Christ’s apostles use the word shepherd1 a number of times to describe the Christian minister—a word carefully chosen to emphasise the official appointment (ordination), office, responability, duty, dedication, and labour involved in being our great Good Shepherd’s under-shepherds (see John 10.6-16; 21.15-17; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5.1-4). This word is only once translated “pastor” in our Bibles (KJV) (Ephesians 4.11)—from the Latin and old French word for a shepherd.
The apostle Paul often uses lists to summarise the Christian life. For example, we remember of the “fruit of the spirit” list in Galatians 5.22-23, and the “full armour of God” list in Ephesians 6.11-20. Paul also uses several lists to summarise the characteristics of faithful pastors—and patience (hupomone)2 features in all of them. He teaches that Christian overseers are engaged in their pastoral and preaching labours with much patience—the sustained endurance by which they continue in the labours of their office.
Why does Paul and the other apostles employ lists so often in their epistles? It is because lists are good for compactly summarising tall subject matters into short letters. Each word has been deliberately chosen. All apostolic lists are meant to be memorised, meditated upon, and studied. Each point should be properly explained, understood, and obeyed.
Firstly, in Paul’s first pastoral epistle to Timothy, the apostle warns the young pastor, “withdraw thyself” from men of corrupt minds who suppose that their gain of wealth is evidence of God’s approval of their imagined godliness—as though God were fashioned in the image of these men of corrupt minds. He warns the Lord’s under-shepherd to “flee” in the opposite direction from the temptations and snares associated with the “love of money”3 and the evils that come from such covetousness (1 Timothy 1.5-10):4 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience [hupomone], meekness” (v.11).
While this is a list of characteristics that every pastor should aspire to (Paul addresses the “man of God;” compare Deuteronomy 33.1; Joshua 14.6; 1 Samuel 2.27; 9.6-10; Ezra 3.2; Psalms 90.1; 2 Timothy 3.17)—it is also true that this should be the way that every Christian should live. We must all actively avoid entanglement with people whose consuming passion is in growing their wealth (“they that will be rich,” v.5); and we must actively labour to cultivate all these listed spiritual characteristics instead of such soul-destroying avarice. We know the apostle teaches elsewhere that righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness—should characterise all of the Lord’s people.
Secondly, consider Paul’s warning about how ungodliness will continue to be manifest among men in the “last days”5 and, in consequence, how Timothy and all of us (not only those who were whether under the younger man’s pastoring) will often suffer under “perilous times” (2 Timothy 3.1). The apostle has composed another list that ought to describe the Christian pastor—and indeed, ought to describe the Christian. Pastor Timothy, this will come as no revelation to you, for you know what fallen men are like: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (vv.2-5a).
There will be many who profess Christ and who will adhere to the outward forms and practices of the Christian religion. But really, they deny that there is any power from God to convert the soul; and they have no experience of this power in themselves. They think that there are no true Christians, but that all of us have the same empty, hypocritical outward show of godliness as they have. As a genuine Christian and as a pastor, Timothy, man of God, you should not be like them; and you should not be in association with such men—“from such turn away” (v.5b).
As Paul says, in general terms without being explicit, “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” use their cloak of fake Christianity, meanwhile they oppose God’s truly appointed leaders in the Church with the same foolish audacity as those Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses (he of whom the title “man of God” was most often used)—until God showed how powerless they really were. The apostle affirms that likewise will God bring to open shame all false Christians (vv.6-9).
And then the apostle encourages Timothy and all true Christians to follow his own example, which he lists in summary. Yes, he encourages us to truly live as Christians, even though the more Christian we may show themselves to be, the more persecuted we may be: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering [makrothumia], charity, patience [hupomone], Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (vv.10-12). Again, these characteristics of “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus” are not solely for pastors but for all Christians to walk in—and neither is persecution only for godly pastors, although they may endure the first and the worst of it.
Thirdly, the apostle gives several lists to pastor Titus, but they are not exhortations for him personally; although, where applicable, he would have also applied some of godly characteristics listed in his own life. But here Paul is concerned with the content of Titus’s sermons: “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (Titus 2.1). Of course, pastor Titus, you must continue to preach sound doctrine; but your congregation also needs to hear practical preaching that appropriately applies such sound doctrine in their day-to-day life. Always exhort them on how they should then live. Paul lists numerous subjects to cover in practical Christian living (or as Paul would say, godliness) that the various categories of people in the congregation were in need of hearing special exposition and emphasis. And they, in turn, should hear with that hearing that leads to obedience—that is, to implementation.
The pastor must preach particularly to older and younger women and men, and to servants (a term that covers all who are in employment; whether we are servants of persons, villas, farms, government institutions, or private companies). But first, out of respect, Paul addresses what the older men of the congregation need to hear: “That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience [hupomone]” (v.2). On the subject of this patience that “becomes sound doctrine,” old Christian men are to show themselves at all times to be genuine examples of wise and mature Christian manhood, calmly and lovingly bearing with those in their life who still have much to “work out” in their salvation; younger Christians who still have a lot of growing, mortifying, and fruit-bearing to do (Philippians 2.12; Ephesians 4.12-15; Colossians 3.5; John 15.1-8).
Fourthly, there is the list that Paul uses to summarise the Christian life and ministry of both of himself and the men who faithfully laboured with him. This list remains the example that all faithful pastors endeavour to follow in their own situations: “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience [hupomone], in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering [makrothumia], by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6.4-10).
Make many rich—with what? With the precious gospel of salvation, of course! Shortly before in this epistle, Paul had described gospel preachers as nothing less than “ambassadors for Christ;” “workers together with him” [with Christ]; men to whom God himself had committed “the ministry of reconsiliation;” men through whom God himself beseeches gospel hearers; men who stand in Christ’s own stead and “pray ye”—ask and beg you—to believe in the Saviour and so be reconciled to God (5.19-6.1).
That said, we also remember what the Lord Jesus Christ explained: this Good News is only rejected by those who love what is bad. In his own gospel call to the teacher Nicodemus, Jesus solemnly affirmed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3.16-19).
This is how important and how serious the gospel call is. And this is how courageous and gospel preachers must be: firstly, because they know fallen sinners do not desire the gospel of salvation—they do not even possess the will to be reconciled to God; and secondly, because gospel rejecters condemn themselves to perish without this “everlasting life” with God in heaven. And that condemnation to perishing, Jesus also clearly teaches us, means everlasting hell (John 5.22; Matthew 25.4; see also 2 Thessalonians 1.9).
Fallen men love the darkness and hate the light. This is why they hate those who are the “light of the world”—and they hate Christ himself before they hate Christians and the gospel (John 3.19; 8.12; 9.5; 15.18-19; Matthew 5.19). Satan, the “god” whom God’s enemies in this world worship, “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4.4). Sometimes Satan is called Lucifer (bringer of light), but he really brings the darkness that fallen men love, and seeks to put out the true light. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ and his people face and suffer so much opposition.
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake,” Paul emphasises (2 Corinthians 4.13), refining his point down to make it so sharp: preach Christ Jesus the Lord. That’s all. Preach Christ alone. Preach not yourself, for you are nothing and your Lord and Saviour is everything to you—or, that’s how he should be, in your heart. And you must see yourself as Paul sees himself: a servant of the Lord’s people, who are under your care, if you are a true under-shepherd of the Lord. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v.14). So, you, give out this light. This knowledge of the glory of God must be given—through your preaching the gospel. Not in your own strength, you “earthen vessel,” but in the excellency of the power of God (v.15)! Be a labourer together with God: do the planting and the watering, and God will give the increase (1 Corinthians 6.5-9).
The pastor must prove himself to be a minister of God “in much patience” (2 Corinthians 6.4). You will not have it easy, even if you are not called to the martyrdom that some suffer for the same gospel that you must preach. But you are called to endure all things that you will suffer for Christ’s sake: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (vv.8-11; cf. Colossians 1.24-25).
Why? For what cause do the Lord’s under-shepherds do what they do, live as they do, and die as they do? For the Lord, and for the Lord’s people. That is the pastor-heart. “So then death worketh in us, but life in you…Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal”(vv.12, 14-18).
Our Lord said this not of himself but of all his followers (though he is indeed our highest Example in this life): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12.25-26).
ποιμήν, poimen (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 4166). ↩︎
The English phrase “love of money” translates the compound word φιλαργυρία, philarguria, meaning the love of hoarding shiny silver items such as coins (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 5365). ↩︎
We note in passing that since the apostle’s exhortation was being written to Timothy in the First Century AD, they did not think that these “last days” would not start unitl hundreds of years in their future, but the young pastor was himself already living in the last days. Paul agrees with Peter’s sermon at that Pentecost in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2 where he explained the reason and meaning of the miraculous gifts of tongues (languages) which the Holy Spirit had just bestowed upon them: “…this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh…” (Acts 2.16-17). This Acts 2 outpouring of the Spirit was, affirms the Spirit thorugh Peter’s sermon on that day, the beginning of the fulfilment of the “last days” prophecy of Joel. And as it is written in at the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1.1-2). The “last days” are none other the days of the Messiah, the New Testament era. ↩︎