Why Non-Pastors Should Read the Pastoral Epistles

pastoralsNext week I will begin preaching the book of Titus on Sunday mornings. Although Titus is only three chapters and forty-six verses in length, it contains a great deal of instruction for the church.

Titus is often grouped with two other Pauline epistles—1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Together these three letters are known as the “Pastoral Epistles.” They are written to two of Paul’s sons in the faith (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4), ministers of the gospel sent by Paul to Ephesus and Crete for the purpose of building up those churches. As a matter of fact, Timothy and Titus are not so much pastors themselves but apostolic delegates who are called to confront error (1 Tim 1:3-7), preach sound doctrine (2 Tim 1:13; Titus 2:1, 15), and further the faith of God’s elect (Titus 1:2).

From this little synopsis, one might get the impression that the Pastoral Epistles are strictly for pastors, or at least for those working in the ministry. One might conclude they only have tangential relevance for the stay-at-home mom or the factory worker. However, such a conclusion would be premature, for the Pastoral Epistles have great application for all Christians. What follows are five reasons why every Christian should read them, study them, and apply them.

Five Reasons Why Non-Pastors Should Read the Pastoral Epistles

First, the content in these letters pertains to the life of the church, more than pastoral ministry.

While the Pastoral Epistles contain sections describing the qualification of elders (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) and deacons (1 Tim 3:8-13), and other sections pertain to teaching sound doctrine and rebuking error (1 Tim 1:3-7; 2 Tim 2:24-26; Titus 1:9-15), the majority of Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus concern life in the household of God. Paul writes “I am writing these things to you so that . . . you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:14–15). Indeed, if God inspired Paul to write letters concerning how the church ought to behave and believe—the next verse (3:16) recounts an early church creed—then all Christians need to know what God says in Pastoral Epistles.

Second, it is vital that church members understand what a pastor is called to do.

Many conflicts arise in churches because of competing visions of the pastoral office. Many are the models of worldly leadership that are imported into the church, and yet going back to Jesus himself (see Mark 10:42-45), the models of the world are inadequate for God’s work. Especially in our modern era, where personality trumps character, the Pastoral Epistles give us the needed reminder that God’s leaders are qualified on the basis of their character (2 Tim 2:24-26) and faithfulness to the truth (2 Tim 2:15). As ambassadors of King Jesus, they are called to preach the Word, evangelize, disciple, and guard the flock from error (2 Tim 2:2; 4:2; Titus 2:1-8). Executive experience and entrepreneurial creativity are nice, but not necessary for pastoral ministry. In a world of competing leadership models, the Pastoral Epistles tell us that in the church doctrine, discipleship, and spiritual devotion are of greatest concern.

Third, while some men are called to become elders (Titus 1:5), and others are called to a full-time vocation of preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17), all men and women are called to the same characteristics of godliness.

What’s striking about the qualifications for church leadership is how ordinary they are. In a mature and growing church there should be little difference between the character of the “clergy” and “laity.” Indeed, in Baptist life and thought, there has never been a categorical difference between the two. It is the Catholic Church that has established a divide between priests and parishioners. Not so in the Protestant Church. Protestants believe all men and women are priests (1 Pet 2:5, 9) and that God has given the church pastor-teachers to “equip the saints for the work of service” (Eph 4:11–12). Why read the Pastoral Epistles? So that every Spirit-endowed, spiritually-gifted saint can grow in godliness and fruitful service. Pastors are not hired to do the work; they are commissioned to catalyze the work with the Word of God and prayer. Like a spiritual father, they are to model the kind of godliness that should be increasingly ubiquitous in the whole church.

Fourth, every believer functions as a shepherd, a teacher, and a pastor.

Though the Pastoral Epistles restrict the office of pastor to men (1 Tim 2:11–15; 3:1-7), every godly mother functions pastorally. When she prays for, prays with, and instructs her children in the things of God, is she not “pastoring” them? Indeed, she is. Likewise, every Christian man is called to be a light in their workplace. Accordingly, the growing disciple of Christ will want to and need to develop pastoral skills—a growing understanding of God’s word (1 Tim 2:15; 3:15), a heart to pray for others (1 Tim 2:1-7), a competence to speak the truth in love, and an exuberant adroitness in sharing Christ with others (2 Tim 4:2). The church that relegates pastoral ministry to the pastor alone will be a very quickly lose effectiveness. God’s design is for pastors to model the faith, teach the faith, and encourage faith in others (2 Tim 2:2). The Pastoral Epistles help equip all Christians to fulfill their various callings.

Fifth, the Pastoral Epistles help call out the called.

If God is building his church, one component piece of that living edifice is a group of men who will shepherd the flock. While God uses all kinds of people to build his church, the office of pastor-elder-overseer (synonymous terms for the same office) will always be a part of God’s growing church. Where do these men come from? They arise from within the church and are recognized by the church. It is the church—not the seminary—that has he responsibility to train, test, and affirm ministers of the gospel. At the same time, God also raises up bi-vocational elders—men who are not called to full-time ministry but whose godly living, Biblical knowledge, and inward desire qualifies them to shepherd the flock (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Therefore, since it is the church that recognizes and sends out ministers, the church must be familiar with the teaching of the Pastoral Epistles.

Take Up The Pastoral Epistles and Read

In the end, the Pastoral Epistles are not the final word on church, church leadership, or church ministry. However, it would be utter folly to pursue ministry without a serious consideration of their teachings. Next week I will begin to consider what God has to say to us in Paul’s letter to Titus. (If you want to follow along, you will be able to listen to the sermon audio here).

In this week, let me encourage you to pick up that little book and read the 46 verses. It will take less than 15 minutes, and in that time it will help you appreciate the mission and methods of God’s church. It may even prompt you to take a further step in serving the Lord in your local church. I hope so. That’s why Paul wrote it.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds



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