EXCUSE ME, WAITER, DID YOU MESS WITH THE FOOD?
Pastor John Samson
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. – 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 ESV
To serve as the pastor in the newly formed King’s Church in Phoenix is a high calling and an amazing privilege. To serve the King of Kings and the people Christ died for – what could be greater than this? Yet with every great privilege comes great responsibility.
Have you noticed in the above text how it is the presentation of Scripture as God breathed (at the end of 2 Timothy 3) that is the basis for the solemn and holy charge given to preach the Word, in chapter 4? The one thing naturally leads to the other. It is because of the nature of Scripture as divinely inspired that Paul tells Timothy to preach it with boldness, in season and out of season. Literally this phrase means “in good times and bad times,” or by way of application, “preach the word when the people like it and when they do not.”
Being a pastor and talking with other pastors, I think I understand how pastors think. God has placed a servant’s heart in every true shepherd’s heart. The genuine pastor did not get into this for money or fame, for the gold or the glory, but because there is a driving passion in the heart, placed there by God, to obey the One who called him for His own eternal purposes. Sadly, what is crystal clear at the beginning phaze of ministry can become fuzzy over time as Church pressures, politics and personalities all have their influence. But the above passage gives us a solemn charge to stay at our post knowing our chief responsibility under the gaze of God is to serve the people of God the Word of God.
I have met some people in ministry who have openly told me that they teach through the Scripture but seek to avoid controversial subjects. I know why they do this. They do not wish to divide their congregation. The Evangelist may count how many people were in a service, but a pastor is far more likely to count how many were not there – he aches inside to see the people he loves come and be built up in their most holy faith and knows what the Word of God can do for them. He organizes his whole week to make room for the serious study of God’s word. It is labor indeed – real work. Often it is in the early hours of the morning that he is awakened from sleep with inspiration to dig out or mine the Scripture – and the inspiration lasts until the clock tells him he must take a quick shower and get on with the business of the day (and restful sleep is only a hope for the next night).
But here’s the problem. Love for the people is very commendable, but it should not be the chief motivation in ministry. There should be a greater love for the God who called us to obey Him. The truth is, if we preach the Word accurately and with the fire and passion He instills in us, this shows great love for people too, because we are giving them the very best thing imaginable – the word of Almighty God. People need a lot more than a pep talk once a week, as in a coach’s half time team talk. No, they need far more substance than this. What they need is a genuine word from God.
If we love Him, we will teach and preach in order to please Him first, for the message of the text is that we preach to the audience of One. God is watching us closely as we preach His Word. 2 Timothy 4:1 could accurately be translated, “I solemnly charge you as one under the gaze of God…”
I think if we were to see this from God’s perspective, when a pastor or preacher says he teaches the Bible but avoids controversial issues, he is acting as a disobedient slave of the Master as well as short changing the people. The fact is that controversy cannot be avoided. There’s no main truth of Scripture that is free from controversy. That’s true whether we are talking about the existence of God, His purpose in suffering, the Trinity, the full Deity and full humanity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the doctrines of grace and how God saves by His grace alone through faith in Christ alone. You can try to find something in there that is not controversial, but I cannot. Truth is controversial – so get used to it.
Having a doctrinal position is unavoidable if we are to say anything about what Scripture means. The question is not can we avoid theology, but which theology is biblical. To try to avoid it is like saying to a waiter, “may I have some water, but can you hold the wet!” The wet comes with the water, because quite simply, water is wet.
If for illustration purposes the waiter is the preacher, then the cook (and owner of the restaurant and the franchise) is God Himself. Waiters are not permitted to look at the plate handed to them by the cook and then cut off the edges of the meat before serving the people. The cook determines what is served to the people not the waiter.
If the text speaks of controversial things such as true discipleship or Divine Sovereignty, who do we think we are if we then say, “this is not what the people want to hear, so I will leave that part out of the sermon”? This would be an act of defiance not of servant-hood, both of God and of the people. We need to ask, “who is it we are really serving?”
It is because of the fact that we are called to serve God first before we serve people that the text goes on to say “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…” This is the truth so let us face it. Not everyone who listens to us will like us or the message we proclaim. As preachers, we must face this and get over it! If everyone likes the message, and I mean everyone, then perhaps the One we should always seek to please first may well be displeased. And this should scare us a lot more than it does, because one day we will stand before Him and give an account to Him, when no crowd is applauding us, its just you or me standing before the King.
There is an offense to the message of the cross – Jews want signs and Greeks seek wisdom – but preach the cross anyway, for this indeed is the true sign and the true wisdom of God. Not everyone who hears us can handle the truth of God’s Sovereignty, and they may leave. Lets remember that the crowd left Jesus, the Master communicator, when He preached it too:
John 6:65-68 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
People will come and go. As much as it may sadden us, not everyone will stay with us for the longhaul. So lets face this fact and decide beforehand who we will be serving, and who it is we will be prepared to lose! We will lose people, but let us not lose true disciples who really want to know what the Word of God says. If we are going to lose people, lets be prepared to lose those who put their opinions and traditions above His word. Making this choice does not mean that in doing so our ministry will always be small. The God who called us is in charge of such things. Paul may plant, an Apollos may water but it is God who causes the growth. The size of the ministry is not in our hands, that is God’s decision, but because of His amazing providence, God’s book certainly is. Lets preach this Divine Word with boldness as heralds of the King, knowing the truth that “Christ’s sheep will never be offended by Christ’s voice.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
Preachers are to use wisdom in how they go about this task, of course, but that’s another subject for another day. But when it comes to a preacher’s job responsibilities, we have no real choice when it comes down to subject matter concerning what we leave out or what we put in. It is the height of presumption to think any other way. God has never asked us for our opinion on the matter. He is the Owner and cook – we are simply humble servant-waiters with an amazingly high calling to be His Royal Ambassadors.
2 Timothy 4 reminds me that my primary task at King’s Church is to serve the King’s food to the King’s people. Let us also realize that Christ’s sheep are amazingly precious to the Shepherd. He is concerned for the welfare of His flock and has established the menu for the diet of the sheep.
“Excuse me waiter, did you mess with the food?” Selah.