I Timothy 4:11-13 “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
All of us in this congregation believe that chief vocation of the minister is to preach all the word of God in a holy, vigorous and loving manner to all the church. That is not a common conviction for most professing churches. The vast sacramentalist denominations, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches, certainly do not believe that their church officials are first and foremost to bring the word of God to them Sunday after Sunday. “Our priests celebrate the mass,” they say. The influence of the enlightenment has also affected many Protestant churches so that their leaders are most concerned about organising and motivating people to serve their fellow men, the homeless in this country and victims all the world over. But though the Lord’s Supper and the ministry of mercy both have a place in our faith we have been influenced by the Scriptures to believe that our preachers are to do first what the apostle tells Timothy here (v.11), “Command and teach these things.” The apostle uses the phrase “these things” eight times in this letter alone. He is referring to everything Timothy has been learning from him. “Command and teach these things,” as your priority. You see how significant it is because he repeats this two verses later, “devote yourself to … preaching and to teaching” (v.13).
The whole emphasis is upon the Bible. He even tells Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture: “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (v.13). There might have been many in a congregation who were illiterate, and so when the congregation assembled Timothy was to read the Old Testament to them, and then as the apostles’ letters and gospels were written and circulated these were also read clearly and distinctly. The congregation charged their memories to retain what they heard. All the duties Paul draws to Timothy’s attentions centre upon the Bible.
How wise of the Holy Spirit to insist on this, and we experience the benefits, don’t we? I once was speaking with a lady doctor who had a very responsible position in the Health Service, and I asked her how best could she be helped in her daily work by a minister’s sermons. “By preaching the gospel to me week after week,” she replied immediately. She did not mean by that, “Give me a simple 3-point alliterative sermon on the blood of Christ every Sunday.” She was referring to the Biblical message of God’s grace which, constantly brought to her, would be her balm and benison in all the pressures of her daily work. She could survive in her life by the word of God coming to her every Lord’s Day.
“Command and teach,” Paul says. In other word “Instruct with authority as you teach.” The world doesn’t appreciate that kind of Christianity. Look at the “Radio Times” and see what it was presenting this morning on its ‘God-slot.’ It was a programme called ‘Jesus 2000’ and we are given this information about it, ‘Pupils at Lampton comprehensive school in Hounslow, west London, share their views on Jesus.’ That is the world exactly. You take a microphone and camera to a school and ask teenagers what are their ideas of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But Paul tells Timothy, “Command and teach these things.”
But the responsibility of applying the word of God to a congregation has also fallen out of favour within the church. One of the most famous theologians of the last century was a modernist named Karl Barth. For him it was enough for the preacher to explain the passage of Scripture and then, he said, God would do the rest. His actual words were, “Expound the Book and nothing else.” But Paul tells Timothy to ‘command’ as he expounds, that is, to charge the consciences of his hearers to obey the Bible. As John Trapp said, ‘Teach the tractable, command the obstinate, lay God’s charge upon all.’ There is an encounter in a true sermon between God who is the author of his word, and those who are hearing it. In this encounter the purpose is that sinners change. John Flavel said that real preaching is ‘hissing hot, searching and expository.’ It is to bring the most serious indictment upon any minister when he is judged to be ‘a pastor and not a preacher.’ Such a man should not be in the ministry. John Foxe condemned preachers who were nothing more than droning bees. Maybe some of you are going off to sleep because the air in this building is the same as last week. But nobody should go to sleep in a sermon because the sermon is the same as last week, and the week before.
Preaching is boring when it lacks this note of command. My sister-in-law says she likes sermons which make her realise she has duties to perform and truths to believe. Of course she is absolutely right. She is talking about the pleasure of having the apostolic word applied to our lives. Richard Baxter lamented, ‘It would grieve me what excellent doctrines some ministers have in hand, and let it die in their hands for want of close and lively application.’ ‘Command the flock, Timothy,’ says Paul. In other words, ‘Bring your teaching home to them.’ A sermon is not merely to be preached until the preacher is done, but until the sermon is being done by the hearers. The best hearers of the word are the doers. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and in the services it is the preacher who wields that sword. He is not a sword juggler. He is to thrust God’s sword into men’s hearts and lives.
It is not enough to teach a Christian his duties. They must be spelled out. ‘Command’ does not mean ‘shout at them.’ After you have been shouted at for twenty minutes you want to shout right back at the preacher. ‘Command’ means persuade the people what they ought to do, and also help them know how they can do it. Derek Thomas has written, “In order for Neil Armstrong to make his giant step for mankind on the moon, there first had to be a series of ‘baby steps’. Every giant step is made up of prior little steps. So it is with direct and homely preaching. It is cruel simply to command duties. We must preach little baby steps that help people to do their duty toward God and man. This kind of practical help is what people are crying out for.”
Now this does not mean that when a preacher has commanded and taught most simply and faithfully he is guaranteed success. It is assumed by the apostle here as everywhere in his writings, though it be not stated, that if Timothy became a genius at commanding and teaching all his labours would be barren without the work of the Holy Spirit. The Puritan Stephen Charnock turns to a group of preachers and says to them, “Have you never discoursed with some profane loose fellow so pressingly that he seemed to be shaken out of his excuses for his sinful course, yet he was not shaken out of his sin? You might as soon have persuaded the tide at full sea to retreat, or a lion to change his nature as have overcome him by your arguments.” So it is not our commanding and teaching that will change men but the “mighty pleadings and powerful operations of that great Paraclete or Advocate, the Spirit, to alter the temple of the soul.” That is Charnock’s belief which he got from the apostle Paul who knew and taught the indispensable and sovereign work of the Regenerator. But, again, as we all know, the Spirit of God uses means, and one means is the preacher commanding and teaching.
But there is this minor problem that Timothy was facing, his youthfulness was resulting in people looking down on him (v.12). Some would turn away immediately they saw this ruddy-cheeked man getting up in the pulpit and announcing his text. When others had the word of God applied to their lives by Timothy they squirmed, and got their revenge by saying to him as they left, “Young man, you’ve got a lot to learn.” If they say that sort of thing to us, keep smiling. We must not be too touchy about comments about our age. When William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. was making a speech at the House of Commons at the age of thirty-three he said, “The atrocious crime of being a young man … I will neither attempt to palliate or deny.”
There is a recognition of youthfulness which is without disdain. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted in 1850 at the age of 15 and it was in the summer of that same year that he walked one Sunday afternoon with a friend from their Cambridge congregation to the village of Teversham. Each thought the other was going to give the sermon there, and when they arrived and discovered the dilemma the decision had to be taken which would be the preacher. Spurgeon asked God for help and in that gathering in a thatched cottage he spoke for the first time on I Peter 2:2, ‘Unto you therefore which believe, he is precious.’
When he had completed the sermon and was picking up the hymn-book to announced the closing hymn a woman’s voice from the congregation broke the silence: “Bless you, dear heart, how old are you?” Spurgeon looked gravely in her direction, “You must wait until the service is over before making any such enquiries. Let us now sing.” But the woman was not easily silenced and after the service she repeated the question. Spurgeon replied, “I am under sixty.” The woman responded, “Yes, and under sixteen.” “Never mind,” said Spurgeon, “think of the Lord Jesus and his preciousness.” In eighteen months he had become the pastor at nearby Waterbeach and was preaching to 450 people. He wrote to his aunt, “I am called ‘the boy preacher’ or more commonly ‘the lad.'” However, such expressions were used with great affection for Spurgeon. He was never looked down on.
Why was that? Because he never reacted to comments on his youthfulness by irritation, or aggression. Spurgeon never threw his weight around. About thirty years ago I made some youthful criticisms in a magazine concerning some of the phenomena of the 1904 Welsh Revival. It brought upon me some eyebrow raising from a great London preacher, prefaced with the remarks, “Some young men have been saying…” But that was probably deserved (I mean, he actually read what I had written) and would not be the sort of pressure being brought to bear on Timothy. Paul could think back of the response of Goliath to the teenager who was going to be his youthful executioner, “He despised David and said, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field'” (I Samuel 17:43&44). The Lord Jesus’ enemies even said to him, “You are not yet fifty years of age,” (Jn.8:57). The Lord Christ met disdain because of his youth, and Timothy was meeting that same spirit from different quarters in Ephesus. “I can ignore what you say because … you are younger than me.”
However, many young men have a hang-up about criticism that might hint at their inexperience. All of us made youthful mistakes when we set out as preachers. We were in those days more impetuous and unloving. The congregation was wonderfully tolerant and forgiving. If they had only heard some of our other blunders! But the Lord veiled them from the people. John Stott writes, “Timothy had been called to Christian leadership beyond his years. His responsibility to ‘command and teach’ was in danger of being undermined by his youthfulness, and by the signs that his ministry was being rejected. Paul is not concerned now with error (and how it could be detected and rejected) but with truth (and how it could be commended and so accepted)…How then should young Christians react in this situation, so that their youth is not despised and their ministry is not rejected?” (John Stott, “The Message of I Timothy and Titus,” IVP, 1996, p.119).
If Timothy’s life were to be marked by credible godly living, and so be an unmistakable role model for those who watched him, it would be impossible to despise his youth. So it has always been with young men of integrity. At twenty-two Gladstone was a member of Parliament, and at twenty-four he was Lord of the Treasury. Sir Robert Peel entered Parliament at twenty-one, and was Lord of the Admiralty at twenty-three. Washington was a distinguished colonel at twenty-two. Napoleon commanded the army of Italy at twenty-five.
So the apostle tells Timothy that they sure way to silent his critics was to “set an example for the believers” (v.12). The apostle Peter has the same concern, he tells the elders that they are not to be “lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (I Pet.5:3). Doesn’t the spirit of the minister propagate itself amongst the people? As Robert Trail says, “A lively ministry and lively Christians” (Trail’s “Works” Banner of Truth, Volume 1, p.250). John Stott says, “The great temptation, whenever our leadership is questioned, threatened or resisted, is to assert it all the more strongly and to become autocratic, even tyrannical. But leadership and lordship are two quite different concepts. The Christian leads by example, not by force, and is to be a model who invites a following, not a boss who compels one” (Stott, op cit, p.120). Timothy was pledged to a consecrated life, not merely the pursuit of a profession, Paul goes on to expand the exemplary role of Timothy in five areas.
i] “in speech”: Paul is telling Timothy to be an example in how he speaks. He begins with speech because every Christian sins more readily with his tongue than with any part of his body. But also the tongue has the greatest potential for good of all the members of the body. The apostle has already exhorted Timothy to be restrained and moderate in his personal life (I Tim.3:2), and not quick tempered or quarrelsome (I Tim.3:3).
Let us suggest that here Paul is thinking about Timothy’s manner of speaking in his official pulpit ministry. He is to “command and teach these things” given to him by the apostle. But should he do so with the greatest accuracy yet without the affectionate quality each truth required then men would have cause to look down on Timothy. In other words his speaking must be under the emotional control of the truths he believed. You dare not separate religious truths from religious affections. E.W. Johnson, the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, illustrates that in this way. He asks whether Winston Churchill could have spoken to the English-speaking world as he did during the struggle with the Nazis if he had not spoken of the realities of those times from within the emotional parameters of those realities? Could Demosthenes have delivered his Philippics, warning his Athenians of the threat to their liberties to be seen in the rising power and ambitions of Philip of Macedon, if he had merely delineated facts without conveying the emotional resonances of those facts? Could Abraham Lincoln have spoken at Gettysburg as he did, briefly outlining the meaning of America’s greatest war, as well as honouring the fallen of the nation on that field, if his words had lacked emotional content?
Was it necessary for Churchill to become emotional when he addressed the nation with such effectiveness that his speeches were as military power itself? Was it necessary for Demosthenes to become emotional when he tried to rally the Athenians to the dangers rising from the north in the person of the Macedonian king? Was it necessary for Mr. Lincoln to become emotional at Gettysburg? None of those men had to write in the margin of their manuscripts, “Shout here!” or “Weep here!”
No. It was only necessary for Churchill to know the ugliness of Nazism in order to speak clearly about the peril his country faced with a deep love in his heart for all that England meant to him. It was only necessary to Demosthenes to know what he was talking about when he warned Athens, and be sure the information was true, and then to speak with a devotion for all that Athens meant to him and ancient Greece. It was only necessary for Mr Lincoln to understand the meaning of the great American war, that in his eyes the very existence of the nation was at stake through those years, and to be in love with his country.
So too whenever Timothy ascended the pulpit to speak to the Ephesian congregation, he was facing a gathering of men and women who would live as long as God himself. He was to speak to them about the invisible world of eternity, of a heaven to win and a hell to avoid, of a holy God who in his pity had spared not his only begotten Son from the death of crucifixion that many sinners by faith in him might be saved. Then Timothy was to plead with them to entrust themselves to this Jesus Christ. His speech could not be without feeling. Timothy did not need to become emotional. Timothy needed to know whereof he spoke, and to believe what he was saying about sin and redemption. When a preacher believes from his heart those truths his speech is going to be affected. He will speak with feeling. His message will grip both his own heart and the hearts of his hearers. How can we meet the awful foolishness which goes by the name of Christianity in our time unless we appear before men with our words shaped by the truths of what we believe in all their emotional content? They exist in us as a living experience, a tear of repentance, a glorious enthusiasm, a trembling hope, and an intense reality.
Men will forgive nervousness, a stammering tongue, poor grammar, weak theology even, and some confusion in exegesis if the preacher can only give men a glimpse of the God they trust in and reverence and fear and love. Do they show by their whole manner that they feel themselves to be utterly inadequate – poor in spirit – but the salvation which they themselves have known is immeasurably great and worthy of the whole congregation rising up as a man and making their own? Can the assembly see Jesus Christ more clearly and lovingly through their speech? Then they have succeeded when many a qualified orator will fail. The gospel of the Son of God has overshadowed and even transfigured the preacher by whom it has come to them.
Ten years ago Eric Heffer made one of the great speeches that the Houses of Parliament has heard in recent years. There was a crisis in the Gulf in September 1990 and Eric Heffer was dying of cancer. He had served in the war in the RAF, and so he had a military record and he also had much trade union experience. Parliament was recalled for a two day debate, and Eric Heffer took pain killers and dragged himself along to speak. He began his speech by saying that in situations like this one should always leave room for negotiation. Somebody on his side interrupted him, and Eric cried, “Please don’t interrupt me, this may be the last speech I make in the House of Commons.” The House listened with extraordinary intentness, and when he sat down he put his head on his knees. He could hardly move for exhaustion. He was dying, and his voice had been very very weak. In terms of a performance it was perhaps very poor, but this was an old dying man, known for his personal integrity, who was making his last stand. He was so tired and ill that he wasn’t thinking about how he would say what was on his mind, but its power was immense. He never made another speech. His words on that day reflected what he believed. Heffer did not have to become emotional. He simply had to speak from his heart, believing to the end all his convictions, and set them before the House. Often it is not in strength but in weakness that power-filled words are spoken. Anguish, engagement, sweat and blood punctuate the stated truths to which men will listen.
ii] “in life”: “you talk the talk, Timothy. Now make sure you walk the walk. If you mean what you speak you will surely do what you speak.” The apostle is pleading for a consistency of word and life. The first inquiry that we always make of ministers is whether they know the Lord. There have been too many unconverted preachers in pulpits for us to take that question for granted. But then much more is required. It is not enough that the Holy Spirit has brought a man to life. Is there the fruit of the Spirit in that life? A man cannot preach alone. He must also live. And the life that he lives either emasculates his preaching or it gives it flesh and blood. The life of a servant of God is the soil out of which his teaching will emerge. It has been said, ‘A minister’s life is the life of his ministry.’ Isn’t that a familiar New Testament emphasis? Paul tells the Thessalonians, “You know how we lived among you for your sake” (I Thess. 1:5). There was a direct relation between the gospel coming to them not in word only but with power and the Holy Spirit and much assurance and the kind of men who preached that gospel. Paul further appeals to them, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (I Thess. 2:10). Paul stood as a living embodiment of the message he brought to them so that his whole life endorsed and illustrated what he said. A preacher is in some degree a reproduction of the truth in personal form.
Al Martin refers to a “well-known actress who may be famous for her ‘moral’ escapades. She may live like a common harlot. Yet she can enter the theatre at eight o’clock on a Wednesday night and play the role of Joan of Arc in such a way as to move the entire audience to tears. The way in which she lives may have no direct relationship with the exercising of her professional art.” Mike Tyson, the former world heavyweight champion, is in London these days. He is one of the great boxers of all time, virtually unbeatable for years because of his power and speed, but there is no relationship between his skill in the boxing ring and how he behaves outside it. A homosexual actor filled theatres in London and America by reciting the whole of Mark’s gospel which he had memorised. He even gave a performance in the White House. But there need be no direct relationship between how that man lived and the words of Jesus which he repeated so eloquently.
How different is the preacher. Al Martin says, “If preaching is the communication of truth through a human instrument, then the particular truth thus communicated is either augmented or reduced in its effect by the life through which it comes. The secret of the preaching power of Whitefield, M’Cheyne, and others like them, is not found primarily in the content of their sermons or in the manner of their delivery. Rather it is found in their lives. Their lives were so clothed with power, and they lived in such vital communion with God that the truth became a living principle when it came through such vessels. Their anointed lives became the soil of their anointed ministries. This principle is particularly true in the life of the resident pastor. The more you and I are known by our people, our influence will increase or diminish to the tenor of our lives” (Al Martin, “What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?”, Banner of Truth, p.6).
If you were an Old Testament believer and knew the actual Priest and that Levite who walked past the man who had been beaten up and left half dead on the road – if you actually saw them avert their eyes and keep walking straight ahead leaving the man to groan there alone, then you would never listen to anything that those men said again. Think of a pharmaceutical salesman who is commending a cure for the cold while sneezing and coughing between each sentence. Who would purchase his ‘cure’? But if you were a New Testament believer in Ephesus and saw the apostle Paul willing to work hard and not take money from anyone (2 Thess. 3:7-10), utterly unmotivated by money (I Tim. 3:3), rejecting anything to do with dishonest gain (Tit. 1:7) then you would mightily impressed by that lifestyle and ready to hear more about it.
Nobel Prize-winner, William Golding, has written a novel called “Free Fall” which is the story of the life of an artist, Sammy Mountjoy. When he was in school there were two teachers who initially attracted him. There was the Religious Instruction teacher, Miss Pringle, and the science teacher, Mr Shales. Her world was ‘the burning bush’ and the Bible. His world was a rational universe. Sammy was pulled in two directions until he became the victim of Miss Pringle. She discovered that he had been adopted by the minister she had hoped would marry her. So she took revenge on the boy and put her knife into him at every opportunity. Sammy says to himself, “But how could she crucify a small boy … and then tell the story of the other crucifixion with every evidence in her voice of sorrow for human cruelty and wickedness? I can understand how she hated, but not how she kept on such apparent terms of intimacy with heaven.” How different was Nick the science teacher: “Nick persuaded me to his natural scientific universe by what he was, not by what he said, I hung for an instant between two pictures of the universe; then the ripple passed over the burning bush and I ran towards my friend. In that moment a door closed behind me. I slammed it shut on Moses and Jehovah.” Paul is telling Timothy not to demolish by his living from Monday to Saturday what he has built up with his speech on Sunday.
iii] “in love”: this is the next area of his life in which Timothy is to be an example to those who watched him. The first letter to the Corinthians was written by Paul in the 50’s and this letter to Timothy a decade later. So there is every reason for us to believe that Timothy would have been acquainted with the teaching of the letters to the Corinthian church, especially with its great definition of love in chapter thirteen. Let us do to Timothy what we say we must do to ourselves when we need to go through a time of self-examination. We put our own name in the place of ‘love’ and we ask ourselves if this is truly a description of how we live. For Timothy to live in love means this:
“Timothy is patient. Timothy is kind. Timothy does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Timothy does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Timothy never fails” (I Cor. 13:4-8). That is living in love, and that is how every Christian is to live. That is the standard, but that will also be Timothy’s power. The fruit that the Spirit has created in Timothy’s life is love. Timothy has received the root of love from heaven. God has grafted it into Timothy’s heart. Then love! “Don’t be crushed, Timothy, by these duties. God’s love in you and through you will enable you too to love.” Whatever God commands, his grace will enable you to perform. Timothy will only move the Ephesian congregation by loving like that. Love enables preachers to do loving sorts of things and become loving sorts of pastors. Love is the power which enables people to endure, and believe, and hope. Love is a duty Timothy must perform, yes, but the good news of that love is power, and love enables us to do what love also obligates us to do.
Let me illustrate that by telling you of a remarkable evangelist named Erino Dapozzo who worked in France a generation ago. He had a deformed arm caused by an injury in the war and a long spell in a concentration camp. He tells of an incident that occurred in that camp: “The commandant of the concentration camp in which I was interred called for me one day about noon. They led me into a room where the table was set for one person. I was starving. The camp commandant came strutting in. Then he sat down at the dinner table and had a royal feast served to him. I had to stand to attention all the time and watch him devour one course after another. He was licking his lips … and I was dying of starvation. But the worst was yet to come. When his coffee was being served, he took out a small parcel and placed it beside his cup. Then he turned to me and said, ‘Do you see this parcel? It’s from your wife. She sent it to you from Paris. It’s full of cookies.’ There was very little to eat in France, and my wife must have deprived herself in order to bake those cookies. Then the man picked up the first one and ate it, and then the second, and the third, one after another. I could not contain myself, ‘Please,’ I begged him, ‘give me one, just one, to keep as a souvenir from my wife. I promise you, I won’t eat it!’ But the commandant only laughed and gobbled them all up right to the last one.’
Then a remarkable thing happened. Suddenly Dapozzo understood what the Bible means when it says, ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.’ He said, “I felt there and then real affection for this man. I thought, ‘Poor man. Nobody loves you. You are surrounded by hatred. How privileged am I to be a child of God.’ Dapozzo was filled with compassion for the commandant. He did not allow the man to irritate him, and the commandant must have felt it, for he got up hastily and left the room.
That, though, is not the end of the story. When the war was over Dapozzo searched for the man and eventually found where he lived. He went to call on him. He knocked on his door and the commandant turned pale when he saw Dapozzo standing on this doorstep. ‘You’ve come for revenge?’ he said, ‘Yes,’ replied Dapozzo, ‘I’ve come for revenge. Let’s have a cup of coffee together. I’ve got a cake in the car. It will make a nice snack for the two of us.’ The commandant was suspicious and then, as Dapozzo spoke to him, was very moved by how Dapozzo loved and what he believed. The man who has submitted to Jesus Christ is no longer under the power of hatred. He is under the power of love. That love enables him to deal with his enemies as Dapozzo did, and forgive those who have despitefully used us.
That is what the gospel can do. When it is received into our hearts it becomes a power as well as a duty. It is not easy, because in the process of loving Jesus shows us that we get on other people’s nerves even more than they get on ours, and that it is harder for them to put up with us than for us to put up with them. When the King of love is dealing with his subjects he often puts his finger on wrongs we have done to other people. Then we appreciate more and more the fact that Jesus bore the guilt of how we’ve hurt other people on the cross and given us forgiveness. The Lord Jesus was beginning in Ephesus the greatest revolution the world had ever known. It was a revolution of the love of God operating in the lives of ordinary people in this world.
iv] “in faith”: the best book Spurgeon wrote – what a marvellously pretentious statement – is “An All-Round Ministry.” It is a series of addresses which he gave to his annual conference of ministers, many of them former students who had attended his College. He speaks to them as Paul is speaking here to Timothy, and in the very first address Spurgeon talks about this subject of faith and he says, “Our work especially requires faith. If we fail in faith, we had better not have undertaken it; and unless we obtain faith commensurate with the service, we shall soon grow weary of it. It is proven by all observations that success in the Lord’s service is very generally in proportion to faith. It certainly is not in proportion to ability, nor does it always run parallel with a display of zeal; but it is invariably according to the measure of faith, for this is the law of the Kingdom without exception, ‘According to your faith be it unto you.’ It is essential, then, that we should have faith if we are to be useful, and that we should have great faith if we are to be greatly useful … We, above all men, need the mountain-moving faith, by which, in the old time, men of God ‘subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens'” (C H Spurgeon, “An All Round Ministry,” p. 3, Banner of Truth).
Pastor Wilhelm Busch was thrown into prison by the Nazis and one night was particularly wretched and bleak. There had been an arrival of prisoners who were on transit to a concentration camp. These were people without hope, some might have been criminals but many were Jews and there were other innocent people, young and old. On this particular Saturday night, with their hearts filled with deep despair, they all began screaming and shouting at the top of their voices. You can imagine the scene, an entire building filled with desperate people wailing, banging against the walls, bars and doors of their cells. The guards ran through the building shooting into the ceilings and then opening this cell and that cell, running in and clubbing people into silence. Sitting in his cell Busch said to himself, ‘It must be like this in hell.’ It is impossible to describe the hideous scene, but at that moment of utter despair Busch said to himself, ‘Jesus. Surely he is here.’ That was the voice of faith. He sat on his little bed and he whispered softly, very softly, ‘Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.’ And then slowly and steadily a silence fell over the whole prison – it took two or three minutes for the shrieking that seemed to come from the pit itself to go. You understand? Wilhelm Busch cried out to the Lord. No one but Jesus heard him – but he did, and the demons had to withdraw. Then Busch stood and sang through the bars in his cell door,
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
Oh, receive my soul at last.
All the prisoners in the silence listened to him. No guard came running to club him down, not even when he sang the second verse. By faith he appropriated his great Saviour
There was a Christian soldier fighting for Germany in Russia during the Second World War. This letter to his mother was found on his body: ‘What is happening around us is atrocious. When the Russians fire their rockets we are panic-stricken. And such cold! And all this snow! It is terrible. But I have no fear. If I were to die it would be wonderful. In one leap I would enter into glory. The turmoil would be over – I would see my Lord face to face and be enshrouded in his brightness. No, I would not mind dying here on the battlefield.’ That is exactly what happened. This young man did not fear being killed because he trusted in Jesus.
v] “in purity”: Make it your goal to live a pure life. That is what Paul is telling Timothy. It has to be your constant aim. Job knew that. He had servant women working all over his large estates – more than that lecher Samuel Pepys. Temptations come to all of us but Job had resolved to do something about them. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). When he knew that first stirrings of lust he remembered the covenant he had made and he looked away, or he left the room, or he busied himself with other things. Pity the poor man who is a slave to his lusts, so that all he talks about or laughs about is sexual sin, and how adept he is at turning innocent remarks to the same tired theme. Keep an eye covenant. In other words, keep your eyes from wandering to images and dwelling on passing women. A battering ram may hit a castle wall a thousand times, and none of the blows seems to have any effect, yet finally the wall cracks and falls. For most men their thoughts are readily influenced by images. There is a cumulative development of mental indulgences and tiny compromises. By themselves what they achieve is indiscernible, but all together they prepare a man for a great fall, and we who look on are shattered.
Henry Martyn was an early English missionary to India, and he prayed for the purity of a young woman whose beauty could so easily have attracted him in unhelpful ways. He prayed for her holiness and purity and so he could not at the same time harbour impure thoughts about her. Think what it would mean if you fell into sin, for your wife, your children, your closest friends, your congregation, your whole future life. The promise was rich excitement at no cost to anyone. The reality was the deepest pain.
“If we are married our total and uncompromised allegiance is to be to our wife. She must be the sole fountain from which we drink for the fulfilment and satisfaction of our physical and sexual desires – both in thought and action. We are to love our wife not only as we did in our youth but with a growing love. Our behaviour to those of the opposite sex is to be above reproach, and worthy of respect. Spiritual leadership constantly brings shepherds and teachers into contact with women in a variety of situations. There is a natural pleasure and helpful stimulus through the interaction of the sexes in everyday life – this is part of God’s gift to us. But in a fallen world – and with our fallen natures – there is plenty of scope for temptation and moral failure… Purity of life begins with purity of heart” (“Pastors and Teachers,” Derek Prime, Highland Books, 1989 p.30).
It meant for Timothy that he never became an isolated loner, and relationally independent. There were always fellow officers, a group of men to whom he was accountable. I have my wife’s brother-in-law who has been a faithful and straight friend to me since we first met at a Christian conference for students in Bala in 1959. There is not a week goes by without us talking together. But most of all it is fierce loyalty to your wife that will guard any marriage against failure. In the Lloyd-Jones Exhibition in the National Library of Wales this week there is displayed one of those wonderful letters which the Doctor wrote to Bethan. How he loved her and whenever he spoke of her in public it was in a positive and edifying way. That is the basis of purity.
Speech, life, love, faith and purity: these are the priorities. For those entrusted with God’s work they are absolutely essential. The flock we care for is not ours, but Christ’s. The blood that was shed for them was Christ’s blood.
23 January 2000 GEOFF THOMAS