Ephesians 4:12 “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
The risen and reigning Son of God is building his church, and the chief means he employs to do this is through pastor-teachers. God himself calls them to this work, equipping them by word and Spirit with the energising gift of spending their lives serving him and his people. So the gospel congregation may look at their preacher and think, “God loved us so much that he provided this man to teach us his word.” They thank the Saviour for this love gift; they pray for him constantly and they encourage him by living Christlike lives. In fact one neglected but a defining mark of a gospel church is the leadership of a pastor-teacher who continually brings the whole counsel of God to bear upon the whole congregation. So it is not by the size or musical skills of a congregation that God’s blessing is to be ascertained but in holy pulpit-people dynamics which result from giving out and taking in the whole living Word of God. We artlessly testify to this phenomenon when we say to one another after a service, “That was a blessing. I felt God speaking to me. I was helped. The Lord was with us.” Christ has prayed to the Father for us all, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” How does that truth come into our lives in sanctifying energy? Principally as it is preached to us.
In the words of our text I take the apostle to be outlining the threefold task of the pastor-teacher. I prefer the translations that are found in the Authorised Version, Revised Standard Version, New King James Version and the New American Standard Version. These versions tell us that the presence and activity of the pastor-teacher is to these ends, “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v.12). The three phrases are to be taken as coordinate; they describe the functions of pastors and teachers. Paul will proceed to address the calling of all of the members of the church from verse sixteen, growing and building itself up in love “as each part does its work”, and he unfolds this concept in the remainder of the letter. The words of our text are more restricted to the work of the pastor. I think the translation of the New International Version reflects a desire to avoid clericalism, to support a more ‘democratic’ model for congregations by promoting what is called ‘the ministry of the laity.’
Our text may not seem to you to be a particularly fascinating verse, or words that have been the cause of controversy, but they have, and I will briefly explain to you what is the issue. The recent context over the last forty years has been the spread of charismatic teaching with its emphasis on every Christian possessing their own charismata, that is, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Of course that is true but it has been promoted as if it were the master-key to Christian living, and many people image that Christ has not been pouring out his gifts in abundance on his church for two thousand years. They think he began to do this during ‘the swinging sixties.’ The larger horizon of dispute about this verse goes further back to the early 19th century and a curate in Ireland called J.N.Darby, whose influences were to spread around the world. He lived at a time when the church was dominated by wretched religious clericalism, and by ecclesiastical politics, as you can see in the Victorian novels. Darby’s response was to banish the office of the minister completely. Sunday morning services should be led by godly men spontaneously rising from the congregation and addressing their fellow members. Those congregations certainly did contain some spiritual men.
But how can those ideas be reconciled with the thrust of these verses? The apostle Paul, you will notice, is telling us that after the foundational gifts of apostles and prophets and evangelists Christ gives to each congregation the pastor-teacher who has this threefold calling to equip the saints, do the work of the ministry, and edify the body of Christ. As I understand it, this contemporary attitude would respond like this, that the role of a pastor-teacher is to equip the people sitting in the pews for them to do works of service, that is, that they become the ‘ministers’ so they build up the body of Christ. The pastor in their circles is not the central figure with whom we are familiar. Musicians and singers and ‘worship-leaders’ are far more prominent in their meetings and are advertised as such. The minister is thought of as a kind of evangelist encouraged by the leadership (who spend their days working in offices) to get out and knock on doors, or he is thought of as an athletics coach, a man who spends his time with the players, helping them to sharpen their skills, but when the game proper begins the team are the ones who get on with things. The coach is in the dugout, off the pitch, on a bench, with the crowd, shouting encouragement along with everyone else. The athletes themselves are doing all the work. So the preacher’s task overwhelmingly is to motivate and inspire the congregation to do the work of the ministry. That is considered to be the role of the pulpit in our day, largely it is motivational work.
So you hear the phrase that ‘every Christian is called to be a minister,’ and men nod their heads gravely and say that there is little place today for the ‘old idea’ of the full-time professional ministry except in his evangelistic outreach and his coaching inspirational role. If he seems successful in neither of those enterprises his time is short in that congregation. “Preachers,” we are told, “should be training church members to be doing what ministers once considered to be their province. Church members must be given space in a congregation to work out what their own ministries might be. Let every member seek their own spiritual gift and pursue God’s call in exercising that gift. Ministers must not be like the corks who stop the new wine of the Spirit flowing out.” That’s a very popular attitude, and so you can understand the ecclesiastical culture shock that such people who’ve imbibed those ideas get when they visit our congregation on a Sunday, to discover that the preaching is the climactic aspect of our worship and the whole service is led by the pastor-teacher. Yet they are not shocked being in a church which publicly professes so-called traditional values where teenage girls looking and acting like Britney Spears lead the worship.
One might not expect John Stott to be sympathetic to this view that everybody is a minister, but in theory he is. He describes going to an Anglican church in Connecticut over twenty years ago and seeing on the church bulletin the staff named, the rector, then the name of the associate rector, and then the name of the assistant to the rector, and then the following line, “Ministers: the entire congregation.” John Stott thought that that was great, and ‘undeniably biblical.’ My problem with it is that it confuses the priesthood of all believers with the fact that Christ gives one or maybe two gifts of a pastor-teacher to each congregation. Every sinner who trusts in Christ becomes a priest by regeneration, but only men called and gifted by God are set apart as ministers. For me that is very clear in Scripture and it has been so vindicated in 2000 years of church history so that it is nonnegotiable.
This issue has been raised recently and helpfully in the gentle pages of the Banner of Truth magazine for August-September 2004 and October 2004 where Dr. James Renihan of Westminster Seminary in California has set out the old view of the ministerial calling and the correctness of the Authorised Version translation of our text, now finding favour again by translations and commentators, namely that the work of the pastor-teacher is threefold, he is to equip the saints; he is to do the work of the ministry; he is to edify the body of Christ. These are the three reasons why Christ gives this gift to the congregation.
Of course I do assert that every one of the people of God has a vital role to play. All have their own gifts; all are to walk worthy of their calling in Christ; all of you are needed, but some must do one thing and some another, as Jesus Christ the builder of the church determines. A few were once made apostles and prophets while the foundation was being laid, and by these Twelve the whole church was blessed. So today some are given the gift of being pastor-teachers and again this is for the benefit of the larger body. They do the work of the ministry in the church, they preach, they teach both publicly and privately, they oversee so that nothing opposes or diminishes this divinely-appointed end, they visit the housebound, they administer the sacraments. When I speak of the work of the pastor-teacher – which this text is all about – then I am not doing so in order to diminish your importance. I am simply giving you a small cause to be at peace in God’s provision of a minister in the midst of your own hectic and responsible schedules. I don’t pass my considerable burden – which seems to get increasingly awesome as the years go by – on to you, scolding you for not taking it up. I will not do that because God has not given any of you the calling to be pastor-preachers (except in the hope and longing of some of our students). As Jim Renihan wrote, “Apostles walk worthy of their calling when they do the work of apostles. Pastors walk worthy of their calling when they do the work of pastors. Everyone walks worthy of his calling when he does what Christ the Lord has called him to do . . . If the exalted head of the church, now installed upon his Messianic throne, sees fit to choose some men for the role of ministers in the church, who are we to contradict him?” (James M. Renihan, “The Ministry and the Church, Part I”, Banner of Truth magazine, Issue 491-492, August-September 2004, p.45).
I guess I’m also concerned not to flatten the people of God into some homogeneous unit without distinctions. There are husbands and wives in the dynamics of a biblical relationship, parents and children, employers and employees, magistrates and citizens, all of whom have their different vocations, but there are pastor-teachers too, and in our individualistic and egalitarian and New Labour culture I am pleading that we don’t attempt to reduce the minister to a mentor, a shepherd to a supervisor, a steward of the mysteries of God to a coach, a teacher to a sharer. The minister is God’s herald; he is not a guru but an ambassador of Jesus Christ; he is a man of God. “Woe be unto me if I preach not the gospel,” he says. Such men will always run the risk of being dismissed as ‘one man bands.’
I think that a Christian becomes what he truly is by accepting what his station is – in his family, in his work and in his congregation. Whether rich or poor, with a high or low IQ, smooth or rough you become what you are through the circles of affection and influence that come to distinguish just you. Restlessness comes from being discontented with your station while lacking the means to change it. For all of us there has to come a point when we settle in a position in the families that God has given to us, or in the jobs we do, or within our own congregations, which positions – in family, work and church – we have neither the power nor the will to change. It is from this awareness of our home, and our social and ecclesiastical stations that our duties emerge. Each of us is encumbered by the demands of our stations, and happiness comes through fulfilling them. However humble your gift and calling you are faced with a distinction between right and wrong – a right way of doing your duty and a wrong way.
The deacon who gives out hymnbooks at the door and gathers them afterwards, the couple who make the tea and coffee downstairs at the end of the evening service, the chapel cleaner, the men who do the taping, the people who pray each week at the Prayer Meetings, the leaders of the Young People’s Fellowship, the women who lead and take part in the women’s Bible Studies, the man who keeps the finances of the church, the person who maintains the website, the people who give sacrificially to the church each week, the men and women who work for a morning or afternoon at the Christian Book Shop, the women who shop for the shut-ins, the private acts of service and phone-calls, those men who will distribute literature in the Fair tomorrow – all these are esteemed by every Christian because they fulfil the duties of their station. They are rewarded with the friendship and appreciation of the people they benefit.
It doesn’t matter that their ecclesiastical position is humble – you think of the General Practitioner who on Sundays stands at the door of his church and gives out hymnals and welcomes people. Such men, by doing such work, have a place in the church which is as honourable and glorifying to God as that of the preacher or elder or deacons. A congregation can recognise the indispensability of the pastor-teacher without that office being oppressive. They’re not building up that man into a cult leader, speaking of him in hushed tones as if he were a superman. God forbid! He is simply a man with a gift exercising his own divine calling. Every station has its duties. Doing what we have been given to do is an end in itself and a passport to the affection of the fellowship. Each of you have arrived at the place that matches your own gifts through education, and prayer, and wisdom, and consecration, and self-denial, and hard work, and you accept that place in the church, as you accept your role in the imperfect family you are in, and your place in your work and the duties and relationships you have there. Do all with all your might, as to the Lord. Do all to his glory.
That is the larger context in which I want to set our text where I shall examine the threefold function of the pastor-teacher that is set before us.
1. THE PASTOR-TEACHER EQUIPS GOD’S PEOPLE.
This word ‘prepare’ occurs nowhere else in the New Testament but other forms of the word are to be found, and they mean to repair, or complete. The concept is this, that Christians are in constant need of training, of being made adequate for serving God and man. So the minister is like the armour bearer who waits on the Christian soldiers the morning of the great battle and he gives them all their armour, helping them to put it on; “Here is the helmet of salvation, and here is the shield of faith, and this is the sword of the Spirit. Have you put on your breastplate of righteousness?” He is equipping the soldier for the fight. That is the task of the minister, and of course he does so by the word of God. He reminds us of God’s great promises and he exhorts us about our duties. He tells us of the abounding grace of God, and most of all he brings the Jesus Christ of the Word to the whole congregation week after week. He tells us we will be more than conquerors through Christ. He assures us we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It is by teaching all the Bible to us that we are equipped, by practically applying it to our lives. He also really lays on us our obligations and the divine provision. He teaches Scripture to us constructively and controversially. He sets forth the truth positively, of course, but he also contrasts it with error.
So the minister has to be a diligent student of the Word, and also of human nature, and current events and thinking, and the problems of our civilization. The greater part of his time will be taken with this work, and if he is to perform these duties faithfully it’s hard to see how he can find time for much else. The most valuable contribution he can make to the church is to give himself to the Bible. The congregation’s great need is that their preacher’s very blood be Bibline. Do you remember how the apostles came to the conclusion that waiting on tables and serving the hungry, needy, godly widows in the congregation was not a good use of their time and gifts because it was enticing them away from the Word and prayer. Seven deacons had to be appointed to deliver the apostles from that work. For God’s people in Jerusalem to be equipped for lives that pleased the Lord the apostles had to devote themselves to the Word and prayer.
This same decision was taken by Martin Luther. He had met with the representatives of the pope at the Diet of Worms and was urged to recant his teaching on justification by faith. He refused because his conscience was bound captive to the Bible; “Here is stand. I can do no other. God help me.” As he left the assembly hall in Worms he was whisked away by his supporters to the Wartburg Castle where he was soon translating the Bible into German. There was a price on his head. He disguised himself as a medieval knight and he grew a beard; he was called ‘Sir George.’ During the next twelve months the main figure in the Reformation became his colleague Carlstadt, and in his zeal to further the Protestant cause he entered churches and smashed statues and stained glass windows. It brought shame on the cause of truth. When Luther heard all this he was mortified and nothing could persuade him to keep incognito any longer and he set off for Wittenberg. There was a fine black and white film made of the life of Luther fifty years ago and our entire boys grammar school was taken to Cardiff in a hired train to see it. All lessons were cancelled for the morning. There is a scene in which Melancthon and Carlstadt are meeting with other Protestant leaders in a closed room when suddenly, dressed in chained mail, a bearded knight enters. It is Luther! “What are you doing here?” they say. Luther said, “I want my pulpit.” Things were going wrong because Luther was not in the Castle Church, Wittenberg. That is how the Reformation began and also how it spread, with Calvin in Geneva, and Knox in St. Giles Edinburgh, and Latimer in London and Luther in Germany equipping God’s people by the Word.
That is the New Testament picture; for example, in Acts 14 we are told of the apostles going to a place called Derbe and we are told, “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:21). They didn’t work over an audience and get many hands raised in decisions; the preaching of the good news won a large number of disciples. Evangelism is far more than getting decisions. Charles Colson and his team was once meeting with some supporters of Prison Fellowship. They needed more funds to expand the work outside of America getting into Mexican and Brazilian jails. Someone piped up, “What is Chuck Colson particularly excited about these days?” One of Chuck’s assistants said, “About Christians getting out of their pews and living their faith, about the church equipping God’s people for living for Christ . . .” “What about evangelism?” this financial consultant asked. “Chuck loves evangelism,” the assistant said, “But Prison Fellowship doesn’t just introduce people to Christ it has a ministry of discipleship.” The man lowered his eyes, “We are talking about fundraising, and people want to hear about changed lives. Evangelism, that’s it! Discipleship doesn’t sell.” But discipleship is the goal of the ministry – to equip God’s people for their daily lives.
Of course to equip a whole congregation means addressing them with authority. The key debate at the Reformation was between Erasmus who wrote a book called The Diatribe and Luther who wrote The Bondage of the Will. Erasmus the academic and humanist claimed he had suspended judgment on issues like the sovereignty of God, and election, and the divine decrees. He considered himself to be a scholar and he wanted to be ‘weighing up’ such issues all the time, a man for all seasons he wanted to reserve judgment and not to come to any firm conclusions. He said these words to Luther, “I would prefer not to make assertions.” That was it – as far as Martin Luther was concerned. It was a spirit so utterly alien to the Lord Jesus Christ. Can you image our Saviour ever saying, “I prefer not to make assertions”? Luther was outraged; he said to Erasmus, “You would prefer what? You don’t want to make assertions? Take away assertions and you take away Christianity. The very mark of the Christian is that the Christian boldly makes assertions before the world.” Then in his zeal Luther said, “The Holy Spirit is not a skeptic, and the things he revealed are more certain than life itself. Away with the skeptics! Away with the academics!” How can you equip the people of God by saying, “There are two sides to this issue and also that issue; on the one hand there is this and on the other . . .” You would raise a congregation of rationalists by such a ministry.
What did the Lord Christ claim in the Great Commission? “All authority is given me in heaven and earth; go therefore and teach all nations.” Have you noticed that Jesus said “Verily, verily” at the beginning of his messages and not at the end. His words didn’t need anyone else’s validation. A preacher serving such a Lord shelters in his Lord’s authority but is careful not to go beyond it. Many years ago in Australia there was a shepherd who was taking a herd of sheep to new pastures. The sheep belonged to a landowner named Sir Sydney Kidman and the man had worked for Sir Sydney for years. This shepherd called at a farm and its tenant near the road to ask for something. This tenant was very arrogant. “Get off! Go!” he shouted. The shepherd was asking if his flock could be watered, but the farmer drove him off the farm. The man was very discouraged. The next day a postman came along the road and delivered a telegram to the shepherd. The telegram was from Sir Sydney Kidman. The telegram told the shepherd that Kidman had purchased the farm where the pitiless tenant lived. Kidman told the shepherd to take control of the farm. So he went back to the farm. The tenant yelled at him, “What are you doing here? I threw you off yesterday. I told you not to come here again! I’ll kick you off my land!” But this time the shepherd had authority to resist him. He had a document in his hand, a word from Sir Sydney Kidman. “I have come with the authority of Sir Sydney Kidman. He has bought this land and it is his. See these words! I’m now the manager here. In the name of Sir Sydney Kidman I tell you to pack your bags and get out. You are dismissed immediately.”
The Word of God gives gospel ministers authority. So often people say to us, “Well, pastor, you’ve given me a lot to think about today.” Fine! But when you’ve thought about it, do it. The word is not to be kept in our minds but in our heart affecting our wills and producing action. The sermon is not meant to be talked about but done. Thomas Watson say that if the sermon were intended to be talked about God would have given it to parrots. Pray that it comes with power and with the Holy Ghost and so it equips us to be the people of God that God requires us to be. No one ought to leave a service without a sense that there was something in their lives that they needed to do something about. They might be defiantly vowing, “I’m not going to be doing that. You won’t find me believing that.” They should never leave a church thinking, “What am I supposed to be doing with that information?” So the preacher is called to equip God’s people.
2. THE PASTOR-TEACHER HAS A SERVANT’S HEART AND LIFE.
The pastor-teacher also does the work of a minister, that is, of a servant. If he is not a servant the congregation will just use him less; they’ll come to him less; they’ll value him less. So whereas Paul begins with this view of the minister as the one who is equipping the congregation, and you might think that this would fill him with a sense of his own importance, then Paul describes him as a servant and that brings him low. How crucial it is that the pastor-teacher never forget he is the servant. Should he fail to remember that he will start to lord it over the flock. Edward Donnelly asks what are the ways in which men manifest an arrogant, lordly spirit? He answers, “Some dominate their churches through sheer force of personality or fluency of speech. Their people are not ruled by the gracious leading of the Spirit or by convictions based solidly on truth. They are cowed, rather, by the knowledge, painfully learned, that the pastor will always be able to out-talk or browbeat those who may stand against him. Other leaders cultivate a remote, pompous, authoritarian manner – what John Calvin calls an ‘imperious strictness’. They are dismissive or sarcastic when approached, with little in their personality to attract confidence or even an honest expression of opinion.
“Some men insist on having their own way in every detail of church life, even the most minute. Nothing can happen unless it has been pastorally approved. Whether it be the colour of curtains for the church hail or the menu for the congregational lunch, it seems that there is no-one else within the fellowship with ability, gifts or common sense. All must be deferred to the ecclesiastical tyrant, who has taken his motto from Shakespeare: ‘I am Sir Oracle, And when I ope my lips, let no dog bark!’. This is ‘lording’
“Whenever a group of leaders go beyond Scripture and starts imposing regulations and edicts which have no biblical warrant, clear or implied, God’s lordship is being denied. When overseers display an unwarranted intrusiveness into their people’s lives, probing into private details which are none of their concern, they are forgetting their place. Pastors who bully the young or vulnerable are cowboys, not shepherds. To ostracise someone who has dared to disagree, however conscientiously, is a disgraceful abuse of power.
“Even the modern mania for counselling can threaten the liberty of God’s children. In some evangelical circles, the spiritual therapist is taking over from the Roman priest as father or mother confessor. Everyone, it seems, needs a ‘guru’ in whom to confide and from whom to receive direction. This can all too easily blur the wonder and immediacy of our relationship with our only Lord. Each of us has personal and immediate access to our heavenly Father, in whom are all the resources we can ever need (Edward Donnelly, “Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1998, p.130).
Of course the pastor-teacher has no option in the matter of being a servant. He is the minister of Jesus Christ the second person of the Godhead who made himself a servant. Can we forget that the Christ whom we are serving made himself nothing? The Son of God became a nonentity. “It was not what he was, but it was what he looked like, what he allowed men to think of him and how he allowed men to treat him. He obscured his deity beneath humanness and ordinariness and suffering and even death. He didn’t look great or clever. He had none of the trappings of popularity. Instead, he was despised and contemptible: a no-person. That is a hard road. But for the Christian it is the only road: one on which we are willing to renounce our rights, to be misunderstood, to be damned with faint praise, to serve and yet to be deemed absurd failures by those we are trying to help” (Donald Macleod, “From Glory to Golgotha,” Christian Focus, 2002, p.157). There are many who preach Christ; there are not many who live Christ. The aim of the pastor-teacher is to live Christ.
There was a remarkable pastor in Barnstaple, Devon, who died at the very beginning of the 20th century. His memory lives on in Christian townspeople in Barnstaple a hundred years later. His name was R.C.Chapman. He was extraordinary in the greatness of the servant heart that he had nurtured all his life. He was never authoritarian or unapproachable; he was exceptionally tactful with people, compassionate, and sympathetic with their weaknesses. He asked people this searching question, have we ever noticed how Christ talks about the way we spot a fault in another Christian. All of us can see the sins of fellow Christians, but how does Christ talk about these faults in another? They are, Jesus says, like a speck of dust in someone’s eye. Have you tried to take a speck from your children’s eyes or from one of your own eyes? You’ve never been so tender as when you are doing that. So when we deal with the faults we see in another we are to be as gentle as removing a bit of dust from someone’s eye. R.C. Chapman said this, “My business is to love others, not to seek that others love me.” It’s better to lose your wallet and your credit cards than to lose your temper.
People often stayed in his home and his invariable custom was to polish their shoes. There were always guests in the manse; some of them might stay for a month. They were all asked to leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors and by the time they were up in the morning their shoes would be waiting for them clean and shining! Every guest said to him, “O no! Please don’t clean my shoes,” But Chapman never took no for an answer. He said, “It’s not the tradition in our day to wash one another’s feet, but this is what most nearly corresponds to our Lord’s command – to clean each other’s boots.”
His closest friend was a man named William Hake. They knew one another for fifty-eight years and they worked together in Barnstaple for twenty-five years until William Hake died. They visited every house in Barnstaple; they led home Bible studies, they opened their homes to missionaries on furlough; they spoke in the smaller churches around Barnstaple. Their friendship grew stronger as the years went by. There was never any strife between them. William Hake used to say to him, “Ah dear brother, we never had a jar.” Not a jarring note ever entered their conversations. They sought God’s guidance in everything, that the Lord should order all their ways. They waited on the Lord together to know his mind in everything. Neither would ever go against the other. That is the spirit of the servant.
This week I was reading the life of an American preacher named Bud Robinson, who evangelised poor people in the states of the mid-West during the 1930s. They were poor people, and he stayed in their homes and ate what they gave him. If the meal was merely fried apples he would eat them up with delight saying that the wife was the greatest cook since Eve fried apples for Adam. Once when he had been staying with a large family in Missouri and finally he said good-bye to them and prayed for God’s blessing to rest on them all. Then he gave them the entire love offering he had received for his meetings in their church. When he was taken away in a car to the bus station he was silent. “You OK?” said his companion. “Go back,” he said. He was taken back and then he gave the wife some more money, only then did he let them drive him away happily. The children in that home all grew up to love and serve the Lord and they never forgot Bud Robinson’s visit. He was a servant.
You cannot overestimate the immense power of such a life. Godly men with a servant’s heart and life exert a lasting influence in a church. Their very demeanour is a benediction. Their presence can calm the angry or give new heart to the discouraged. They may not say or do anything remarkable. Their abilities may be limited, but a fragrance of Christ accompanies them. To see them getting into the pulpit and opening in prayer is to be blessed. They will be remembered with thankfulness when every tele-evangelist is forgotten. There was a letter which arrived for Robert Murray M’Cheyne the morning after he had died. It was a note thanking him for the Sunday sermon, and the person said, “It was not so much what you said, as the manner in which you said it.”
Let’s not underestimate the authority of a servant heart. Meekness is not weakness. David Chilton, an author and American Presbyterian minister, was converted in his final year in high school in southern California and soon began street preaching. Later he opened a coffee house in the town of Laguna Beach, one of the most overtly degenerate areas in the state. One day a religious man approached him telling David that he believed in universalism, that is, that all men are going to be saved. David Chilton told him that the Bible doesn’t teach that, at which the man, who was waving a Bible about, became very agitated. “Then you teach me!” he said. “Teach me!” thrusting the Bible into David’s chest. David Chilton says, “At first I attempted to answer him, but it became increasingly obvious that he was seeking a fight rather than the truth. When he began to mock God and blaspheme the name of Christ I started to walk away, but he kept after me, insisting that I ‘teach him.’ I finally informed him that I was under no obligation to reason with him at all, that Christ had commanded me not to cast my pearls before swine. The answer stopped him for a moment, but did not please him; I walked away from him.” Paul tells us to avoid foolish and unlearned questions. So the minister is called to equip God’s people with all authority, and also to be a servant with the unique authority that that gives him.
3. THE PASTOR-TEACHER BUILDS UP THE BODY OF CHRIST.
Why did the Lord Jesus restore the apostle Peter so speedily after he fell? Because Christ’s sheep and lambs needed to be built up and Simon Peter had that call from God: “Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Peter really build them up. I don’t want them to be thin and weak.” Can you imagine the scandal that would surround a flock of sheep whose ribs you could almost count through their fleeces, frail, half-dead animals? Or think of the discussion in a staff-room of a school concerning the children from one home who looked undernourished and feeble, teachers expressing their concern to one another whether other members of staff had noticed this phenomenon. How long would it be before the parents would have a visit from a social worker? God’s people too must be robust and healthy. In three areas of life:
i] In Truth.
There are so many wrong ideas circulating our world, for example, concerning the future. What is going to happen? Do you know that the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is going to return again to our world, and that the dead are going to be raised, there is going to be a day of judgment and then the eternal state of heaven and hell? Do you know where in the Bible this is taught? If it were just in one little corner of one of the shorter epistle that this was alluded to then people might be sceptical, but if you can cite about twenty or thirty references to this, and list them, and print them out and give them to a curious questioner, then it would make a greater impact on her life.
Again, there are always new controversies arising in the church. What does the Bible teach about the roles of men and women? What does the Bible teach about a just war, paying taxes, homosexual actions, spanking children, animal rights, eternal punishment, abortion, stem cell experimentation, justification, church unity, spiritual gifts, tithing, worship, bishops, and so on? Do you have a considered opinion on those kinds of issues? Do you know what the Bible says? Wayne Grudem compares such questions to putting a jigsaw together. You quickly get the edges in line, and other colours and patterns are from obvious places, but there are still big holes in the centre and we spend the rest of our lives fitting correct pieces into place. Christian doctrines help us filling in various areas.
Let me ask you this question, whether you know the difference between major doctrines and minor ones, between trunk and branch doctrines and twig and leaf doctrines. I would answer like this, that trunk and branch doctrines are those that have significant impact on our thinking about other truths, and significant impact on how we live our lives. A twig or leaf doctrine has very little impact on other truths or on how we live the Christian life. There was once a student who talked excitedly to me about a discovery he had made that Jesus Christ had not been crucified on Good Friday as the church had believed but on the Thursday. This had to be the case, he claimed, if Jesus were to be like Jonah and be three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. He had never spoken to me about the Christian faith for the two years he worshipped with us and then suddenly after spending a couple of weeks with a man in the west country he was enthusiastic about this idea. I think he was wrong; I think the Jewish way of counting days and nights meaning any portion of a day would include the twenty-four hours is a perfectly adequate explanation for the three days and nights formula, but my point is that this is such a minor issue with no impact on how we live our lives at all, and yet for him this was the master key to opening the Bible. His Christianity was distorted because of his failure to make the distinction between major and minor truths. The Bible says that in our malice we should be as feeble in implementing our hatred as an infant would be, but in our understanding we should be as men.
ii] In Morals.
How are we to live our lives? Aren’t the Scriptures passionately concerned about this? When our Lord preaches the Sermon on the Mount isn’t he principally concerned with our daily lives and relationships? Aren’t the New Testament letters to these young church full of counsel as to how families and individuals and slaves and masters and church members should behave? Christ tells us that his people are the salt and light of the world. How are we to function in that way? The Scripture tells us in the 10 commandments, in the prophets’ case-studies, in our Lord’s exposition of God’s law in Matthew 5, and in the great sections of the letters. Live like this. Love in this way. Walk worthy of the great truths you profess you believe. They are a call to dedication and to consecration and to new life.
But there are vast areas of freedom concerning which the Bible lays down only the most general of guidelines. It says that though certain things are not forbidden you should not come under their bondage; it says that it is not always convenient for a Christian to be involved in some things; it says that whereas some things are acceptable for some Christians they would be quite wrong for others. Are we sensitive to such distinctions? It is not enough to rest in the fact that we have a conscience because that conscience may be in darkness. It needs the light of the will of God to shine on it. We should not be like children in behaviour, sulking and talking behind the backs of others. We should be holy like God is holy.
iii] In Affections.
The Biblical writers speak much about contentment, and peace, and joy. They warn about bitterness, and despair, and worry, and distrust, and irritability. There is a whole range of emotions pleasing to the Lord and Peter saw his task as a pastor to help people’s joy. He really wanted people to be encouraged and lifted up. Paul wanted the dominant note in a church to be one of joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he wrote, and he repeated his exhortation. You think of the dark city of Samaria after Philip had been preaching there. We are told that it was now full of joy. You think of the Ethiopian Eunuch after he had confessed his faith in Jesus Christ and had been baptized how he went back to Africa – rejoicing! We could have been told other things about the Ethiopian and about Samaria but Luke wants to illustrate the reality of the great change God has wrought by singling out this great Christian affection of joy.
The calling of the pastor-teacher is to build up the congregation in those areas, in truth, in godly living and in the happy world where Christian affections are paramount.
28th November 2004 GEOFF THOMAS