Today we start into our reading of the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Many scholars believe that these works are pseudonymous. In other words, they are not actually written by Paul but in his name. This was a common practice in ancient times. And even if one holds that view, it is possible that we have, in the Pastoral Epistles, fragments of Paul’s actual writings woven together by another hand. In any case, these letters can still, in C. S. Lewis’ phrase, act on us as the Word of God.
When I served as a full time pastor I found much spiritual fruit in these letters to share with my congregation, especially those in leadership positions. Perhaps, the average Christian reader may find less of personal application in these letters. I don’t know. As someone who has served in full time ministry for most of my life, I have always enjoyed and appreciated this part of the New Testament. I have preached and taught on many of these passages.
In teaching about the qualifications for overseers and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, I have often shared this quote from the great missionary, Adoniram Judson….
In encouraging other young men to come out as missionaries, do use the greatest caution. One wrong-headed, conscientiously obstinate fellow would ruin us.
Then Judson goes on to describe the sort of person he wanted to see join him on the mission field….
Humble, quiet, persevering young men; men of sound, sterling talents (though, perhaps, not brilliant), of decent accomplishments, and some natural aptitude to acquire a language; men of amiable temper, willing to take the lowest place, to be the least of all and the servants of all; men who…live near to God, and are willing to suffer all things for Christ’s sake, without being proud of it, these are the men.”
Sounds a bit like the qualifications for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3, does it not? But then, Judson adds: “But oh, how unlike their description is the writer of it!”
If Paul did write 1 Timothy 3, it serves as a real contrast to what he says about his own unworthiness in 1 Timothy 1. As I have told potential overseers and deacons many times in the past, no one has ever met the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 except Jesus himself. The good news for church leaders, and for everyone, is that when we fall short of all we should be as Christians and leaders, God not only can but will forgive us.
I like what C. S. Lewis wrote on this point in a letter to Miss Breckenridge on April 19, 1951: “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
Wise words. Hard to implement sometimes. But wise. As Christian leaders, and simply as Christians, we certainly need to take Lewis' words to heart.