This evening I have been commissioned by the Western Classis of the Reformed Church in the United States to bring a charge to the pastor-elect of this congregation.
Sam, this means that I’m preaching to you.
I’ve had the privilege of working with you at Synod over the years and, more recently, in helping you complete your seminary program.
You’ve shown yourself to be diligent, faithful and devoted to the cause of Christ.
I count it a privilege to bring this word to you on the occasion of your ordination to the gospel ministry.
Although this charge is for the pastor-elect, it’s a message that the congregation also needs to hear.
You need to hear it not so that you can shake your finger in his face whenever you think he has failed you (and I’m sure such occasions will eventually arise), but rather to encourage and support your pastor as he labors in your behalf, feeding you the Word of God day by day and week by week.
The work that God has called you to, Sam, is the hardest work of all.
You see, we want doctors, lawyers, police and firemen.
They come in right handy when we face illnesses, lawsuits, and other threats to life and safety.
But it’s different with the ministry.
Being the sinners that we are, our natural inclination and propensity is to hate God, despise his Word, and turn our backs on his kindness.
And even when we go to the pastor for advice and counsel, we seldom get what we wanted.
It will break your heart, Sam, every time someone leaves the church because they can’t bear something you’ve shown them from Scripture.
And it will hurt even more if the one who leaves is a member of your own family.
You’ll feel like someone thrust a sword through your heart.
But when this happens, it only demonstrates that you’re fulfilling your calling.
The Word of God is a two-edged sword.
As Paul wrote, /For we [i.e., in our capacity as ministers of the gospel] are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.
And who is sufficient for these things?/
We trust God to make us fit for the task and to fulfill his purposes in us.
May his name be praised!
Fanning the Flames
Based on the exhortation in our text, many commentators over the years have concluded that Timothy must have been a weak man.
Because Paul thought he needed to stir up God’s grace within himself.
But our text doesn’t really say this.
The verb translated /stir up/ literally means to fan a flame.
The fact that it’s in the present tense emphasizes that this is something that must be done habitually.
In other words, Paul exhorted Timothy to stir up a flame that was already burning to burn even hotter.
Ministers should never be satisfied with smoldering embers.
Letting the fire die out or even die down is not an option.
Satan will be busy enough trying to put the fire out.
Timothy was to make sure that the fire keeps burning.
It’s also your job to see that it burns hotter and hotter until the glorious day of Christ’s return.
Yet, this is the opposite of what we find in so many ministers today.
After they settle into the routine of the pastor’s life, they start to let things slide that they don’t consider to be all that important or necessary.
The Biblical languages take too much time.
It’s so much easier to open a commentary or two rather than do their own exegesis.
They may even grow weary of the countless counseling situations that arise, secretly wondering if the Lord’s people have any real interest in holy things at all.
They hide ourselves in the study, excusing their seclusion by claiming that they’re first and foremost teachers of the Word.
Of course, there is an element of truth in this, but it too often used as an excuse for not ministering to the flock.
Sometimes ministers occupy themselves with all kinds of vain distractions —a multitude of hobbies that fritter away their time, leaving precious little for actual ministry.
And in all of this they forget that the Lord Jesus Christ himself commanded his servants to make disciples of all the nations.
Timothy’s situation was even more challenging than the temptations we normally face.
Have you ever noticed that Paul seemed to thrive on putting him in the hardest predicaments?
He sent him to Thessalonica, where the Jews had taken such a dislike to the gospel that they persecuted Paul from city to city.
Later, Paul sent Timothy to Corinth.
Of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament none presented greater pastoral challenges than this one.
It had a party mentality — some followed Paul, others Peter or Apollos — sexual perversity, Christians suing one another in civil courts, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, as well as a top-heavy and misguided emphasis on miraculous gifts.
It’s would be any pastor’s nightmare to be called to a church like this.
The pressure of these kinds of ministry situations had worn Timothy down.
But look at Paul’s exhortation.
He didn’t say, “That’s too bad, Timothy.
It’s obvious that God never really intended to start churches in these places.
Trying to plant churches in the face of such resistance is just too hard.”
No, he told Timothy to do even more than he had been doing.
He was to stir up the flame, to rekindle his zeal for the ministry of the gospel.
In short, he was to keep the gift active and working.
Paul instructed Timothy to stir up the gift of God.
What gift did he have in mind?
Christ’s death on the cross for our sins was a gift — the most wonderful gift of all, but his work was finished long ago.
That’s not the gift that Paul meant.
No, the gift that Timothy was to rekindle was given to him in conjunction with his ordination to the ministry.
That’s what Paul wrote in verse 6: /Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands/.
He mentioned the same gift in his first epistle to Timothy.
There he wrote, /Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery/ (I Tim.
In other words, Timothy was to stir up his ordination.
In his comments on this verse, Calvin notes a little bit of a problem here.
If the gifts necessary for the ministry are conferred at ordination, how is it possible to elect a man to office?
His election presupposes that he already has the gifts that will not actually be given to him until later.
Of course, Calvin was addressing a Roman Catholic understanding of ordination, which teaches that in the sacrament of holy orders the outward laying on of hands actually confers an inward and spiritual grace upon the man being ordained.
He rejected this view, insisting instead that God is just as sovereign in the administration of gifts to ministers as he is in the administration of life to sinners.
He further observed that, since ordination is often the result of God’s people praying for a new pastor, ordination tends to bring an increase of those divine gifts that the individual already had.
What Calvin wrote so long ago is good, but we need to say just a little more.
The one thing that ordination does confer is the authority of Jesus Christ.
It authorizes the man who is ordained to do the work of a shepherd of Christ’s sheep — to preach the Word of God.
The personal qualifications that Paul listed in I Timothy 3 must already be present and clearly discernible long before the man is ever elected to office; his ordination empowers him to discharge the duties of his sacred calling.
Never forget, Sam, that your sermons are not mere editorials.
To the degree that your preaching reflects Scripture, your sermons are God’s Word to the congregation.
And as a minister, you will also have authority to administer the sacraments, bless the congregation in God’s name, rebuke the wayward and encourage the penitent.
The power to do these things is not intrinsic to you as a person.
Rather, it is derived from the Word of God itself, and the authority of Scripture comes from its author, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note what Paul wrote beginning with verse 8: /Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles/ (II Tim.
You see, brother, this is how you should view your ministry!
The Nature of God’s Gift
In verse 7 Paul zeroes in on this gift that Timothy was to stir up.
It’s a gift that has everything to do with spirit.
But what spirit did Paul have in mind?
Some translations and commentaries capitalize /spirit/, i.e., they take it as a reference to the Holy Spirit.
God gives his Spirit to ministers.
Thus, Paul reminded Timothy that the Holy Spirit does not make Christ’s ministers cowardly or timid, but rather imparts to them power, love and a sound mind.
Others understand /spirit/ in verse 7 as the chief attitude of the human soul after the Holy Spirit has showered a man with ministerial gifts.
The gift, according to this view, is the power, love and soundness of mind.
Since a pastor’s spiritual attitude is, if he has truly been called by Christ to preach the gospel, the result of the Spirit of Christ working within him, the difference between these two views is minimal.
I tend to prefer the former view, and the reasons for that will become apparent as I proceed.
The first thing Paul wrote about the Spirit is that he is not a spirit of fear.
The word translated /fear/ here is not the usual word for fear.
In fact, it would be better translated as abject cowardice.