I was honored recently to preach a charge from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 at the ordination service for our church’s newest elders. Below is the text. I pray it will bless you.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
The Bible calls the pastoral office a “noble” thing. Given all else it says about pastoring, we also know it to be a weighty thing. So while this occasion this evening is a celebration in a sense of your training and maturity, while it is a joyful occasion, we also know you all feel the weightiness of it.
You will be judged more strictly. By the Lord perhaps, but also by your church. We will look to you to be examples to us. We will look to you to cast vision. We will look to you for correction. We will look to you for comfort. We command you not to lead us astray.
So Paul’s charge to Timothy is my charge to you, and Liberty Baptist Church membership’s charge to you, and I offer it in correlation to Paul’s.
1. First, we charge you before God to preach the Word.
We want your wisdom, we want your experience, we want your winsomeness, and we want your advice. But we need above all is the sufficient Word of God. So don’t ever not give it to us.
You will not get to the end of your ministry and think, I wish I’d preached the Bible less.
If one of us happens to cut you, you should bleed Bible.
And Paul’s qualifier is important too—preach the word in season and out. Right now the Word is very much in season at Liberty Baptist Church. But some day it may not be. The fault for that must not be traced to your leadership. The word is very much not in season in the outside world, not even in many churches. Some day you may be in a church or community where the word is out of season. We charge you to hold fast to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus that it proclaims as “of first importance.”
2. Second, we charge you before God to lead us both strongly and patiently.
Correct us and comfort us. Paul is telling Timothy to lead the sheep, not push them. And he’s telling Timothy to condemn the wolves, not coddle them. Remember that you are accountable to us, but you’re not our employees. You must serve God before the membership, and in fact, it’s in putting God first that you best serve the membership.
Sometimes our ears may itch for different things. Sometimes yours might too. Sometimes we may want a different shepherd, one who doesn’t make us feel so convicted. Sometimes you may wish you were a different shepherd. Own whom God made you to be and own what he has laid out for you to do, and do not waver from your unique giftedness, your identity in Christ, and your commitment to guard the good deposit from challenges without and within.
Some may trust in their education and some in their giftedness, but you must trust in the Lord your God. You must obey God rather than men.
3. Third, we charge you to be sober-minded about your life and ministry.
You must be sober-minded about sins of the flesh. Don’t get drunk on anything that would prevent you from loving your wife and children well, even if what intoxicates you is a fruitful ministry or approval from the church. Keep your mind attuned to the obedience of Christ that you may take every thought captive. We charge you to pursue, by God’s grace, sexual purity in your marriage and in your mind. We command you to put your family before us.
You must be sober-minded about life and its troubles, about personal and communal suffering, about hardships and afflictions of all kinds. You will face trials personal, emotional, and spiritual. You will encounter a multitude of opportunities to share in the afflictions of Christ. Be sober-minded about the reality of tribulation. Be sober-minded about the temptation and oppression of the Devil. He hates you and wants your ministry to fail. Rebuke him in word and resist him in spirit. When it comes to suffering, Paul says ENDURE.
Be sober-minded about the pastoral task. Be serious about the curing of souls, about fellowship and visitation and counseling.
And finally, you must be sober-minded about the fate of sinners. Paul comes full circle here from “preach the word” to “do the work of an evangelist,” bookending his charge with a reminder of the pastor’s fidelity to the gospel.
We charge you before God to commit to these things—the faithful ministry of the Word and of prayer—so that your ministry may be fulfilled, by God’s grace.
We charge you with all of this not just because you are qualified to hold the office of pastor, but because our Lord Jesus Christ is above all worthy. We commend to you a ministry worthy of his name, because we believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has equipped you for it.
4. Fourth and finally, we charge you to resolve to know nothing among us but Christ and him crucified.
That is Paul’s phrase from 1 Corinthians 2:2. Here he says in v. 5 to “do the work of an evangelist”—that is, a proclaimer of the gospel—and to fulfill your ministry.
We’re all in danger at all times—but especially in this crazy season—of drifting from the centrality of the gospel. Of giving in to our fears, animosities, and anxieties. And our charge is not to chase dreams or scratch ears but to fulfill the ministry.
Commenting on this passage, Calvin says, “The gospel will not long maintain its place, if pastors do not urge it earnestly.”
Do not pursue your own greatness. Magnify Christ through the ministry of the good news. And when you get to the end, whenever that may be, you will have no regrets. Our church may grow, or may it not. You may be here a long time, or you may not. Whatever the Lord’s will for you and for Liberty Baptist Church, the eternal constant is God’s grace in Jesus. We charge you to stubbornly fix your eyes on the glory there. Resolve to know nothing among us but Christ and him crucified, and you will fulfill your ministry.