“…we have put our hope in the living God…” (1 Timothy 4:10).
There is much a pastor is to do if he would be a good and faithful servant. He is to watch over the flock, to prepare diligently in the teaching of God’s word, to pray, to handle some administrative details, and to be an example. There is much to do… and more than any one person can do.
But in all the doing, the good pastor is one who avoids the trap of trusting in his own efforts. There is the pervasive temptation to do pastoral ministry in our own strength and wisdom. We are invited on so many occasions to be the men of strength and spiritual courage that we may begin to believe that such strength and courage is merely a matter of self exertion. Muster enough will power and we will power our way to any objective.
Such is not the attitude of the good pastor. It seems from Paul’s writing to Timothy that the good pastor is animated and strengthened not by hope in himself but by hope in the living God. There is where his hope lies and there is where his strength comes from. The good pastor has made the Lord his portion, refuge, banner, strong tower and shield, and it’s to the living God that he daily, moment by moment runs.
This brief phrase from Paul’s letter confronts me this morning. Where have I put my hope?
My temptation is to place hope in my study and preparation. My temptation is to place my hope in the books I’ve read and the convincing arguments they sometimes mount. My temptation is to place hope in my relationships, the affection I share with others in the body. My temptation is to place my hope in articulate expression, clever argument. And I’m tempted to have hope when things around me are going well, when people seem pleased with “my performance.”
Deadly temptations all!
The only sure and abiding bedrock for hope is the living God, “the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe.” Where else can lasting hope be found in life and in ministry?
So, a good pastor mustn’t let his study and preparation occlude a clear vision of the Savior. He mustn’t study to impress others, but to see Jesus in all of His grandeur and splendor. He must open the Word in faith, believing that God is and that He is a Rewarder of those who seek Him. He must open the Scriptures to listen, not to dead words, but to a living God who ever speaks through His Word. Our study is for the tuning of our ears to the Master’s voice. Before we prepare to preach, we must recognize that we are but one of the sheep who are to hear His voice and to follow Him. Is our study and preparation in the best sense of the word “devotional”? Does it evidence our personal hope in the living God?
And surely this phrase means that hope is found in a relationship, just not relationships with the congregation or any set of persons. It’s found in a relationship with the living God, the Savior. So, it’s that relationship that the good pastor must above all nurture. A good pastor should be nurturing that relationship in fellowship with his people, that is the path to growth (Eph. 4:16). But we can grow close to Bob and Jane in a thousand superficial ways and never be strengthened in the hope of Jesus, the living God. Are our relationships in the church relationships that foster deeper hope in God or draw us in dependence upon man? Are we agents of encouragement that direct others to the living God, on whom they are to rest their hopes? Does our preaching remind others that they have put their hope in the living God who shall never leave them nor forsake them? Or does our preaching encourage people to hope in man-made devices, techniques and therapies? In our lives together, we’re to be pointing out where our hope rests. They rest on Jesus.
And what freedom this should give us! I’m free from the temptation that my clever phraseology will finally push the skeptic or the doubter to faith. I’m free from the savior complex that assumes every problem must be fixed by my wisdom or effort. I’m free from the drudgery of trying to please everyone. I’m free from the bondage of the “success” or “performance” syndrome. For freedom Christ has set us free, and that freedom rests solely and securely on the foundation of hope in Christ. It is Christ that has saved me, and it is Christ that must save others. It is Christ that gives me true hope, and it is Christ that must give true hope to my people. To be a good pastor, we must remind our people of this simple yet profound truth: “we have put our hope in the living God.”
This phrase is deserving of a better treatment than I’ve had time to give it here. It deserves a full exposition… and exposition in and through the actual lives of those who have so trusted the Savior. A good pastor’s life should be such an exposition. He should live as one who has (past tense) settled his hope in the Author of life, the One who has life in Himself, the giver of eternal life, the living God, Christ Jesus our Lord.
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