Q&A: Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
Q. Many churches adopt confessions, why then do leaders and laypersons often stray from orthodoxy? What lessons can we learn from this?
A. Confessions are good and have biblical precedent. Humans, however, are fallen and as 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” People are lovers of self rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2-4). That is why there are problems with heterodoxy and heresy, even where there are solid confessions in place. Confessions may not keep false teaching from emerging but it is helpful to have them in place to quench the spread (like gangrene) of unhealthy teaching.
One lesson we learn from the prevalence of unhealthy belief and teaching is the importance of qualified leaders. It is vital that pastors/elders be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and correct opponents of the truth (2 Tim. 2:25). We also see the important place of church discipline. The church is set apart as the light of the world and the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) if the truth is not proclaimed and protected by the church how dark will the darkness be?!
The second lesson is that churches must work hard to be watchful and stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13). If someone is contradicting orthodox teaching and causing division then they should be removed from the church community (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10). The church is to be the set apart people of God (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). Thus, Paul writes “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).
The passage that we are looking at today has some very controversial issues in it. We will look at them in a little bit but first I want to explain the background of the letter as well as the main point of what Paul says in this chapter.
Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to address a particular context and a particularly difficult situation in Ephesus. Paul was addressing false teaching (1 Tim. 1:3-20; 4:1-5; 6:2b-10) and he was telling Timothy how people ought to “behave in the household of God” (1 Tim. 2:1-3:16; 4:6-6:2a). People at the church in Ephesus were teaching things that were wrong and doing wrong things.
Paul labored at the church in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31) and wrote one of the most amazing letters that have ever been written to them and yet they were still liable to fall to unhealthy teaching and living. We see later on that they were also liable to lose the love that they had for Jesus at first (Rev. 2:4). This letter should serve as a wakeup call to us! We too are capable of falling! We too need correction!
Paul wants people to teach what is right and act the right way in “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). If the church is teaching and living wrong that’s really bad news for everyone. It is the church that is to be the “foundation of the truth.” If the church is not the set-apart light that it’s supposed to be how great is the darkness?!
It’s important that we not miss the main point of what Paul is saying in this passage because our modern disputes distract us. Paul’s main point in this chapter is to instruct us to pray. He tells us to pray together. And he tells us how to pray. So, the main point is: In light of Jesus’ sacrificial love, pray with compassion and holiness.
We will look at that in more detail soon. A few things, however, should be said at the outset. First, OCF is committed to a high view of Scripture; we believe it is the word of God. We also believe that unless the Bible is God’s word to us, we live without any real moral authority. “Right” and “wrong” would then become matters of personal taste or popular opinion. We would not be able to talk about justice or truth at all, for there would be no way to know objective truth.
So, second, the Bible is our authority. The Bible informs us and teaches us. We are not to sit over the Bible, God’s word, and inform it… It informs us.
Claire Smith has pointed out in her book, God’s Good Design, that “we do not come to the text as neutral readers. We all have cultural blind spots and sensitivities that influence our reading.” She goes on to say, and I couldn’t agree more, that “we must always allow God’s word to critique us and our culture, rather than the other way around.”
Third, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. One of the reasons it’s profitable is for correction. One of the things the Bible does, is it functions like a mirror by which we can see ourselves and compare.
Fourth, we must always keep in mind God’s lordship and love. God is all wise and powerful as the Creator. But He is also good and loving. He has definitively shown that at the cross. God’s lordship and love should always inform how we think about things.
If what we discuss below is hard for you, I get it. But please don’t doubt the good character of God. And also don’t doubt His lordship. He is loving and Lord.
We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them. We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.
Hear Spurgeon’s words:
I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.
Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to a God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”
A Great Work At A Great Cost
Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first. He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood. Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.” “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”
Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day. He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things. That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”
Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.” Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing. May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).
Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom. So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”
I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).
Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross. I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it. Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words. Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”
Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance. Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.
Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4). Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.
I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.” I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.
During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him. He said,
Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us!
Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.” “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”