1 Timothy 4:15-16; Acts 20:28
June 9, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:35 in the audio file.
Or, Above All and Most Basic
Series: The Marks of a Maturing Church – Redux (Part 1)
If you were here at the graduation ceremony last Sunday evening you heard this quote from swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton:
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”
“Embarrassed” might not be the best word, but all Christians should be able to see progress in their spiritual lives. Peter commanded his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ“ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul told Timothy to let his progress be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15). The author to the Hebrews criticized his readers for still be immature when they should have grown up, at least some (Hebrews 5:11-13).
The Christian life is one of growth in Christlikeness (Colossians 1:28), of growing up in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2). The apostle Paul himself said the “one thing” he didn’t do was think that he had arrived, but he pressed on toward the goal (Philippians 3:12-14).
What is true for individuals should also be true of the whole body. We are collectively to be built up “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children” (Ephesians 4:13-14).
As a local church we have as a tag line on our website: “Reformed and still reforming.” This is a theological statement, but it is also a reminder that we’re not finished. The name of our men’s meeting: “Men to Men” and of our small groups: “Life to Life” have double meaning, that men meet with men but that each man is becoming more of a man, that we have life and are coming to have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Our church mission statement says that “we are laboring in joy to cultivate a Trinitarian community of worshipping, maturing disciples….”
In August of 2011 I preached a short series on the marks of a maturing church. Mark Dever has an entire ministry called 9 Marks based on his teaching on the 9 marks of a healthy church. Those marks are good, but with a hat tip to his work I put forward a different set of marks with a different emphasis. It’s almost eight years later, and though I’m not octagonally embarrassed by that list, I think it’s time for both a refresher and a refining. This is Marks of a Maturing Church Redux.
Some of you weren’t around in 2011. Some of you who were don’t remember the marks. And all of that is fine. But the first mark is still applicable, the one that is above all and most basic. A maturing church has leaders who are godly and growing.
Two preliminary details before the guts:
First, leaders is plural. There is only one Head of the Church: the Lord Jesus. Under Christ there were multiple apostles, plural evangelists, and many pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). References to elders in a church assume more than one (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5), likewise, with deacons (1 Timothy 3:8). Even if only one leader exists for a time, a maturing church will increase the number of leaders.
Second, leaders includes more than elders. I mean this mark to apply first to elders/pastors/shepherds/overseers, but not only to that group of men. Elders should be the primary example and we’ll see some of the specific requirements addressed to them. But the example is meant to be followed. Deacons too have requirements. So the mark of godly and growing leaders starts with the elders, but it branches out through every man, husband and father, who leads his home.
A maturing church will have a plurality of men, from the elders up, godly and growing. Let’s consider the adjectives godly and growing.
“Godly” can be a word of pretense, but it is a fine descriptor used numerous times in the New Testament. To be godly, in its simplest meaning, is to be God-like. To the degree that one bears God’s image he is God-like. The closer one becomes to being complete/perfect in Christ, the more God-like he is. Followers should be able to look at their leaders (whether father, teacher, elder) as an example of the godliness they pursue.
Leadership offices in the church require a certain character. Deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, sober, not greedy, with great faith and integrity, taking care of things at home first (1 Timothy 3:8-12). Teachers must be disciplined in tongue, meaning they must be disciplined in heart, since the mouth speaks the heart’s contents (James 3:1-5; Matthew 12:34). Each elder, in particular, “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” He needs to be a good leader at home first. He shouldn’t be a recent convert, meaning that a pattern of maturity should already exist even so that those outside the church think well of him. (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7; see also Titus 1:7-9)
Though not called an elder, Paul told Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Earlier in the chapter he told him to “train [himself] for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
In terms of character, not one of the requirements for deacons, teachers, elders, leaders, is anything more than Christian character. Leaders are to be those who live like Christ in a distinct and dependable way. They are not Level-2 Christians, they are consistent Christians. They live in such a way that you expect to see God reflected.
That also means that to be truly godly, leaders must reflect more than one side of God’s attributes. A God-like leader reflects a God of truth and love, diligence and patience, clarity and compassion, authority and self-sacrifice. When God took on flesh and dwelt among us He turned over tables in the temple and took up a cross for others. He came not to be served but to serve. God-like leading requires gospel-illustrating-dying. So said Jesus to His disciples (Mark 8:34). So said Paul to husbands (Ephesians 5:25). Being a godly leader brings life by its dying (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12). It also requires serving with God-like gladness, working with others for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24), not fearing their joy.
Especially for elders, there must be a recognized pattern of godly character. And especially for elders, there must be a recognized progress in godly character.
With every fiber of my being I believe that nothing discourages a person from growing in Christ more than a stagnant spiritual “leader” or a board who to all intents and purposes create a ceiling for growth. Doesn’t the word “lead” imply forward movement? We can’t lead others by staying in the same place. Leading is pulling not pushing. “Follow me” means I’m going somewhere so come along.
Any leader who barks at his followers, who requires them to go out front, or who thinks he’s so far ahead that he can stop will frustrate his followers and is likely to find his ministry unfruitful.
The Christian life is one of more and more maturing. Leaders are to be model Christians. So leaders must model a Christian life of more and more maturing.
Peter urged all of his readers, because God already gave them everything pertaining to life and godliness:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)
One of the most compelling passages is 1 Timothy 4:15-16. Specifically addressed to Timothy so he would “know how [he] ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Timothy 2:15), it has leadership application for sake of a church’s maturing.
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:15-16)
Paul begins to wrap up in 15, practice these things, immerse yourself in them. He is to “take pains…be absorbed in them” (NAS), “give [himself] entirely to them” (NKJV), “occupy [himself]…be wholly in them” (DRBY). And what things? Scripture reading, exhorting and teaching, yes, and also modeling (verse 12)! His life mattered, not merely his mouth. His devotion was to be obvious in such a way so that all may see [his] progress, “progress may be evident to all” (NAS). He needed manifest godliness and maturing godliness.
Godly leaders cannot say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We should decide to take that our of our response arsenal altogether. They say, “Grow as I grow. Watch me grow.” So Paul continues, Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this double duty, “pay close attention” (NAS) making sure your heart is alighted rightly, not only that you divide the Word rightly. Leaders cannot rest on yesterday’s dying, they must die again today and then again later today. A Christian’s love, like his batting average, will be judged on today’s at bat, no matter how many enemies he loved last week.
Those are the instructions, but note the promise: for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. This subordinate clause is staggering.
Save must be an exaggeration, hyperbole, right? It must be a translation difficulty; certainly the Greek removes this man-centered sounding confusion. No. σώσεις = (future active indicative) “save”; it’s the same word used for deliver (from sin); make like Christ; bring to the Father through the Son; have eternal life.
This can’t contradict other clear statements in Scripture. A leader cannot save himself by himself, let alone save others by himself. Instead, every leader and every follower is saved by grace through faith, not their own doing (Ephesians 2:8). So how does that fit with 1 Timothy 4:16?
A godly and growing leader is a God-appointed means of grace to others. If we are saved by grace, and if we are saved by leaders with right hearts and right teaching, then one way growing grace gets to people is through God’s use of growing people.
Yes, God has spoken through an ass (Numbers 22:28); sometimes He still does. Paul was able to find something to give thanks for even when men preached Christ insincerely (Philippians 1:15-17). But in 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul’s saying that a man who pays attention to himself and to his teaching is POTENT. God uses changing hearts to change hearts.
That’s why a mark of a maturing church is leaders who are living as Christians. Maturing hearts are a means of maturing other hearts by God’s grace. It’s more than a picture of what could be, it’s a powerful (and inescapable) principle. It’s deeper than enthusiasm being contagious, but not less than that. A growing church must have growing people following growing leaders.
That same principle is true at home, dads (and teachers, bosses, coaches, et cetera). You set the tone. You are leading, your heart is affecting the heart of your wife and kids. The question is, what affect are you having? What kind of hearts is your heart creating?
Take heed. Have a care.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Do you want to eat food that a cook won’t enjoy, or even eat for herself? Would you listen to a personal trainer who demanded daily payments of a dozen donuts? You might if the cook worked to acquire a taste, and if the trainer had previously been a donut-glutton but had since learned self-control and put off some weight. You’d eat and exercise following those who were maturing. So with leaders who are afflicted, despairing of life, who are comforted by God to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1).
God can use you to change another person’s life in at least two ways. He can use make you a conduit of grace to someone who needs it or make you an object lesson of someone who needs it.
I think a bunch of you know about the #samepagesummer Bible reading challenge/schedule that started last Monday. It’s a plan that approximately some 25-50 thousand Christians are using to read through the entire New Testament this summer. I’ve added the readings on top of the yearly plan I started in January, because who couldn’t use more Word?
We sang “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place,” a few moments ago, and that place is not in leaders, but in Jesus. The reading from this past week included John 15, Jesus as the vine and we as the branches. A leader in abiding doesn’t become the source of abiding, but urges all the branches to abide for themselves.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:7–9, ESV)