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The Work of an Evangelist: The Need

It was a truth universally acknowledged that a parish pastor in a free church should “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Providentially guided to flourishing in America, the early Missouri Synod was ardent in spreading the gospel and planting new congregations. A synod that began with a dozen congregations and scarcely fewer clergymen reached its fiftieth anniversary with many, many times that number of churches and ministers. Without the in-depth demographic research and financial backing that is our contemporary good fortune, they spread the kingdom of God the Lord widely and deeply. They had been freed from the unbelieving strictures of the state church. They were now free to preach the Word in season and out of season.

We cannot recall their fervency without a mixture of confusion and of shame, confusion due to the sea-change in our common life and shame due to our lukewarm efforts by comparison to our fathers who were threadbare in the things of this life and rich in the things of the life to come. Everywhere we look, congregations are struggling mightily, and pastors are drowned in busyness, when they do have the means to be supported by the church. When they do not, the church’s work suffers so that the minister can put some food on his family’s table. Everywhere we look, we hear that the Faith is receding from our shores and going elsewhere, that the “passing shower of the gospel” has passed us by. What has become of us? Where has all our fathers’ resolve and confidence and joy gone? Yet we cannot recall their fervency only to bemoan our degeneration. The saints are our examples for imitation, not the occasions of our piously mournful recollection. This cloud of witnesses spurs us on to look afresh at how we might yet in our own time fulfill our calling and do the work of an evangelist.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look closely at the evangelistic nature of the office of the ministry as the New Testament teaches it. We’ll do that in the firm conviction that if the Lord has placed us in a difficult field, yet it is here that he has given us the work that is his to bless. We do not find Saint Paul bewailing the difficulty of his task or being at all daunted by the ideological and political forces arrayed against him. In the firm conviction that “now it is the opportune time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2) for all mankind, we preach in season and out of season the Word of reconciliation also here and now in America, also here and now to the actual neighbor next door.

Here and now God has put our free church, our confessional church, our church of the pure Gospel, to proclaim that Gospel and to fulfill our calling to teach and to baptize all nations, including this one, including the spiritual-but-not-religious, including the less-than-exotic auto mechanics and coal miners and sugar beet farmers. We know that God works by calling something out of nothing and not by the wisdom of the world. We know that Christ died for us while we were yet his enemies and committed to us the Word that in Christ God was reconciling the world, even present-day Americans, to himself (2 Cor. 5:19).

The Spirit of the Ministry, part 1

Paul’s letters to Timothy are full of urgings, exhortations, and admonishments to pastors. In order to classify what we read we engage in dogmatic anachronism and label the bulk of what we find here, “third use of the law.” If we were to ask Paul though, he might call these letters something more along the lines of fatherly teaching. After all, the letters are addressed to Timothy, “true son,” (1 Timothy 1:2) and, “beloved son,” (2 Timothy 1:2) respectively. Perhaps this overt paternalism is an underlying factor as to why some find the third use of the law so difficult to hear or give. But any pastor who wishes to be a faithful son must listen closely to father Paul.

Especially in his second letter we find Paul’s fatherly advice to his tearful son (2 Timothy 1:4). The cause of Timothy’s tears is left unmentioned. It may be that he is saddened by Paul’s imprisonment, by some aspect of his ministry, by some personal issue, or some combination thereof. Whatever the case may be, Paul writes to strengthen Timothy, and through him, all pastors.

Rather than counseling Timothy on avoiding pastoral burnout, Paul advises the opposite. “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

These two verses stand out as the purpose of the rest of Paul’s paternal exhortations to all of his spiritual sons. The gift of God, cha’risma, that is in Timothy must not become idle. Instead it must be rekindled, that is, fanned into flame. The imagery is of an ashen over or lowly burning fire being tended with a bellows or even human breath. From that fire will come the heat and light that warms and brightens Timothy for his ministry.

As pragmatists we may wish to rush on to the ever-important question of how such a rekindling is to be performed. But before we can answer that we must know what this gift of God is. Once this is answered we can explore the relation between the gift and its use. That will be the goal of future articles in this series.

Paul refers to his apostleship as a gift, cha’ris, from God (Romans 1:5). He also speaks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors as gifts, do’mata, of the ascended Christ Jesus to the church (Ephesians 4:8-11). While it’s possible that he is appealing to Timothy’s inheritance of that same office, it’s unlikely, given that the gift Paul appeals to is later described as a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. While Timothy’s office might be appealed to for authority, it’s difficult to see how an office could be the source of power, love, and self-control.

A second option would be that the gift of God is a reference to a particular aptitude or ability that Timothy received. In the passages where Paul enumerates various gifts, chari’smata, he refers to them as services, activities, and manifestations of the Spirit (Romans 12:3-9, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But arguing against this interpretation of Timothy’s gift is the fact that Paul’s appeal to Timothy is of a more general sort. He doesn’t remind Timothy to use a particular ability, but rather a gift that touches Timothy’s entire ministry. Also arguing against a specific gift to Timothy is that Paul says it is a gift that God gave, “to us.”

The passage that stands most directly parallel is 1 Timothy 4:14. There Paul first reminded Timothy of a gift that he received at the time of his ordination. Whereas in the second epistle the urging is to rekindle the gift, here Paul couches his admonition to use the gift in a negative command, “Don’t neglect…” Once again the gift is not specified.  But as in 2 Timothy, the appeal to this gift is in context of Timothy’s entire ministry. That the gift is said to be given through prophecy rather than through the laying on of Paul’s hands doesn’t imply a different gift, or even a different occasion, but a fuller view of what occurred at Timothy’s ordination. While this is a direct parallel, it doesn’t bring us any closer to defining the gift.

The closest we get to a definition is that the gift is not a spirit, pneuma, of fear, but rather one (a spirit) of power, love, and soundness of mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Left unsaid is whether this is an endowment of the Holy Spirit or the emboldening of Timothy’s human spirit. Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. After all, the Spirit certainly effects the human spirit.

A final passage that illuminates the whole matter can be found without even having to leave the second epistle to Timothy. Some 7 verses after mentioning this gift Paul writes, “By the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14) Here is a clear passage describing an indwelling, common gift, which is to be, “used,” throughout Timothy’s ministry of guarding that which he has been entrusted with, the church.

The gift is one that was received upon Timothy’s ordination. It is a gift that applies to his entire ministry. This gift can be neglected or can be stirred up. It is a gift that is, “in Timothy,” but that he shares in common with Paul at least, and more likely all who’ve been ordained. The gift is a spirit of power, love, and soundness of mind. The gift is the Holy Spirit.