This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for March 20) is written by Bruce Stoker who serves as adult education minister with Memorial Church of Christ in Livonia, Michigan.
Leadership Priorities (1 Timothy 4:6-16)
By Bruce Stoker
It’s a shame we have made worship such a divisive thing within the church. If we can get back to the “heart of worship,” as Matt Redman’s song says, and recognize with him that it’s all about God, then Paul’s directives in 1 Timothy 4:6-16 ought to clarify the priorities of church leaders. When leaders have their priorities straight, division within the church, over any matter, is much easier to manage.
Much has been written about keeping “the main thing the main thing,” but when it comes to keeping the church focused on being what God intended it to be, that’s probably the best advice for leaders. Much has been written about leading by example, and again, that’s probably the best model for church leaders; Paul says as much in 1 Timothy 4:16, when he writes that watching one’s faith and doctrine will save both oneself and one’s hearers.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
Paul gives leaders great advice for keeping the church focused by keeping their own priorities focused, and he indicates doing so will help them become good leaders.
First, in verse 6, Paul reminds Timothy of the “truths of the faith and of the good teaching” he had been following. The key to focusing on God is to focus on God’s Word. Earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul addressed several issues that were, at best, tangential or, at worst, heretical to the gospel message. Obviously, we would expect church leaders to have a strong understanding of God’s Word, but since this is the foundation upon which our “hope in the living God” and our salvation is built (v. 10), leaders must keep their focus on biblical truth.
Second, in verse 7, Paul tells Timothy to avoid “godless myths and old wives’ tales.” Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can be distracted by a “good story”? While Christians today don’t have to worry as much about the myths and stories of pagan religions, we must watch out for bad doctrine that comes disguised in the cautionary tales and stories that may be part of everyday conversation or e-mail. It’s scary how easily a Bible study can go off track when someone offers his or her own take on the passage based on past experiences or odd coincidences rather than a sound understanding of Scripture.
Paul warned Timothy to focus on the truth. Leaders who follow this advice can recognize these distractions and false doctrines. Only then will leaders be able to lead the church away from the roots of division.
Third, again in verse 7, Paul shows that keeping focus is more than a matter of knowledge, but also of practice. Paul makes it clear that, while it is important to know the truth and avoid false doctrines, it is also important to train oneself for godly living.
Verse 8 speaks very clearly to us today; it keys in on our understanding of physical training. We know—at least many of you know—that having a healthy body is a matter of knowing about good nutrition, and exercising, and practicing a lifestyle that uses that information. Paul writes that spiritual training is a matter of knowing and doing what God tells us in the Bible, and that it has value for this life and “the life to come.”
Considering how important focusing on God’s truth is for this life and the life to come for both leaders and their hearers, it’s no wonder leaders (and I suppose the rest of us, too) have a hard time going from what they know to practicing it. However, Paul gives us a fairly simple idea of what practicing godliness looks like.
At the top of his list is putting our hope in God. Most of us would probably scratch our head and wonder, That’s it? It seems counterintuitive, but leaders are likely the ones to count on their own knowledge, experience, skill, or strength instead of putting their hope in God.
It’s not as though leaders forget about God or lose their faith or put themselves in God’s place, but they often find themselves trying to make things “right”—whatever that means—at any expense. Whether it’s dealing with false doctrine or a disagreement among believers, many leaders try to fix it quickly without purposefully considering how God would have them deal with the problem—or not deal with it.
Next, offering a little more hands-on advice, Paul tells Timothy in verse 12 to set an example “in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” How many leaders have undermined their leadership by what they have said or done outside the four walls of the church? (Or within, yeah, I know.) A leader can run a good program, give a good Communion meditation, teach a good lesson, or preach a good sermon, but if his outside life doesn’t match what he professes to believe, it all suddenly becomes meaningless.
This leads to Paul’s command to devote ourselves to God’s Word—reading it publicly, preaching it, and teaching it (v. 13). Perhaps this is the core of the leadership problem when it comes to division in the church, whether it’s about worship or any other thing. Perhaps it’s far too easy for leaders to be so wrapped up in their own abilities that they neglect the foundation of God’s Word. Or maybe, when a leader’s skills or knowledge cannot carry him through a specific situation, or when a leader’s sins become an obstacle to his ability to lead, perhaps it’s too easy for him to shirk his responsibility to read, preach, or teach God’s Word publicly, especially when the Word points out his own shortcomings—or ours. There’s no better way to admit one’s own sinfulness or to point out someone else’s than to say, “This is what the Bible has to say about it.”
Good Leaders, Simple Focus
Regardless of where the problems begin, regardless of who’s right or wrong in the divisions we find in the church, leaders must keep their focus on God’s priorities. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially when God lays it out so simply: keep your focus on him and devote yourself to his Word. By keeping themselves and the church focused on God and on God’s Word, leaders will become good ministers of Jesus Christ—and the rest of us won’t be so bad off either.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|March 14: Philippians 3:17–4:1|
|March 15: Luke 19:12-23|
|March 16: 1 Chronicles 29:18-25|
|March 17: Deuteronomy 11:13-21|
|March 18: Psalm 25:1-10|
|March 19: 1 Corinthians 13:1–14:1|
|March 20: 1 Timothy 4:6-16|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Bruce Stoker is a graduate of Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University. He serves as adult education minister with Memorial Church of Christ in Livonia, Michigan. He is married and has three children.