How to Recognize and Rebuke a False Teacher (Titus 1:10–16)

A church appoints qualified pastors because, if not, false teachers will gladly take their place. Pastors should be godly and gifted to teach (Titus 1:6–9). Many men are the opposite, and Titus 1:10–16 shows us how to recognize and rebuke them.

Realize that there are many false teachers (Titus 1:10).

“For there are many,” Paul warned, and he characterized them in three ways: (1) “insubordinate,” refusing to obey God and His word; (2) “empty talkers,” saying things that lack any Christian substance; and (3) “deceivers,” telling what is not true. These characterizations rang “especially” true “of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10), those who required adherence to the Mosaic Law for salvation and sanctification (cf. Acts 15:5).

They must be silenced (Titus 1:11).

“They must be silenced,” Paul demanded. “Silenced” literally means “to put something on the mouth.” The reason is clear—these men were “upsetting whole families” with false doctrine, much like Hymenaeus and Philetus who were “upsetting the faith of some” concerning the resurrection (2 Timothy 2:18). In Titus’s situation, they were “teaching…what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11), “Jewish myths and the commands of people” (Titus 1:14). These “myths” were likely esoteric stories about people found in the genealogies of the Old Testament (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4), and “the commands of people” may have been denials of good things that God meant for people to enjoy (cf. Colossians 2:16, 21–22; 2 Timothy 4:3–4). These false teachers were motivated by “shameful gain” (Titus 1:11), something that would have immediately disqualified themselves from becoming pastors (cf. 1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2).

Even their own people know how bad they are (Titus 1:12–13a).

“A prophet of their own” from Crete (likely Epimenedes) said that his fellow “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). Interestingly, Crete was not known for its wild beasts, so Paul basically said that they had been replaced by the false teachers—lying, evil men who were given to their passions.1 Paul agreed with the so-called “prophet”: “This testimony is true” (Titus 1:13).

So, rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13b–14).

Given this negative influence, Paul commanded, “Rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). Pastors were to rebuke (cf. Titus 1:9), and to rebuke “sharply” meant to not spare anything when using the Sword of the Spirit to tear apart their character and heresy (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:1–2, 10). The hope was that these men would no longer “turn away from the truth” but instead become “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13, 14; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24–26).

Whatever they might say, they are evil inside and out (Titus 1:15–16).

Paul gave one more description of false teachers by contrasting them with believers. All things that believers do are pure because they are “pure” within (Titus 1:15). To those inwardly “defiled and unbelieving,” however, “nothing” they do “is pure” because “their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15). So, even though these false teachers claim “to know God,” they show otherwise “by their works” (Titus 1:16; cf. 2 Timothy 3:5). At the end of the day they are “detestable” in their character, “disobedient” to God, and therefore “unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16).

No true church wants a false teacher to worm his way into people’s homes and lead them astray, taking their money in the process. Should we ever detect such a one in our churches, may we rebuke him sharply, realizing his works deny his profession of faith. May God help us to appoint pastors according to Titus 1:6–9 so that our churches are not misled by men described in Titus 1:10–16.

  1. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary 46; Dallas: Word, 2000), 398. []

The Kind of Behavior by Children That Disqualifies Their Father for Pastoral Ministry

A pastor’s children are to be kept “submissive” according to 1 Timothy 3:4. They should obey their father and follow his instruction in the home. Titus 1:6 requires the same of the children, and depending on whether one translates pistos as a noun or an adjective, they must be “believers” or “faithful.” Either way, they must follow the teaching of their father.

Titus 1:6 goes further, however, to describe what must not be characteristic of the behavior of these children. They must not be “open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (ESV). This is the kind of behavior by a father’s children that disqualifies him for formal pastoral ministry. What follows below is an attempt to explain exactly what kind of behavior this is.

First, for whatever “debauchery or insubordination” may be, the children are to not be “open to the charge” that they do such things. Literally put, they are “not with accusation” by another in these matters. This behavior is uncharacteristic of their lives, which seems to imply that their friends and close associations are free of the same, leaving them altogether in the clear.

Second, the term debauchery comes from asōtia, a combination of a- (“without”) and sōzō (“to save”). The etymology itself gives the idea that this behavior is reflective of a child without salvation. Debauchery is equated with being “drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18), and Peter’s “flood of debauchery” describing unbelievers includes “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3–4). A related word describes the prodigal son in Luke 15: “He squandered his property in reckless (asōtōs) living,” which included having ravenously “devoured” his father’s “property with prostitutes” (Luke 15:13, 30). Of both asōtia and asōtōs, “The original meaning is… ‘incurable’” and thus “denotes… ‘one who by his manner of life… destroys himself’.”1

Third, a pastor’s child cannot be guilty of insubordination. The etymology of this word likewise indicates something lacking in the child, combining a- (“without”) with hupotassō (“to be subject, subordinate”). Whereas 1 Timothy 3:4 requires the child to be “submissive,” Titus 1:6 requires the child not to be the opposite, a child guilty of “insubordination.” The idea is a willful and rebellious refusal by the child to be subject to the rule of the father in the home. This word describes false teachers in Titus 1:10 and is translated “disobedient” in 1 Timothy 1:9, one item in a list of descriptions that are contrasted with someone who is “just” or “righteous” (dikaios). The insubordinate, disobedient child is unjust, unrighteous, and a defiant unbeliever.

If debauchery and insubordination are characteristic of a man’s children, he cannot be a pastor. If he cannot manage his house so that his children are free from this behavior, then neither is he able to care for the household of God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:4–5).

May we as pastors and Christian leaders lead our homes well in order to better care for the church today. And may God be gracious to our children to truly believe the gospel and grow in Christ.

  1. Werner Foerster, TDNT, 1:506. []

The Children in a Pastor’s Home: Must They Be Saved?

Two verses describe the children in a pastor’s home, and it is debated whether or not the descriptions in these verses require that a pastor’s children must be saved. This post is a quick look at both sides of the matter and attempt to give my personal answer to the matter.

First, Paul positively states in 1 Timothy 3:4 that a pastor “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (ESV). “With all dignity” could describe how the father managed his household, how the children submitted to their father, or perhaps both.1 If describing the children, this phrase would be similar in construction to Titus 1:6 in which Paul adds a phrase of description to explain how a pastor’s children are “believers” or “faithful” (pistos; see below).2 However, if deacons are described with the similar word “dignified” (semnos) in 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul’s use of Paul uses “dignity” (semnotēs) in 1 Timothy 3:4 could likewise describe how the pastor manages his household in 1 Timothy 3:4–5.3 This being the case, only “submissive” (ὑποταγή) describes the children in 1 Timothy 3:4. This submission is clearly with reference to the children’s father, meaning they obey him in the home. Because this submission is to a Christian father in the context of whether or not this man should be a pastor, the child’s personal faith may be assumed,4 but 1 Timothy 3:4 is not altogether conclusive on the matter.

Titus 1:6, however, is more descriptive: “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination” (ESV). As one can see from the ESV’s translation of the plural use of pistos as a noun this verse (“believers”), many conclude that this verse explicitly requires a pastor’s children to be believers.

A second understanding is that, even if pistos is understood to be an adjective, one effectively reaches the same conclusion. When used with reference to a person, pistos never describes unbelievers but instead describes one who is actively believing. The sense of pistos, then, would be “children who believe.”5

Or, a third option, it could be that “faithful” is analogous to “submissive” in 1 Timothy 3:4 and is described further in Titus 1:6 by how the children abstain from “debauchery or insubordination.” “But since the following phrase is assumed to probably reflect unbelieving conduct, we end up nearly at the same point.”6

Given these three options, a pastor’s children are either understood to be believers or, as best as one can tell, it looks very much as if they are. It seems unlikely that the early church in a patriarchal context would have allowed for anything less. A father with an unruly home was incapable of ruling the house of God.7

Being a pastor’s child does not automate the child’s faith. And, as with Judas, Demas, and others, just because a pastor’s child makes a profession of faith does not mean that it is sincere. But, at least to me, what seems to be clear is that a pastor’s children should be believers or at least seem to be so. If children are born into a pastor’s home, it seems there should be grace and patience by the church to let the pastor “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4) without unduly pressuring the children into a false profession or requiring more of them than Scripture. And if a church detects a problem, they should approach the pastor and father first as the requirement is for him to manage his children and not for the children to make sure their father can remain a pastor. At the least, the children should not be able to be accused of flagrant sin (Titus 1:6). At the most, they are submissive in the home and faithful to their father’s instruction, which one would hope stems from saving faith. May God be gracious that all of our children should believe, whether the children of a pastor or anyone else.

  1. George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 161. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid., 161–62. []
  4. Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 255. []
  5. John F. MacArthur, Jr., Titus (MCNT; Chicago: Moody, 1996), 30. []
  6. J. C. Laansma, “2 Timothy, Titus,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009), 236–37. []
  7. I. Howard Marshall and Philip H. Towner,  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (ICC; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 158; Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 255. []

The Exemplary Character of a Pastor: Positive Character Traits

The pastor is to be an example in all ways to others (1 Pet 5:3; cf. Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:9; 1 Tim 4:12; Titus 2:7). So, when Paul requires a certain character of pastors in 1 Tim 3:2–3 and Titus 1:7–8, if a pastor is to have exemplary character for others, this character is in principle a character required for all Christians. What follows below is an explanation for each of the  positive character traits listed in Titus 1:7–8. I hope to follow up later with an explanation of the other positive traits from Tim 3:2–3 that are not listed here.

In both 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:7, pastors are to be “above reproach.” In 1 Tim 3:2, Paul uses the word ἀνεπίλημπτος as a headword or “overarching characteristic”[1] that is further defined by all the character, family, and ability requirements to follow.[2] ἀνεπίλημπτος is a combination of the alpha privative (ἀ-) and ἐπιλαμβάνω (ἐπιλαμβάνομαι), “to grasp,”[3] giving a clue towards its meaning, “irreproachable.”[4] In all the requirements to follow in 1 Tim 3:2–7, others should not be able to grasp upon an obvious flaw in the man’s character so as to demonstrate that he should not be a pastor.

In both Titus 1:6 and 1:7, Paul uses the word ἀνέγκλητος, a word stems from ἀνεγκλησία (“blamelessness”),[5] which itself is a combination of the alpha privative (ἀ-) and ἐγκαλέω, “accuse.”[6] As ἀνέγκλητος likewise functions as a headword for what follows in Titus 1:6 and 1:7–9,[7] a pastor must be blameless with respect to what is required of him concerning his family and children (Titus 1:6), as well as his character and ability to teach (Titus 1:7–9).

First, a pastor is sober-minded (1 Tim 3:2). Based on the historical use of this word with reference to the absence of wine,[8] “sober-minded” (νηφάλιος) could sit in direct contrast to “not a drunkard” (1 Tim 3:3) and thus mean “being very moderate in the drink of alcoholic beverage.”[9] Or νηφάλιος could generally refer to “being restrained in conduct,” whether in relation to alcohol or anything else.[10] Since Paul already says elsewhere that the pastor is to be “not a drunkard” (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7), the general meaning is preferred,[11] indicating that meaning involves the pastor having “the clarity and self-control necessary for sacred ministry in God’s work.”[12]

Second, he is self-controlled. “Self-controlled” in 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:8 is translated from σώφρων, a compound word stemming from σῴζω (“to save”)[13] and φρήν (“the process of careful consideration”),[14] placing an emphasis on the mind.[15] Thus, the overseer is one who is given to careful consideration and thus makes sound decisions. Similarly, while “disciplined” (ἐγκρατής) from Titus 1:8 overlaps in meaning with σώφρων to some degree, the word family of ἐγκρατής can be used with reference to sexual desire difference (cf. ἐγκρατεύεσθαι in 1 Cor 7:9).[16] Thus, ἐγκρατής may deal more directly with the baser passions.[17] The pastor is to be “disciplined” in this area as well.

Third, he is respectable (1 Tim 3:2). “Respectable” (κόσμιος) involves a person’s “having characteristics or qualities that evoke admiration or delight.”[18] “Respectable” is used in the NT only elsewhere to describe the apparel of women, further described “with modesty and self-control” (1 Tim 2:9). A pastor, then, behaves in such a way as not to bring undue attention to himself but is “moderate” and “well-ordered.”[19]

Fourth, he is hospitable (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8). “Hospitable” is translated from φιλόξενος, a compound word from φίλος (“loving”) and ξένος (“stranger”).[20] The etymology itself gives the idea of loving strangers, and, in the context of the church, pastors are expected to help and house traveling Christians as need may be, something expected of all Christians (cf. Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9; 3 John 5–10).[21]

Fifth, he is gentle (1 Tim 3:3). “Gentle” (ἐπιεικής) immediately follows “violent” and is introduced with the strong adversative “but” (ἀλλά), showing a direct contrast between the two.[22] “Gentle” is likewise contrasted with being “unjust” (1 Pet 2:18) and “quarrelsome” (ἄμαχος; Titus 3:2), the latter of which immediately follows “gentle” in 1 Tim 3:3. A contrast may be intended here as well.[23] “Gentle” is an expression of godly wisdom alongside being “peaceable… open to reason, fully of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Sixth, he is a lover of good (Titus 1:8). “A lover of good” is translated from φιλάγαθος, a compound word combining φίλος (“loving”) and ἀγαθός, “good.” In this case, the etymology of the word matches its meaning. [24] What is “good” should obviously be defined by Scripture (cf. Phil 4:8)[25] and could have reference to both “things and people that are virtuous, inherently good.”[26]

Seventh, he is upright (Titus 1:8). “Upright” (δίκαιος) could be translated “righteous,” but the context indicates the word’s “ethical sense of just behavior” is in view,[27] and “is used here of one who lives in accordance with God’s law.”[28] An “upright” pastor deals fairly with others.[29]

Eighth, he is holy (Titus 1:8). “Holy” (ὅσιος) is used almost seven hundred times in the NT and could also be translated “devout, pious, pleasing to God.”[30] A pastor’s “calling” is “holy” (2 Tim 1:9), and a pastor is an honorable vessel whose use is “set apart as holy” (2 Tim 2:21). Just as Paul place “upright” and “holy” together here in Titus 1:8, they are also joined to describe how believers are to live before God (Luke 1:75), the manner whereby “the new self” was “created after the likeness of God” (Eph 4:24), and Paul’s conduct among the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:10).[31]

 

 

[1]George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 156.

[2]Gerhard Delling, “λαμβάνω, ἀναλαμβάνω, ἀνάλημψις, ἐπιλαμβάνω, ἀνεπίλημπτος, κατα-, μεταλαμβάνω, μετάλημψις, παρα-, προ-, προσλαμβάνω, πρόσλημψις, ὑπολαμβάνω,” TDNT, 4:9.

[3]BDAG, s.v., “ἐπιλαμβάνομαι,” 374.

[4]BDAG, s.v., “ἀνεπίλημπτος,” 77.

[5]BDAG, s.v., “ἀνέγκλητος,” 76.

[6]BDAG, s.v., “ἐγκαλέω,” 273.

[7]William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC 46; Dallas, TX: Word, 2000), 388

[8]Otto Bauernfeind, “νήφω, νηφάλιος, ἐκνήφω,” TDNT, 4:939.

[9]BDAG, s.v., “νηφάλιος,” 672.

[10]Ibid.

[11]George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 159; Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 251.

[12]Bauernfeind, TDNT, 4:941. Deacons are likewise to be “not addicted to much wine” (1 Tim 3:8, μὴ οἴνῳ πολλῷ προσέχοντας) and to be “sober-minded” (1 Tim 3:11; νηφάλιος). With both pastors and deacons, Paul seems to require a general sobriety in addition to addressing the abuse of alcohol.

[13]John F. MacArthur, Jr. Titus (MNTC; Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 41.

[14]BDAG, s.v., “φρήν,” 1065.

[15]BDAG, s.v., “σώφρων,” 987, lists “prudent” and “thoughtful” as alternate translations.

[16]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 391.

[17]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 690. Attempting to find parallels between 1 Tim 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9, Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 292–93, suggests ἐγκρατής is “virtually equivalent to νηφάλιος in 1 Tim. 3:2.”

[18]BDAG, s.v., “κόσμιος,” 561.

[19] L&N, s.v., “κόσμιος,” 1:747. Hermann Sasse, “κοσμέω, κόσμος, κόσμιος, κοσμικός,” TDNT, 3:896, notes that in secular Greek, “The concept always contains the idea of control of the body and its movements and impulses.”

[20]BDAG, s.v., “φίλος,” 1059, and “ξένος” 684.

[21]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 173–74.

[22]Ibid., 176

[23]Ibid.; Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 160.

[24]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 391. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 292, suggests that φιλάγαθος may be analogous to Paul’s use of κόσμιος (“respectable”) in 1 Tim 3:2. If so, a love for good behavior is in view. See the explanation of “respectable” above.

[25]MacArthur, Titus, 40–41.

[26]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 689.

[27]Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 391

[28]Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 292.

[29]Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 689–90; MacArthur, Titus, 41.

[30]BDAG, s.v., “ὅσιος,” 758.

[31] Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, 391.

The Requirements for a Pastor

Is your church looking for a pastor? If it is not doing so right now, it will be in the future. Pastors resign, retire, move, or pass away, leaving churches with the need to find their next pastor. The Bible is not only sufficient to help a church figure out who that next man should be (and hopefully the church is training these kind of men already; cf. 2 Tim 2:2), but it helpfully gives specific instruction on exactly what kind of man the pastor should be.

While many passages help us understand the character and role of a pastor, 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 are especially helpful in listing out what is required of men who are pastors. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 primarily inform the readers as to the character and abilities of a pastor, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 primarily exhorts pastors as to the manner and motives for their ministry. What follows below is a comprehensive list of the twenty-two requirements in those passages. The list below primarily follows the list in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and adds what is left from Titus 1:5–9 and 1 Peter 5:1–4. The list is categorized into four types of requirements—family, character, ability, and circumstances. The list of character requirements is further categorized into positive and negative character traits.

Circumstantial Requirements

  1. A pastor must first desire to be a pastor (1 Tim 3:1), and this desire should be guided by proper motivations (cf. 1 Pet 5:2, 4).
  2. He must not be a recent convert because a newborn Christian appointed to leadership could fall into pride and condemnation (1 Tim 3:6).
  3. He must be well thought of by outsiders, that is, unbelievers (1 Tim 3:7).

Positive Character Requirements (What He Must Be)

  1. He must be above reproach in both his character (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7) and family (Titus 1:6, 9), a description which functions as somewhat of a headword for all of the character traits to follow in both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The pastor is naturally an example for others in all of the items in the list (cf. 1 Pet 5:3).
  2. He is the husband of one wife, which means he is faithful and pure, whether married or not (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).
  3. He is sober-minded (1 Tim 3:2).
  4. He is self-controlled in his thoughts (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8) and disciplined in his bodily appetites as well (Titus 1:8).
  5. He is respectable (1 Tim 3:2).
  6. He is hospitable (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8).
  7. He is gentle (1 Tim 3:3; cf. 1 Pet 5:3, “not domineering”).
  8. He is a lover of good (Titus 1:8).
  9. He is upright (Titus 1:8).
  10. He is holy (Titus 1:8).

Negative Character Requirements (What He Must Not Be)

  1. He is not a drunkard (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is not violent (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7).
  3. He is not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3).
  4. He is not a lover of money (1 Tim 3:3) and not greedy for gain (Titus 1:7; cf. 1 Pet 5:2).
  5. He is not arrogant (Titus 1:7).
  6. He is not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).

Family Requirements

  1. He manages his household well, which, if he has children, is seen in part by having submissive children, meaning at the least that his children are not openly rebellious and engaged in riotous living (1 Tim 3:4–5; Titus 1:6).

Ability Requirements

  1. He is able to manage and care for the church as a whole (1 Tim 3:5) as the overseer of the church (1 Tim 3:1; Titus 1:7).
  2. He is able to teach (1 Tim 3:2), which Titus 1:9 elaborates as the pastor being 1) “taught,” 2) one to “hold firm to the trustworthy word,” 3) “able to give instruction in sound doctrine,” and 4) “able… also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

 

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An Overview of Acts 20:17–38

The text of Acts 20:17–38 has a certain gravity that has endeared its words to the hearts of many. It contains someone’s last face-to-face words to a group of people (Acts 20:25, 38), summarizes what an excellent ministry should be (Acts 20:18–21, 25–27), and shows a resolve to live and die for the gospel (Acts 20:22–24, 33–35).

Moreover, this text is written deeply in the hearts of many pastors. Not only does Paul give us himself as an example for gospel service by reviewing his three-year ministry in Ephesus, but his charge to the Ephesian elders endures for pastors today: 1) pay attention to yourself, 2) pay attention to your flock, 3) watch out for false teachers inside and out of the church, and 4) do all of the above because God purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28–31; cf. 1 Timothy 4:15–16). These imperatives and their reason for obedience are central to the ministry of every pastor.

For a quick walk through this passage, Paul calls the Ephesian elders to him in Miletus, some 25 miles away (Acts 20:17–18a). His address can be broken into three sections, the first two sections each looking to the past and then the future (Acts 20:18a–21 and 20:22–24) and a third section looking back one more time to provide an example for the future service of the elders (Acts 20:33–35).

In the first section of Paul’s address, Paul reviewed his faithful ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:18b–21) and then looked ahead to the conflict awaiting him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22–24). What Christian does not want to echo the words of Paul in Acts 20:24? “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the second section, Paul looked back his ministry again, now informing the elders that he would never return (Acts 20:25–27). In light of this absence, Paul warned them to mind themselves and the flock, entrusting them all to God and His word (Acts 20:28–32). In the third section, Paul reminded the elders of his selfless service, an example for them to follow (Acts 20:33–35). Finally, the passage closes with prayerful and tearful goodbye (Acts 20:36–38).

All Christians can learn from the example of Paul in this passage. We all want to be faithful to God, come what may, and finish our service well. And, when we’re gone, what we’ve left behind is sufficient for others to repeat the disciple-making process. For pastors in particular, this passage is incredibly rich. Paul is a stellar example of living for the gospel, and his charge to the elders is one for us to remember today—watch yourself and the flock, a people God purchased with His blood.

 

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Churches Helping Churches to Keep Pastors in the Word

Acts 18:5 records, “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

It might seem that Luke is merely telling us that Paul was evangelizing the Jews when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth from Macedonia. A closer look at Acts 18, however, shows us how generosity from others can free ministers to further the work of the Lord.

When first in Corinth, Paul financially supported himself by making tents with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2–3). Paul later told the Corinthians that though he had the right to receive compensation for his spiritual labors (1 Cor 9:3–12a), he did not make “use of this right” in order to keep from putting “an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). Paul had them keep their money so they would not suspect him of serving for money alone.

As time went on, however, Paul apparently stopped his secular labors and engaged in spiritual labor alone. Paul went from making tents to being “occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). The Greek word for “occupied” is used elsewhere by Luke to describe how crowds would “surround” someone (Luke 8:45), enemies that would “hem… in” their victims (Luke 19:43), and “holding” someone “in custody” (Luke 22:63). Whereas Paul previously split his time between a secular vocation and spending his Saturdays in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:2–4), we might say that he was now able to be surrounded by, hemmed in, and held in custody by the Word. The ministry of the Word now dominated his attention.

But what did Timothy and Silas do to change Paul’s situation? The answer lies in what Paul told the Corinthians later: “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way” (2 Corinthians 11:8–9). In Macedonia was Philippi, and Paul told the Philippians this: “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only” (Philippians 4:15). Paul was in Philippi before he came to Corinth (cf. Acts 16:11–34).

So, matching Acts 18:5 with 2 Corinthians 11:8–9 and Philippians 4:15, we could conclude that, when Timothy and Silas came from Macedonia, they brought a financial gift from the Philippians that freed Paul from making tents in order to make disciples alone.

From this example, we learn in principle that, whereas a church may not be able to fully financially support a pastor, sometimes God provides that financial support through others. And if those finances are provided, the church can rejoice and use them for his support.

 

All quotes ESV

An Encouraging Passage for a Church Searching for a Pastor

Multiple Scriptures instruct churches as to how to go about finding a pastor. 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 list out requirements for the pastor—a pastor must desire his role, be able to teach and administrate, have an exemplary character, and be confirmed by the church that these things are so.  Acts 6:1–7 gives a play-by-play example for how to “appoint” deacons to the church, instructive for how to “appoint” pastors as well (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5)—leaders lead, and congregations decide in the process.1

In several ways, Acts 11:19–26 is an encouraging passage for churches without a pastor as well. To clarify, as it speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul), I realize these men are unique in the history of the church with respect to their caliber and calling. Paul was the foremost apostle to the Gentiles, and Barnabas was shoulder-to-shoulder with him in this ministry (cf. Acts 13:1–3). At the same time, though their role was something beyond a local church, they more or less functioned as Antioch’s first pastors, and thus their example is instructive and encouraging for churches without a pastor today.

The Role of Acts 11:19–26 Within Acts as a Whole

The church was birthed by the Spirit, grew and spread in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (Acts 1–6; cf. 1:8). Persecution drove its followers out of these areas, and Saul was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 7–9). Peter, the foremost apostle to the Jews (cf. Gal 2:7–8), saw the Spirit poured out on the Gentile Cornelius and his household and told Jerusalem about the matter (Acts 10:1–11:18). When we arrive at Acts 11:19–26, we have been left to anticipate how God would use Paul to take the gospel to the uttermost end of the earth. Acts 11:19–26 begins to tell us how this happens, and the rest of the book of Acts could be broadly summarized as recording how Paul took the gospel to the world (Acts 13–28).

A Summary of Acts 11:19–26 

Though driven from Jerusalem by persecution, Gentiles continued to give the gospel, and  many more Gentiles were saved (Acts 11:19–21). The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to lead the believers in Antioch, and the church flourished under his ministry (Acts 11:22–24). It is here in particular that we have one of our examples of a church without a pastor receiving someone who more or less functioned as a pastor.

As the passage goes on, Barnabas realized that the church could use another good man as well, and perhaps he saw Antioch as a Gentile church that could become the base of operations for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. So, he left to “look for Saul,” “found him,” “brought him to Antioch,” and the two taught in Antioch for a year (Acts 19:25–26). Here again we find an example of a church adding a man who functioned as a pastor.

God’s work through these two and the church was so effective that the surrounding community coined the term “Christians” to apply to the believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They lived like Christ, spoke of Christ, and were marked off as a group of people that were united around Him.

How Acts 11:19–26 Can Encourage a Church Without a Pastor

With this understanding of Acts 11:19–26 in mind, let’s consider the passage with an eye on how it can encourage a church searching for a pastor.

First, be encouraged that the Lord can grow a church without a pastor.

As believers scattered to Antioch, they gave the gospel to Gentiles, “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Because “the hand of the Lord was with them… a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). All of this took place without any mention to the leadership of these believers.

While every church should ideally have a pastor and even multiple pastors as necessary, a healthy group of believers will continue to make disciples and function as they ought in the absence of a pastor.

Second, God can use the greater body of Christ to help a local church find a pastor.

Upon hearing of the Lord’s work in Antioch, “the church in Jerusalem… sent Barnabas to Antioch” (Acts 11:22). When Barnabas saw this marvelous outpouring of “the grace of God, he was glad” and powerfully preached to them, being the “good man” that he was (Acts 11:23–24). As a result, again, “a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). The hand of the Lord can work mightily through a thriving church  that has been blessed with a gifted leader.

Just as Jerusalem was a help to Antioch then, churches can enlist the help of others in seeking out pastors today.

Third, pastors can help find pastors.

In Acts 11:19–26, we have not only one but two examples for finding a pastor for a church. As the church grew, Barnabas saw the need for more leadership. The fact that he had to “look for Saul” in Tarsus implies that he did not know where he was except for general location of the city, and it was a city of 500,000 people. Finally, he “found him” and “brought him” back (Acts 11:25–26).

Churches sometimes struggle to find a pastor, but, as helped by the leadership of its church or other leaders in the body of Christ, the church’s hard work pays off, and the Lord can bless a church with a needed pastor, just as He did for Antioch.

Fourth, a church continues in God’s grace with its new pastor.

Notice that, all along the way, Antioch flourished in the grace of God. Whether without Barnabas, with Barnabas, and then with Barnabas and Saul—the hand of the Lord was upon the life of this church every stage of the way.

That a church continues in God’s grace means that God can bless a church while temporarily without leadership. Adding a pastor obviously helps to organize the church to take the Great Commission even further. Either way, God’s grace is evident before and after a church has found its pastor.

Fifth, a pastor should lead the church towards finding his successor.

This point comes after Acts 11:19–26. As Barnabas and Saul ministered in Antioch, the church eventually added three more men to its leadership—Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (Acts 13:1). Because of their unique calling, Barnabas and Paul passed the baton to these men to carry on the pastoral work of the church while they went to give the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13–14). We can guess that Barnabas and Paul likely played a key role in growing these leaders, and the church was able to continue with an established leadership, even as Barnabas and Paul went away.

Ideally, a pastor today may find it helpful to train a pastor before he leaves, or he may find it helpful to simply lead the church in finding its next pastor and then stepping down when the new pastor comes. Or maybe he can outline the process, step aside, and let the church take it from there. Every church is different, and no two transitions in leadership are quite the same. One way or the other, though, a church should have a plan to find its next pastor, and, as God is gracious, the church will have an idea of who that person is as well.

Conclusion

In all the above, what is evident for Antioch, if nothing else, is this—God sees when a church is without a pastor, can bless it in a pastor’s absence, can bless it by providing a pastor, and will continue to bless it when a pastor arrives. If possible, a church and its pastors should raise up pastors from within the congregation. At the least, pastors should lead the church in finding who will lead the church in the future or leave the church with a plan to do so. If your church is without a pastor, may you be encouraged that God can bless you as He did with Antioch long ago.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

A Passage for a Pastor Called to an Established Church

“Every pastor is an interim pastor.”

I’ve seen that saying a few times, and the typical thought behind it is that every pastor will eventually hand off his ministry to a successor unless the Lord comes again. This saying helps us to keep our ministry in perspective, reminds us that the church is bigger than our individual ministries, and moves us to pray that the Lord will sustain His church since we can only do so much for so long.

Perhaps you, like me, are one of those successors, the next man in the lineup of interim pastors. You are not a church-planting pastor but a committed pastor who God is using to continue the ministry of a church that was established before your coming. How will our ministry endure? How can we minister in such a way so that our church will outlast us? Does the Bible give any specific guidance to us for this kind of ministry?

It does, actually, and below is a quick walk through a helpful passage, 1 Corinthians 3:10–15. When it comes to pastoring an already established church (or, in principle, coming in as a leader to an already existing Christian organization), we will consider 1) what you cannot do, 2) what you must do, and 3) what to expect when your ministry is over.

Let’s read the text first and then follow these three thoughts.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15 ESV)

What You Cannot Do: Lay a New Foundation

Paul begins by speaking of “the grace of God given to” him to serve as an apostle, evangelist, and church planter. This grace enabled him to be “like a skilled master builder” who “laid a foundation” for the church, “which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10–11). In other words, through the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, God used Paul to make disciples and plant a church in Corinth. This foundational message is the bedrock upon which every church is built. Therefore, “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid” (1 Cor 3:11).

This being said, the one thing that you cannot do as a pastor coming into an established church is simple—you cannot preach another salvation, another Christ, or another anything that would effectively replace the foundation upon which your people are built. You will have effectively destroyed what foundation is there, and Paul has strong words for such a one: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor 3:17).

Do not lay a new foundation. Instead, consider our next point…

What You Must Do: Take Care in How You Build 

With the foundation of Jesus Christ already in place for an established church, our command is simple: “Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Cor 3:10 ESV). We build, and we build carefully.

In context, an example of how to build a church upon something else is to build it upon someone else. Not understanding how the ministries of Paul, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) complemented one another, people were dividing themselves as being followers of one or the other (cf. 1 Cor 3:4, 22). They were boasting in men, being motivated by pride, and thinking in terms of how to prosper the church through one personality or another instead of focusing on the gospel and Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:18–23).

Given our proclivity to personal ambitions and the desire to magnify ourselves or others within the church, we must do exactly as Paul commands: “take care” in how we build. Don’t come to a church that preaches Christ and make it all about yourself or something else. Carefully build upon the good foundation of Jesus Christ that has already been laid. Let distinctives be distinctives, let tangents be tangents, and take care to make Jesus Christ central to your work.

One very good reason for carefully building is…

What You Can Expect When Your Ministry Is Over: Your Work Will Be Examined

Paul elaborates on his building illustration to speak of materials that will or will not burn away in the presence of fire. Whether “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,” Paul’s mention of these materials is to show that, whatever the material may be, “each one’s work will be manifest” (1 Cor 3:12–13). Speaking of Christ’s return, he declares that “the Day will disclose it” (1 Cor 3:13). Again, “it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test the sort of work each has done” (1 Cor 3:13). In other words, Christ will come again and judge each work for its value and quality. We receive our due accordingly.

In considering these materials, gold, silver, and precious stones are not consumed by fire, whereas wood, hay, and straw are. Some ministries have lasting value, and others do not. Among the valuable, some have more value than others, and among the worthless, some are more worthless than others. The Lord will be their Judge.

As for the pastors of these ministries, and as for anyone who supports their ministries, the quality of their work is what determines their loss or reward. “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:14–15 ESV).

Whatever your giftedness may be, build upon the foundation in such a way so that it survives the fire of judgment in time to come. Otherwise, while you may make it into the kingdom, it will not be with what your reward may have been. You “will be saved, but only as through fire.”

If Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which your church has been built, then lay no other foundation. Rather, build a ministry made of gold, silver, and precious stones on Him and no one or nothing else. He Himself will come again and examine your work and reward you accordingly.

6 Ways to Preach a Great Sermon: Learning from Paul in Acts 13:16–41

Paul was obviously an excellent preacher, and Acts 13:16–41 records the longest sermon by Paul in Acts. From the many things that we could learn, here’s at least six.

Exhort your listeners.

In Acts 13:15, Paul and Barnabas were invited to give a “word of exhortation.” Hebrews, itself a written sermon, refers to itself as “my word of exhortation” (Heb 13:22), a phrase worded almost the same as the phrase in Acts 13:15. Paul would not only teach the Scriptures, but he would exhort and encourage his listeners to do something about what he said. In this case, it would be to accept the message of salvation that centers in the Savior Jesus Christ. He would also warn them of judgment to come for rejecting his message. In other words, get to the “So what?” and passionately press the meaning of the doctrine upon your listeners. Exhort them.

Call out your listeners.

Paul called upon his listeners at least three times while they were listening—“Men of Israel and you who fear God” (Acts 13:16); “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God” (Acts 13:26); and “brothers” (Acts 13:38). As Luke’s record was shorthand, Paul may have called them to listen all the more. A passionate love for the listeners who hear you will likely naturally move you to verbalize the name of your audience time and again. People’s heads will pop up. Eyes will lock onto yours. It helps them listen and feel your passion. Call them out, and do it appropriately.

Organize your thoughts.

Paul repeatedly shifted his thoughts each time he addressed his listeners in the references just mentioned above. He summarized Israel’s history (Acts 13:17–25), showed the fulfillment of prophecies in Christ (Acts 13:26–37), and called his listeners to find freedom and forgiveness by faith in Jesus Christ (13:38–41). Notice as well—ended with a strong appeal to his audience to act upon the truths that he had given. Work hard, prepare, and organize your thoughts so others can follow, and (at the least) end with application.

Have a big idea.

Paul spoke of a Savior according to promise (Acts 13:23) and summarized Acts 13:17–25 as “the message of this salvation” (Acts 13:26). In emphasizing “to us” from Acts 13:26, he clarified who the “us” was not and how the death and resurrection of Christ could provide for them salvation (Acts 13:26–37). Paul ended as he focused on the specifics of salvation—forgiveness and freedom through Christ (Acts 13:38–41). His sermon was all about salvation through Jesus Christ. Likewise, rather than giving people a handful of scattered ideas, stick to one big idea, and let everything flow from there.

Use Scripture to prove your point.

Paul quoted a number of passages: 1 Samuel 13:14; Psalm 89:20; Deuteronomy 21:22–23; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3; Psalm 16:10; Habakkuk 1:5. He also summarized the Bible from Genesis to 2 Samuel with reference to Jesus Christ. Using Scripture to prove your point from Scripture will strengthen the conviction of your listeners that what you are saying is true.

Get to Jesus Christ.

For Paul, this was incredibly easy. His topic for the hour was none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Other texts, however, may not specifically mention Him. Nonetheless, I find that, even if it’s just a minute or a so in a sermon, every Christian needs and wants to be reminded of the gospel and how the text at hand eventually gets there. If nothing else, you can work from your text to its setting in its book to its setting in its testament and eventually its relation to the story of the gospel in the Bible as a whole. This takes preparation, but it’s worth the effort. Not every text mentions Christ directly, but if we work at it, we can survey the layers of context and eventually find a way to tie our text to Him.

Preaching Better Week by Week…

Learning how to preach a great sermon never ends, and it is up to God as to whether or not the sermons we preach are great or not. I am certainly not an expert on this topic myself, and others could say these things better than I could. Nonetheless, we should learn from the examples given to us in Scripture and imitate what they do as best we can. Hard work will yield progress over time (cf. 1 Tim 4:15-16). So how can we improve our ability to implement these lessons above?

For the first two above—exhorting and calling out your listeners—I find that meditating on the death of Christ and His love for the church has been my greatest help in fueling my own love for those who hear me preach the Word of God. Read the Gospels over and over. See the love of Christ poured out for us on the cross. Love people like He does, and you’ll find yourself preaching to them with a love that naturally makes verbal appeals to them again and again. Maybe you’ll explicitly call them out. Maybe not. However you communicate, they will know that it is to them.

For the next two points—organizing your thoughts and having one big idea—two resources that have been helpful to me are the books listed below. I’d encourage anyone learning to preach to read them again and again.

  • Haddon Robinson. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014.
  • Donald R. Sunukjian. Invitation to Biblical Preaching: Proclaiming Truth with Clarity and Relevance. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007.

For the fifth point—Scripture proves Scripture—I’d suggest a great resource, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a work in public domain that is helpfully available online (https://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/treasury-of-scripture-knowledge/) and available through several Bible software programs. The page from the link above states, “For generations, the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge has been an enduring cross-reference resource for Bible students worldwide. This highly respected and nearly exhaustive compilation of cross-references was developed by R.A. Torrey from references in the Rev. Thomas Scott’s Commentary and the Comprehensive Bible. With nearly 500,000 cross-references it is the most thorough source available.”

For the last point—getting to Christ—Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard Patterson’s Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2011) is an excellent resource for how to interpret the Bible, layer by layer, and to appropriately tie its themes together.

One Last Thought

A blog post makes no one a great preacher, and the resources recommended above just scratch the surface on the matter. For me, after 6 years in a pulpit, a handful of preaching classes before that, coaching from my pastor at my previous church, and listening to countless sermons by great preachers—all of these things have maybe helped me to start realizing how I need to improve my preaching. It takes time and work and humility and the grace of God. May God help us all as we seek to preach His Word and the glorious message of salvation in Jesus Christ.