"...but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12b).
A good pastor is an example to the believers. This is a simple yet incredibly important statement. It's so important God set it down in the eternal truths of the Scripture.
Sometimes, it feels as if this idea of being an example gets lumped with the now romantic and quaint notion of "role models." Perhaps I'm a part of the last generation that had role models (clean ones, at least) that we were encouraged to look up to and emulate. Are people stirred to follow role models anymore... since Charles Barkley in his foul and off-color way trashed the idea a decade or more ago?
At any rate, Paul's instruction to Timothy is juxtaposed to his encouraging Timothy not to let anyone despise his youth. The principle way he is to avoid having his youth held against him is to be an example to all the believers. He is to live a life as a pastor that is worthy of emulating, of copying, of observing and following. Now, I don't know about you, but this sentence pushes the bar waaaayyyyyy up for me. Honestly, this is a daunting task.
Paul is in effect saying that the pastor is supposed to be in the fishbowl with eyes gazing in upon his swim pattern and eating habits. He is supposed to live, not behind a curtain or "blinds," but behind (if you can call it that) a see-through glass that has its very purpose to make him visible. Yep. The bar goes way up for me on this one because my natural tendency is toward privacy, the comfort and anonymity of home, and a kind of interiorness that prefers the world of ideas and thoughts. But this part of the verse calls me out of all that and onto the stage of pastoral example.
A few thoughts:
1. A good pastor's example is set for the believers.
Now this is obvious but important. Of all people, pastors are thought of as examples for everyone to follow. Paul doesn't say that here. and believing that will contort every pastor into a salty pretzel! What the unbelieving world desires to see in or hear from a pastor will inevitably conflict with what Christ requires of him and the model the saints need to see. So, in being examples, we must be clear about who our audience is to be. And I don't think that in the first place it's "believers" abstractly or generally or universally. I think this instruction is grounded in the gritty, real-world context of a relationship between a particular pastor and a particular congregation of people. I don't think the particular context contradicts the idea of being an example to all generally. But, I do think we can think to abstractly about "Christians" and not ask ourselves what example is pressing where we live and pastor. In D.C., perhaps I needed to be an example of right priorites (God, family, work) given that the entire city seemed to have it precisely the other way (work, family, God). In N.C., perhaps I needed to be an example of discernment and clarity, doctrinal fidelity, and speaking the truth in love in a context where nominal Christianity is so strong. The audience matters, I think. The pastor is to keep that in mind as he sets an example.
2. A good pastor's example makes him accessible.
By this I don't mean he shows little control over his calendar or places no appropriate walls around his family. Such control is quite necessary, after all, it's the pastor that is called to be an example not his entire family. But this command to Timothy does suggest that he is around the people, with the people, tangible to the people. He is to be observed, and that can't be done if he is not in some sense "public" or before the people. He will be public in the pulpit. But as is seen by the specific ways Paul calls Timothy to be an example, he will likely need to be seen in other arenas as well: at fellowship events, at lunch or dinner, at home, in others' homes, and so forth. What's the right amount of accessibility? I suppose each man considering his circumstances must answer that question. But in principle, a good pastor must be accessible enough to effectively set an example.
3. There are particular areas in which a good pastor must set an example.
I'm glad for Paul's list of actions and virtues here. Not because I think this is a list I'm chill on, but because it keeps me from being overwhelmed, unsure of where to start. He lists five things: speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. It's a weighty list, but it's clear about where the example is to be set.
(A) What we say is to be exemplary. Ephesians 4:25, 29 and James 3 spring to mind. I'm working on this: listen longer (to and beyond the point of feeling I'll burst if I don't say something, because actually I'm too quick with my tongue some times); speak truthfully and disclose fully (not to be confused with exhaustively; don't lie through omission); be direct but=and loving (open rebuke is better than secret love); speak what is necessary and what edifies (edifies in the sense of building up, not in the misguided sense of pleasing others; sometimes words that first deconstrust are the surest way to build); administer grace to my hearers. That's my strategy; pray for me.
(B) We we do is to be an example. Our conduct will be seen by all. It will either confirm, question, or deny the authority and power of the gospel in our lives and in the life of the church. We are to live in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1) and to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). And this is the startling reality for pastoral ministry: our lives and manner of being will inevitably and steadily impress themselves on the character of our congregations. Our congregations will generally take on our manner. And our impress will not easily be smoothed out by even the next two or three pastors that follow. They will either be jostled and tossed over the bumpy, hardened-mud tracks that we left plowed into the people, or they will find the path smooth and the way straight because of our example in speech and conduct.
(C) Our love is to be exemplary. And here is a place where our example set before the saints does testify to the unbelievers around us as well (John 13:34-35). For our love to be exemplary, we must follow the example of the Jesus whose love is supreme. He gave himself for His people. He was born that He might die. He voluntarily took upon himself the afflictions of His people. He bore the scorn, ridicule, mocking and beating that we deserved, and on top of all that faced the omnipotent and infinite wrath of the Father in our place. He entered into our suffering and countenanced our temptations. He identified with us in every way as a suitable High Priest. Now, we are to do likewise! A good pastor is to follow the Chief Shepherd, who was no hireling but gave His life for the flock. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the agony of the cross. What joy lies before the good pastor? What joy eclipses and neutralizes the certain prospect of being mistreated, misunderstood, maligned, and suffering? The joy of being found faithful. The joy of handing over to the Father and the Son the people who are entrusted to our care as stewards. The joy of hearing those words that will eternally ring in our sould producing unending and unimaginable delight time without end: "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Oh, to hear the Savior say "well done, my good and faithful servant" because we have been good ministers of Christ! Oh to know the divine approval for a labor you do only for Him and increasingly for Him! To delight Jesus... we set our people an example in love.
(D) The good pastor is to set an example in faith. I don't know if it's a genuine tragedy, sadness, or comedic farce for men in the pastorate to lack faith. I suppose it's all three. But in any case, it ought not be so. A good pastor must take care for how he trusts in God. He is to be an example of one who, as verse 9 puts it, has his "hope set on the living God." That must grip him--hope fixed on the God who can not die, who has life in himself, who can not lie, who is the God of truth. His word is forever settled in heaven. A good pastor must have a good understanding of the truths of the faith, not be a novice or recent convert (1 Tim. 3:6), and must hold to those truths with great confidence in the living God. The congregation should be able to see that faith in the range of situations that every pastor faces: elation, tragedy, conversion, apostasy, support, opposition, abundance, lack, fruit and barrenness. Up and down, a good pastor is an example in faith, shaping his life and decisions on the certainty of Jesus' love, lordship, sovereignty, and goodness.
(E) A good pastor is to be an example in purity. Amen and amen. Purity in the pulpit must stir and point the way for purity in the pew. How easy it is for a pastor to hide filth. He can, if he wishes, isolate himself, fabricate an identity for the public, and live a double life. He may, if he chooses, speak much about purity and holiness and deny the power thereof. A good pastor is to labor and toil and strive (v. 10) for godliness knowing that "godliness is of great value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come" (v. 9). In other words, a good pastor must be gripped with the beauty of purity and holiness, so much so that he disdains all alternatives. He must know that Christ is altogether lovely and that that loveliness flows from His purity. He has tasted and seen that God is good. And he desires constantly to enter into that loveliness of Jesus, that purity. It pleases him to do so, and he is troubled when his desire grow cold. Purity enflames his affection for God. He is an example in purity because he knows the blessing of purity and desires to be like Jesus. That's his motivation; not legalistic self-righteousness and moralism which are small plastic imitations of true purity. He knows what true beauty is and he lives it before the people... in his entertainment choices, his music preferences, his modesty, his devotion, his confession, his regard for younger women (1 Tim. 5:2), his study of art and literature, his adoption and critique of "style," and so on.
My good pastors, "set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" by God's grace and depending on His omnipotent aid. We garner reverence for the pasorate and for the Lord by living such imitation-worthy lives.
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