Preachers and Preaching (No. 3)
God's Qualifications for Preachers
J. P. Needham
In the previous installment of this series, we dealt with man's qualifications for gospel preachers. We showed that about 99 per cent of them have absolutely no foundation in God's word and are hurtful to the church. In the present article we shall deal with Gods qualifications. Since the books of First and Second Timothy and Titus were written to younger gospel preachers and much of them seem to be along the line of this essay, we shall draw from them the majority of the material for this article.
1. GENTLENESS: 2 Tim. 2:24, ". . . the servant of the Lord must . . . be gentle -unto all men." Of this word (Gr. EPIOS) Vine says, "Mild, gentle, was frequently used by Greek writers as characterizing a nurse with trying children or a teacher with refractory scholars, or of parents toward their children. In I Thess. 2:7, the Apostle uses it of the conduct of himself and his fellow missionaries towards the converts at Thessalonica (cp. 2 Cor. 11:13, 20); in 2 Tim. 2: 24, of the conduct requisite for a servant of the Lord." (p. 145). To qualify as a gospel preacher one must possess a gentle disposition. He must not be brash, and harsh. He must have ability to deal with different people of varying dispositions -under diversified circumstances. Some are easy to teach, others are difficult. Some have minds that are receptive to the truth, others love not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:12). The gospel preacher must have the ability to deal with a man where he is and how he is in order to bring him to where God wants him to be. We preachers sometimes develop a disposition that makes people think we are hard to talk to. People do not feel free to discuss with us their spiritual problems. James says that "the wisdom that is from above is . . . . . gentle, and easy to be entreated . . . (3:17).
Does this describe you, brother? When Jesus sent out his disciples he commanded them, "Be ye . . . harmless as doves" (Mt. 10:16). Anyone who has preached for any length of time will readily admit that this qualification (gentleness) is a big order.
It is very easy for preachers to become arrogant, and to seem to project a self-righteous, holier-than-thou disposition. To communicate with a man where we find him requires us to be "all things to all men . . ." (I Cor. 9:22). We must be gentle enough to talk to him on his level, not require him to talk to us on ours. Paul said, "Mind not high things, but CONDESCEND to men of low estate" (Rom. 12:16). We must be able to "put ourselves in his shoes" and deal with him as we would like to be dealt with if the "tables" were reversed.
Let nobody make the mistake of equating gentleness with softness. The words do not describe the same idea. Paul said he had been gentle among the Thessalonians (I Thess. 2:7), but in the same chapter he said he had been "bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God WITH MUCH CONTENTION" (1 Thess. 2:2). Gentleness does not mean stand-for-nothingness. While we are to be "harmless as doves ' " we must "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). While we are gentle we must "pluck up and I . . . break down and . . . destroy and . . . overthrow . . . build and plant" (Jer. 1:10).
11. "APT TO TEACH": "The servant of the Lord must ' . . . be ... apt to teach . . ." (2 Tim. 2:24). Of the word DIDAKTIKOS, translated "apt to teach," Vine says, "Skilled in teaching . . ." (p. 112). Thayer says about the same thing, p. 144. This may seem to be a very elementary qualification. We might be prone to say that it is self-evident. There are some men, however, who want to preach who are not "apt to preach." A certain amount of native ability is requisite to being "apt to teach." In the absence of this,, one cannot be successful as a gospel preacher. Most of us have known brethren who just did not have the ability to preach, and have made the remark, "He missed his calling." This is entirely possible, and it seems likely that Paul had such in mind when he wrote to Timothy in view of the fact that he instructed him to train others to be teachers (2 Tim. 2:2). The point seems to be that Timothy should not try to make preachers of those who lacked this ability. This seems clear from the fact that Paul certainly was not talking about the teaching that each child of God should do in his daily life. If so, then one could not be a "servant of the Lord" without being a "skilled teacher" (I Tim. 2:24). Some men by nature cannot meet that qualification, but they can still be Christians. The conclusion, then, is that the person who would be a gospel preacher should possess the native ability to be a "skilled teacher."
III. "FORBEARING": "The servant of the Lord must be . . . forbearing (KJV patient)" (2 Tim. 2:24). Vine says this word (Gr. ANEXIKAKOS) "denotes patiently forbearing evil, literally, 'patient of wrong' . . . (p. 117). He who is unable to meet this qualification will be a very ineffectual preacher. To be "patient of wrong" would include the following: (1) the ability to be patient with brethren in their shortcomings. Some preachers find this very difficult. They expect the brethren to be perfect, and if they find them otherwise they demand a radical improvement momentarily. If it fails to come, they become discouraged, harsh, or bitter at the brotherhood. They may even take a secular job! (2) The ability to be patient when we are wronged. Preachers are often wronged. Brethren mistreat them, and impose on them. This is in the very nature of things, it seems. Evidently Paul by inspiration knew this, hence his requirement that we be "forbearing." For instance, Paul said the brethren did not stand with him in time of trouble, but he took courage from the fact that the Lord stood with him and strengthened him (2 Tim. 4: 16, 17). He said Demas had forsaken him (2 Tim. 4:10), and he had been "in perils among false brethren" (2 Cor. 11:26), some of whom bad hoped "to add affliction to his bonds" (Phil. 1:16). Paul said he was mindful of Timothy's tears, (2 Tim. 1:4) and admonished him to "endure hardness (and afflictions) as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:3; 2 Tim. 4:5).
He who cannot "forbear" these hardness or afflictions will not make it as a preacher. He will be constantly on the move in search for "a better situation." In many instances he means a perfect situation. This is evident from some of the advertisements we read. Some preachers let it be known that they are ready to move. They say they want to move to a congregation with a good eldership and no problems. They seemingly have not learned that there are not many of these around. They are also telling us that they have not learned to be "patient of wrong," hence fail of one of the qualifications of a gospel preacher. This explains why some preachers are looking for a place to move every time we see them, and are constantly complaining about their lot as a preacher.
What has been said does not mean that anyone should sanction error. There is a difference, however, between sanctioning error and being patient with those who are in it. We must "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort WITH ALL LONGSUFFERING and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). After having warned Timothy of the evil influence of Hymenaeus, and Philetus, "who concerning the truth have erred," Paul told Timothy that "in a great house (the church - 1 Tim. 3:15) there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor" (2 Tim. 2:17-20). No doubt he said this to keep Timothy from getting discouraged due to these defectors.
We each need to ask ourselves, "How many churches would be in much better condition today if I had manifested a little more patience?" The history of man as revealed in the Bible indicates that, generally, he does not change his mind or life easily. None of us came to our present understanding of the truth "over night." Indeed, all of us continue to grow in grace and knowledge each day of our lives, and yet the things we learn today some people understood long ago. We should, then, allow the other fellow at least as much time to learn the truth as was required for us. We are prone, however, to expect more of others than of ourselves. Though it may have taken us ten or fifteen years to come to the truth, we think others should accept it the first time they hear it, and we often wonder why they cannot see it. Probably for the same reasons we could not at one time.
Certainly, there is a limit to the time and effort we should expend in trying to teach people. Jesus said, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, test they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Mt. 7:6). Concerning certain Pharisees who rejected the truth, he told his disciples to "Let them alone . . ." (Matt. 15: 13). It is no easy job for this writer to determine when a person reaches the point indicated by these passages. I do know, however, that many, many of us are so impatient that we think folks reach it rather quickly. In many cases we are very "lucky" that the folks who taught us the truth did not feel the same way.
IV. "MEEKNESS": ". . . the servant of the Lord must . . . in meekness instruct those that oppose themselves . . ." (2 Tim. 2:25). It is hard to distinguish between "meekness" and "gentleness" which 'has already been discussed, but there must be some difference since both are used. The original word for "meekness" here (PRAUS) is different from the one translated "gentle" (EPIOS). There seems to be this difference: Gentleness has to do more with one's action, while meekness describes one's condition of mind. Meekness seems to describe one's attitude and estimation of himself, while gentleness seems to refer to one's actions toward others. While this may not be universally true, this distinction seems to be BASICALLY true.
Paul's point then is that the gospel preacher should be a person with the proper estimate of himself - he should be MEEK. He should know just where he fits into God's plan and accept it with satisfaction, not thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom. 12:3). He should not be self-assertive, egotistical. The brethren sometimes make it easy for preachers to feel that they are the "sparkplugs" of the church, that everything hinges on them, and that they are sent forth like knights in shining armor to save the church and triumph over its enemies, and that without them the church would be doomed to eternal ruin. We sometimes go about our work with an attitude that seems to say, "God needs me, in fact, I hardly see how his Cause could get along without me." Paul said, "God is not worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything . . ." (Acts 17:25). We need to realize that the church existed and got along pretty well before we were born, and will likely do the same after we are gone.
Paul said, "Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). Paul here says his work of preaching was helping himself, rather than God! To these same Corinthians who were exalting the Messenger above the message (1 Cor. 1:12), Paul said, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but MINISTERS by whom ye believed, even as the LORD GAVE TO EVERY MAN? I have planted, Apollos watered; but GOD GAVE THE INCREASE. So then neither is he that PLANTETH ANYTHING, neither he that WATERETH; but God that GIVETH THE INCREASE. Now he that PLANTETH and he that WATERETH are ONE; -and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For WE ARE LABORERS TOGETHER WITH GOD " (1 Cor. 3:5-9).
We preachers are just planters and waterers, and we are all one that is we are of the same importance and all of our planting and watering would be nothing without God. No passage in the Bible puts us in our place better than this one! It is a demonstration of what it means for a preacher to be MEEK - to properly evaluate himself. Next time we get to feeling important; let us remember that Paul says in this passage that we are NOTHING! Of course, this is a point of contrast for emphasis. The point is that the preacher is pretty insignificant in comparison to his message. His work is important, but he must be kept in proper relationship to his message.
V. SOBERNESS: "But be thou sober in all things" (2 Tim. 4:5). This qualification requires the preacher to have good, sound judgment, as opposed to being impetuous and flippant. No requirement is of greater importance for the gospel preacher. He needs soundness of judgment in everything lie says or does. Many congregational catastrophes could be avoided if the preacher's judgment were more mature. What he says and does in many situations determines whether there will be weal or woe. Due to his immature judgment in dealing with certain matters, congregations are often thrown into diabolical disturbance and catastrophic confusion.
When Jesus sent out the apostles he required them to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Mt. 10:16). This is a big order! It is not easy to know what is best to do in every situation, and all of us are subject to mistakes. Some of us are capable of better judgment than others. No doubt some brethren are so incapable of rendering good judgment that they should not aspire to be preachers, otherwise Paul's requirement of soberness would have no meaning.
Some preachers are flippant; they cannot be serious. To them everything is a joke. If a problem arises in the congregation, they do what comes naturally - they act on an impulse. They are unable to foresee the possible consequences of their words or actions. When everything "blows up" they look surprised and say, ~'what did I do?" Then they say, "Well, I flubbed that one, where is the next one?" Like Rehoboam, they refuse the counsel of older men, and God's Cause suffers as the result.
VI. FAITHFULNESS: ". . . the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). It was Timothy's duty to train other preachers and teachers, but those thus trained were to be "faithful men." Hence, the great work of preaching the gospel is for the faithful. Thayer defines the word "faithful" ~Gr. PISTOS) thusly, "Worthy of trust; that can be, relied on" (p. 514). This qualification is self-evident. Gospel preachers (as well as all Christians) are entrusted with the most powerful and important message the world has ever known - the gospel. He who would serve as a gospel preacher must be a trustworthy person He must be reliable. We would not think of entrusting a valuable earthly message to an unreliable person. Paul said, ". . . the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust" (1 Tim. 1:11). In his letters to Timothy, Paul uses three words which indicate the necessity of his being trustworthy: (1) He gave Timothy a "CHARGE" (I Tim. 1:18; 5:21; 6:13; 11 Tim. 4:1). (2) He admonished Timothy to "KEEP that which is committed to thy trust" (1 Tim. 6:20). (3) He commanded Timothy to "HOLD fast the form of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13) these are military terms which describe the work of a soldier on guard duty. He is given' a charge to keep and a position to hold fast. He will make a very poor soldier and the results will be catastrophic if he is unreliable and untrustworthy. An unreliable and untrustworthy soldier may be bought off with a bribe, or go to sleep at his post and fail to watch, or the jubilant crowd passing by may lure him from his post of duty. In any case, disaster strikes. Inspiration uses this kind of language to describe the work of a gospel preacher. He must be a man of sterling character: unwavering faith, unbending loyalty, and strong convictions. He must be a man about whom there is no doubt. He must "cry aloud and spare not" (Isa. 58: 1) whenever and wherever danger appears. Due to his alertness and knowledge of God's law and plan, he may see danger before others do, and when he cries out he may be called an "alarmist," but this must never deter him from his duty to sound the trumpet of warning. To do otherwise is to betray a sacred trust.
We have learned what kind of men God desires to be gospel preachers: Gentle, skilled teachers, forbearing, meek, sober, and faithful. We sorely need more preachers today, but we do not need those who lack these God-ordained qualifications. To encourage men to preach who lack these qualities is parallel to encouraging men to be elders without the qualifications. Away with the idea that anybody with a lot of brass and big mouth can be a preacher! Nothing can harm the church more than preachers who are unworthy of this high calling. Whether we like it or not, Paul said, preachers are to be "examples of the believers" (I Tim. 4:12). We may be reluctant to admit it, but history pretty well demonstrates this fact: as go the preachers, so go the churches! In the very nature of things, preachers are some of the most influential people in the church. This emphasizes the need for QUALIFIED men in the pulpits. Let us "pray . . . the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest" (Lk. 10:12). Let us pray and work, however, for "the man of God" described by Paul in his letters to Timothy and Titus.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XI: 7, pp. 13-16