“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
As many of you know, I am at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte this week to take my last class for the Doctor of Ministry program before I start my dissertation. This week’s class is of particular interest to me: “Calvin’s Pastoral Theology.” I have the wondrous privilege of sitting under the teaching of Dr. Derek Thomas, an incredible teacher and preacher. Additionally, there will be ample opportunity to be sharpened with brothers in Christ who labor together with me for the gospel.
I am asked quite regularly two questions. In my mind they are both related, but perhaps not in the minds of those asking. The first question is this: “Why are you working on a doctoral degree when you are almost 60?” Good question. The short answer is, I have wanted to do this for a very long time, but in the providence of God, that time was now. The second question again is related because it includes a presupposed answer: “Why are you working on a doctorate? So you can get a better job?”
This last question is borne out of our western work ethic. We often work with an eye towards something better, more fulfilling, and certainly with more money. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to advance in the field in which I labor, or to have a sense that I should be doing something different and so take the opportunity to study and prepare myself for that endeavor.
However, as we saw yesterday in our study of 1 Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and[c] we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:6). As with everything we do in life, we must take stock of our motivations and desires to ensure that we are being motivated by the gospel and godly contentment, and not on personal benefit and gain.
The answer to both of those questions that are asked of me regularly is this: “I am pursuing a doctoral degree not so I can get a better job, but so that I can do my job better!” I need to be a better pastor, and I am thankful that I have the opportunity to be refined through the rigors of theological study. It is not only good for me, but Lord willing, it will be good for you.
Paul wrote two letters to Timothy. In both of them, he warns against the dangers of false teachers who pervert the gospel. The remedy is to be a pastor who makes it his life-long ambition to study the word of God, so that he is equipped to recognize error and to instruct others how to identify it.
I love the beauty of the King James in this verse: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Every pastor should be “rightly handling the word of truth.”
However, as with everything in life, there is a danger here. The temptation to be “puffed up” because I studied this, know this, can understand this, etc. is a clear and present danger for every pastor. After all, he is most often the “expert” when it comes to spiritual things. But, as every good pastor knows, he is also very much one of the sheep, desperately in need of a shepherd to guide, keep, and protect him.
With that said, would you pray for me this week that I wouldn’t be puffed up with all of this knowledge, but that I study the things of God I would hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and take comfort in knowing that he is the one who leads me to green pastures, and most importantly, the restorer of my soul.