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Pastoral Care

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humility

Peter closes his first letter in today’s Bible reading. He reminds the elders how they should lead their churches: with humility.

Humility goes a long way in leading people! Humility recognizes accountability to someone else.

In any organization, everyone is accountable to someone else. Unless you’re working for yourself, someone else has the ability to terminate your employment. And even then, if you’re working for yourself, you’re selling some kind of product or service, so you are accountable to your customers. The CEO/Chairman of the Board is accountable to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is accountable to the stockholders. Everyone is accountable to someone else.

It’s true in a church as well. Everyone is accountable to someone else. Everyone needs to clothe himself/herself in humility. What does that look like? It looks like living the Golden Rule with those under your care. It looks like recognizing my place and recognizing that for everything I do and say, I will give an account before God Himself. And that’s a heavy thought!

That’s what Peter was trying to convey to his elders in 1 Peter 5:1-5, with verse 5 echoing Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:21.

submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 (CSB)

Application

John Donne famously said, “No man is an island.” Each of us is connected to all the others. If Peter were a Southerner, his command, verse 5 would sound something like, “Now all y’all need to look after each other! Don’t be all uppity. God’s watchin’ you.”

Everyone is accountable to someone else. If you’ve been given authority over someone, always remember that you’re accountable to someone else for how you lead those in your care. This applies to church elders. It also applies to parenting and employment situations as well as others.

To whom are you accountable? Live the Golden Rule with those under your care.

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Several months ago, we read through Paul’s letters to the Church at Corinth. We saw that one of the Corinthians’ biggest problems was their focus on themselves. They were consummate narcissists. As a result, the Corinthian church was extremely dysfunctional in the way it ministered to itself. In today’s Bible reading, Peter echos Paul’s concerns about the proper use of spiritual gifts.

A spiritual gift isn’t for the individual who has the gift. Instead, the individual who has the gift should use the gift in the strength that God provides so that God alone is glorified. (1 Peter 4:10–11) That’s it. And it applies to all individuals and all of the gifts.

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Ephesians 4:11–13 (CSB)

God has blessed me with a primary spiritual gift of teaching. Clustered around that central gift, He has also given me gifts of shepherd, exhortation, wisdom, and intercession. My task is to use these gifts — in the power of the Holy Spirit — to work together along with my personality mix to build up the church I pastor so that our people can do the work of ministry.

Did you catch that? I’m not supposed to do all the work. Neither is anyone else! But unfortunately, I have seen many pastors and their families abused by churches who think the pastor is responsible for everything. And when things don’t get done, guess who is blamed? It’s shameful.

I have been very blessed to serve in churches whose members have rolled up their shirtsleeves to do God’s work. Right now, the church where I have served for over three years (Fellowship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas) is in the process of merging with a sister church (Heritage Baptist Church) right across the road from our church. Both churches prayed about how God is moving among us and “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28a) to combine our church bodies. We sensed that we can do more together as one than we can do separately. And now, God is bringing out the gifts and personality I haven’t needed to draw from in the past. In some ways, I’m intimidated. But I’m also encouraged that God is entrusting to me as pastor, the task of uniting these two bodies into one.

I’m sure that as we move forward, there will be challenges. But like Peter says, everyone should use their gift for the good of the church body. We should all, use our gifts “to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 CSB) with the primary goal of bringing glory to the Giver of those gifts. (1 Peter 4:11)

Application

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. What’s yours? If you are a Believer and don’t know, just ask God. He’ll show you that you may not know what it is, but you use it every day. That is, if you are actively involved in your local church, and actively pursuing God, you probably use your gift(s) all the time. Ask your church friends what they think your gift(s) is/are.

There are also resources available that can help you and your church to evaluate your spiritual gift(s). But when it comes down to it, all those resources do is reveal how you have functioned in the past and recently. Don’t obsess over discovering your gift(s). Instead, obsess over loving God! And obsess over actively using your gift(s) and yourself to glorify Him.

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Sales

Did you know that the antichrist is already here? John says he’s already in the world. And he wrote that during the last half of the First Century.

John begins 1 John 4 in today’s Bible reading with a warning to test the Spirits. (1 John 4:1) So how do you know which spirits to believe? John answers that question for us.

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3 (CSB)

One scholar says, “To test the spirits is ‘Put them to the acid test of truth as the metallurgist does his metals. If it stands the test like a coin, it is acceptable , 2 Cor. 10:18), otherwise it is rejected.'”[1]

It’s so easy to turn on the TV to a “Christian” program, or tune into a “Christian” radio station and hear all kinds of teachings from all kinds of Bible teachers. And not all of the Bible teachers are teaching Biblically-sound teachings. Oh, they may quote the Bible. They may throw around some Greek or Hebrew words. But how do you know if what you’re hearing is right?

The early church struggled with this question. The Apostles’ warnings are laid out in their letters to the young churches and their leaders. And back then, there was a higher level of accountability than there is today. Back then, all you’d have to do is call out the false teachers in a letter and the local pastors confronted them. But today with 24/7 “Christian” TV and radio — not to mention the Internet — there is little to no accountability of the false teachers and their false teachings. Don’t believe me? Call the teacher/preacher/writer and ask the receptionist to let you speak with him/her. Trust me, you won’t be able to talk with him/her. They have more important things to do.

Application

Regardless of the times and the technology, each of us is responsible to make sure that the preachers/teachers/writers we learn from are teaching consistently with the Bible. And that means Believers must test the spirits for themselves. Your pastor can help to point you in the right direction. And that’s one very good reason to be plugged into a good, Bible-believing church. But even your pastor may not know if a particular preacher/teacher/writer is teaching God’s Word legitimately.

Applying John’s counsel, look at what the Bible teacher/preacher/writer says about Jesus. Is the Jesus he/she teaches the Jesus revealed in the Bible? Just talking about “Jesus” doesn’t mean it’s the Jesus of the Bible. What does the teacher/preacher/writer have to say about the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Does what he/she say line up with all of Scripture? Does he/she say that God’s Word is our ultimate authority on Who Jesus is? Does listening to him/her make you feel uncomfortable about sin? Does listening to him/her make you want to live more of a God-centered life?

Yes, it’s very important to put Bible teachers/preachers/writers to the acid test. And just because they passed the test ten years ago doesn’t necessarily mean they would pass the test today. Don’t let down your guard. Your walk with Jesus is impacted by who you watch, listen to, and read. Be careful. Test the spirits.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

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Honor your elders

When Paul talks about honoring the elders in today’s Bible reading, he isn’t talking about honoring your parents or honoring people who are older than you. He’s talking about honoring church elders.

Elders in the First Century church were pastors and mature men who had been called to provide spiritual and financial leadership of the church. Deacons tended to the day-to-day “pastoral care” ministries of the churches.

In most of the churches in my tribe, Baptist Churches, we don’t have elders. Pastors provide spiritual leadership and work with the deacons to administer the financial dealings of the church. Our Congregational polity means that all business decisions must be approved by the church congregation. How minutely the deacons manage the church differs from church to church.

I remember one church where every motion brought before the church in our business meetings came from the “Deacon Board”. And I remember hearing stories of staff members who had to appeal to the deacons to approve everything down to the number of servings of fruit on a Singles Retreat. Yes, seriously!

Admittedly, not all church elders are worthy of respect. But Paul isn’t talking about those people in 1 Timothy 5. He tells Timothy that good leaders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of double honor. Exactly what Paul means here may be a little unclear, but he explains himself when he quotes the Old Testament and talks about letting oxes eat while they work. (Deuteronomy 25:4) He summaries his thoughts with, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

Unfortunately, not every church treats its pastor as well as I have been treated. Just this week, I talked with a pastor-friend about new opportunities before him. He hesitated whether to take the next steps with a new church because with the church-provided parsonage, he might end up with less in his pocket every month, despite the slightly higher salary. Most pastor search committees — and churches in general for that matter — are unaware of the financial downside to living in a parsonage. The IRS sees the parsonage as a taxable asset in the salary package. This means the pastor must pay income taxes on a “fair market rental value” for the parsonage. So for this friend, going to this new opportunity may not be the financial increase he and his family were hoping for. I deeply hope that churches are just unaware of situations like this, rather than being uncaring about them. Many churches have no idea just how poorly they are treating their “elders”. It’s wrong and God will hold them to account for their mistreatment of these servants.

Application

You can honor your “elders” in many ways.

How do you feel about your pastor and church ministry staff? Do you appreciate them? Do you tell them? Sometimes a reassuring or affirming word goes a long way.

Do you pray for your church staff? Have you asked them how you can pray for them?

Sometimes a gift certificate to a restaurant and an offer to keep the kids so a staff member can take his wife on a date night can go a long way.

I haven’t met anyone who goes into vocational ministry for the money. In most churches, there’s no money to be in it for anyway! But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid for their work. Is your church fairly compensating your church staff? When was the last time your pastor or staff received a raise or a special gift to show your appreciation? Maybe it’s time to talk with your church leaders about addressing these issues.

I hope that you and your church honor your elders. Honor them, not as unto men, but as unto God. (Colossians 3:23–24)

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells Timothy to guard against people looking down on him because of his youth. We don’t know how old Timothy is. There may have been some concern that this young pastor may not have enough experience or maturity to fulfill his ministry.

There’s a lot to be said about someone with experience in ministry. Years ago as we began our family, we heard someone teach about raising godly children. He had drawn some practical applications from Scripture. But as we pondered what he said, it dawned on us that this man doesn’t have any children. This man isn’t married either. We decided to take what he said with a proverbial grain of salt. Yes, there are truths which any Believer can mine out of God’s Word. Yes, single men can teach a lot from the Bible about raising godly children. But given the choice of a single man with no children and a man with grown, godly children, I’d take the advice of the older man. Most of us probably would.

Obviously, Timothy wasn’t the most experienced pastor, so Paul told him to show himself to be an example of Christian maturity. “Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB) Timothy can’t do anything about his age. But he can be an example of how a Believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.

Application

There is an application for all of us here. Yes, Timothy was a church “elder”. But don’t think that there’s a different moral calling for the “ordained” than for the “ordinary”.

All of us are called to live a life of integrity and obedience to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There will always be people younger in the faith than you. Ordained or not, you can show yourself as an example of how a believer talks, acts, loves, believes, and remains pure.

I’m not talking about putting on a “holier than thou” front. I’m talking about living a genuine life of growing obedience and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. And everyone is called to that.

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1 2 3 6

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