(Today’s post is adapted from Austin’s article “The Pastorals Are for People,” originally published in Expositor Magazine.)
The classification of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as “the Pastoral Epistles” is as unhelpful as the phrase “full-time ministry.” When “full-time ministry” is used to identify pastors who are paid by the church, it may undermine the equipping of all saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12), the doctrine of vocation, and the historic Protestant stand for “the priesthood of all believers.” Likewise, the classification of these epistles as “the Pastorals” contradicts the influence that all of Scripture should have on every believer (Deut. 32:46–47; 1 Peter 2:1–3; 2 Peter 1:19–21).
It’s important that we don’t scare off our congregation, before we even begin preaching the “Pastoral Epistles,” by referring to them in their somewhat arbitrary and debated classification. There is the danger of creating the impression that three letters of the New Testament (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) were penned for church leaders exclusively.
Pastor friend, I know you don’t believe this. But you can see how in our seminary-trained minds we automatically think of them this way, and inadvertently we could be robbing our people of the rich experience of seeing all that these letters contain for their original audience, the church.
George W. Knight III, commenting on 1 Timothy, writes, “The letter betrays evidences everywhere that it was intended for the church itself, not just Timothy. But because of defections in the leadership, Paul does not, as before, write directly to the church, but to the church through Timothy.” In other words, the Pastoral Epistles are not just to be read by pastors in the solitude of their studies, they are to be proclaimed from the pulpit.
When pastors preach the Pastorals to their congregations, God’s people heed the instruction of the role of Scripture in the believer’s life, “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). They encounter some of the most extensive teaching on contentment and personal finances in the entire Bible (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Furthermore, they behold one of the clearest portraits of how grace instructs believers to deny ungodliness and directs their gaze toward the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of their great Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-15). These passages need to be proclaimed to every Christian.
Calvin went as far as to say, while commenting on 1 Timothy, “This Epistle appears to me to have been written more for the sake of others than for the sake of Timothy, and that opinion will receive the assent of those who shall carefully consider the whole matter.”
If that’s the case, what about the passages that seem to contain instruction that is exclusively for pastors? Is every church member to preach the Word, kindle afresh the gift of God in them, and hand people over to Satan like Paul did Hymenaeus and Alexander? Seeing no value for the congregation in texts like these, some pastors have shied away from preaching the Pastorals in their entirety. But even in texts that are first and foremost for the pastor, there is valuable instruction for the everyday church member. Here are a few examples:
1 Timothy 3:1–7
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be…”
This list of qualifications is something every pastor ought to be familiar with. But how can the churchman sitting in the pews benefit from it? Preaching on the qualifications of elders opens the pastor and his elders to healthy scrutiny from their people and at the same time sharpens the people’s biblical discernment.
The congregation must know how to hold their elders accountable. If the elder board asks an unqualified elder to step down, the church will be more equipped to handle such a decision, and it will be less likely that a schism will take place. In addition, this list is applicable for all men and women who desire to be godly, so the pastor should preach these as concrete characteristics for the people to pursue.
2 Timothy 4:1–4 & Titus 3:1–2
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”
“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”
The congregation is often puzzled by why a pastor does what he does. Why does he preach that way? Why does he get so serious at times? Why the emphasis on developing leaders? Pastors sympathize with other pastors, but how do we teach our people what a pastor goes through without sounding self-serving? Preaching the Pastorals is a pastor’s opportunity to give insight into the life of a pastor. And what better way to explain the role of a shepherd than allowing the congregation to listen in on a conversation from one pastor to another? The Pastorals, then, act as a window through which the rest of the church can see the heart of their leader.
The Pastorals are not just for pastors. They contain practical instruction for every member in the congregation, and that includes the pastor himself. Remember, pastors are people too. Before pastors are pastors, they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Before they are pastors, they are church members. So while pastors may go to the Pastoral Epistles for specialized instructions for how to perform their ministerial duties, they must first and foremost come before these letters for their own souls and their own everyday living. Then, when they have been impacted by these truths, they are ready to preach them to others. Preach the Pastorals to your people.