1 Timothy 1:18-20
Holding Faith and Good Conscience
The significance of the “pastorals” is the personal nature of the letters, that they are written from an aging apostle to a younger man in the ministry telling him how he should manage the church. But even more than that, Paul tells Timothy and Titus how they should manage themselves. The pastorals speak to the personal integrity of the pastor or minister, a message which desperately needs to be heard today. Orthodox theology will not spare a man who is living a lie.
Paul begins saying, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy.” You can hear the urgency in Paul’s voice as one who will soon have to leave the ranks. This reminds us that ministerial training should involve some kind of mentoring between an older man and a younger one, the older more experienced minister entrusting to the younger man the wisdom he has gained over the years. Formal training is necessary, but it cannot replace personal discipleship between men. This was the way among Reformed ministers in early America. And what does he solemnly charge Timothy to do? To “wage the good warfare.” As John Bunyan so eloquently illustrated for us in his classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the Christian life is a war with battle after battle, and if you don’t have battle scars, you’re not doing it right.
And how is young Timothy to wage the good fight? He must hold with every fiber of his being faith and a good conscience. Faith speaks to orthodoxy; good conscience speaks to living in accordance with that faith. One must believe well to do well. But if one fails to live well when he knows better, he would have been better off never knowing (Hebrews 10:26-31). With knowledge comes responsibility. This is more true in the ministry than any place else. How many pastors have we seen fall from grace? In some cases, it was errant theology that was at fault. But in most, it was an errant life. The man was not walking with God, was living according to the flesh, and presuming upon God’s grace. Maybe he could preach a good sermon. But God will not be mocked, especially by those entrusted to bear his holy name with the same holiness of character. This is what happens when the man chooses his lusts over his conscience—he makes shipwreck of his faith, either slowly as he secretly lives a lie, or dramatically when it all comes crashing down. Even worse, he makes shipwreck of the faith of others who looked up to him. Oh pastor, hear these words from the apostle: Hold fast to faith AND good conscience. Be vigilant. You’re in the devil’s crosshairs.