Charles Spurgeon, reflecting on 2 Timothy 4:13 (where Paul said to Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments”):

We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.

Even an apostle must read.

Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!

How rebuked they are by the apostle!

He is inspired, and yet he wants books!

He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!

He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!

He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!

He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!

He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).

The man who never reads will never be read.

He who never quotes will never be quoted.

He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.

Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers and expositions of the Bible.

Here’s how John Piper put it in his chapter “Fight for Your Life” in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (new edition coming from B&H in February 2013):

I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that the fight to find time to read is a fight for one’s life. “Let your wife or anyone else take messages for you, and inform the people telephoning that you are not available. One literally has to fight for one’s life in this sense!”

Most of our people have no idea what two or three new messages a week cost us in terms of intellectual and spiritual drain. Not to mention the depletions of family pain, church decisions, and imponderable theological and moral dilemmas. I, for one, am not a self-replenishing spring. My bucket leaks, even when it is not pouring. My spirit does not revive on the run. Without time of unhurried reading and reflection, beyond the press of sermon preparation, my soul shrinks, and the specter of ministerial death rises. Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.

The great pressure on us today is to be productive managers. But the need of the church is for prayerful, spiritual poets. I don’t mean (necessarily) pastors who write poems. I mean pastors who feel the weight and glory of eternal reality even in the midst of a business meeting; who carry in their soul such a sense of God that they provide, by their very presence, a constant life-giving reorientation on the infinite God. For your own soul and for the life of your church, fight for time to feed your soul with rich reading.

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29 thoughts on “Pastors: Fight for the Time to Read!”

  1. Luma says:

    Thank you! May the Lord kindle in us such a desire to press further into him!

    “He is inspired, and yet he wants books!

    He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!

    He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!

    He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!

    He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!

    He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!”

  2. Sandy Grant says:

    Always glad Justin, when you or someone else shares this quote every year or two. We pastors need to keep getting this reminder!

  3. dean says:

    Its not just pastors that should foster a need to feed. I have sung the old hymn…I need Thee, O I need Thee, every hour I need Thee.

    On coming to the Saviour through godly wisdom & the Scriptures I have been blessed to be with God himself….The God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob…

  4. Gene Cornett says:

    The Spurgeon quote is what most fired me up toward reading 23 years ago. It always moves me to improve my reading disciplines.

  5. Ryan Kelly says:

    Justin, I’m sure that hardly a day passes that I don’t get help, encouragement, wisdom, etc., from your work on this blog — not to mention more indirectly through a Crossway book that bears your hidden finger prints. Thank you for this notice of a new edition of “Not Professionals.” Thank you for these excellent quotes. Thank you for the exhortation to carve out time to read (not just for sermon prep). I’m convicted. I needed that.

    I could write a similar note of thanks many times a week. I won’t(!), but know that I’m regularly thankful.

  6. Jordan says:

    Great post and a great reminder by both Spurgeon and Piper. Although tangential to this topic, the question of what is meant by the “parchments” (membranas) is an interesting one. Kruger has a helpful post on this very question: http://michaeljkruger.com/did-paul-himself-create-the-very-first-new-testament-canon/. Thanks Justin.

  7. I remember Eugene Peterson reflecting in one of his books that he scheduled 2 hours of his week for reading Dostoevsky. That’s 2 hours a week for reading fiction in addition to other study. Should a pastor read fiction? We probably should. At any rate, reading is important and this encouragement from Spurgeon is a blessing today.

  8. Rob Schouten says:

    In our denomination, people still refer to the minister’s office as a study. They fully expect him to be studying for a significant part of the day. That’s how they understand his calling.I am blessed!

  9. Gary H. says:

    Paul was a southpaw. Cool.

  10. Dan says:

    Good advice about reading. I really appreciate Piper’s comment on how 2 or 3 messages drain us.

    Most of the times admonitions like these are directed at pastors. As a teacher who regularly teaches the Bible I never realized that we can get get drained too. I think many get tired and feeling like they are spiritually wore out. This can be really pronounced in settings where one is teaching in a seminar-style. Classes meet once a week for 3 or 4 hours (certainly one does not lecture the whole time).

    What a great painting by Rembrandt! (I’ll bet Paul would’ve appreciated a Kindle)

    1. Yeah, about that painting…why does Paul have a sword?

      I’m surprised that he was able to get that past the prison guards!

      1. dean says:

        why does he also have a large stone at his feet, plus one shoe on, one shoe off…any symbolism I wonder. One thing is for sure, its a nice peice of reformation art with its dark & light tones ascribed to the old school…& a master of painting.

  11. Brenda says:

    Thank you for this. I’d never heard or read that quote of Spurgeon’s before, but I love it. I am not a pastor but I have discovered, like Mr. Piper, that neither does my spirit “revive on the run” and I recharge best lost in a book or through my daily praying and Bible reading time.

  12. Interesting post. I had never noticed that scripture about Paul and his books and parchments. It really would be great to know what they were in reference to.

    Anyway, pastors must fight to find the time to read because any leader should always be willing to grow and mature. We do this in part by new knowledge.

  13. dan says:

    Problem is, Pastors are downright busy! And God calls them to minister to their flocks before they spend time reading the NYT or Dostoeyesvsky (sp??). I would rather my preacher visit dying folks in the hospital, preparing his sermon, and deep in prayer more than I would like to see him thumbing through a frivolous novel. God help us!

    1. I assume this is aimed at my comment above since you mention Dostoyevsky (this is how you spell it).

      “I would rather my preacher visit dying folks in the hospital, preparing his sermon, and deep in prayer more than I would like to see him thumbing through a frivolous novel.” Of course this is true! No reasonable person would argue that reading a classic novel should supplant these duties.

      But many experienced preachers, often those most soaked in Bible and prayer, have advocated reading widely many different kinds of literature. W A Criswell and Charles Spurgeon are two examples off the top of my head. Grappling with Dostoyevsky’s themes, for example, can help with
      the sermons and evangelism and so on and bear rich ministry fruit in the long term.

      At any rate, I have a sermon, deep prayer and dying people to attend to. :-)

    2. dean says:

      time management is an issue for many people, overstretched maybe. Jesus classic instruction regarding Mary & Martha should guide us though…He wouldnt tell us if it wasnt important. Thankfully He hears our prayers & bears our load…

      The calling to our families are equally important, like eating good food, getting enough rest, all holy things…

      Sometimes its hard work listening to a sermon, for all the richness of Gods word …

  14. SLIMJIM says:

    So well stated! I think a Pastor’s goal of reading a book a week for a New Year’s resolution is a good and practical way to “fight” for the time to read. It makes it a priority and that has helped me out the last three years…

  15. Brian Culver says:

    Thank you for this article. We all need to see this and heed it!

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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