Since this is a milestone in our seminary story, 30 years, I decided to reach back into the past to a text of Scripture that I used very early in the life of the seminary to reflect to our students what I felt they needed to know as the pillars that would essentially hold up their ministry. It comes from a text of Scripture that all of us in ministry are very familiar with, Paul’s letter to Timothy, 1 Timothy, chapter 6. I want to read for you verses 11 through 16.
Paul is writing to young Timothy, his protégé, his disciple, his son in the faith, and the one to whom he will pass the baton of ministry, and he says to him, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time – He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” A call to ministry, a definition of ministry from which the apostle Paul launches into a doxology.
The phrase that I want to draw to your attention is found in the opening verse that I read, verse 11, “man of God. You, man of God,” a man who belongs to God. This is, by the way, a peculiar and specific title. At the seminary we would consider all of you to be men of God. We are committed to preparing and shaping and building men of God.
That really is an Old Testament title. It was first used of Moses who spoke for God. It was used of several angelic messengers, including one who announced Sampson’s birth, a message from God. It was used to describe a prophet who spoke for God to Eli the high priest, predicting severe judgment on his wicked family. That title “man of God” was used of Samuel who spoke divine truth. It was used of Elijah, Elisha, David, and many others; but it was always used for a spokesman of God. It’s used seventy times in the Old Testament, always referring to someone who had an official message from God Himself. It is then, as I said, a very unique, a very peculiar, and a very specific title for one who speaks on behalf of God with a message from the divine Lord Himself.
The phrase “man of God” is only used two times in the New Testament, and both times in reference to Timothy. The other time is in 2 Timothy 3 where the apostle Paul says “it is the word of God that will make you into a mature man of God.” Men of God then are an elite line of men whose lives are lifted above worldly enterprises, lifted above worldly ambitions and worldly goals to be devoted to what is eternal and what is divine. A man of God belongs to a spiritual order, an order with which things temporal and transitory and perishing and passing have little significance. Anyone who is called to preach is a man of God.
What are the identifying marks of the man of God that we see in this passage? There are actually four characteristics that the apostle Paul puts before us. Number One: The man of God is known by what he flees from. The man of God is known by what he flees from.
Verse 11 says, “But flee from these things, you man of God.” It’s the Greek word pheugō from which we get the word “fugitive.” The man of God is a running man and he is running from certain things. It pictures someone who is running from a plague, or a poisonous snake, or attacking a deadly enemy. He is a fleeing man. To be in gospel ministry, to be a man of God means that you are going to run away from certain things.
Back in chapter 1, verse 4, Timothy is instructed, as we are, “not to pay attention – ” for example “ – to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.” In chapter 4, the man of God again is warned that he must have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, he must discipline himself for the purpose of godliness.
At the end of chapter 6 and verse 20, again Paul says, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted you. Avoid worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” If you’re going to be a man of God there are things you must flee, and you must run hard all your life away from these things.
In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2 and verse 22, Paul says, “Flee youthful lusts. Flee youthful lusts. Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s slave must not be quarrelsome.” Lots of things to flee.
But what exactly is Paul referring to here in chapter 6 and verse 11: “Flee from these things”? Well if you just go back – as we well know in the text of Scripture, everything is connected – and you go back to verse 5, you read in the middle of the verse there are “men of depraved mind, deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” In other words, that being a minister, a religious person is a great way to get rich.
There are such men of depraved mind who are deprived of the truth, who think that ministry is a way to become wealthy. “But godliness – ” he says “ – actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
That passage is used frequently in the pulpit to speak to the people of God and warn them against the love of money. But its context is a direct address to a man of God. And in verse 11 when Paul says, “Flee from these things,” he’s referring precisely to these things attached to the love of money. The evils and vices associated with financial gain, greed and all its attendant iniquities. The strong, motivating desire for money has no place in the ministry. This you must run from.
This is the characteristic sin, by the way, of false teachers who preach for money, who make merchandise of people, who seek filthy lucre. From Balaam to Judas, they run the pages of Scripture. From the false prophets of Israel who were greedy dogs that never had enough and were concerned for their personal worth, to the covetous prophetess, prophets and priests of Jeremiah’s day, to the prophets of Ezekiel’s time who could be bought by handfuls of barley and pieces of bread, to the preachers who divined for money, and the unruly and empty talkers and deceivers of Crete who subverted whole households teaching for money. They’ve all been perverted, prostituting the gifts and calling of God for personal gain. The history of the church is full of them down to this very hour. The love of money has perverted many.
In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul said, “We’re not like many peddling the word of God.” He used the word kapēlos which means a huckster, a con man, selling something for personal gain, something that is substandard. We all are aware, I think, of the materialistic condition of the church in America. It can be clearly seen in the fact that it isn’t the opulent, indulgent, Midas-like gold touch. It isn’t the grandiose self-indulgence, it isn’t the consuming drive for comfort and pleasure, it isn’t the indulgence of every material item imaginable that scandalizes American Christians, it’s sex. But the love of money is equally scandalous.
God hated the materialistic lust as much as the sexual lust, but the church today has bought into the blasphemous wealth and prosperity theology that has made God the author of an accommodating theology that turns this fleeing on its head. We need to reject the doctrine of demons that says God wants us rich. Paul said, “I have coveted no man’s gold or silver or apparel.” Paul said, “I would never make the gospel chargeable to anyone.” You may be a preacher, you may be a pastor, but if you’re in it for the money you are not a man of God.
Secondly, a man of God is known not only by what he flees from but what he follows after. He is a running man and he is running hard away from, and he is running hard toward. And what is it that he runs to? Back to verse 11: “Flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”
Proverbs 15:9 says the Lord loves those that pursue righteousness – not success, not fame, not popularity, not esteem, not reputation, but virtue. And Paul names a number of things: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness or meekness. These are spiritual virtues with which we are very familiar. Righteousness is doing right on the outside; godliness is desiring right on the inside. Faith is essentially faithfulness. Love is love, sacrificial love. Perseverance is endurance. Gentleness is meekness.
Run so hard, men, that you never let these out of your sight. Don’t find yourself in a place in life where they’re so far out of your sight that you are in danger if you don’t catch up. Don’t be an unholy preacher. Don’t be an unsanctified vessel, unfit for the Master’s use.
In Psalm 50, verses 16 and 17, we read, “But to the wicked God says, ‘What right have you to tell of My statutes? What right have you to take My covenant into your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you.’”
Psalm 101:6 says, “He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me. He who practices deceit shall not.” People have every right to evaluate us that same way. If you’re walking in a blameless way then you have a right to minister. If you’re practicing deceit you do not.
The apostle Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 9, you know the verse, “I beat my body into subjection so that in preaching to others I don’t become adokimos, disqualified.” You don’t want to be disqualified. You didn’t come this far to be disqualified. You didn’t come this far to crash and burn.
I know the thought enters all of our minds as we launch out into ministry, “Can I survive? Can I be standing at the end? Can I be faithful through the whole time of my life?” You can, but you must pursue these things.
Proverbs 6:32 and 33, a very strong reminder: “The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, and his reproach will not be blotted out.” Paul says a minister must be above reproach. Do that and you have a reproach that will not be blotted out.
On the positive side, people will feel the power of a godly life. It was John Owen who said, “A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public; but what he is on his knees in secret before almighty God, that he is and no more.”
In Irish history there’s a great badge of baron he called the Red Hand of O’Neill, the motto of the ancient Irish O’Neill family. There was a group on an expedition to Ireland. The word was passed along that whoever’s hand touched the coast of Ireland first would become the family that owned the land; they would become the baron and they would take that land as their own. One of the men named O’Neill, from whom actually descended the princes of Ulster, rowed as furiously as he could.
But another boat was in the lead. What would he do? He wanted that land. The historian writes, “With a grim look of mingled wrath and triumph at the rival boat, the strong-minded, iron-nerved O’Neill dropped the oars, seized a battle axe, chopped off one of his hands and threw it on shore.” Drastic action. Sound familiar? “If your hand offends you – ” Jesus said what? “ – cut it off.” Drastic action. “If your eye offends you pluck it out.” Deal dramatically, deal drastically with your sin for something far more than a piece of land. Sin disgraces the ministry, sin dishonors the Lord, and sin may be a fatal wound in your life. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and meekness.
Spurgeon once said, “A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophizing about light and vision, while he himself is absolutely in the dark. He is a dumb man elevated to the Chair of Music. He is a deaf man fluent on harmonies and symphonies. He is a mole professing to educate eagles.” Yes, you may be a preacher, but if you do not pursue holiness you are no man of God.
Thirdly, the man of God is known not only by what he flees from, what he follows after, but what he fights for. Look at verse 12: “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
We know in the Bible that the man of God a boxer, a wrestler, a soldier, a battler, a protagonist, a warrior. We wage war against the kingdom of darkness. We wage war against the sin in our own flesh. We wage war against false teaching, false doctrine, error. The apostle Paul, looking at ministry said, “There is an open door and there are many adversaries.” Paul came to the end of his life, and what did he say? “I have fought the good fight.”
Do you think it’s been tough in seminary? That was just practice; now you get to do it for real, and eternal souls are at stake. You’ll spend your whole life fighting. The word here “fight” is agōnizomai. The fight is agōn. Agonize the agony, spiritual conflict.
And by the way, fighting in ancient terms, I guess you could say, was very different than the kind of fighting we see. We look at a boxing match and they have padded gloves, and the worst they can do is give cauliflower ears and fat noses to each other; maybe a concussion or two. Gloves on Greek boxers, for example, were fur-lined inside, but on the outside they were made of oxide and embedded with lead and iron, and the loser often had his eyes gouged out. A lot more than just slapping each other around with puffy bags on your hands. They saw the battle and they’re just dead serious.
And this kind of language is all through the writings, particularly of the apostle Paul. And you’re going to be put out into ministry at a time when the church and the evangelical movement isn’t really interested in fighting, they’re just interested in being accepted. They have a severe case of spiritual aids; that is a deficient spiritual immune system they can die from a thousand heresies. Every possible conceivable and inconceivable Trojan horse can be welcomed into the city and set loose its error freely.
Paul says, “You have to fight, because you have to get a grip on the eternal life.” What does he mean by that? He means you’re dealing with things that are eternal. This is what you fight for. These are eternal issues. You’re not like everybody else in the world, you’re battling for the souls of men and women. All your issues are everlasting issues. We’re warring with the forces of hell, the power of sin, the corruption of the culture, the strength of the world system around us, and the weakness of the church. You have to understand this battle matters because it’s about eternal life.
And Paul reminds Timothy, “Look, you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” What do you think that confession was? That must have been when Timothy said, “I will be faithful.” “You made that confession that you were willing to go and fight the battle. You are fighting for eternal things.”
In the second letter, Paul reminds Timothy again that he is a soldier who must please his commander. A man of God is known because he is fleeing, because he is following, because he is fighting. And there’s a fourth: A man of God is known by what he is faithful to.
Verse 13: “I charge you in the presence of God, I command you, God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus – ” that’s very much like the language of 2 Timothy 4. It sets up the immense accountability that you have before God and Christ; very much like what Paul said just before he said preach the Word. “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate.”
Why does he bring that in? Because Jesus is your model of faithfulness in the darkest possible hour when your life might be at stake. “I charge you to follow your Lord and hold onto a good confession of the truth as He did, and keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He’s calling for faithfulness no matter how difficult. A thoughtful exegesis, by the way, of this term “commandment” leads me to conclude that it refers to the whole of revealed Scripture: the commandment, the commandment.
A man of God is known by what he is faithful to, and what he is faithful to is the divine revelation, the truth. He is a man of the truth at all costs, even if he stands before someone who has his life in his hands. He is solemnly charged before God who gives life and takes it. He is solemnly charged before Jesus Christ who under severe duress never wavered in His adherence to God’s Word. He is charged to guard the truth, the sacred trust, until the end of the age, even if it means he loses his life.
As we read a little earlier in the 6th chapter, you’re a guardian of truth. That should mark you. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth; you’re the proclaimer. Take heed then to yourself and to your doctrine.
So what to look for in a pastor? Look for a man of God. And when you’re looking for a man of God, what are you looking for? A man who flees the corrupting influence of money, the man who follows after righteousness, godliness. You’re going to be a man who’s bent on pleasing God, and you’re also going to be a man who will make a good confession no matter what the price. You will fight to the very end, unwaveringly true to the revelation of God.
Young minister came up to Donald Grey Barnhouse, the great Presbyterian preacher in Philadelphia, the past, said, “Dr. Barnhouse, I’d give the world to be able to preach like you.” Dr. Barnhouse said, “Good, it’s exactly what it’ll cost you.” This is our duty men; this is our calling.
Now here are some suggestions from somebody to help us be effective at this. This is a little bit edited by me. Any man who claims to be a man of God, this is how we should treat him. You ready?
Fling him into his office, tear the office sign from the door, and nail on the door “Study.” Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his computer and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts, and broken hearts, and the flick of lives in a superficial flock before a holy God. Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God.
Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through, and let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing. Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God, and make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God.
And when at long last he dares assay they pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he doesn’t, dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper and digest the latest television news, and you can think through the day’s superficial problems and manage the community’s weary issues, and bless the sorted baked potatoes and green beans ad infinitum probably better than he can. And command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, warn, and forlorn and say, “Thus says the Lord.”
Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom, and give him no escape until he’s backed against the wall of the Word, and sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left, God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the down-street gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around in it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.
And when he’s burned out by the flaming word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth from God to men and finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently, and blow a muted trumpet, and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword on his coffin, raise the tune triumphant, for he was a brave soldier of the Word, and err he died, he had become a man of God.
Our Father, we thank You for the compelling commands of Scripture that define for us what it is that You expect. And beyond that, we thank You for the blessed Holy Spirit who lives within us to enable us to be faithful to this. We pray for all these great, gifted, trained, prepared men to be all that You would want them to be. May they be a force, men of God, faithful to the end. This is our prayer for Your glory. Amen.