Text: 1 Timothy 1:1–13 ESV
As we march through our priorities, today I am going to talk about leadership. In thinking about the Bible’s take on leadership this week, I’m fairly convinced that I have a lot to learn about the way God thinks about leaders.
Moses was so timid, for example, that he often spoke through his brother Aaron. David was not the tall, handsome guy. He actually ended up dethroning that guy. Paul, of course, fits the same bill—not your regular leader. Already, we begin to get a picture here that God is not in the business of assigning leaders according to the world’s standards.
I think the bottom line for God’s opinions of leaders is not that they would look like the modern day CEO, but that Christian leaders would love and defend the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything is a title for a book I’ve never read, but I think it gets at the main point of what defines leadership for Paul—leaders need to be people who teach, defend, and embody the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
You only get one opening command when you are writing a letter, and everyone knows that command will stand out and set the tone for the entire letter. Paul has to choose one note to strike in the opening paragraph, and the note is for Timothy to stay in Ephesus so that he can confront false teachers. The command comes in 1 Timothy 1:3–4.
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3–4 ESV)
We need to pause here and just picture Timothy. He’s a young church planter in the city of Ephesus. He is probably surrounded by men who knew their Old Testament well enough to come up with fancy schemes from the genealogies. We get some further details that they were not using the Old Testament in a lawful manner in 1 Timothy 1:8–11. Instead of letting the law condemn the disobedient, they were twisting it to say something radically different.
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:8-11 ESV)
Now, Paul calls Timothy to butt his head into all of this false teaching and call these people to stop straying from Christian truth. All of these teachers are proclaiming a different doctrine, and they seem to be doing it by adding to the faith. They are getting excited about some myths they heard, or they are going on and on about some pattern they found in a genealogy that all of a sudden reveals a supposedly secret nugget of knowledge.
So Paul’s opening command, in a letter that is largely about leadership, is that Timothy stay and confront those who would want to add to sound Christian doctrine.
This is why I summarized Paul’s charge to Timothy as a call for Christian leaders to love, and therefore defend, that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. Jesus is the entire equation. These other people wanted to add some genealogies as part of the key truths, but Paul’s response is that if you do, you are swerving from the truth.
We saw in verses 8–10 that they were twisting the Old Testament to release people from the call to holiness, but to Paul, this is detracting and leading people astray. I think Paul would have been happy to sing the phrase from the hymn Give Me Jesus—“You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.”
Learning from Paul and David
In our own priorities we put it this way: “God has given leaders to the church. Above all, any leader is to be like Christ and model servant leadership. They are to be accountable for the way they lead and are to be approachable.”
If we are going to talk about what the Bible means by holding leaders accountable for the way they lead, I don’t know of a better litmus test than to see if their life is marked by one holy passion, one holy ambition. Are they teaching, defending, and embodying the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything?
Psalm 62 provides a good rally cry for leaders.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” (Psalm 62:1 ESV)
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5 ESV)
When the Bible says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence,” or “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,” God really means him alone. He doesn’t mean in God plus myths, or God plus genealogies. He means that God alone is your hope and refuge.
David had plenty of reasons he could have found rest in himself. He could have easily been content waiting in other protections from God. He would have had control of the entire Israelite army. He could have put his refuge there. Instead, he says that God is his fortress.
He could have been captivated by genealogies. After all, God promised that one of his descendants would reign forever. He could have quickly grabbed some scribes who would have happily dug something up from the long list of names. But instead he put his trust in God.
So leaders have one truth that governs their entire life. They have one truth that they find total rest in, and it’s the truth of who God is for us in Jesus. We don’t need genealogies. We don’t need myths. We need one truth: “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.”
We have seen how leaders teach this truth and defend this truth. But Paul ends this passage by reminding Timothy that leaders embody this truth. Leaders embody the truth that we don’t need to add anything to God’s great story that centers on and climaxes in the person of Jesus.
In 1 Timothy 1:12–17, notice how Paul has one central truth running through his veins.
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:12–17 ESV)
Christian leaders don’t make their boast in themselves, but in God’s grace! They don’t see themselves as worthy to be leaders because of who they are alone, but because of who they are in Christ.
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)
So Table Rock is looking for their leaders to be struck daily by the fact that grace brought them here, not competency. It’s not an MDiv from Bethlehem Baptist Church that qualifies someone for leadership.
Let me pause here because this is probably extra important since four of the five leaders of our church plant come with a formal degree from a seminary. Let me clearly say to you that this is not what qualifies us as leaders.
No. Leaders simply need to be able to teach, defend, and embody the fact that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That’s what we need.
The books of 1 Timothy and Titus list qualification for leaders. None of them even remotely sounds like, “needs a Masters of Divinity that John Piper signed.” No! Instead, leaders are to be examples of people who are overwhelmed by the grace they have received in Jesus.
This is how we put it in our documents:
“When installed in an office of the church we call them elders and deacons. The qualification of these leaders dictates not only their character but the way in which they will serve. While Scripture has given the role of oversight to the elders, they are to lead, not to rule over. The congregation appoints and votes on elders and on matters of doctrine, discipline, and money.”
Like Paul, we are looking for people who can be examples of upright character. Leaders are called, not to perfection, but to be the kind of people who can join Paul in saying,
“I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV).
Let me try to unpack two important day–to–day implications for you guys. At Table Rock, we believe the people who are ultimately called to guard the teaching of the gospel are the members of the church. So, the people who hold the elders accountable for teaching that Jesus plus nothing equals everything is you guys.
Practically that means I’m asking you to butt your heads into our teaching and raise concerns when you see problems. If over time, you see enough problems—problems that smell like we are adding myths and genealogies—I want you to remove us from leadership. Said simply, I’m extending Paul’s call to Timothy to defend the gospel to each one of you.
We All Lead
Second, don’t leave here thinking that this call to love and therefore defend the truth that Jesus plus nothing is everything only applies to leaders. The point of Paul’s example language is that leaders should be the ones showing how it is done so that others can follow that example. But that means that you need to follow the charge that in everything you do, Jesus reigns. The center of all that you do should be that everyone knows you treasure one thing above everything else—Jesus.
Let me try to give a very specific example. I don’t think this means that when you go to work that you need to go around and snuff out any false teaching whenever it crops up. But I do think it means that you won’t shy away from the truth either. Maybe you are a material science engineer, whatever that might mean, or perhaps you work for MAF, or maybe you are a physical therapist, or working at a dentist office, whatever you’re doing, God is calling you to live out the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
So when someone, in whatever way it comes out, asks you the reason for the hope you have, you get to respond with the simple answer of Jesus. You don’t have your hope in the nice home you live in, the new car you got, or even the job that you are working. All of your hope is wrapped up in one thing—Jesus.
In short then Paul wants us to know that Christian leaders cherish, and therefore defend, the truth that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. They don’t need to look like the CEOs of the world, rather leaders are those who treasure Jesus above all.