Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
This text speaks of the task both of the professors and of the students. What the apostle says here to Timothy he says to the professors in the seminary. What you have “heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” And those faithful men are the students of the seminary.
The apostle is nearing the end of his ministry and life when he writes this letter. He is concerned that his spiritual son Timothy, a young minister, remember what he has been taught: the gospel of God’s sovereign grace in Christ Jesus. That truth must be preserved by Timothy, the young preacher in Ephesus. If that is to happen, then Timothy must commit what he has been taught to faithful men. These faithful men are the future ministers of the gospel. They must be not only faithful but also able to teach others. All of this is highly necessary. In this way, chiefly by means of the preaching of the gospel (to borrow the language of the Heidelberg Catechism in answer 54), “the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers and defends and preserves unto Himself a church chosen to everlasting life.” God is pleased to save His elect in Christ by means of the preaching of the sacred Word, the preaching of faithful men who are able to teach others. Hence, it is essential that the truth be committed to these faithful, able men.
That is possible not because of our own strength, not because of Timothy’s or our own superior abilities, and not because of anything at all in us (it may safely be said that no preacher ever saved one soul). It is possible only by being strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
What is more, because it is possible only by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, it is absolutely certain that the truth of the gospel will be committed to faithful men and they will be able to teach others also, so that that true gospel of Christ is preserved in the generations of believers.
We call your attention, then, to the text as it speaks to us of committing the truth to faithful men.
Committing that truth to whom
According to the text, that truth is to be committed to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also. These must be faithful men, men full of faith, men who are, therefore, trustworthy, reliable—men whom the people of God in the church know to be men of faith, men upon whom the people of God in the churches can depend faithfully to do the work of the ministry.
These men, too, obviously, must be able to teach others. They must have the abilities, the gifts, to teach others. One of the necessary gifts of the office of bishop mentioned in I Timothy 3 as well as in the context of our text is that he be apt to teach. To these must be committed the things that Timothy heard from the holy apostle among many witnesses.
Now there are certain essential spiritual gifts that characterize these faithful men—gifts, you understand, apart from which a man cannot be considered faithful.
The first is spirituality, or genuine piety. A faithful man is a child of God. It is true, sad to say, there are hypocrites in the ministry. God even uses false prophets occasionally (like Balaam) to bless His people. Two things, however, may be said about this. First, these hypocrites never last. Sooner or later, but inevitably, they are exposed and they either leave the ministry or must be suspended and deposed from that holy office. Secondly, these are not the rule or norm. They are the exception.
Ministers must be spiritual, pious, godly men—men saved by grace through faith, God’s gift; men in whose hearts burns the love of God in Jesus Christ; men who love God with their whole being and manifest that love of God to the neighbor; men who love God’s people and who love God’s church and who love God’s cause; men who have, as one preacher put it, “a fascination with the Bible”; and men who live exemplary, godly lives.
A second gift is humility. There is no room whatsoever for pride in the ministry. Pride, the Scriptures say, goes before a fall. That is especially true in the office of the minister. Self-seeking pride, selfishness, the seeking of the praise of men—all of these are abominable sins among God’s people and especially among ministers of the Word. If you seminarians want the praise of men and the honor and fame, do not pursue the ministry. Faithful men are humble men.
Like the apostle, they are, literally, slaves of God and of His church. They know the truth of what the writer J.J. VanOostersee wrote in his Practical Theology, “The flock does not exist for the pastor but the pastor for the flock.” They must give their very lives in the service of God’s church.
That means faithful men are of necessity men of prayer. They know that all that they are and all that they have are of God. They know, these faithful men, that they cannot make or preach one sermon, perform one pastoral task, visit one person who is sick, comfort one of God’s sorrowing saints, apart from God’s grace. They pray without ceasing for the grace of God and the Holy Spirit to enable them to be faithful, humble men, able thus to teach others.
In addition, faithful men are men of sympathetic understanding. Jesus, our great and merciful High Priest, is, according to Hebrews 4 (the last part of the chapter), touched with the feeling of our infirmities, tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin. That is why you and I can go to God’s throne of grace and find mercy and obtain grace to help in all our needs.
Ministers of the gospel, the servants of Jesus Christ, must be in this regard Christ-like. They must emulate their Master. They must know God’s people—know their needs, know their struggles, their joy, their affliction, their sorrow. In other words, faithful men must literally feel with God’s people, understand them so as to be able to bring God’s Word to their needs. They must weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. If you are going to do that, you need to live with God’s people. You must be given to hospitality, according to I Timothy 3:2. A faithful minister and his wife do not shut themselves in the parsonage and have as little to do with the people of God as possible. No, they live with the saints and they fellowship with the saints so as to know them and to know their needs.
Faithful men—spiritual, humble, sympathetic men—are also men of spiritual courage or boldness. This same apostle exhorted the church at Ephesus to pray for all the saints, “and for me, …that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” That must be the prayer of every faithful minister.
I am always struck by that. When you read the history of the work of the apostle Paul in the book of Acts and when you read his epistles, you cannot help but be impressed that Paul was not only a faithful man, but very bold in his preaching and teaching, afraid of no one, unashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing it to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, the Jew first but also the Greek. He could not wait to preach in Rome, even where he was imprisoned and likely put to death. What was the secret of Paul in that regard? He was a man of prayer!
The minister needs boldness to preach and teach the truth of the gospel that declares on every page of sacred Scripture that we are by nature totally depraved sinners who are unable to do any good at all and are inclined to all evil except we are regenerated by the grace of God—the truth that salvation is all by the grace of the sovereign God in Christ to His own glory. That takes boldness! Especially today. People do not want to be told about their sins and their sinful nature. It destroys their self-esteem, you see. Preaching must connect with people in such a way as to make them feel good and to attract them and to tell them of all their wonderful deeds and how they can minister and do great things for the Lord. But to preach the truth of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace takes courage and boldness. Ministers, in the real sense of the word, are in the vanguard, the front line of the battle of faith. That is precisely why Paul tells Timothy in the very next breath after the exhortation of our text to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
Faithful men must be able to teach others also. Apt to teach. They must have that ability. And that, too, must come from God. Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church. Thus the relationship in Ephesians 4 is this, as is plain from the context, especially what follows inEphesians 4:11, that one shepherds the flock by means of teaching the flock. That does not refer just to preaching or catechism teaching. In all his labors, publicly and from house to house, the minister, like the holy apostle, must shun not to declare to the people of God the whole counsel of God. He has to teach.
That means the minister needs the ability to study. That, too, is in the context: Study to show thyself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed; rightly dividing the word of truth. Faithful men must be able to teach others chiefly by means of the preaching of the gospel. A minister needs the ability, therefore, to read and understand the Scriptures, to think and to organize his thoughts clearly and logically. He needs a broad background in the history of civilization, in philosophy and literature, in the original languages of the Bible (a liberal arts background). In addition, he needs to know the original languages of the Bible and be able to expound from the original languages of the Scriptures. He needs to know the doctrines of the Word of God as summed and set forth in the confessions. He needs to know the history of those doctrines. He needs to know the history of the church. He needs to be instructed in practical matters concerning the polity of the churches and the preaching and catechetical instruction and missions and all the rest. And all of that he must make his own so that he is able to explain the Word of God to God’s people and to show them how that Word of God applies to their lives.
That takes hours and hours of hard work—work bathed in prayer. That is the only way to make a good sermon. Fifteen to twenty hours per sermon per week—at least for a beginning preacher. That is thirty-forty hours, besides all the other aspects of the work. The bulk of the minister’s time must be spent in the study. Yes, he is on call and when called he must go. But he needs time to prepare for the pulpit.
He must have the gift of public speaking. His chief task is to preach the Word of God twice per Lord’s Day as well as in special services. And that preaching must be lively. God will have His people taught, not by dumb images, the catechism instructs us, but by the lively preaching of the Word! And the minister must teach the children and youth of the church in that special aspect of the preaching of the Word we call catechism instruction. These gifts, too, must come from God.
We have classes in homiletics, of course—the art and science of preaching—how to construct and how to deliver a good sermon. That is one of the most important (if not the most important) course Rev. Gritters will be teaching, God willing, soon. We teach catechetics—how to teach catechism classes—another course Rev. Gritters will be teaching. But a man, you see, needs that gift from God. The seminary classes only help him develop what he already has been given from the Lord and to use those gifts properly.
… to be continued.