The words of 1 Timothy 5:24-25 both humble and encourage me:
The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
Paul is talking about taking care in appointing elders. It’s important, he says, to be patient, so the quality of their lives becomes apparent. But what he says applies in general to evaluating people in general, such as the widows who need the care of the church.
There are at least three implications for pastoral ministry.
- We are notoriously poor judges of character. Think your first impressions of people are correct? Think again. Our snap judgments are not all that great. Take your time.
- All sinful character patterns will ultimately be revealed. You can hide in the short term, but there’s no such thing as a permanent cover-up. Think you can keep that sin secret? Think again. It will be known sooner or later.
- All good works will ultimately be revealed. This should be encouraging to pastors who have been unfairly attacked and mistreated. Calvin himself writes:
There is another kind of base conduct that sorely distresses good and holy pastors. When they have most conscientiously discharged their duty, they are provoked by many unfair statements, are loaded with much ill — will, and perceive that those actions which deserved praise are turned into blame. Paul meets this case also, by informing Timothy, that there are some good works which are reserved for being brought to light at a future period; and consequently that, if their praise is, as it were, buried under ground by the ingratitude of men, that also ought to be patiently endured, till the time of revelation have arrived.
This passage both humbles and encourages me. It humbles me in two ways: it reminds me of my limited perspective, and it reminds me that all my secret sins will be revealed. I can never get to cocky, because all those sins that are currently hidden will one day be revealed.
But this passage also encourages me. Pastors are often unfairly attacked, but attacks are not necessarily an indication that you’ve done something wrong. God will set things right in the end. The only evaluation that counts is coming, and everything will be set right. I love Calvin’s image: your praise may be buried underground, but God will dig it up.
It’s hard to think of a more humbling and encouraging passage for pastors. Be warned: your sins will be revealed. Be encouraged: your praise will be unearthed and all unjust attacks silenced. Talk about a passage the reminds me of my need of Christ!