In season and out of season – expository readiness (part 2)
Editors Note: This is the second post in a series on Expository Readiness. You can read part one of this series here.
Pay Attention to Your Life
The first imperative of 1 Timothy 4:16 is to “keep a close watch on yourself.” Why does Paul say this? Because the first priority of a man of God is to be a godly man. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the great Scottish preacher of the 1830s, said, “The greatest thing I can give my people is my own personal holiness.” How do we cultivate that in our lives? We don’t pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps to become more like Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to do.
Our role is to use God-given means in the pursuit of holiness, and those means are the personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines found in Scripture. But the disciplines are never an end in and of themselves; they’re for the pursuit of godliness. The purpose of any spiritual discipline is to be like Jesus. We don’t memorize Scripture to put notches on our Bible. We don’t share the gospel to boast about how many people we’ve witnessed to that week. We don’t fast in order to say how often we fast, or pray to say how many hours we prayed. We practice any and all of those disciplines to be like Jesus. That is a large part of how we watch our lives, according to 1 Timothy 4:16.
Of all the spiritual disciples exhorted in Scripture (such as personal and corporate worship, evangelism, service, stewardship of time and money, journaling, fasting and silence and solitude, among others) the most important are the disciplines of the Word and the discipline of prayer. Ministers should have the same priorities today as the Apostles did in Acts 6:4 – a devotion to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Do your people know you as a man of the Word and a man of prayer? Are you known for the habitual reading, hearing, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying of Scripture? Are you known for spending time on your knees pleading with God? You need to be doing these things if you’re a gospel minister.
The disciplines are the God-given means for every Christian to grow in grace, and ministers need them as much as anyone, and perhaps more. Ordination does not make you a godly man. Just being in the ministry will not make you holy. If you’re not careful, your familiarity with the ministry could make you callous to the things of God, it could anesthetize your awe of God. The ministry can be the means of making you more unlike Christ if you don’t watch your life. It can foster political maneuvering and infighting. It can foster greed. It can foster power plays. It can foster so much that is antithetical to Christ-likeness, and the only way to keep that from happening is to do what this passage says: watch your life. And you do that through the rightly motivated practice of the spiritual disciplines.
Richard Baxter was an English Puritan preacher, writer and pastor extraordinaire, and he wrote on this same text in his book The Reformed Pastor. In it he lists eight reasons we need to pay close attention to our lives: First, pay close attention to your life because you have a heaven to win or lose, just like everybody else. Have you ever wondered how many men there are who once warned people of hell from the pulpit who are now experiencing it? Who once warned of the wrath of God who are now underneath it? God is no respecter of persons. He does not save us because we are ministers or because we preach sermons or do good things for the church. You need to make sure of your calling and election as much as anybody (2 Pet 1:10).
Second, pay close attention to your life because you also have a depraved nature and sinful inclinations. Preachers can be as prideful or lustful or unbelieving or self-seeking or greedy as anyone else. And we’re no less sinful because people now call us “reverend” or because we lead worship services. No title can kill sinful inclinations. There are people, unfortunately, who go into ministry thinking, “Perhaps if I dedicate my life in service to God he will kill my sinful inclination,” but that won’t happen.
Third, pay close attention to your life because you are exposed to greater temptations than others. You think you know what spiritual warfare is until you go into the ministry. Satan works harder against those who lead the people of God. It is the same principle as in war, when the opposition would try to take down the officers first. Why? Because if the officers fall while leading their men in a charge, it greatly demoralizes the troops.
Fourth, pay close attention to your life because you have many eyes on you and there will be many to observe your fall. The media loves a scandal, and the public’s eyes are irresistibly drawn to watch a fall from grace. And what is true on a national scale with nationally-known men is equally true on a local level with you. The town always remembers the preacher who falls. The church never forgets. The children and the teenagers are left questioning. Young Christians become disillusioned. The unconverted always have a target for their scoffing. Your community knows when you fall. Your fellow pastors know when you fall. The neighbors you have witnessed to will know that you fall. You have to tell your church what you’ve done. You have to tell your wife. You have to explain it to your children. You have to tell your extended family, and to those you’ve been praying for and witnessing to through the years. Pay close attention to your life.
Fifth, pay close attention to your life because your sins have what Baxter called “more heinous aggravations” than other men’s. In other words, our sins are more serious because we have more light. We sin against more light than others. We know more of God’s truth and we know it better than other people do, so there is more hypocrisy involved. We have stood and preached against the very sins we then commit. So pay close attention to your life.
Sixth, pay close attention to your life because your work requires greater grace than other men’s. It takes marvelous grace to preach the great truths of the gospel, to lead the people of God, to lead in the work of the kingdom, to fight against the work of Satan and to rescue people from the path of hell. This requires more grace than other things you could be doing with your life.
Seventh, pay close attention to your life because the honor of Christ is on the line with you more than with other men. Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial were worse offenses than the fickle Jerusalem crowd that hailed Jesus on Sunday and called for his death on Friday because those two were closer to Christ. The closer you are to Christ, and the more closely you are identified with him, the greater potential you have for dishonoring him. You probably have greater potential to dishonor Christ than anyone else in your community. Can you imagine anything worse than unbelievers talking about your sins and laughing at the gospel because of what you’ve done? I hope that makes you shudder. I pray that God would kill me before he would allow me to be caught in something like that, for I know that like King David, I am capable of great, Christ-dishonoring sins.
Eighth, pay close attention to your life because the success of your labor depends on it. Can you expect to be fruitful if you’re not serious about the things you preach? Will you be blessed in the care of the souls of others if you’re careless with your own? So pay close attention to your life.
Donald S. Whitney serves as associate professor of biblical spirituality and also as senior associate dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. He is the author of six books, including Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. You can connect with Whitney on Twitter, Facebook and through his website The Center for Biblical Spirituality. This post originally appeared in Don Whitney’s chapter in A Guide to Expository Ministry.