Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 24, 2010

Sermon for the Commemoration of Saint Timothy

THE FORMULA FOR A FAITHFUL PASTOR

  1. The prayers of God’s people
  2. The influence of godly parents
  3. The gift of God’s power

Text: 2 Timothy 1:3-7

Introduction

Our national church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, holds some pretty high standards for training pastors.  We have about two dozen Lutheran high schools supported by groups of our churches around the country, but as a national church body we also operate two preparatory schools that begin ministry-training for young people already at the high school level.  At the college level, the typical pastor track student must take four years of Greek and two years of Hebrew before entering the Seminary so that he can work with the original languages of the Bible – not to mention all of the other education required for a well-rounded pre-seminary student.  At the seminary level, we have three years of intense academic training, plus a full year of field experience before the final year of classes.  People skills are very important, but we don’t want our pastors to just be people-persons.  We want them to be theologians.  We want them to be scholarly and faithful students of the Word of God.  That is one very important part of the formula for producing faithful pastors.

But it is not the only part of the formula.  The occasion we are observing today helps us to think about several other aspects of the formula for faithful pastors.  Church calendars designate today, January 24, as a day to remember Saint Timothy, the young coworker of the Apostle Paul who personally received two of the letters that Paul wrote and that are included in the New Testament today.  As we think about the way Paul mentored and encouraged his young associate, Timothy, to be a faithful pastor, we naturally think about the formula for producing faithful pastors for the church today.  As we concentrate on words Paul wrote to Timothy in the last book he authored before his death, we will see three very specific and useful ingredients in the formula for a faithful pastor.  Those ingredients are the prayers of God’s people, the influence of godly parents, and the gift of God’s power.

I.

I just mentioned that this letter, 2 Timothy, is the last epistle, or New Testament letter, that Paul wrote before his martyrdom.  When he wrote this letter, he was in prison in Rome for the second time, and it was fairly clear to him that he wasn’t going to make it out alive this time.  That left him with time to think and time to pray.  Paul said, “I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” 

Paul had quite a bit on his mind.  He thought about his abrupt conversion from Judaism to Christianity.  A consequence of that conversion was that he worshipped the same God that his forefathers worshipped; the only difference was that his forefathers waited for the promised Messiah to arrive, while Paul knew that the promised Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul also thought about the last time he saw Timothy, which had been a heartbreaking farewell that welled up tears in Timothy’s eyes.  And with that sight in his mind, he constantly prayed to the Lord on behalf of his coworker Timothy and the ministry that he was carrying out.  That’s one useful ingredient in the formula for a faithful pastor: the prayers of God’s people.

Sadly, prayer is often neglected and forgotten—not only for others, but even for ourselves.  Our schedule is booked, we think we have higher priorities, and the time crunch eliminates our time for prayer.  God has opened a wonderful avenue of communication for us in prayer; he opened up that avenue when he opened up the gates of heaven through his Son’s death and resurrection.  But we still neglect this opportunity to come to him in prayer.  God ought to neglect us—not just temporarily in this life, but permanently in hell!  But in his grace, he sent his Son Jesus to carry our sin to the cross, to offer his holiness for us, and to defeat sin’s grasp on us by his resurrection victory over death.

What grace from God!  He has fully forgiven all our sins in Jesus Christ!  He has delivered that forgiveness into your heart through faith in Christ!  And now he gives us the privilege to speak to him in prayer.  What an opportunity we have as God’s people, to come to him on behalf of the ministers of the gospel.  Think about the challenges in the ministry today—the way society dismisses God’s standards, the way scholars abuse scholarship and suggest that God’s Word is unreliable and untrustworthy, the way our own sinful flesh resists God’s condemning law and even his free grace.  With those challenges before us, isn’t prayer such a thoughtful and helpful ingredient for forming faithful pastors and servants in God’s church?

II.

Timothy was the son of parents with different religious backgrounds.  His mother was a Jew.  His father was a Greek.  With competing religious perspectives in the home, perhaps Timothy would not have seemed like a strong candidate for the pastoral ministry.  But Paul didn’t think so.  Paul was the one who selected Timothy to join him on his missionary travels in our First Lesson for today.  And in this reading for our sermon, Paul recalls how Timothy’s mother and grandmother provided strong, godly influence for his faith from childhood on.  “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”  Paul knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Timothy was a faithful and sincere pastor, and Paul knew that the influence of godly parents—in this case, his mother and grandmother—had a lot to do with Timothy’s faith.  That’s another useful ingredient in the formula for a faithful pastor: the influence of godly parents.

Sadly, families and friends don’t always think of their potential role to encourage young people for the ministry.  After all, if our children and youth have high potential, we can think of many other occupations that will create less stress and more income than a Lutheran preacher or classroom teacher.  God has gifted many of our young people with the skills and abilities for the ministry.  There is certainly no harm encouraging and pursuing other careers, but does encouraging people for the ministry seems like a waste of time sometimes?  Have we forgotten just how important the ministry is?  Have we forgotten just how real hell is, and that souls are heading for hell unless the gospel is preached to them?  For all our failures to offer encouragement for the ministry or for those studying for the ministry, God ought to forget about us—not just temporarily in this life, but permanently in hell!  But in his grace, he sent his Son Jesus to carry our sin to the cross, to offer his holiness for us, and to defeat sin’s grasp on us by his resurrection victory over death.

What grace from God!  He has fully forgiven all our sins in Jesus Christ!  He has delivered that forgiveness into your heart through faith in Christ!  And now he gives us the privilege to encourage others in our families and within our church to be his ministers.  Don’t let opportunities to encourage young men to be pastors pass by just because it seems like someone might be an unlikely candidate.  You wouldn’t think that the son of a blue-collar bricklayer and beautician and the grandson of a bartender would make a likely candidate for the ministry—but that’s the background of the pastor who stands before you today!  There’s a lesson to be learned:  What an opportunity we have to encourage and support future ministers of the gospel!  Think about the ungodly influences in the world today—the lust for pleasure and greed for wealth that can drive people to be concerned only with themselves.  With those influences around us, isn’t encouraging young people for the ministry a thoughtful and helpful ingredient for forming faithful pastors and servants in God’s church?

III.

If you have ever witnessed a pastor’s ordination or installation service, you have seen a ceremony called the laying on of hands.  The other pastors present each speak a word of encouragement and blessing to the new pastor as they place their hand on his head.  This ceremony has been around the church for a while—in fact, Timothy experienced something like it when he entered the pastoral ministry.  Our reading says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

The “fire of faith” was already in Timothy’s heart from childhood.  But Paul didn’t want Timothy to let the fire of faith die out.  It is not as if Timothy was in danger of that.  But Timothy did have a reputation for being on the shy and quiet side.  There are times when pastors need to be silent and listen to their people, but there are also times when pastors need to speak up boldly and proclaim the Word of God fearlessly.  That’s why Paul encourages Timothy to look at the gifts that God had given him.  He had the gift of faith placed in his heart by the Holy Spirit.  He had the gift of serving in the ministry given to him and publicly verified when Paul laid his hands on Timothy at his ordination.  He had the mighty Word of God that directed him to speak God’s commands and comfort, that encouraged him to love others with the sacrificial love of Christ, and that enabled him to discipline himself to serve God’s people as faithfully as he could.  Those were wonderful gifts for Timothy to use in his ministry.  That’s one more ingredient in the formula for a faithful pastor: the gift of God’s power.

Sadly, God’s power in his Word and given us through faith is often neglected and forgotten.  We see the challenges and hurdles of ministry, and we wonder if an old book, a splash of water, a bite of bread and a sip of wine can do any good.  Perhaps we jump on the bandwagon that looks to some innovative idea or catchy program to carry out the ministry more effectively.  And while there is no harm in innovation and programs, sometimes an obsession with those ideas reveals a lack of trust in God’s powerful gifts.  God has given us tools that deliver Christ’s forgiveness to each and every soul before us, yet we may still ignore his means of grace and look for spiritual power elsewhere.  God ought to ignore us—not just temporarily in this life, but permanently in hell!  But in his grace, he sent his Son Jesus to carry our sin to the cross, to offer his holiness for us, and to defeat sin’s grasp on us by his resurrection victory over death.

What grace from God!  He has fully forgiven all our sins in Jesus Christ!  He has delivered that forgiveness into your heart through faith in Christ!  And now he gives us his powerful gifts to carry out his ministry.  What an opportunity for us, his people, to direct our ministers to the tools God has given his whole church and the tools we need those ministers to use with us.  Think about the sinful forces opposing the ministry today—the temptations to use the ministry as a way to wield power and influence or to line one’s pockets.  With those temptations before us, aren’t God’s means of grace such powerful and helpful ingredients for forming faithful pastors and servants in God’s church?

Conclusion

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary is the seminary of our church denomination.  When I graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary nine years ago, we had one of the smaller graduating classes in some time—a total of 28 graduates.  There was concern at that time that we would face a pastor shortage.  Now, with the nation’s financial crisis affecting our church body’s work, we are in a situation where we have many seminary graduates this year, but few places for them to serve.  That news has gotten around, because in the next school year, the first-year class at our seminary will probably have an enrollment of less than 20.  The word is out that the ministry is tough work and that it might be tough to get work in the ministry.

But the ministry is still important.  We need pastors and missionaries whether it’s a bear market or a bull market.  The gospel needs to be preached whether we’re graduating too many pastoral candidates or not enough of them.  The ministry must continue, and so we need faithful pastors.  And that means faithful pastors need your prayers.  That means future pastors need your Christian influence.  That means pastors and people alike need to be rooted in the power of God found in the Word of God and the Sacraments of Christ.  Those may not be the only ingredients for developing faithful pastors, but they are important ingredients.

Brothers and sisters, look at God’s rich grace and forgiveness for you!  Will you respond in gratitude and contribute to the formula for faithful pastors?  Let your answer be a joyful, “Yes!” and “Amen!”

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