reformed Pastor “an extraordinary book” and added that “many good men are but shadows of what (by the blessing of God) they might be, if the maxims and measures laid down in that incomparable treatise were strenuously pursued.” It would require more time and ability than I have at my disposal to attempt a detailed exposition of all the verses in the Pastoral Epistles which have a bearing on the pastor and his work. In general it may be said that Paul wrote so that Timothy in his absence, would know how to behave himself in “the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
The qualifications of bishops or elders are laid down in two passages in particular. In 1st Timothy 3: 2-7, we read: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach: not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” In Titus 1: 6-9, we read that an elder has to be “blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
The requirements are high and none of us, I am sure, in reading or hearing these words can suppress the sense of insufficiency which wells up within us. It was his own deep sense of inadequacy that, no doubt, moved Baxter to write as forcefully as he did. Calvin was no stranger to it: “It is no light matter”, he wrote, “to be a representative of the Son of God, in discharging an office of such magnitude, the object of which is to erect and extend the kingdom of God, to procure the salvation of souls which the Lord himself hath purchased with his own blood, and to govern the Church which is God’s inheritance.”
The bishop or elder must, according to both passages, (although different words are used in the original), be “blameless”. Significantly, this qualification is the first mentioned. It means that the dignity of this office requires that he give no cause to others justly to accuse him there must be no infamy attached to him that would lessen his authority. “No one is perfect or free from any vice,” Calvin says, “but it is one thing to be blemished by ordinary vices which do not hurt the reputation because they are found in men of the highest excellence, and another thing to have a disgraceful name or to be stained with any baseness.” In short a good and honourable reputation is required, and the rule was not laid down for Timothy only, to indicate what person he was to select, but likewise to remind every one of those who aspire to that rank, to institute a careful examination of himself and of his life. It has been said that such is the perfect purity of our religion, such the innocence and virtue which it exacts, that he must be a very good man indeed who lives up to it! And when we consider the still greater requirements in a teacher of religion, (who is to be an example to others) and reflect on the injury done to religion through the side of false professors, how much reason will there appear that such a one should be, as the Apostle says, “blameless”. All the virtues set down here are required in all ministers of the Word that they may be an example to the flock. “Be thou an example of the believers” (1 Tim 4:12). They are to be wise, temperate, of good moral behaviour in order that others may conform to them. You will remember that Richard Baxter laid great emphasis on this in the passage quoted above from The Reformed Pastor.
But it is not only his outward demeanour, as observed by the world without, that is of importance – the pastor has his own house and family to look after and important duties to be performed with respect to them. He is recommended here who has learned to govern his family with wholesome discipline. A footnote in Calvin’s commentary seems to sum it all up: “The house of a believer ought to be like a little church. Heathens, who did not know what a church was, said that a home is but an image and figure of any public government. A poor man, living with his wife and children (and servants) ought to be in his house like a public governor. But Christians ought to go beyond this. Every father of a family should know that God has appointed him to that place, that he may know how to govern his wife and children (and servants); so that God shall be honoured in the midst of them, and all shall do him homage. Paul speaks of children; and why? Because he who wishes to discharge his duty as pastor of a church must be like a father to all believers. Now let us suppose that a man cannot govern two or three children which he has in his own house. They are his own children, and yet he cannot keep them in subjection; they are deaf to all that he says to them. How then shall he be able to govern those who are at a distance, and who may be said to be unknown to him, who even refuse to become wiser, and think that they have no need of being instructed? How shall he be able to keep men in dread, when his own wife is not subject to him? Let us not, therefore, think it strange if it is required in all pastors, that they be good fathers of a family and know what it is to govern their own children well. It is not enough to condemn the children, but we must condemn the fathers when they permit their children to be worse than others.”
Outside his home and his church he must have a good report – unbelievers themselves being constrained to acknowledge him to be a good man. What his own estimate of himself may be is quite another matter!
To be concluded