Ministry Is Hard Work
Passage: 1 Timothy 4:14-16
When I was in college, we had chapel every day, and let’s just say that we looked forward to some preachers more than others. Some of the guys were just odd or boring, and occasionally some of them would absolutely destroy the text. But there were other guys we really looked forward to. One of the most loved chapel speakers was Dr. Doug McLachlan. He was a powerful teacher of God’s Word, and he had a unique ability to paint beautiful and compelling pictures with his words.
I remember going to a preaching class one day after Dr. McLachlan spoke in chapel, and the professor was reflecting on the sermon we had heard. He made an interesting observation that has always stood with me. He said that most of the time, the difference between a Dr. McLachlan and most preachers is not their ability but when they are satisfied with their work. His point was that the really good preachers aren’t content to just put something on paper. A man like Dr. McLachlan works hard to communicate an idea well, to do his work with excellence.
Of course, there are exceptions. Someone told me last week that Charles Spurgeon would begin his sermon prep on Saturday evenings around 7:00 pm. Yet he was able to preach powerful messages that reached thousands of people and are still published and studied over 100 years later. That kind of capacity is pretty incredible, but it’s not normal. Most of us have to work hard to produce something that is high quality.
In the passage we just read, Paul urges Timothy to do just that, to work hard at the ministry he had received. I mentioned two weeks ago, that there is a high degree of urgency in Paul’s voice as he writes these words. He uses ten imperatives in only six verses, so he is appealing very strongly to Timothy to fulfill his ministry well. In vv. 14–16, which we will study today, he particularly appeals to Timothy’s work ethic.
Obviously, this is a passage that is directed toward pastors, and I’ve been challenged in my ministry many times by what it has to say, but there is much here for all of us, because every Christian is to be in the ministry in one form or another. And God wants you to work hard at the ministry God has given you. I’d like to give three commands in this regard. The first is…
Develop and use your spiritual gifts (v. 14).
I’d like answer three questions regarding this verse. The first is…
What is the gift Paul has in mind?
The Greek word for gift is charisma. It comes from charis, which means grace; therefore, the word implies a gift that comes from the gracious hand of God. It is used often in the NT in reference to spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4–11).
This passage teaches some important truths about spiritual gifts. First, it assumes that every Christian receives a spiritual gift when he is saved. Verse 7 says that each one in the body has been given a manifestation or gift of the Spirit. Verse 13 clarifies that these gifts are given through the baptism of the Spirit at conversion. Therefore, if you are a Christian, God gave you a gift when you got saved.
Second, these gifts are specifically for ministry in the local church. Verse 7 says they are for the “profit of all.” The all is defined in v. 12 as the body, or church. Therefore, if you are saved, God has gifted you for ministry. You are equipped to fulfill a role in the church. Have you thought at all about what that gifting is, and are you using your gift to contribute to the health of the body? Church is not a spectator sport. For Life Point to be as effective as possible it requires that all of us are serving one another as good stewards of the gifts we have received.
Returning to our text, the gift Paul has in mind in v.14 is this giftedness for ministry. Specifically in context, God gave Timothy the combination of gifts necessary to serve as a pastor. We are safe to assume that Timothy had the gifts of teaching, administration, and maybe even a couple others. The second question we need to answer is…
Where do gifts come from?
I mentioned earlier that the Spirit gives them at conversion. However, it may seem that the second half of v. 14 contradicts this when it says “…”
This statement refers to some sort of commissioning or what we often call today ordination to the ministry. It may have happened when Timothy first began travelling with Paul, or Paul may be referring to some sort of commissioning service that began Timothy’s ministry at Ephesus. Apparently a number of elders or pastors were present at this service, and two important actions took place.
First, a prophet revealed under the inspiration of the Spirit that God had in fact gifted Timothy for ministry and maybe even prophesied how God would use him. This was fairly common in the early church before the NT was completed. Of course, we believe that the miraculous gifts faded away once the NT was finished. Second, a group of elders laid hands on Timothy.
We saw earlier that we receive spiritual gifts at conversion; therefore, we shouldn’t think that either the prophecy or the laying on of hands imparted a gift. Rather they confirmed what was already true. The prepositions Paul uses can simply describe something that happens alongside something else.
As well, laying hands on someone is common in Scripture as a symbolic gesture that expresses a belief about what God has already done.
And so Paul’s purpose in the latter part of v. 14 is simply to remind Timothy of the gifting he had received. Timothy was called to a very difficult task, but he was equipped to do it. God had given him everything he needed, and so he should be encouraged. But he should also feel a great stewardship to use his gifting well, which brings me to my third question…
What am I supposed to do with my gift?
Paul commands Timothy not to “neglect the gift” which he had. The idea is that Timothy is to put it to use and to continue developing it. In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul commands Timothy to “stir up the gift of God which is in you.” This makes me think of a can of paint that has been sitting on a shelf for a year. When you open it up, the good stuff has all settled to the bottom because the paint has been sitting. You have to shake it up to make it useful.
Similarly, if we don’t use our spiritual gifts, they become dull, and frankly we become dull. We all probably know the feeling of trying to get back into your normal routine after a long vacation. You go to work that first day back, and you feel like you are in a fog. You aren’t motivated, work seems so hard, and you aren’t very efficient. But the more you get into a routine, the easier work becomes.
The same patterns hold true in ministry. When you are not using your spiritual gifts or active in the church, getting started is an uphill climb. If you haven’t been serving you may not feel like you have anything to give, and you can’t imagine carving out time for ministry. You are like a paint can that has been sitting on the shelf for a long time. You’ve got to shake it up and make yourself uncomfortable so that you can get into a routine of usefulness.
And we need this challenge because the temptation to grow lazy is there for all of us, even for a first-rate servant like Timothy. This book gives every indication that Timothy was working hard at his ministry, but Paul still warned him not to slow down, to make sure he was exercising his gifts.
So how are you doing in using your gifts? Have you turned into that paint can on the shelf? It may be that you can look back and see a time when you were very active in the church. You were involved in a variety of ministries, and they were a joy to your heart. But not anymore. You’ve lost your heart for ministry and maybe even to some extent for the church itself. You have all sorts of excuses. Maybe someone hurt you. Maybe you are frustrated by how some things are being done. And you have pulled away, and now you feel very content being rather disengaged from the ministry. You have more free time, and you feel shielded from pain.
But in mind of Christ, you are the servant in the parable of the talents, who has buried his treasure in a field because you are afraid of the risk in ministry. You have become a lazy servant who is not investing the master’s wealth with his best interest in mind. If that’s where you are today, then I would urge you to stir up the stewardship God has given you. Don’t neglect the responsibility that Christ entrusted to you because spiritual gifts don’t ultimately belong to us. They are a stewardship.
It’s true that using them may be uncomfortable at first. It may require shaking up your schedule or enduring pain. But Christ is worth it. Folks shielding yourself from the temporary pain of ministry or the sacrifices it requires, is not worth costing yourself the joy of hearing your master say, “Well done my good and faithful servant” and of enjoying the rewards that will follow. Develop and use your spiritual gifts. The second major challenge of this passage is…
Work hard at the ministry (v. 15).
This verse begins with two parallel commands followed by a result that will follow obedience. Let’s begin by looking at the two commands.
The “these things” in this verse is primarily the teaching and preaching ministry that Paul mentions in v. 13 as well as the conduct Timothy is to pursue in v. 12. But the charge of this verse applies to all responsibilities related to ministry.
Paul communicates the charge through a combination of two commands. The idea behind the first command is to repeat or practice something over and over. Timothy was to approach his preaching ministry and his conduct with a meticulous attention to detail. Paul then commands
Timothy to “give yourself entirely” to the work. Other translations use something like “be absorbed in the work” or “immerse yourself in the work.” The idea is clear. Paul is commanding Timothy to give himself entirely to the work of the ministry.
Timothy couldn’t be content with just doing the minimum to get by or to look for the easiest route to get from point A to point B. No, he was to pursue excellence and to work hard at the tasks God had given him to do. Pastoring was to be his life, not just a job he did from 9 to 5.
If he did so, the result would be that “his progress would be evident to all.” In other words, the church would be able to see the fruits of his hard work and discipline. In light of v. 12, they would be able to see how God was sanctifying him, how he was growing in godliness because he was disciplining himself to godliness.
This is so important for a spiritual leader. If people see a leader pursuing hard after godliness and making real progress, it will inspire them to do the same. Your kids need to see that in you. They need to see you pursuing hard after godliness. They need to see that God is convicting you of sin and changing you. The same is true of anyone you are trying to disciple. One of the greatest ways you can impact others is to let them see God at work in your life to help you progress.
But as well in context, this progress has to do with ministry skill and giftedness. As Timothy worked hard at the ministry of preaching and teaching and improved in this arena, the church would see that the ministry mattered Timothy. And if they saw that communicating the truth well mattered to Timothy, they would understand that the truth mattered for them also.
There’s an important lesson here for anyone involved in teaching God’s truth. Anytime you are teaching God’s Word, whether it be in a large setting like this, in a SS school class of teens or children, to a new believer across the table, or to your son or daughter in a bedroom, you are communicating the truth of God. You are shaping someone’s view of eternal God. God’s Word is the difference between heaven and hell. It is the difference between wasting your life on the trivial and pursuing God’s eternal glory. It matters!
But what does it communicate about this book if what we have to say is just thrown together, or if it’s obvious that we didn’t work hard to communicate well? Can we really expect people to take the truth seriously when we don’t take communicating it seriously?
Folks, a pastor who doesn’t work hard at preaching and teaching should be kicked to the curb. He should find something else to do with his life. But this is important for all us, not just pastors because all of us have a responsibility to minister to others and communicate truth.
Work hard at the ministry that God has given you. Don’t cut corners; don’t approach it thoughtlessly. Take pains with it, and be absorbed in it. I am so thankful for so many who do that here. Our youth leaders all work very hard to teach our teens even though they are busy. We have a number of children’s workers who also work hard to teach our kids. I’m thankful for the work Pastor Kris puts in. And this extends to so many other areas of service. This hard work matters. It communicates that you believe what you are saying is important and that the church is important. And this impacts lives. Let’s all keep working hard at the ministry God has given us because our effort communicates something about the significance of what we are doing. The third charge in this passage is…
Watch your own soul (v. 16).
Just like v. 15, this verse begins with two parallel commands and follows with a promised result that will come with obedience.
First, Paul urges Timothy to closely watch himself and the doctrine. Paul’s fatherly concern for Timothy is just oozing out of this verse because Paul understood how Satan goes after his servants. “Yourself” is a reference to the entirety of Timothy’s spiritual life—his theology, his affections for God, and his Christian conduct. And Paul knew that Satan is very cunning in how he attacks our particular weak points. He knows how to plant seeds of doubt regarding the truthfulness and goodness of God’s will. He knows how to pull our affections away from God and toward evil.
He is so subtle that sadly Christians oftentimes wake up in the midst of grievous sins wondering how in the world did I get here. The answer is that they did not watch themselves carefully or give others an opportunity to help them do so. And Satan subtly caused them to drift until he had them trapped in consequences that they never saw coming.
Folks, the road is littered with pastors and other Christians who were destroyed by Satan’s subtle tactics. Therefore, God says to us here to watch yourself carefully. Be very careful to make sure there is no subtle drift taking place in your heart that is pulling you away from Christ.
Paul then adds that Timothy must also watch “the doctrine.” Paul’s concern here seems to be with Timothy’s clear and bold proclamation of the truth. With all the doctrinal division that was going on at Ephesus, Paul anticipated that Timothy might be tempted to back down at times from saying hard truths that would divide or to just soften how he presented them. And again, this kind of compromise can be so subtle we don’t recognize it. And so Paul urges his son, to watch his teaching and not be timid. Make sure that you proclaim God’s truth fully and with boldness that reflects its authority.
The second command then reaffirms what Paul just said. Timothy couldn’t just sit on his laurels because when we grow comfortable spiritually we naturally begin to slide. No, he must always maintain a razor sharp focus on developing his Christian walk and his communication of truth.
And so are you living your Christian life with a sense of urgency, carefully guarding your own heart and ministry? Are you watching your soul like someone who appreciates the deceitfulness of your heart and the trickery of Satan? One of Satan’s greatest tactics is to lull us to sleep. We settle into a routine of spirituality that is comfortable. We aren’t sinning, but we aren’t stressing ourselves out either. We feel good, but the moment we stop pursuing hard after godliness, our priorities are already out of whack. Satan has put a crack in our faith. And he will gently pry on that crack until the whole structure is compromised. Take heed to yourself and your ministry. If our ears aren’t already perked up, Paul raises the stakes even higher with the result that will come from such watchfulness.
Every time salvation language is used in this epistle, it always has to do with spiritual salvation; therefore, we must understand this phrase the same way. Paul is here talking about where people will spend eternity.
But what is maybe surprising about this verse is that Paul includes Timothy’s salvation in the promise. Timothy was already a Christian, so why would Paul say that Timothy would save himself through watching his soul? The answer is that Paul believed that all genuine Christians will persevere in the faith and that if they do not persevere and instead walk away from Christ, they were never truly saved, and they will not inherit eternal life. And so Paul says to Timothy that watching your soul is not just about getting a little bigger mansion in heaven. Rather your eternal destiny is at stake. And not just your destiny, the destiny of those under your care.
Now, I want to be very clear that there is also a divine side to all of this. We are saved by grace alone. No one will earn his way to God. As well, God is ultimately the one who opens a sinner’s eyes to the gospel and creates faith. Furthermore, we saw last Sunday in Romans 5, that God will keep every true Christian. He will protect our faith, and we will reach glorification.
But Paul saw no conflict between these promises of divine grace and the equally true reality that we are responsible to persevere, to reach people with the gospel, and to help them persevere. Paul could say in this verse that eternity hangs in the balance. I was struck last week when we were at the Shepherd’s Conference by the motto of The Master’s Seminary. “We train men because lives depend on it.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
Of course, Paul knew that God ultimately saves but from a human perspective, Paul understood that souls were at stake in his proclamation of the gospel. And so in our text, Paul urges Timothy to watch his own soul and his own ministry recognizing that his salvation and the salvation of the believers at Ephesus were at stake.
Folks, what Paul is saying here is incredibly sobering. If we didn’t serve a sovereign God, it would be reason to despair because if my boys’ salvation hinged only on me, I couldn’t handle that. But while God is sovereign, there is a real sense that within God’s purpose, my boys’ response to the gospel does hinge on me, and to a lesser degree this is true every time I do the work of ministry.
It’s also true of you. Your walk with God will have a dramatic affect on the spiritual life of your children. And when you stand up to teach a class here at church or you spend time with a young believer who is struggling with sin, your ministry is of eternal significance. And so if your walk with God doesn’t already matter enough because of the significance of your own soul, then consider it’s significance for those around you. And take heed to yourself because as you do, by the grace of God, you can impact people for all eternity.
If you are a Christian, God has given you a great stewardship. You are gifted to serve in the church, and you are called to make disciples of the people God has placed in your life. Ministry matters, so watch yourself. Make sure that your life magnifies the truth of God rather than distracting from it. And then work hard at the ministry God has given to you. And it will be exciting someday in heaven to hear how God used you for his glory.