Big Idea: Pastor: Preach the Word. Congregation: Obey and submit to godly leaders.
Let me begin by saying today how excited I am to be here.
Crestwicke, I want you to know that you have chosen a good man to be your pastor. I have known RJ for a number of years, and I have been impressed by his friendliness, his joy, his love for the Lord, and his faithfulness. I rejoice today that God has brought RJ to you as your pastor, along with his family.
RJ, I am thrilled to see you take up the responsibility of pastoring this church. I am sad that you are leaving Toronto, but I am glad that you will be continue to stay connected to us at Liberty Grace Church. God has brought you to this church, and it is precious to him. He is the Shepherd of this flock; you get to serve under him.
And so I have a brief word for you, and then for the good people of Crestwicke.
Charge to RJ
RJ, here is my charge for you. We just read it.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
So much here to unpack.
First, notice the stakes.
Paul goes out of his way to raise the stakes:
- It’s a charge, not a suggestion or an idea.
- It’s before God and Christ Jesus. Both the Father and Son are very concerned with this charge. God is paying careful attention to how you fulfill this responsibility.
- It involves eternal matters: judgment and the kingdom. We preach in the presence of the Judge and King. John Piper, “The stakes are raised to life and death, and beyond life and death to final judgment — this is why what we are doing here is more important than the installation of a mayor or governor.”
What Paul’s about to say couldn’t be more important. I understand that there’s more to being a pastor than preaching. Many other Scriptures speak to the job that God has called you to do. But never minimize the importance of preaching God’s Word. Notice the stakes.
But then, notice the charge.
Paul’s charge is clear.
- Preach. Don’t just explain, teach, or dialogue. God is calling you to stand up and deliver and apply Scripture to his people so that they know him and honor him with their lives. Preach.
- Preach the Word. Not your ideas. Not life tips. Not even other people’s ideas. Preach the Word. Paul’s just explained the unique origin and value of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Because of its origin and value, it must be what’s preached.
The practice of preaching is often questioned, but according to this charge, it’s essential. What John Stott said is right: “Nothing is more important for the life and health of the church than biblical preaching …. Churches live, grow, and flourish by the Word of God” (John Stott).
So, RJ, I charge you. Realize what’s at stake. This is very important. Fulfill your responsibility here as pastor, which will involve many things. Pastoring is so multifaceted. I could be talking to you about watching your life and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16) or shepherding the flock among you (1 Peter 5), or any number of passages. But it’s also good to remind you that the preaching of God’s Word matters not just to the people here, but is a charge that you receive in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. It really matters.
Finally, notice what it will take.
This kind of ministry will require a few things:
- Preparation. “Be ready…” Be prepared in terms of both your life and the message. Be available and ready at all times.
- Persistence. “…in season and out of season.” Preach when it’s convenient. Preach when it’s not. Preach when it’s easy. Preach when it’s difficult. Don’t let circumstances dictate your commitment to the task.
- Application. “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort…” Don’t preach in the abstract. Preach to the people here and their needs. Understand their issues, and bring Scripture to bear on their lives.
- Patience. “…with complete patience…” Preaching is slow work. Change won’t happen quickly. Stay at it. Drip, drip, drip. Change will come through the faithful, long-term preaching of the Word.
- Doctrine. “…and teaching.” Give them truth about God. Teach them about God and his ways. Give instruction on sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
In just two verses, Paul gives enough track for a preacher to run on for decades. He reminds us of the importance of our task. He tells us what our task is. And he tells us how to do it.
RJ, you are a man I deeply respect. I am excited about your ministry here. You will do many other things than preach, but your preaching of God’s Word here, proclaiming the excellencies of Christ, is going to be central to your work. Faithfully preach God’s Word. be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. And God will do his work through his Word.
My prayer for you is that you will so much joy faithfully preaching the Word here, that the people here would be hungry to hear God’s Word through you, that you will grow more alive to God and his glory, that the theme of your ministry will be Christ, that you will love Joelle even more than you do today, that you will rest secure in who you are in Jesus Christ, and that God will give you much fruit for your labor.
Preach the Word. And remember that, as you are faithful to your calling, that “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).
Charge to Crestwicke
Crestwicke, I want to charge you to do two things that are going to seem strange, even countercultural, as RJ serves as your pastor. Here they are: obey him and submit to him.
I would not say this, except that Scripture does. Hebrews 13:17 says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
This is shocking. Nobody uses words like this: Obey. Submit. We use words like question leadership, but Scripture is clear. We’re called to obey our leaders and submit to them.
It’s important to realize what this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you do whatever RJ says. It doesn’t mean that you become yes-people. We need to pair this passage with 1 Peter 5, which instructs pastors not to domineer over those in their charge, but to be examples to the flock. A good pastor is never on a power trip. A good pastor is a servant.
This is, however, a call to a certain attitude toward your leaders. It’s a call to an obedient heart. Then, as now, it was human nature to resist authority — even good authority — and to question those in leadership. That’s why this passage calls you, Crestwicke, to submit to RJ’s pastoral leadership as he discharges it faithfully.
Notice that the author gives three reasons:
- Because of his responsibility — “for they are keeping watch over your souls.” The term literally means that they keep themselves awake. Good pastors care for their people. It is not just a job. There is a weightiness involved.
- Because of his accountability — Your pastors will have to give account for you. Your pastors and elders have been charged with the responsibility of caring for you as under-shepherds, and they must give account for how they do so. They will answer to God for this.
- Because it’s in your own best interests — The writer points out that it’s in your best interests too. If your pastors keep watch over you well, and you make it easy for them to do so, everyone wins. Sheep who cooperate with shepherds make for happy shepherds, which makes for happy sheep.
Centuries ago, Charles Simeon wrote:
How deeply are your interests involved in these exercises of your minister’s soul! When he sees you disobedient to the word, and regardless of his paternal admonitions, how do his hands hang down, and his spirit sink within him! Truly, it is “with grief,” and “with groanings,” … that he goes to his God from day to day. And the whole of his ministry, in its ardour, in its unction, in its whole character, is lowered, when he has to labour amongst a proud, a worldly, a contentious, a gainsaying people. His mouth is stopped; and, instead of finding an enlargement of mind, and a liberty of utterance towards them, he is constrained rather to speak only in tears of anguish, and, as it were, in the groans of one that is travailing in birth.
On the other hand, in what tender strains did the Apostle address those who had received his word with power, and evinced its influence by a holy and heavenly conversation! He was amongst them “as gentle as a nursing mother; and was so affectionately disposed towards them, that he was willing to impart to them, not the Gospel only, but his own soul also, because they were dear unto him.” … Such then are still the feelings of faithful ministers in this day. They experience either straitness, or enlargement, according as their people evidence a disposition that becomes the Gospel, or a state of mind tending to obstruct its influence. And therefore, if you seek nothing but your own “profit,” you should, by a loving, submissive, and obedient spirit, encourage the efforts of your minister, and impart comfort to his soul.
So do the countercultural thing. Make RJ’s job easy by submitting to him, of cultivating a heart that wants to make his job of caring for you as easy as possible. Pray for him. Encourage him. Honor him. Make it easy for him to care for you not just so that his job is easy, but so that you thrive.
I love how Jared Wilson puts it:
It is my goal now, for as long as God would have me simply as a sheep and not a shepherd, to be as low-maintenance as I can manage for my church. When my pastor sees me coming … I want him not to inwardly sigh or tense up or have to marshal some extra patience or energy but to relax a little, smile, and feel safe.
That’s it. I’ve tried to stay as close to Scripture as possible.
RJ: Preach the Word. It really matters. Do so with preparation, persistence, application, patience, and doctrine.
Crestwicke: As RJ loves you and points you to Christ, imitate him. Submit to him.
My prayer is that as RJ faithfully discharges his responsibilities, and as you, Crestwicke, faithfully imitate and follow him, that you all together will run hard after God together, magnifying Jesus’ mighty name more and more for his glory and for your great joy.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)