By Connie W. Adams
One thing which convinces me that the church is a divine institution is the fact that it has survived the sorry example set by so many of its members, and especially some who set themselves forward as preachers of the word. If ever there was a crying need for the admonition that Paul gave to Timothy to “be thou an example of the believers” surely that time is now.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity . . . Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt save thyself, and them that hear thee (1 Tim. 4:12-16).
Timothy’s youth could not be discounted when his teaching was fortified by such character as to make him a worthy example of what every believer ought to be, whether young or old. Note that Paul instructed him to take heed to himself as well as to the doctrine. Faithful servants of God ought to preach the truth and nothing else. But they ought to live the truth as well. Failure to do that blunts the force of truth in human hearts and causes the name of God to be blasphemed among unbelievers. It has a devastating effect upon the hearts and lives of the weak and tender children of God.
The Preacher and His Conduct Toward All
Paul continued his instruction concerning the need for Timothy to set a right example and take heed to himself as well as to the doctrine: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). The “elder” of verse one is not an overseer of the congregation, but a reference to the deference toward age which youth should show. Treat older men as a father. Younger men should be treated as equals (brethren). Give to older women the respect due mothers. Please observe the next ad-monition: “the younger as sisters, with all purity.” What was the need of that qualifying phrase? It was needed for the same reason Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:22 “Flee also youthful lusts.”
Bad Examples of Believers
1. Debt evaders set the wrong example. While churches should be taught to adequately provide for those who devote their lives to the work of the gospel, faithful servants of the Lord must learn to live within their means and to do so graciously, without murmuring. Things bought on credit should be paid for. Desire for “things” should never outweigh sanity and financial ability. How embarrassing it is for a congregation, or its elders, to be approached by local businessmen for satisfaction of an unpaid debt after a preacher has moved.
2. Immature conduct sets the wrong example. The work of preachers is sometimes beset with disappointments and frustrations. Pulpit fits and temper tantrums in business meetings are not calculated to inspire confidence and respect. Falling apart under pressure ill befits those who preach to others that they should “gird up the loins of your minds, be sober” (1 Pet. 1:13). Preachers who are too quick on the trigger to move, rather than see a problem through, often contribute to instability in the work they leave behind. Some have larger egos than the brethren are able to feed. One such preacher was reminded by an exasperated brother that “When we sing `How Great Thou Art’ we are not singing to you.”
3. Gossip peddlers set the wrong example. Preachers rail against gossip and its attendant evil about as much as any other infraction of divine law, yet many of us are the worst offenders of all. There is a brotherhood grapevine which swings from coast to coast and border to border which elevates the most unsubstantiated rumor to the status of hard, cold fact. Often fellow-preachers are the victims of the careless lips of suspicion peddlers who relish the fact that they are definitely “in the know.” It becomes “common knowledge” that certain preachers are looking to move when they have never even thought of it, all because someone learned that the elders in another place called just to ask if they might be willing to consider a move. This writer has received several phone calls at times from places looking for a preacher all because somebody, for some reason, started the rumor that I was “looking” when there was not an ounce of truth to it. Brethren have been charged, tried and convicted in absentia of doctrinal and sometimes moral deficiencies based on false reports spread by suspicious minds and wagging tongues. “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?”
4. Envious preachers set the wrong example. “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife: and some also of good will” (Phil. 1:15). So it was when Paul wrote those words and so it is now. Some are eaten up with envy and jealousy because of the esteem in which some of their fellow-laborers are held. Even as in Paul’s day, they may be spurred on to greater activity not so much for the love of souls as for the purpose of cornering a greater portion of the glory out of which they feel cheated. Why should a preacher in a meeting feel a tinge of injury to hear local brethren speak words of praise for the local preacher? Why should the local preacher feel hurt when brethren who hear him every week say kind things about a visiting speaker? In each case, why not “rejoice with them that rejoice”? It is a blessing that all of us are not alike. Each has his unique way of presenting the truth. All any of us can really do is sow the seed or water that already sown by others. None of us has the power to give the increase. I read somewhere that it is amazing how much we can accomplish when we don’t care who gets the credit.
5. Preachers who are too familiar with the sisters set the wrong example. It is painful to speak of these things. The cause of Christ has suffered severe damage in the last few years through this very thing. There seems to be a virtual epidemic of this malady. The scenario is all too familiar. A good brother who is happily married, sets out to “counsel” with a sister who is having marital problems. He lets his guard down, violates his own rule to have either his wife present on such occasions or else, one of the elders, or an older sister, so as to “provide things honest” in the sight of God and man, and the rest all too frequently becomes history. He feels sorry for her and in trying to help, imposes confidences from his own life. Additional “counseling” sessions are required and before long compassion merges with infatuation which is reciprocated, and there it goes. The news gets out and hasty resignations follow, or else firings, much to the dismay of the congregations involved. Even when sincere confessions of wrong are made, the after effects live on to embarrass the church and to haunt the involved preachers for the rest of their lives. The wages are high.
My brethren, these things must stop. The cause of our Lord is far too important for any of us to give in to such temptations to the destruction of our own families, the detriment of our own souls and the retardation of the greatest work in the world. We need less “counselors” and more preachers of the word who will tell troubled people what the word of the Lord has to say in a setting that is beyond reproach and which leaves no occasion for the adversary to speak reproachfully. We do not need to hear confidences and intimate information which our wives cannot hear, or one of the elders, or an elderly sister. If you are a single preacher and one of the elders is not available, or there are none where you preach, then ask one of the older sisters to go with you. You may, or may not, know more about the Bible than she, but she will know a whole lot more about life than you do and can merge her wisdom with your knowledge to help the troubled.
We cannot expect the churches to grow in number or spirit without faithful and fearless preaching of the word of God. That preaching must be done by men who believe what they are saying enough to practice it in life. Purity of character adds an extra earnestness and confidence which is missing from those who know good and well they are masquerading behind pulpits to cover serious character flaws. Oh yes, I know none of us is perfect in the absolute sense, but fellows, surely we can do better than a growing number have in the last few years. “Be thou an example of the believers” (Editorial, Searching The Scriptures, November 1982).
Guardian of Truth XLI: 5 p. 3-4
March 6, 1997