The Sharp Disagreement of Paul and Barnabas: Who Was Right?

Acts 15:36–41 records a disagreement that arose between Paul and Barnabas. Paul asked Barnabas to join him to check in on the churches that were planted in Acts 13–14 (Acts 15:36). In wanting another to help, Barnabas suggested John Mark (Acts 15:37) who had “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Since John Mark “had withdrawn” and “not gone with them to the work,” “Paul thought best not to take with them one” who had done such a thing (Acts 15:38).1

Barnabas was not convinced by Paul. In fact, in Paul himself, Barnabas showed that he was a man to give someone an opportunity to serve in ministry when others would not (cf. Acts 9:26–29). Barnabas was apparently convinced that Mark had learned his lesson and was worthy to serve again. But, as it was, “a sharp disagreement” parted these two great men (Acts 15:39).

In giving careful attention to what follows in Acts 15:39–41, it seems that neither Paul nor Barnabas were wrong, as disappointing as it was to see them disagree. Notice:

  • Rather than one or the other seeing the churches again, Barnabas took Mark to see the believers in Cyprus (cf. Acts 13:4–12), and Paul took Silas to go beyond to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:39–41). So, no one disagreed so as to abandon the trip. Everyone kept on ministering.
  • Though Paul stubbornly refused to accept John Mark and parted ways with Barnabas, the church nonetheless commended Paul to God’s grace for the trip ahead (Acts 15:40). “Commended” in Acts 15:40 is in the singular, referring to Paul in particular (but obviously having Silas in view). The commendation was not for Barnabas and John Mark.
  • While this commendation was not to Barnabas and John Mark, it does not follow that the church did not approve of their ministry. In the end, Barnabas was doing what he was doing at the initiation of Paul (cf. Acts 15:36).
  • The church in Jerusalem seems to have approved of both Barnabas and Paul as well. John Mark came from there (Acts 12:25), and Silas did as well (Acts 15:22). Being one to explain Jerusalem’s letter to Antioch (Acts 15:32–33), it would have been helpful for Silas to spread this word even further (cf. Acts 16:4).

As time went on, we see Paul speak of both Barnabas (1 Cor 9:6) and John Mark (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11) with approval. If perhaps there is any blame in the situation, perhaps it belongs to John Mark for abandoning the trip in Acts 13.

Whatever the case may be, we see an instance in the early church where two leaders disagreed over a matter of personnel. In God’s grace, the disagreement stopped no one from serving, and, in fact, more men served as a result. Even in disagreement, if both parties are seeking the honor the Lord, good things may still happen in the end.

  1. All biblical quotes are from the 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.

How to Preach So That Disciples Persevere: An Example in Acts 14:21–22

The life and teaching of Christian leaders plays a part in the salvation of those who hear us (1 Tim 4:16). It’s important that we know how to speak God’s Word in such a way so as to move others to persevere. We should work at it. God is obviously the one to do such a work, but He can work all the more through those who work hard at their preaching and teaching. This being said, let’s learn something of how to preach for others to persevere in Acts 14:21–22.

Luke records of Paul and Barnabas, “21 When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22 ESV).

In Acts 14:22, we see the content of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to churches that needed to persevere in the face of persecution. Paul and Barnabas would repeat this ministry again in Acts 15:35 and Paul alone in Acts 18:22–23. It was a ministry of preaching and teaching to people who faced persecution and needed to persevere.

Their preaching in Acts 14:22 is given three descriptions, instructive for us as preachers today who likewise want to see disciples persevere. Our preaching should include…

“Strengthening the souls of the disciples” 

To “strengthen” (epistērizō) is “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief” (Louw-Nida). It overlaps with the related verb “strengthen” in Acts 18:23 (stērizō—same verb minus the prepositional affix; Paul was “strengthening all the disciples”—same place, same activity later on). What is said for stērizō could be said for epistērizō. From other uses of this verb, then, we could say that…

Preachers strengthen the souls of the disciples through teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:11–12; 16:26). While God uses believers to strengthen one another, it is ultimately Him and His Son who strengthen believers through the Spirit (cf. 2 Thess 2:17; 3:3; 1 Pet 5:10).

“Encouraging them to continue in the faith” 

The verb behind “encouraging” (parakaleō) is variously translated in other verses as “urge,” “exhort,” “appeal,” “beg,” “implore,” “plead,” “invite,” “ask,” depending on each context. While we should not pack every possible sense of the verb into each usage, noting this range of translation helps us understand something of what Paul and Barnabas were doing in their preaching. They were passionately persuading their fellow believers “to continue in the faith.” “The faith” involved their belief, yes, but it also involved the content of their faith, the doctrine of Jesus Christ and salvation through Him at the very least. So then, just as it was for Paul and Barnabas, so also it is for us today…

Preachers should preach in such a way so as to exhort, appeal, and urge their fellow believers to continue believing what they have believed and to continue to live according thereto.

“Saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

With this description, we have a particular instance of what Paul and Barnabas were “saying”—“through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” As noted above, the Jews had chased Paul and Barnabas out of these cities before. Harassing the Christians thereafter likely took place as well. They probably saw upon Paul the marks of his stoning. Whether verbal, physical, by one, or by many, “tribulations” would come. Knowing that persecutions will come…

Preachers must warn others of persecution that might come and that persevering even through this will bring them into the kingdom of God.

This may all sound rather mundane and obvious, but it is a matter of whether or not some may enter the kingdom of God. We strengthen and encourage and warn give hope for the sake of those who hear. So, ask yourself: How well do I really work at preaching the gospel with precision and power in order to strengthen the souls of those who hear me? How often do I earnestly appeal to these dear disciples to truly persevere in what they believe and hold to be true? And how often do I warn them of what tribulations may come in this life and encourage them of the kingdom that will come?

Hopefully we are already attempting to preach like the example we see in Acts 14:22. If not, we need to brush up and put some work into what we say from God to others (cf. 1 Tim 5:17). May God help all of us who preach to strengthen, encourage, warn, and give hope to His disciples!

Christian Leaders Must Boldly Preach God’s Word

Two themes every leader should notice in Acts 13:44–14:7 are the Word and preaching boldly.

As for the first theme, the Word is called “the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44, 48, 49), “the word of God” (Acts 13:46), and “the word of grace” (Acts 14:3). It is characterized by its source and author, that being the Lord God. From the context, it is also something that people gather to hear (Acts 13:44), imparts eternal life to those who accept it (Acts 13:46), which is evidenced through rejoicing and glorifying this very Word (Acts 13:48). As God blesses, it can spread throughout a region (Acts 13:49). Being a means to salvation, God’s kindness to those who believe, it is characterized by grace (Acts 14:3).

Being of such importance, a matter of eternal life or death, it is no surprise that this Word must be preached boldly, our second theme, especially in opposition. Acts 13:44–52 and Acts 14:1–7 record two accounts that are similar for their chain of events: the gospel was preached, the Jews opposed the preachers, the gospel was preached boldly, many believed, and organized persecution chased the messengers away. Nonetheless, believers remained behind, and the gospel continued to go forward.

But just what is this boldness when it comes to boldly preaching the gospel? One lexicon describes the act of preaching boldly as to “speak freely, openly, fearlessly” (BDAG). Similarly, when the noun boldness is used, it can mean “courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness” (BDAG). From Acts, preaching boldly and boldness is something that marked the preaching of the gospel by the apostles (Acts 2:29; 4:13; 9:27, 28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; 26:26; 28:31). The whole church prayed for this boldness and spoke accordingly as well (Acts 4:29, 31). Paul requested others to pray that his preaching would be with boldness, “as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19–20). It is an open, fearless, courageous, and confident manner of preaching. It stems from a love for God, a conviction concerning His truth, and an intense desire to see it savingly at work in the hearts of those who hear it.

Christian leadership (i.e., leading a number of Christians in some manner) is inseparable from boldly preaching God’s Word. This being said, from what we have seen above, we could say that our leadership will often be as effective as we boldly preach God’s Word. There should be something evident to our followers that we are convinced of the truth that we preach, that they should be convinced of it themselves, that it is a matter of their eternal life or death, and that God’s saving grace is theirs to have if they only believe His Word. We speak of these things without fear of what may come, and in fact, with courage because we anticipate the grace that God will give through the message that is preached.

May God move us as leaders to boldly preach His Word!

 

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.

Discipling Younger Men: A Personal Testimony

Over the last three weeks, I dished out the meat and potatoes of what made for a workshop that I presented a conference near my church. (Click here if you’d like a PDF of the notes.)

I know I said it was a three-part series, but I thought it would be helpful to give a fourth part to color between the lines of what was given. What follows below is a recap of each of the ten principles that were given over the last couple of weeks, illustrated by a Paul/Timothy relationship that the Lord has given to me.

When studying for my presentation, I wrote this this section of notes last because I did not want to view my study of Scripture through the eyes of my own experience. After completing my study of Paul and Timothy and coming to my conclusions, I thought I’d look at my own life to see if these principles were true in my own life. I can say they were, and I hope the Lord uses me to repeat for others what I experienced as a Timothy with my own Paul.

  1. Be the kind of man that younger men would want to follow.

As a teenager, I remember listening to a pastor preach with passion at a camp where I was working as operational staff. He said what he meant, and meant what he said. I was always happy to follow that kind of preaching. I was actually away from the Lord at the time, but little did I know how the Lord would use his preaching in relation to future decisions I would have to make.

  1. Minister to the whole family.

Though we lived in another state, my father knew who this pastor was, and when given the opportunity as a Bible major in college to intern at his church one summer and then again for a long-term internship during seminary, my father heartily recommended me to go there. All I knew of his church at the time was that their preacher preached well and that they had two big blue and white buses that they sent every summer to the camp that I previously mentioned. When I had to figure out a church for an internship, I called his church thanks to a list of churches in my college’s ministerial office because it was the only church on the list that I knew anything about. My dad knew more, and my heavenly Father was directing it all.

  1. Be faithful over time to increase your opportunities for discipling younger men.

As this pastor was faithful in his ministry over time, the Lord unexpectedly opened the door for me to be under his leadership. His church and ministry had grown, making increased internship opportunities available to guys like me.

  1. Intentionally disciple young men who will respond to your discipleship.

Being a summer intern was one thing for a church to handle, but not everyone gets hired as long-term staff. When the opportunity arose for me to come back again while attending seminary, the pastor and the church kindly took me back, knowing my desire to be there and learn from him and the other pastors.

  1. Involve younger men in your ministry.

While I did not have the maturity to handle counseling and church issues myself, my pastor regularly took time to answer my many questions about some of the things he was facing and how he resolved situations. He involved me as much as my maturity allowed, which helps me as a pastor to this day.

  1. Show younger men Christian love.

Most guys are not quick to even say in some Christian way, “I love you,” but it is obvious when Christian affection is present. Time spent, counsel offered, patience with youthful zeal, and rebukes gently or indirectly given—these kindnesses and many others could be listed as to how I knew my pastor loved me in Christ.

  1. Once a younger man is responsible enough, give him tasks of his own.

I was given opportunities to preach, teach, and clean the toilets, among a hundred other things. I eventually became the Christian school’s dean of students and started dealing with parents. The church ordained me to be an assistant pastor. My pastor referred counseling situations to me on occasion. Receiving these tasks encouraged me to do well with what was placed before me.

  1. If necessary, encourage others to let the younger men serve.

I am sure there were more “give the kid a chance” conversations behind the scenes than I know about (and I’m certain that some took place). My pastor’s recommendation was key for me in coming to my present church. Many opportunities to minister would never have been had without his encouragement to others.

  1. Teach younger men the Word of God, encourage them to uphold it, and warn them of what happens should they fail.

We had men my age who had been at our church walk away from our circles at the least and from the faith at the most. In discussing those things with my pastor as they came up, it was the last thing I desired to ever have him even think that I would do one, let alone the other.

  1. Remember, younger men will disciple younger men just as you discipled them.

An assistant at my own church recently moved on, but while he was with us, I simply did with him for four years what my pastor had done with me. There’s typically not a week or two that go by in which my assistant does not text me about something he is doing in ministry or learning in seminary. I’m nobody special, but I invested in him, just like I was taught. It apparently made enough of an impact for him to still want to tell me about the exciting things that the Lord is doing in his life.

Conclusion

Without doubt, countless others invested in me, helping me to be the Christian I am today. I think of my own father, mother, and brothers who regularly admonished me through their example and their words. Pastors, teachers, friends, and others—who could count them all? Whatever may be said of my own life, at least remember what we’ve seen in the relationship between Paul and Timothy. As you are able, learn from them and disciple younger men!

More Principles for Discipling Younger Men

Note: This is part 3 of 3 of a series, “Discipling Younger Men.”

Last week, we looked at five principles for discipling younger men. Here are five more to end this brief look at how an older man can disciple younger men.

Teach younger men the Word of God, encourage them to uphold it, and warn them of what happens should they fail.

Paul bookended 1 Timothy with admonitions to Timothy to uphold the word of God, complete with warnings of those who had not done so and had rejected the faith (1 Tim 1:18–20; 6:20–21).

We might expect Paul to tell anyone these things and especially Timothy. But more than that, the references above include the use of Timothy’s name after Paul’s initial greeting (cf. 1 Tim 1:2). Paul made an emphatic personal point by calling Timothy out by name to heed his admonitions.

Don’t assume that conviction comes by osmosis. Sometimes a powerful, penetrating, and heartfelt admonition from an older, loving Christian man to a younger, teachable man will make an indelible mark on his soul. It may be that this admonition will be the very means God uses in encouraging the young man to persevere when he finds it difficult to serve.

Show younger men Christian love.

“My true child” (1 Tim 1:2), “my beloved child” (2 Tim 1:2), “I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim 1:4)—these were not mere formalities. Paul loved Timothy deeply and let him know it. Timothy’s tears tell us that he deeply loved Paul as well (2 Tim 1:4).

Discipleship is not a rigid, scheduled thing to be communicated as a master to his pupil. The bond of Christ is a bond of love, and to pass the doctrine and practice of the faith to a younger man should naturally create a deep and lasting relationship. If you don’t communicate your Christian affection for those who are longing for it, they will gladly run to those who do.

Once a younger man is responsible enough, give him tasks of his own.

After being expelled from Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy to minister in his stead (1 Thess 3:2, 6 with Acts 17:14–15; 18:5). Paul sent Timothy to Corinth, knowing that they would be disappointed not to have Paul himself (1 Cor 16:8–11). Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to minister to a situation that involved false teachers and maybe even the discipline of elders (1 Tim 1:3–4; 5:19–20).

Sometimes we want everything to be done our own way, and so we do it ourselves. Not only does this mindset keep opportunities away from eager, young men who want to minister, but it also keeps people from receiving the ministry from these younger men. It may even quench their desire to serve, and when the time comes to hand a ministry over, the young men will have no desire to take the reins or may have left for other fields to labor. There may be some risk involved, but if carefully done, delegating and giving ministry to young men will multiply the work of Christ, giving God all the greater glory.

If necessary, encourage others to let the younger men serve.

Paul gave a firm word to Corinth to accept Timothy in his absence (1 Cor 16:10). His youth and simply not being Paul (who they really wanted to come) may have otherwise provoked his rejection.

While we do not want to be “lawnmower parents” to our spiritual children by removing every obstacle in their way, there are times where it may be helpful to step in and create opportunities for ministry through a word of recommendation. A sure word from an older Christian opens a door to ministry better than the word of the young man himself, which carries the risk of seeming self-serving.

Remember, younger men will disciple younger men just as you discipled them.

Paul selflessly served the church, and Timothy ended up loving people just like Paul did (Phil 2:19–22). He even shared Paul’s resolve, being willing to serve even if it meant going to prison (Heb 13:23; cf. 2 Tim 1:8).

If you do not disciple young men, they will not disciple young men, leaving every man unable to disciple anyone else—the exact opposite of how to obey 2 Tim 2:2. But, if you disciple young men well, Lord willing, they will disciple just the same.

Summary

Everyone needs a Paul, and we ourselves should grow from being a Timothy into being a Paul to others. Hopefully, these ten principles have been helpful, as I know they have been for me. May God bless you as men (and women) with a fruitful ministry of discipleship!

Principles for Discipling Younger Men

Note: This is part 2 of 3 of a series, “Discipling Younger Men.”

Last week, we explored the ages of Timothy and Paul. They were about 30 years apart, being 50 and 20 when they came together for ministry.

With the relationship of Paul and Timothy in mind, let’s walk through their lives as Scripture records them and see the first five of ten principles for discipling younger men.

Be the kind of man that younger men would want to follow.

As mentioned above, Acts 14:7–23 is part of Paul’s first missionary trip (Acts 13:1–14:28), which took place approximately AD 47–49. Timothy was in his mid to late teens when Paul first came to Lystra, and even before that, Timothy had been raised on the Scriptures.

When Paul came to Lystra the first time, he was stoned and left for dead. He got up and returned to the city and kept on preaching to a handful of cities until he returned to Antioch to report on his ministry (Acts 14:7–28; cf. 13:1–3).

Timothy likely knew who Paul was from Paul’s first time to Lystra. Whether directly or indirectly, he gave him and his family the gospel and almost died for doing so. Imagine the impact that Paul’s testimony would have had upon Timothy. We should strive to be as steadfast as Paul in our own faith so that younger men would want to follow us.

Minister to the whole family.

Paul knew Timothy’s grandmother and mother by name, their faith, and how they had trained up Timothy (2 Tim 1:5; 3:15). Already holding fast to the OT, it is no surprise to see that they gladly believed in its fulfillment in Jesus when Paul came to preach the gospel.

Paul’s ministry to the whole family made it an easy “yes” to answer when he would ask for Timothy to accompany him later. He needed no references, and he was not interested in only those who could help him. As he ministered to all, the opportunity to disciple Timothy came his way. Seek to minister to the whole family, and the Lord just might give you unique opportunities to disciple younger men.

Be faithful over time to increase your opportunities for discipling younger men.

Previously in his teens in Acts 14:7–23, we now find Timothy about 20 years old in Acts 16:1–2 at the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:40–18:22; AD 50–52). Timothy had acquired a commendable testimony among the Christians in multiple locations. Lystra and Iconium were about 18 miles apart.

Paul returned to Lystra in Acts 16:1–2 to strengthen the church that he had planted (cf. Acts 15:41). His faithfulness over time yielded an opportunity to see that some of the disciples had matured, and for Timothy in particular, to the point of being responsible enough to join his missionary endeavors.

As God blesses your ministry in maturing the church, it may snowball into something greater than you anticipated. As families grow together, your ministry to them will have an impact in the home, potentially providing a number of younger men to disciple in time.

Intentionally disciple young men who will respond to your discipleship.

Paul wanted a third missionary to join him and Barnabas for his second missionary journey, which created a sharp disagreement over taking John Mark who had deserted them earlier (Acts 13:5, 13; cf. 12:12). Barnabas thus took John Mark to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas to visit the churches from his first missionary journey (Acts 15:37–41). While John Mark had lost some points with Paul, he would return to faithfulness and recover his testimony over time (2 Tim 4:11). Not every disappointment is a permanent disappointment. For the time being, however, Paul wanted a coworker that he could trust.

The well-recommended Timothy would be that coworker in Acts 16:1–5. It was probably at this time that Paul and others laid their hands on Timothy in ordaining him for gospel ministry (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Paul’s references to Timothy as his son and child in the faith imply a father/son relationship and Timothy’s obvious desire to follow Paul (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:22).

Sometimes you get a John Mark, and sometimes you get a Timothy. It’s hard to know exactly how a young man will develop in time, but we should disciple when the desire is there.

Involve younger men in your ministry.

Paul did not merely tell Timothy what to do and what he needed to know. He actively involved him in ministry as they visited and strengthened the churches (Acts 16:3–5). This meant opportunities to preach and speak (e.g., 2 Cor 1:19).

Not every young man is gifted to speak, but every young man is gifted to serve in some way (1 Pet 4:10–11). Whether the ministry to others is a formal program in the church or not, be creative in involving younger men in your ministries.

Paul and Timothy: A Prime Example for Discipleship 

Note: This is part 1 of 3 of a series, “Discipling Younger Men.”

This purpose of this post and the text two and is to encourage Christian men to reach out and disciple younger men. As to what we mean by “discipling younger men,” I hope to encourage us in ministering to young men in the church who are noticeably younger in age (i.e., probably younger than 18 years old) and have not yet reached the point where they can confidently make disciples on their own. But we won’t stop there—I hope to encourage us to disciple these young men further as they grow into being Christian men who in turn disciple others just the same.

While many are familiar with the Pastoral Epistles and have some idea of the relationship between Timothy and Paul, I never tire of looking at how the older Paul discipled the younger Timothy. Their discipleship relationship makes for a prime example for our study.

After getting a rough idea of the ages of Paul and Timothy, we will attempt to do a chronological walk through their relationship, looking more through the eyes of Timothy than Paul, and gather principles for discipling younger men along the way.1 

The Ages of Paul and Timothy

Paul called himself “an old man” (presbytēs)2 in the sixth verse of Philemon, a letter written in AD 60, indicating that he was 60 years old or older at the time.3 About 30 years earlier, he was probably 30 years old when Luke described him as “a young man” (neanias), a term that could range from 20 to 40 years old.4 He was converted at this time (Acts 9:1–19a) and then spent roughly two decades in missionary ministry before Timothy joined him in Acts 16:1–5.

When we first see Timothy in Acts 16:1–5, Paul is traveling through Lystra during his second missionary journey in AD 50–52 (Acts 15:40–18:22). Paul is about 50 years old, and Timothy’s age is not described. We do find, however, in 1 Timothy, written about AD 65, that Paul told Timothy to let no man despise his “youth” (1 Tim 4:12; neotēs), a word indicating Timothy was probably maybe 30 to 35 years old.5 Timothy would therefore have been about 20 years old when he joined Paul in Acts 16 and was born around AD 30.

Digging further, there seems to be enough from Scripture to say that Timothy at least knew who Paul was by the time they met in Acts 16. Paul had previously made disciples in Lystra towards the end of his first missionary journey in AD 47–49 (Acts 14:7–23; cf. 13:1–14:28), which probably included Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice —they had been teaching Timothy the Scriptures since childhood and most likely believed the gospel when the apostle Paul came through their city, preaching that Jesus was the Son of God (cf. 2 Tim 1:5; 3:15).6 While there may not have been much of a personal relationship between the two (if any at all), it is quite possible that Timothy was in his mid to late teens when he first heard about Paul. After all, the apostle’s reputation would have included being stoned and left for dead after preaching in Timothy’s city (Acts 14:19–20).

Having explored the ages of Paul and Timothy, as best we can tell, Paul was about 30 years older than Timothy. Paul was somewhere in his late 40s when he first came to Lystra, and Timothy was in his mid to late teens. When Paul recruited Timothy in Acts 16, Paul was about 50, and Timothy was about 20. As we will see, this age difference made for a natural father/son discipleship relationship that would last until Paul went to glory. Perhaps this relationship meant all the more to Timothy since his own father was not a believer (cf. Acts 16:1).

Come back next week, and we’ll see the first of ten principles for discipleship in observing the relationship between Paul and Timothy in Scripture.

  1. The dating scheme that follows is approximate and not precise and comes from my accumulated study of the life of Paul and various books of the Bible. Exact precision is not necessary for our study, though we do at least want to have a good idea of the ages of Timothy and Paul at the outset (see below). Perhaps the resources I have leaned on most are the following: William W. Combs, “Life & Ministry of Paul: Class Notes” (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007); D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005); and Robert E. Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986 and 2017). []
  2. All Scripture quotations are from the ESV. []
  3. Picirilli, Paul the Apostle (2017), 18–19. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC 46; Dallas, TX: Word, 2000), 258–59, explores the meaning of neotēs in biblical and extrabiblical literature, showing it can be used to describe either young children or even someone into their thirties or forties. He puts Timothy “in his late twenties to mid thirties” when he received 1 Timothy in AD 62. []
  6. Paul said in 2 Tim 3:15 that he had been schooled in the sacred writings since “childhood” (2 Tim 3:15; brephos), a word that has the idea of infancy In every other NT instance always refers to a “baby” or an “infant” (Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16; 18:15; Acts 7:19; 1 Pet 2:2), whether still in or just out of the womb. []