Greg Haslam's passion is preaching. He is a preacher through and through and an incredible gift to the Church in the United Kingdom. As is often with his seminars at Brighton, this seminar more reflected preaching than teaching. It is a masterful treatment of this vital concept for preachers and teachers in the Church today. Although I am neither, it was a worthy reminder that we should expect nothing less than expository preaching of the Word of God from our leaders in the Church. The seminar proved again that R T Kendall was spot on in his choice of successor at Westminster Chapel.
“Rightly Handling the Word of Truth” – Greg Haslam – Seminar – TOAM 07.
(2 Timothy 2:1) “Endure hardship” – the die hard factor. “Who correctly handles the word of truth”. The Church has forgotten who its true husband is and worse still we have sold out very cheaply to the culture around us. That’s why this letter is very important. This epistle contains the very last words of the apostle Paul that we possess. Bishop Handley Moule said he found it hard to read and study this epistle without a mist gathering in his eyes at the hardships Paul experienced and was going through when he wrote it. These are Paul’s last instructions to his “dear son in the faith”. This is an apostolic epistle to Timothy and Paul is concerned about the transmission and preservation of the Gospel as well as the propagation of the Gospel. This is like a baton in a relay race and the temptation is to fumble – if the fumble occurs the race is over. There is a danger in tampering with the baton – with the Gospel we must not tamper with what has been deposited to us! Some may seek to supplant it. From the mid eighteenth century the devil worked overtime to raise up counterfeit gospels on a whole scale measure. Cults rose up in their many.
“The passing of the torch” is a familiar phrase. One leg of the race is over – the next is about to begin. This is the central thrust of 2 Timothy. Paul was bound in chains but the Gospel was not bound! It never has been and never will be! As yet Timothy – Paul’s apostolic protégée was not bound either and neither are we! The Gospel is free in our hands so we too have this charge to transmit the Gospel as faithfully as we can. That fire needs stoking up. “Fan into flame the gift within you”. Every town and city and village needs fire starters and fire keepers – the flame of the Holy Spirit is needed – lives depend on His fire burning in our churches and in our ministries! Lives depend on it! Truth is reality as God defines it. His charge in this chapter was to guard and protect this Gospel. The main approach of fulfilling this task in Paul’s understanding is that leaders are meant to give themselves to the exposition of the Word of God. This is what primarily pastors are meant to do! And congregations are to demand this of their pastors! When there is no call from our congregations and no inclination from the leaders the church is in deep trouble or soon will be.
The Word must be central because God’s Holy Spirit creates and then critiques a people under the formative influence of the preached Word. You cannot create or critique a people around a pet doctrine that is yours. The apostles said they would give themselves to prayer and to the preached Word. Video clips, liturgical dance and the best sound systems with Sunday dinners all may have there place but can never replace the preached Word. Paul meant that Timothy was to keep and guard this Gospel. We must all be asking “What are we to do with this treasure?”. Keep it intact until we can pass it on to another generation! This term “To guard” is a military term. There must be militancy about preaching! We have got to guard this Gospel – keep it from being vandalised, lost or stolen. Timothy epitomises what all leaders are in truth – he was weak, timid, and sickly!
Paul uses four examples of striving –
1. Soldier (v3-4).
“No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs”. The gladiator Russell Crowe plays has “SPQR” tattooed on his arm but gets so disillusioned he cuts off the skin. These men had to solemnly swear before the gods that they would be separate from normal affairs. Some coming into the ministry want to know how many hours they must serve. 30? Forget it! Think 50 or 60! We will never be rich or climb some ecclesiastical ladder! We are here to serve our commanding officer. We are not here to have a hobby – we may be able to play golf but there is a war on! Hobbies may have to go. Unlike general infantry we are also specialists. It isn’t a question of 40 things I dabble in – Paul says “One thing I do”. A soldier shouldn’t worry about earning a living. That is the government’s responsibility. Others will take responsibility for that. God is our real boss. He knows how to reward His servants in often astonishing ways. Put first the kingdom of God! A soldier must be familiar with his weapons that must be assembled and de-assembled in the dark. We must be as familiar with the Word of God as a real soldier is with his rifle. You may need to use them in the dark! Dismantling a jammed rifle could save your life!
2. Athlete (v5).
“He does not receive the victors crown unless he competes according to the rules”. Emphasis switches to the tough regime of the athlete. This isn’t just about one year of bible training or 3 years at university or seminary. This training is for the rest of your life! It’s not good theology that makes a good preacher but good plodd-ology! Olympians rise very early in the morning and often train while it is dark outside. They train seven days a week through harsh weather or hot sun. The crowds see the athlete running to victory and triumph – what they don’t see is the shivering training sessions when frost is on the ground. This is the minister of God! All this because we are keeping our eye on the ground! The reward for the athletes of the empire was a laurel wreath of leaves that would soon rot! But it was given to them by the Emperor himself. It was who gave them that reward. We have a reward waiting for us from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let’s keep to the rules! You can’t enter a marathon half way through! No drugs are allowed – no unfair advantage or foul play is allowed. We must keep going till the finishing tape. “I have finished the race – henceforth is laid up for me a crown”.
3. Farmer (v6).
You need the patience of a hard working farmer in the ministry. Many ask ministers “Do you actually work for a living?”. Authentic pastoral ministry is not an easy ride. It is meant to be hard work and it is our very life! Farmers don’t take vacations! Their life – their vocation revolves entirely around this. A farmer’s work is not a hobby – it is his very life. He must work the ground without the advantage of modern labour saving machinery in Paul’s day. You don’t always see immediate results in the ministry. We are looking for forces completely outside our control to bring results to operate on the seeds we have planted and the Word we have preached into their lives. For the farmer these forces are the wind, rain and sun. Paul said “I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase”. We are utterly dependent on God blessing His Word! How long are you prepared to wait? It depends on how much you want that crop! Strongly believe in long-term ministry in churches.
There are two ways to leave the ministry in a particular location – to be sent out or to be carried out in a box. We have no option to walk out because it has got a bit difficult for us.
We are looking for quality crops! God expects us to work hard in this ministry! We have to be impervious to timetabled delays and pressures. The timing is outside of your hands. God will often arrange delays just to test your faith. Sow when it is appropriate or not, when you feel like it or when you don’t, when the people want it or they don’t! It is always open season for the preaching of the Word! We want holiness of life in ourselves and our people, a steady flow of numerous new converts to appear under our ministry. C H Spurgeon lamented Baptist churches where the baptisteries were green with mould and the pastors were proud because their orthodoxy was driving people away. Our baptisteries should be wet from the last!
No one at Pentecost was added who was not saved and no one was saved who was not added.
This must include baptism in the Holy Spirit as an energising power. Progressive qualitative increase. Churches should be full of awe because of God’s Presence among them! These are healthy churches. We can only expect these results if we are diligently pursuing these things.
“Do your best to present yourself to God … a workman approved”. Here Paul is describing the role of rightly handling the Word of truth directly – as a workman with integrity. Britain is plagued with cowboy builders. C K Barrett commented that; “Beyond agricultural labour is a crop – this says Paul involves serious hard work”. G Campbell Morgan began his working day at 6am week in and week out. His successor in 1914 – John Henry Jowett said he was motivated to rise early because he could not be shamed by hearing the clatter of workmen rising before him to go to the factories. C H Spurgeon was legendary and worked a 17 hour day for 6 days a week and each year come summer he would be facing emotional and physical burnout. He may not be the best model expect in the quality and calibre of his preaching – but he needed a holiday of 3 to 4 months in the South of France to recover. These men killed themselves through hard work. Luther preached an average of one and a half sermons every day. Luther wrote one written work every other day. Teaching God’s work is hard work!
Preaching has been brought into disrepute in Britain because it has been done badly. We must follow the Holy Spirit – Martyn Lloyd-Jones said;
“Your notes will be there next week – the Holy Spirit may not be!”.
There is an archery metaphor used here but there are too many bad shots in the church of God. We could call them “congenital heretics”. Wherever they can misread Scripture, they will mis-read Scripture. It is so frustrating to speak to Jehovah’s Witnesses! But it also occurs in traditional denominations. Have met Anglicans who have been in church for 50 years and not have a clue about the Bible! How is that possible!? Someone is skilled at misleading them and God help us if we are among that impoverished group in God’s church. They are a menace to the Body of Christ! These people make “wars over words”. It is like gibberish! They are deceptive – they have wandered away from the truth and destroyed the faith of some.
Have seen many teachers in our lifetime who are deceitful and deceiving people and some of them are bishops. These people are contagious. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. It doesn’t only rot and disease them but it affects and damages others. Whole churches have rotted away through bad teaching. The state of modern churches in the UK is poisoned and their witness is affected. Their life blood is affected.
“Beyond the hard work of a labourer is a wonderful healthy church and fruit”.
We need the integrity of a clean vessel (v20-22). The larger the house, the more numerous these vessels. Must purge ourselves from damaging activities if we are to be an unflawed vessel. Don’t cheapen yourself by becoming less than what you are! Don’t settle for less than you hoped for in church life because you lack the courage to fight for the things you do believe in! We must shun the contaminants of our culture today. Money, sex and power have taken out too many in the ministry! The last metaphor is that we must see ourselves as Christ’s bondservants (v23). The Lord’s servant must not quarrel. This is a beautiful metaphor because it means we belong to Jesus Christ – we are sons yes, but we are servants also.