I recently challenged the pastors on our team to watch carefully both their lives and their teaching. The challenge is a repeat of the apostle Paul’s challenge to pastor Timothy:
Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (I Timothy 4:15-16)
We can lose our influence and damage others if we do not pay careful attention to our lives, if we develop our competence without developing our character, if we grow our ministries while our hearts grow cold towards God and others, and if we confuse a critical spirit with a critical mind. We must watch our lives. But we also must watch our teaching, our doctrine. As we do, we must not confuse or equate the following:
1. Do not confuse or equate “Did God really say?” with “God has said.”
I have seen Matt Smethurst make the distinction in a post on Twitter and there is indeed a big difference between spending time questioning what God has already made clear and spending time declaring what God has already made clear. In Genesis 3:1, we see sin enter our world through the cunning scheme of the enemy to call into question what God had already said. It was the first, “Did God really say?” moment. In Jude 1:3, we are reminded that there is a faith, a message, that has been delivered once and for all to the saints. We are not being faithful to the “faith delivered once and for all to the saints” if we are creating a “Did God really say?” posture among the saints. Yes, we can wrestle with how to frame and communicate the timeless message in the context of our day but we must not diminish the message.
2. Do not confuse or equate cynicism with idealism.
One way I know I am tired and need to rest is a drift towards cynicism. This is dangerous for my soul because my cynicism, if I fail to repent, can lower my confidence in the promises of God and the beauty of the Word and the Church. A common definition of idealism is holding to a set of ideas of beliefs about how things could and must be, while a common definition of cynicism is a distrustful and even a demeaning attitude that the ideals will never be realized. While some would say that the cynic is merely a disappointed idealist, as Christians (and pastors) we must hold tightly to the trustworthiness of the Scripture and the promise of Jesus to advance His Church. We can be a cautious biblical idealist, realizing that the world is broken and people are fallen, but we must not become cynical to the work of God. Distrust in the Word and in the promises of Jesus for His Church are contagious, so we must watch our teaching for the sake of our own souls and the souls of our hearers.
3. Don’t confuse or equate worldly wisdom with wisdom from above.
At the conclusion of a parable, Jesus said that sometimes the children of this world are savvier and shrewder than the children of light (Luke 16:8). So, we can learn from books, from frameworks, and from counsel people in this world offer us. But we must always submit that wisdom to the wisdom from above. Even God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom (I Corinthians 1:25), and He gives us His wisdom freely when we ask (James 1:15). We have the best and highest and most beautiful authority there is – the good and wise Word from our Savior. We should not settle for lesser wisdom. As we watch our teaching closely, our teaching must be continually formed by His Word.