This coming Sunday morning, my son, Dave, will be ordained as a pastor. I have been invited to bring to him the charge, or the challenge — an unspeakable honor and privilege.
If you had five minutes to offer one challenge to your soon-to-be senior pastor son — not so much a father-to-son chat, as a pastor-to-pastor discussion, what would you say?
THIS is what I will say. A challenge that goes far beyond pastors. A challenge that is most appropriate for EVERY.ONE.OF.US.
Dave, I cannot begin to tell you how proud your mother and I are of you. We are thrilled for you as you embark upon this new chapter of your ongoing journey. And the thought that Pastor Guy would allow me the privilege of bringing to you a brief charge, or challenge, is beyond words. Thank you, Pastor Guy, for this opportunity.
The Apostle Paul was a father-type-figure to two younger pastors by the names of Timothy and Titus.
He had so much to tell them, that it took him a grand total of 3 letters, 13 chapters, and a full complement of 242 verses to share with them everything that was on his rather sizable heart and in his brilliant mind.
Paul had access to pages of paper, an endless supply of pens, and a whole lot of time to write it all down. I have 5 minutes. So I am going to limit my charge to the very first challenge that Paul wrote down in this trilogy of truth-filled epistles.
Since it came first, some could argue, and I will be so bold as to suggest, that this was the principle about which Paul felt most passionate. A principle that I fear we, in our evangelical circles, have been far-too-quick to forget or ignore.
After exchanging a few pleasantries, and then reminding Timothy that — despite the many problems rocking and rolling his church in Ephesus — quitting was not an option, he wrote this in 1 Timothy 1:5-6 (NLT) — “The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions.”
In the words of the time-tested and trusted New American Standard Bible, “The goal of our instruction is love.”
May I humbly suggest that too many of us evangelical pastor-types have rewritten that verse to say, The goal of our instruction is sound doctrine? And that as a consequence, love has become an endangered species, even on the verge of extinction in terms of the tone and tenor of our discourse with one another?
Now let me hasten to say that I am all about sound doctrine. For over 40 years of ministry, I have been guided and goaded by one driving force in my teaching: Get the passage right.
You know me well, Dave. You know that I am haunted by the words of James 3:1, “Dear brothers, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Believe me, I understand that.”
And understanding that, I will NEVER minimize my sky-high responsibility to get the passage right.
God help His Church, and God help this troubled and tortured world of ours, if we who handle God’s truth every single week don’t teach sound doctrine because we fail in our duty to get the passage right.
But hear this: Sound doctrine was never intended by God to be an end in itself. Sound doctrine is only the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. Sound doctrine is a means to an end. And that end is love.
Because at the end of the sermon, if we don’t love each other a little more, and love God a whole lot more, what’s the point?
I do not want, and will not be, a part of a church where, at the conclusion of the sermon, the people smugly walk away with hands-full of carefully-crafted notes of all the things they learned from the pastor that day. And who therefore think that they are some how superior to others because they have a corner on the market of truth.
Give me a church where, at the end of the sermon, its not about hands-full of notes, but rather arms full of hugs, hands full of compassion, for broken people who are just trying to get through one more day in this desperately hurting world of ours.
It’s not about listening to each other with the goal of finding out what’s wrong with each other.
It’s not about judging or attacking or confronting someone because he or she fails to dot their theological i’s just right, or cross their doctrinal t’s the way that we think they should.
It’s not about sending forth from our church services armies of Study-Bible-brandishing “Christians” who believe that their highest God-given virtue is to correct one another because he or she disagrees with us concerning some theme of theology.
It IS about us — every one of us — internalizing the truth that we teach in a way that makes us — and the members of our flocks — humble lovers, not prideful correctors. It IS about us — every one of us — bringing hope and healing to pain-filled people, not finger-wagging, verse spewing, and Bible thumping, as we are ever on the lookout for someone to confront or correct.
When sound doctrine becomes the end in itself, rather than the means to an end — that end being love — churches, and the “Christians” within those churches, invariably become proud and judgmental. “Knowledge puffs up,” so wrote Paul. And then he quickly added, “Love builds up.”
As a pastor, I would much, much rather build people up than puff people up.
So my challenge to you, my beloved son Dave, is that you — to the very best of your God-given ability — you make sure that before you ever stand on this stage and dare to open your mouth, you do indeed get the passage right.
But then, having gotten the passage right, never, never, never forget that getting the passage right is not the end in itself. It is only the means to a far greater end. Because as Paul wrote Timothy, at the front-end of his first letter, “The purpose of your instruction is that all believers would be filled with love.”