“We don’t want to take any chances.”
That’s was my family’s mantra a few years back. First, it was clumsy me falling down a flight of stairs with my then two year-old in my arms. At the hospital they strapped an immobilizer around my neck, even though I was fairly certain it wasn’t broken. “We don’t want to take any chances.”
Next, it was my then very pregnant wife at the hospital, a stomach bug and regular pregnancy sickness having left her severely dehydrated. “We don’t want to take any chances,” they said, as they strapped on the IV. And there have been many more opportunities in which we’ve heard or said this same warning: “We don’t want to take any chances.”
It’s no surprise then as I gathered with the men of our church for our Wednesday morning study of 1 Timothy, I would hear the same message loud and clear – Paul telling Timothy: "We don’t want to take any chances."
Timothy had been given the task of overseeing a church in Ephesus. He was young-ish, probably close to my age, and Paul was writing so that he and the church would “know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” (1 Tim. 3:15). In the midst of his instructions, Paul warns Timothy: there are certain times you do not take chances in ministry. I want to focus on three.
1. Don't take chances with doctrine.
There were some who had sprung up in their midst that wanted to be teachers, but they didn’t really understand the Scriptures (1:7), so instead they devoted themselves to myths (1:4) and boldly laid down their own laws for the church to follow (1:7, 4:3). Paul’s command to Timothy regarding these men? Shut them up. Their teaching is not simply another viewpoint and the church is not a market place of ideas. Rather, the church is a, “pillar and buttress of THE truth” (3:15) (emphasis mine). Their teaching is not merely different, it’s demonic (4:1), and we know that because of what it produces: speculations (1:4), vain discussions (1:6), blasphemy (1:20), insincerity, seared consciences (4:2), controversy, envy, dissension, slander, suspicion, and friction (6:5). Don’t take chances with false teaching and doctrine contrary to the gospel; it makes a shipwreck of things (1:19).
2. Don't take chances with church leaders.
Similarly, Paul warns Timothy not to take chances with church leaders. Elders and Deacons are to be those with godly characters, respectable lives (3:1-13), and are proven managers (3:4-5, 10, 12). Leadership is not the place for a man who has shady business deals, loses his cool, and has a wife who disrespects him, to suddenly “find his place.” Leadership is not a tool to get his “butt in gear.” Yet, this happens so often in churches. A man professes Christ, but has character and life issues. And instead of coming alongside him and discipling him in those areas, the church thinks: “We have this position to fill and we have this guy here…you know what would help him come around, let’s give him some responsibility.” The church cannot afford to take those chances. Don’t take chances with potential leaders – disciple them!
3. Don't take chances on ministry "autopilot."
The third area of warning for Timothy comes in chapter 4. Paul tells Timothy: don’t take chances by simply letting ministry happen. Apparently Timothy was a bit timid (2 Tim. 1:7-8), and possibly had more of a passive attitude. Passivity, however, does not work in ministry. Listen to Paul’s call to arms in ch. 4:
put these things before the brothers (4:6)
you’ve been trained in the Scripture and doctrine, now train yourself for godliness (4:6-7)
toil and strive (4:10)
command and teach (4:11)
set an example (4:12)
devote yourself to public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching (4:13)
practice these things, immerse yourself in them (4:15)
keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching (4:16)
persist in this (4:16)
Again and again we see Paul saying: don’t wait for things to happen. Go minister. Be active. Don’t neglect your gifts; use them. Don’t wait to see if ministry happens; go make it happen.
Will the teaching and purity of the church be maintained with pastors who are passively silent? Will false teachers suddenly come to the realization of their error if the church gives doctrinal wiggle room in the name of tolerance? Will men and women be discipled according to the gospel on their own? Will faithful leaders simply rise to the top? Brothers, we can’t take that chance. Don’t let ministry happen; go minister.