The Preacher’s Tears

by sad man.smallDr. Rick Flanders

“I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

(Second Timothy 1:3-7)

The human occasion for the writing of Paul’s final inspired epistle was a preacher’s tears.  The preacher was Timothy, his “dearly beloved son” in the ministry and in the faith (First Timothy 1:2 and Second Timothy 1:2) whom he wrote during hard times “being mindful of thy tears.”  The tears of Timothy are instructive to us, both for their cause and for their cure, and are put here in the Bible to open our eyes to little-understood aspects of the Christian ministry.  Take note of three facts.

Preachers cry.

Did you know that?  Many are not aware of the weeping their pastors do.  The Bible speaks of the weeping of God’s servants, such as Elisha (Second Kings 8:11), Isaiah (Isaiah 22:4), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 13:17), even Paul (Acts 20:16-19), and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 11:35).  Preachers weep over the missteps of their members, over their personal sufferings, over the cares of the ministry, over the misunderstanding ministry always creates, over the pain of conflict, over their own failures, over unjust criticism and false accusation, over the rejection that comes with following Christ, because of unnecessary self-pity as well as God-given burdens, because of the normal trials of life as well as the unique difficulties of representing the Lord,  out of a broken heart over the trouble people they love bring on themselves, and out of a heart-cry that things in the church be different.  Tears are part of the ministry.  All of us need to be reminded that the man of God is human as well as sanctified, and we need to have mercy on him in light of his special acquaintance with grief.  We really do.

Sometimes he weeps because of fear.

This was the cause of Timothy’s tears.  To help deliver him from the sorrow that gripped him, Paul reminded the young preacher that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear.”  It was fear that made him cry.  Then Paul urged him not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me [Paul] his prisoner” but to be “partaker of the afflictions of the gospel” (verses 7 and 8).  There were plenty of things that could make a preacher of the Gospel afraid in those days.  The chief evangelist of Christianity had been imprisoned and was set to be executed.  Preaching the Gospel of Christ was coming to be illegal in many places.  The tide even in the world of ministry seemed to be turning the wrong way.  Certainly the weeping of fearful tears would not be unexpected for Timothy, although it was unnecessary.

Yet the fear Timothy felt was not only over the physical threats of antagonists but also over the overwhelming sense that times were changing for preachers.  This epistle is full of references to preachers who were moving away from the truth.  Some with whom Timothy was well acquainted had “turned away” from great truths and from the old-timers that had preached them (Note Second Timothy 1:15, 2:15-21, and 4:9-10).  There was a serious need for sound doctrine to be re-affirmed, held fast, and taught to the next generation (Note Second Timothy 1:13, 2:1-2, 2:24-26, 3:13-17, and 4:1-5).  When trends in the religious world are taking a turn, the times can be scary for a young man who has been committed to the truth.  Since it seemed likely that his mentor, the great leader Paul, was soon to leave the scene, fear over what would happen next was bringing Timothy to tears.

Need we prove to anyone that such times are upon us today?  Doctrines and practices long accepted as “givens” among the faithful are being challenged on every hand, and many young preachers are turning away.  The committed fundamentalist is sometimes left with the feeling that he is or is soon to be “out in the cold” in many, many ways.  Will he be moved to tears?

The answer is in the Holy Ghost.

Paul’s God-given answer to the young man’s fears and tears is in the Holy Ghost.  Timothy is told to “stir up the gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”  This “gift” bestowed upon Timothy at his ordination is also remembered in Paul’s first inspired letter to the young man, where he was told not to neglect “the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery [elders]” (4:14).  Plainly this was some clear and distinct enabling of the Holy Spirit for the work God gave Timothy to do, which came on the day he was set apart for the Christian ministry.  After the apostle admonishes him to “stir up the gift” in this time of stress, he explains the expression this way: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  The introductory conjunction is “For,” meaning “because.”  The preacher must stir up the gift because of the kind of Spirit we have been given.  Obviously, the reference is to the Holy Spirit, Who is here called the Spirit of “power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  God’s Spirit, of course, has been given many wonderful names in the Bible, such as the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of grace and supplication, the Spirit of life, and the Spirit of adoption.  The reference to the Spirit of power and love and a sound mind in this chapter is likewise a reference to the Holy Spirit.  The preacher must re-activate the dormant ministry gift he received from the Spirit back when he was ordained in order to overcome the fear that now binds him.  The Spirit of power will liberate the man of God from the spirit of fear.

It is interesting that the keeping of sound words and other good things in a time when men are abandoning them is to be done through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Verses 13 and 14 of Chapter 1 say,

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.”

In the first epistle, Timothy is solemnly charged “to keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ…O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust” (6:13-16, 20).  Now we see that the keeping of the charge must be done in the power of the Spirit.  Much trouble can come when a preacher “takes his stand” in the energy of his flesh.  Carnal “contending” has done much harm to the cause of Christ.   In times of apostasy, the preacher must get re-acquainted with the Holy Spirit, and with how to serve Christ in the power of the Spirit.  A new filling is required in times like these.

When the generational transition happened at the time of Elijah’s translation, the young Elisha required “a double portion” of the Spirit (Remember Second Kings 2:5-14).  In the prophecy of Christ’s anointing for service (Isaiah 61:1-3), it is written that the Holy Spirit was going to empower Him to “preach good tidings unto the meek,” and “to bind up the brokenhearted” and that He would “appoint unto them that mourn in Zion…beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”  The anointing of the Spirit would bring joy both to the preacher and to the mourning beneficiaries of his ministry.  The Spirit Who used Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, sending them and filling them (read Acts 13), not only ministered through them, but also ministered to them when they faced trouble and were “expelled” from the city of Antioch.  Scripture says that they “were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” during this difficult time.  The preacher needs a fresh filling of the Spirit at times, not only to restore his effectiveness in the work, but also to renew the joy of his salvation.  The Spirit of power and love and reason (“a sound mind”) can meet the need of the man of God in his hour of weakness and conflict and temporary insanity.

Stir up the gift.

What Timothy must do is to “stir up the gift.”  The Greek verb used here (in verse 6) combines words for “again” and “life” and “fire,” and it means to rekindle, to bring the fire back to life!  When fear and sorrow have overcome the preacher, he must rekindle the spiritual gift he has been given through the Holy Spirit.  He must get back to Spirit-anointed and Spirit-enabled ministry.  He must return to the life of full-hearted service to Jesus Christ.  It’s the only way out of the doldrums, the slough of despond.

Timothy was an evangelist, as we can see in the fourth chapter.  Verses 1 through 5 call him to rededicate his life to that work, and to function according to his spiritual gifts.  There’s your answer, preacher!  As with Elijah in his time of discouragement, the voice of the Lord is calling you to “Go, return” to the life of self-denial and service (Second Kings 19:1-18).  Stir up your gift, and renew your ministry by a fresh experience with the Spirit of God!  Wipe away your tears and partner with God again for the most rewarding activity in the world.


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