10 February 2006

The Self-Watching Pastor

Recently I was asked: What do you believe is the most important personal requisite of the preacher and why?

Three personal qualities come immediately to mind. First, when Paul is giving his qualifications to the Corinthian believers, showing them why they should not listen to the demeaning arguments of his opponents, the first quality Paul lists is endurance (2 Cor 6:4, "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses"). Second, in his preceding letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that even the most self-sacrificial of ministries with the most skillful and gifted speaking is "nothing" without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Third, Paul instructs Timothy, in his first letter to him, about the importance of what the Puritans would later call the principle of self-watch: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim 4:16).

While ministry is absolutely impossible without the first two qualities, I believe that the third quality is the most important personal requisite of the preacher for at least two reasons. The first reason is that Paul explicitly connects this requisite to the salvation of both Timothy and his hearers. In light of all Paul has written about grace and the human condition (and I still intend to write some more myself), we should not understand Paul’s words to refer to the basis of salvation, but rather the necessary evidence of salvation. As Calvin would say, "persever[ing] in them" is the cause sina qua non of salvation. And here your own salvation is not the only issue, "your hearers" also have an eternal vested interest in the pastors perseverance. If one does not persevere in right doctrine and living, if one does not experience present deliverance from sin, he should not expect final deliverance from God’s wrath. Nothing could be more important in Paul’s ministry than the perseverance of those to whom he preached the gospel (1 Thess 3:8, "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord"). If this is not an unimaginably important personal requisite, I do not know what could be--if one does not strive to apply the principle of self-watch, he should flee pastoral responsibility: he can only prove to be the detriment if not the damnation of those he is called to serve.

The second reason I think that the principle of self-watch is so important is that in encompasses both the other two qualities and so many others. Love (1 Cor 13) and endurance of hardship (2 Cor 6) are part of the "watch your life...closely." The principle of self-watch is broad enough to concern itself with ordinate affections in worship, with doctrinal accuracy, with exegetical precision, as well as with exemplary lifestyle and extraordinary brotherly love. Self-watch is what will help keep anyone from looking "down on you because you are young" because self-watch is essential to becoming "an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Tim 4:12).

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