by Paul Vallee.
The Christian community was shocked in November 2006 to discover that a very influential, Spirit-filled, evangelical minister–the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, and one of President George W. Bush’s personal advisors–was having an affair with another man. Another leader wounded and left on the field of battle.
We know that every person is a target of the tempter. The tragedy when a believer falls is that it gives occasion for the enemies of God’s people to bring a reproach to the name of Christ. Think of the heartache that came to that particular local church, and to the family. And then consider the pain and shame this man will endure. What kind of a legacy is he leaving behind?
The theme of this convention is “Live a Legacy, Leave a Legacy.” What will we leave in the wake of our lives and ministries? The Scriptures reinforce the idea over and over again that the greatest contribution we can leave is the measure of our character.
As I prayerfully considered this, I was struck by a question Jesus raised in Mark 8:36 regarding the condition and priority of our soul. He asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
Let me rephrase the question to apply to us as Christian leaders. “What good is it for a minister to build a great church or a great ministry and lose his own soul?”
All the issues of life flow from our soul. To pursue other things at the expense of our soul, no matter how important, meaningful or good, is dangerous. We may pursue and achieve incredible success in life, but the question remains, “At what price?” Whatever it is that we give ourselves to becomes the object of our affection and energy.
The question I want to raise today is: How is your soul?
We can only effectively lead from a healthy, godly soul.
To have for a goal anything less than to know God and become like Him will eventually draw us away from Him. How do we get entangled with sin? How do we drift from God? How does that drift affect our relationships with others? How does a life of good intentions so often become a life of destitution? How does a good life end up going wrong?
We don’t have to go far in the human story to see how mankind lost paradise. The Bible quickly moves from how everything God created was good to how it all became defiled. The tempter came as a serpent to befriend our first parents, and as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”
What does God expect of each of us, especially Christian leaders? In one of C. S. Lewis’ books, entitled The Great Divorce, he exposes the reasons why people choose Hell over Heaven. In this journey between Hell and Heaven, Lewis makes a couple of interesting statements that should awaken us to question what God expects of us. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it [their own will]. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it will be opened.'”3
As St. Augustine points out, “Grace is God’s giving us sovereign joy in God that triumphs over joy in sin. In other words, God works deep in the human heart to transform the springs of joy so that we love God more than anything else.”11
As Lewis points out later in The Great Divorce, “There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher and mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels. It’s not out of bad mice or bad fleas you make demons, but out of bad archangels.”4
So we become like what we worship. When we turn to God, we become like Him, and when we turn away, we become empty. The apostle Paul described the conversion of the Thessalonians as turning from idols to serve the living and true God (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9). God is described as alive and true, while idols are dead and false. The deception of turning away from God is that idols promise much but deliver little. What remains only brings emptiness and a greater longing in our souls.
As Jonah reminds us, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (2:8). And one of those idols can be ministry. We can place the ministry God gives us ahead of our love and devotion to him.
In Paul’s letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, he warns him as a minister of the gospel to watch his life and his teaching. It’s a warning we all must take to heart. In 1 Timothy 4, we find the qualities of a godly servant of Christ; in other words, how to lead from a godly soul. How does a true follower of Christ live? What should we be focusing our lives upon? As we look at our text, we find answers to these issues.
The church in Ephesus was under attack from false teaching originating from within and discrediting the church in the eyes of the community. Timothy is asked to remain and straighten out the problems. But it’s about more than just giving the right answers, it’s living the right life. If we are really going to impact the lives of people around us as servants of Christ, there are some key qualities of a godly life that need to be developed within us. These qualities shine under real pressure.
As Philip Towner points out, “…the soundness of a church depends on ministers and leaders who are sound in their faith and practice.”5
I’ve grouped Paul’s words to Timothy into four qualities of a godly life. These qualities must be developed in our lives in order for us to have a healthy soul, a godly soul.
I. THE FIRST QUALITY OF A GODLY SOUL IS DISCERNMENT.
We must know the difference between what is good and evil. Ultimately, we have to distinguish between what is good and what is best. We must be able to identity what is false and reject it, flee from it and then run to and embrace what is good and true. That is the key to spiritual health and vitality in our lives.
Listen to what Paul tells Timothy. “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales..” (1 Tim. 4:6-8)
Notice Timothy needs to point some things out: things that are deadly to spiritual health as well as things that will strengthen our soul.
A. If we are going to be a good servants of Christ, we must be able to point out the spiritually life-threatening problems. This is not the job of pastoral leaders alone, but every caring believer. We must warn others of the danger they are in. Each of us has that responsibility. From the book of Ezekiel, we are called to warn those who are sinning against God, just like a watchman must sound the alarm of an invading army ready to destroy an unsuspecting city. Love demands that we care enough to speak the truth into each other lives, motivated by the love of Christ.
What were the things that Timothy, as a good servant of Christ, was to point out? Obviously, Paul had just warned in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 of deception from false teaching and spiritual apostasy, from falling away from the faith. Many scholars believe that he is also including chapters two and three, where there were some positive things that needed to be understood as well.
Notice in his second letter to Timothy, Paul points out that the value of understanding and living out the Scriptures will bring a person to a mature state as a believer. God’s word equips us to be useful in our service to God. “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
God’s Word is not only for teaching and training, but also for rebuking and correcting-elements we often are tempted to ignore.
B. We must be willing to stand for the truths of Biblical Christianity.
1. Especially in a time when these things are being challenged by our broken society. “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
In our desire to effectively communicate to our culture, we must be very careful we don’t change the message. The emergent-church movement is suggesting that even the message must be changed in order to communicate with relevance to this postmodern world.
Let me point out that the Bible and its message is the most relevant and necessary message for today. We may at times be out of step with those around us, but that doesn’t mean we are irrelevant.
How many realize that most people thought Noah was irrelevant and out of touch with reality in his day, but his message was the most relevant message being communicated.
2. Notice how Paul challenges Timothy to stand for what he had been taught as true from childhood. Timothy’s faith was nourished by two significant women in his life, his mother and grandmother. These two ladies modeled what genuine faith was all about, both in word and deed. “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Tim. 1:5)
One of the greatest roles we have is to train our children and grandchildren. The impact later is incredible. But you may argue that you are single. This doesn’t just apply to biological, but spiritual children as well. We are called to “make disciples.” It’s more than just sharing the gospel and seeing spiritual birth occur in someone’s life. We need to help them grow in their relationship with God. Real ministry is parenting people.
C. One of the areas that we must guard against is superstitions: ideas that float about but have no real substance to them. Paul calls them “godless myths.” Then he goes on to warn against “old wives’ tales.”
What does the apostle Paul mean by this? As Dr. Gordon Fee points out, “These are a sarcastic expression often used in philosophical polemic [arguments] comparing an opponent’s position to the tales perpetuated by the older women of those cultures as they would sit around weaving and the like.”1 In other words, ideas that have no firm foundations. They cannot be supported. Many ideas that are spoken to undermine faith can not be supported.
D. In contrast to what is false, Paul states what is true. “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. (1 Tim. 4:9-11)
The gospel of Christ deserves full acceptance. Paul talks about striving and laboring for this gospel. Why? Because this message is the only hope of our world. There is a tremendous battle for the souls of people, and we must not become deceived about the gospel or give up hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
II. THE SECOND QUALITY OF A GODLY SOUL IS DISCIPLINE.
What I mean by discipline is first of all our spiritual development and then the development of others. Paul is calling Timothy and ourselves to train to be godly people. “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim. 4:7-8)
A. Gordon MacDonald, in an article from Leadership entitled “Cultivating the Soul” wrote, “The forming of the soul that it might be a dwelling place for God is the primary work of the Christian leader. This is not an add-on, an option, or a third-level priority. Without this core activity, one almost guarantees that he/she will not last in leadership for a lifetime or that what work is accomplished will become less and less reflective of God’s honor and God’s purposes.”
What was it that Jesus emphasized? The training of the twelve, and more specifically, the development of their character. This was the critical work. Though He ministered to the multitudes, what endured and lasted was the work in these men’s lives, which was reproduced in others.
In his twenties, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote a letter to his wife, describing his feelings of discouragement and ineffectiveness. He was close to quitting, he said. Catherine, a remarkable woman, wrote back: “I know how possible it is to preach and pray and sing, and even shout, while the heart is not right with God. I know how popularity and prosperity have a tendency to elate and exalt self, if the heart is not humble before God. I know how Satan takes advantage of these things to work out the destruction (if possible) of one whom the Lord uses to pull down strongholds of his kingdom, and all these considerations make me tremble, and weep, and pray for you, my dearest love, that you may be able to overcome all his devices, and having done all to stand, not in your own strength but in humble dependence on Him who worketh all in all.”
As far as I can tell, Catherine was 23 when she wrote these words. But she was not too young to “get it.” William’s spiritual core, she understood, was the key to everything.”12
What I’m saying is that unless we are godly, we cannot develop godly people. We must lead from a godly soul.
B. Paul now moves from what Timothy had been fortunate enough to receive, the nurturing as a child, to the more rigorous metaphor of training as an athlete. The encouragement is that he must continually train himself, discipline himself to be godly. This is not a passive stance, but an active stance to spiritual growth.
Who is ultimately responsible for your life? Who is responsible to train to be godly? We are to train ourselves. We are responsible. We are to discipline ourselves to become spiritual.
As author Don Whitney states in his book on the Spiritual Disciplines: “The Spiritual Disciplines are those personal and corporate disciplines that promote spiritual growth. They are the habits of devotion and experiential Christianity that have been practiced by the people of God since biblical times. …The Spiritual Disciplines are the God-given means we are to use in the Spirit-filled pursuit of Godliness.”6
Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, gives a classification of some of the key disciplines. Disciplines of Abstinence include such elements as: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice; whereas Disciplines of Engagement include: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission.
One of the deep concerns surrounding Spiritual Disciplines is that these activities can form a work-righteousness pattern where a person’s sense of spiritual worth or merit is based upon the successful performance of these disciplines. In other words, I’m more spiritual if I do these activities than if I don’t. We can become quite pharisaical in our approach to Christianity. There certainly is a danger that in practising the spiritual disciplines, a legalistic approach to Christianity can happen. Yet, the purpose of the disciplines are not ends in themselves, but rather a means to experiencing the presence of God. If that occurs, humility will be the result.
Yet, the real danger today lies in the neglect of obedience to the text. We are living in a time when many people are living undisciplined lives, particularly as it relates to godliness. As Dr. Raymond Edman, past president of Wheaton College, challenged his generation (1940-1965), “Ours is an undisciplined age. The old disciplines are breaking down, and the foundations of society appear to be crumbling…Above all, the discipline of divine grace is derided as legalism or is entirely unknown to a generation that is largely illiterate in the Scriptures.”7
If these words ring true when they were first published in 1948, how much more do they need to be repeated today? A proper understanding of the relationship of Spiritual Disciplines and grace freed me to begin to study, pursue and develop these disciplines in my own life. I’ve met with varying degrees of success. I’ve discovered that the more I practice them, the more I enjoy them, and the less I practice them the less I enjoy them. There is something invigorating about spending time with the Lord. It refreshes, renews, refocuses and enables me to handle the challenges of life. I find that as I receive from the Lord, I’m better prepared to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is a greater awareness of working together with the Lord, rather than taking the pressure of ministry upon myself.
Whenever I find myself growing weary, tired, or discouraged in ministry; I find that I’ve allowed the demands of ministry to rob me of the delight in pursuing my Lord. I constantly have to remind myself that ministry must flow from my relationship with the Lord. This not only applies to my ministry in my pastoral context, but also my ministry to my family. My strength, wisdom, and creativity come from my times with the Lord.
I’ve discovered that I either discipline myself or God will bring about other means to capture my attention and my affections. As Don Whitney points out, “God uses three primary catalysts for changing us and conforming us to Christlikeness, but only one is largely under our control.
One catalyst the Lord uses to change us is people. Another change agent God uses in our lives is circumstances. Then there is the catalyst of the Spiritual Disciplines. This catalyst differs from the first two in that when God uses the Disciplines, He works from the inside out. When He changes us through people and circumstances, the process works from the outside in. The Spiritual Disciplines also differ from the other two methods of change in that God grants us a measure of choice regarding involvement with them.”8
What we must understand is the freedom that comes through the practice of the spiritual disciplines. As Elton Trueblood points out: “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom…that we are most free when we are bound. But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding. The one who would be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or the track. His failure to train rigorously denies him the freedom to run with the desired speed and endurance. With one concerted voice, the giants of the devotional life apply the same principle to the whole of life: Discipline is the price of freedom.”9
III. THE THIRD QUALITY OF A GODLY SOUL IS DEVOTION.
What are we giving ourselves to? What is our passion? We must become an example both in life (v. 12) and ministry (vv. 13-14).
The qualities that Paul is addressing about Timothy’s youthfulness are areas that young people tend to lack in their lives: things like speech, love, faith, purity. But the point of verse 12, as Donald Guthrie points out, is: “In this way it would become evident to the believers that in Christianity, authority is contingent upon character and not age.”2 As one scholar pointed out, anyone under forty was considered young. Timothy was probably in his thirties when the apostle Paul wrote these words: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Tim. 4:12-14)
The challenge is to be devoted and not negligent in God’s Word and in His call for our service. As spiritual leaders, we must once again hear the call of that great reformer, Martin Luther. When he was just short of sixty years old, he pleaded with pastors to be diligent: “Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture…The call is: watch, study, attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well…The devil, the world, and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent. This evil, shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring.”10
While the preachers must hear these words, every believer must take seriously the same call to read, to study, to apply the Word of God in their lives. One study by George Barna found that only 18 percent of believers read their Bibles daily, while 23 percent never read their Bibles. Is it any wonder that many in the church today are embracing the values of our culture rather than the values of God? We are looking for other ways of reaching people, of growing healthy souls, while neglecting God’s means and ways of accomplishing those things.
IV. THE FINAL QUALITY OF A GODLY SOUL IS DILIGENCE.
We need to be alert. There is an incredible battle for our souls. Here we have some specific things we must be alert for. “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:15-16)
These aren’t just words to Christian leaders who are communicating the gospel, but also to each of us as parents who are communicating the reality of Christianity to our children, our neighbors and co-workers.
Do your words line up with your lifestyle? There is nothing more damaging to the testimony of Christ than when our lives are out of sync. It’s like hearing beautiful lyrics to a song, but the music is terrible and basically drowns out the message.
“Ask yourself what you would have done if you had inherited New York City, when crime was out of control and more than half of the citizens admitted in a survey that they would move out if they could afford to. The city was a depressing place, and it must have been a somewhat daunting job to be elected mayor. Where do you start?
“Mayor Rudolph Giuliani started by going after the little things. ‘I am a firm believer in the theory that “minor” crimes and “quality of life” offenses are all part of the larger picture,’ he explains. Among the first elements to go were the “Squeegee Men,” drug addicted and shady looking riffraff who personified New York’s rough edge. Armed with a soiled rag and a dirty bottle of watered down Windex, these men would bully and badger motorists for money. Giuliani said, ‘We’re not going to put up with this anymore,’ and he brought this intimidation to an end.
“He then declared war on graffiti, subway panhandlers, loitering, broken windows, and petty vandalism minor offenses that would have gone unnoticed in days past while the police force was overwhelmed with homicides and violent crime. But Guiliani had a hunch: if you send out a signal that you won’t tolerate these minor offenses, people will get the idea that the major offenses will be treated even more seriously.
“‘One graffiti defacement or one loud radio may not seem like much of a problem, but criminals thrive in chaotic environments,’ Giuliani explained. ‘Small problems can be the first step to big trouble. Neighborhoods scarred by graffiti or blasted day and night by boom box radios will become besieged, vulnerable, and ultimately dangerous places. If police departments surrender on the small issues using the excuse that they are too busy dealing with “serious” crime, they soon will find themselves surrendering to the latter as well.’
“It worked. Giuliani has been successful in reducing crime beyond all expectations. Between 1993 and 1996, the murder rate came down almost 50 percent. Robberies plummeted by 42 percent while auto thefts dropped by 46 percent. The streets of New York City became safe in a way that was unimaginable just a few years earlier.
“Oftentimes as pastors, we get ‘stuck’ or lost in the big challenges of ministry. We wonder what we can do to get through to those we serve? The truth is if you take care of the little things, the big things will fall into place. Put first things first!”13
What comes first is the nurture and care of your soul, and then the souls of those you are called to care for.
Leading from a godly soul means that we must be discerning, disciplined, devoted and diligent. We are aware of what is good and evil. We must be disciplined. We must be like athletes in training, striving to overcome the weaknesses with the empowerment of the Spirit. The daily disciplines are what makes behavior consistent. Our reactions under pressure reveal how disciplined or undisciplined we are; how godly or ungodly we are. We must be diligent. Many are watching our lives.
Are you leading from a godly soul? May these closing words resonate in your soul today: “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)
1. Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988), 103.
2. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1957), 97.
3. C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (New York: Harper Collins, 1973), 75.
4. Ibid, 106.
5. Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, IVP NTC (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1994), 105.
6. Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1991), 15.
7. V. Raymond Edman, The Disciplines of Life, (Minneapolis: World Wide Publications, 1948), 3.
8. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 15-16.
9. Eldon Trueblood, as quoted in Leadership Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 3, summer 1989, 60.
10. Plass, What Luther Says, vol. 2, 951; as quoted by John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2000), 101.
11. Augustine, Confessions, 181; as quoted by Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 57.
12. Gordon MacDonald, “Cultivating the Soul,” Leadership Magazine, Summer 2005, Vol. XXVI, no. 3, 51-52.
13. John Ashcroft. From the files of Leadership.
Paul Vallee is Senior Pastor of Living Stones Church in Red Deer, Alberta.