“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed.”
These words are addressed to Saint Timothy, who was a pastor. So these are instructions that also could be addressed to other pastors.
In a very general way, these words can apply to lay people like you. And the words are pretty general. Strive to be a good worker, approved before God, without shame.
So the question is, how do Christians avoid shame? How are they good and approved before God?
Here we must insert the Gospel truth that no one can find approval before God except the Blood of Christ covers them. No one can avoid shame in God’s eyes unless their sins are forgiven through faith in the Savior who died on the Tree. No one is good but God alone, and those whom God declares righteous by grace through faith on account of Christ.
This is most certainly true. Yet it is not what Saint Paul is talking about. He is addressing Timothy’s actions, not as if Timothy can earn righteousness in God’s eyes. Instead Paul is talking about the works that follow faith. Here is Sanctification and the third use of the Law. In these works, we want to do what is right. That which God commands should be our aim.
Therefore we need to know what God says we should do and not do. We might decide to follow our feelings, as if our conscience will always lead us right. But the conscience must be informed by Scripture. A conscience that relies upon feelings alone will easily go astray. Therefore we need knowledge.
Especially in light of this verse of Scripture, we should be concerned with our vocations. In your particular callings, what does God want you to do and not do? I could simply refer you to my recent sermons on the Table of Duties, and that would not be wrong. The knowledge imparted in that part of the Catechism is vital to living a Christian life.
But you will not always have your Catechism in front of you. Therefore notice in Scripture when it talks about things that have to do with your station in life. Wives, what does God want you to be doing as wives? Husbands, likewise, and children, and citizens, etc. There are also more instructions than just in the Table of Duties.
A pastor might not only notice the Table of Duties, but also the particular tasks set in place by Christ’s institution of the Preaching Office. Christ says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Our Lord also says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Again, He says, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” And also, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In the context of the Lord’s Supper He says, “This do, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
We could summarize these things, which make up the primary tasks of the ministry, as Word and Sacrament. But we should not let the specific gifts of Gospel be lost in an over-used phrase that becomes meaningless. Simply repeating “Word and Sacrament!” neither makes you a Lutheran nor a good and diligent worker. A preacher must put His heart in these things and do them faithfully.
A preacher may put his heart other places. If I decide that I want to please people, then I arrange my ministry in order to accomplish that goal. Likewise if I want money or fame or whatever else may enter my heart. But a worker approved by God seeks the things of God, not the things of the often-straying heart.
There are other, secondary tasks. See to the distribution for the poor. Give attention to the prayers. These things and others are not the distinctive works of the preaching office, but they are still important. If the secondary tasks begin to eclipse and push out the primary tasks, then a problem develops with which even the apostles had to struggle. For example, if I pray day and night, 24 hours a day, then my other tasks as a Pastor, father, and husband will suffer.
It is also a fact of life that things get in the way. Other vocations compete for our time. This is common, as I’m sure you can see, with all stations in life. It is hard to juggle all the demands on our time. We must prioritize and arrange our time well, yet be flexible enough to deal with high priority events like emergencies.
This is so hard, and we will not always do well. But Paul is not demanding perfection. He says, “Be diligent to be approved and not ashamed.” Diligence is taking care to do hard work, as opposed to laziness or carelessness.
This does not mean working yourself to a frazzle. Overwork is as dangerous as laziness. A man who burns himself out by not resting is not wise. God wants us to take time for rest.
But there is also a third category, neither lazy nor overworking. Some people bustle around with little jobs that they invent that are not really accomplishing anything or serving their vocation. These are busy but not diligent people.
So we should strive to be diligent by knowing what we should do and putting in hard work to accomplish it.
Diligent workers also do not give up easily. When frustration and impediments block their efforts, they should not therefore throw in the towel.
In addition to primary and secondary tasks of preachers, there are also appropriate works that accompany the office, although they are not strictly speaking the tasks assigned to the office. These could be summarized as morals. In First Timothy, Paul listed these things: Blamelessness, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence; not a novice, and having a good testimony among those who are outside.
Now there is only one Man who has ever perfectly fulfilled all these attributes: Christ, who although he was unmarried, was perfectly chaste; although He had no biological children, always encouraged proper submission with reverence. And so forth.
No sinful preacher does all things perfectly besides Christ. Yet these guidelines for choosing who is a fit man for the office at least will weed out those who are egregiously living an immoral life. That is the kind of shame that Paul wants Timothy to avoid. A man who feels no shame, although he should, should not be standing before the assembly to speak in the place of Christ. Then it causes all kinds of offense. People will find offense all on their own well enough. We should not encourage them by setting an offensive man before them.
Preachers should strive for these standards, repent where they are lacking, and try to do better.
So should we all strive to live a clean and decent life as far as we are able, and seek forgiveness where we fail.
Especially we should remember that God sees the heart. A preacher must not think that he simply has to put on a good appearance for people. God knows what a man does in secret. He sees the sinful thoughts that he may cultivate inside. No one is guiltless before the All-Seeing Eye of God’s omniscience.
Therefore a conscientious preacher will constantly be driven to the Gospel. How could any man think that he is spotless and pure in all ways? Realizing that he is standing in the office of the divine Word, in which much is demanded of such a wretched man as may happen to be standing in the pulpit at this moment, a preacher will quickly learn to desire the Gospel more than any in the pews.
Instead of seeing this as failure, we should see it as the most wondrous glory of the sanctified life. The Lord drives us to good works, and He also awakens our conscience when we act according to the Old Man in us. The Lord wants us all, pastors and lay people, to not only be diligent in our vocations to strive for blamelessness, but He also wants us to come seeking for Him. Sanctification is not the graduation class out of our need for Christ. Rather, it should convince us more than ever that we need Him with every breath and every beat of our heart.
The Lord continue to lead us all to live out our vocations before Him diligently, following His Word so that we do works that He approves of, and by His grace never become entangled in a shameful life.
In His Name, Amen.
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