The “seminary” chapter of my journey in ministry ended this year and God brought my wife and I to the Evangelical Free Church in Iowa Falls, Iowa. I’ve been a pastor here for about three months now, and I find it both joyful and humbling. Joyful, because it is always a joy to follow the Good Shepherd and shepherd God’s people; serving the local church like this is such a privilege. Humbling, because I am a weakling! I am reliant on God in so many fresh ways as a newcomer to pastoral leadership. My rookie season will, I pray, be marked not by the wisdom of men, but by the power of God.
One weakness – my lack of experience – is something that encouraged me to serve this particular church. Here, I get to pastor alongside a brother who has already led and loved the body, and the whole community, for nine years. His council and guidance are like gold while I look to find my sea legs in ministry.
As a new pastor, I feel an affinity for Timothy, another young pastor. From my (lack of) experience, I believe that having a mentor is not just wise—it’s vital. As I meditate on 1 Timothy 1:18-19, I notice the gravity of living in our present age. Paul shares a few tenets with his mentee for persevering in shepherding and in faith. I believe there is a simple application: some of us need to find a mentor, and others need to be a mentor.
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.”
We need to wage war
Christian ministry is war. The charge Paul gives Timothy is, in effect, to resist false teachers (1 Tim 1:3). It is the aim of “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). Shepherds need to protect their flocks, and contending against false teachers is a necessary good. It is a fight worth having. Paul encourages Timothy to this end and supports him in this pursuit.
Our hearts are under siege. The world (along with all its false teachers) and the Adversary definitely contribute to this anti-faith blockade, but perhaps the most dangerous opposer of truth is one's own flesh (Rom 1:18). Unbelief is our worst enemy; it alone has the power to condemn us (John 3:18-19). But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57)! The kingdom of God is the inheritance of his people, and it is sure and steady in an arid and aimless world.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit this kingdom so, until He returns, we battle. If we are to remain immovable in the Lord and abound in His work, we had best take up the whole armor of God and do all we can to stand firm (Eph 6:13). Practical wisdom teaches that a cord of three strands is not easily broken and that as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. We are relational beings, made for relationship with God and even for relationship with other people.
I don’t need to persuade a deployed soldier to stick with his squad. He needs their help to survive and he knows it. The greater our awareness of the spiritual battle raging around us, and the greater our understanding of our personal weakness, the greater our zeal will be to seek the Lord together with our brothers and sisters.
I am young, and I realize my heart is prone to wander. I need help! I need a fellow soldier to know my heart, call out my sin and encourage me in faith. I need a fellow soldier to come alongside me. If I’m Timothy, I need Paul.
We need to hold faith
Genuine faith is as valuable as the object, or person, in which it is placed. A Christian’s faith, then, is supremely precious, because the One whom our faith is in is supremely precious (Phil 3:8). The present struggle is for seeing Jesus clearly, as He really is: good. When we taste and see the full goodness of Jesus, unbelief shrinks away. The problem is that we suffer from spiritual amnesia.
Practice makes permanent, and believers who have walked with Jesus for 40, 60, 80-plus years have trained their eyes—after a lot of practice and a lot of failing—to fix on the Lord and rehearse His goodness over and over again. Younger believers, like myself, often have not yet endured the same sort or duration of fiery trials (1 Pet 1:7) and, therefore, are in need of practice and of a guide.
Our great Guide often places little guides to help us along the journey, as we practice training our eyes on Him by faith. That’s what discipleship looks like! We need, like Timothy needed Paul, a brother or sister to help us fight the good fight of faith, holding to the eternal life to which we were called (1 Tim 6:12).
In the Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s companion Faithful is aptly named. Through the furnace of persecution, they press on together, encouraging, correcting and training one another in righteousness all the way.
Only Christ can cleanse our spiritual amnesia, and one way He does this is through the presence of a mentor. I have had several mentors throughout my years in ministry thus far, and they all have had (at least this) one thing in common: they really trusted Jesus. Often, I find myself hungering for faith like theirs, which has been tested and proved. So, I try to do what they do—I imitate them as they imitate Christ.
For me, gospel-partnership like this has proved to be invaluable as I strive to wage war and hold faith. In joy and in trouble, brothers who are now where I want to be have related their journey and hearts to mine while pressing me towards the One they glory in.
We need good consciences
In 1 Timothy 1:19, we learn that two false teachers—Hymenaeus and Alexander—have rejected their consciences and, in so doing, have made a “shipwreck” of their faith. Living in dissonance with one’s conscience is risky business; at some point, resolution will come. That can happen by repenting and turning towards the conscience, or by rejecting and turning away from it.
This is the tragedy of Romans 1:18-32—we knew God, yet suppressed the truth and exchanged divine glory for a lie. We worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. If, now, we are to live as ones set free from sin and made slaves to God, we must regularly mortify the desires of the flesh. Keeping a good conscience is no easy gig. This is an all-hands-on-deck sort of operation. Sometimes it comes in the shape of conviction: a mentor might point out sin which is otherwise hidden or left dormant. Other times it shows up as encouragement, someone who calms doubts or spurs us toward a wise course of action.
If we are to say, with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” we must battle by holding to faith and a good conscience (2 Tim 4:7). Apostasy springs from a failure of heart and of character, so we ought to keep close watch on ourselves. We also need to surround ourselves with people who keep close watch on us. And, as we pursue holiness in Christ through faith, we must look to our union with Christ.
Only in Christ can we wage war, hold faith and keep a good conscience. I want to use everything available to help me towards that end and, time and again, I have experienced God’s sustaining grace working through His people. The Father has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). In Christ, the Father has blessed us—those who are His own, adopted people. Believers are bound together in their Lord. We will share an eternal inheritance, but we can also enjoy God’s glory right now, together.
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