I always enjoy preaching on the introductions to an epistle. I love it because there is always so much to learn. The greetings of an epistle are often thought of as “skippable” material. We typically think, “All these epistles start the same way.” And we think that there’s nothing much to glean from them.
But I’ve come to find that there is always something here of value. As I’ve said before: The Holy Spirit does not waste words. Every line is profitable, even in what seems to be a rote, monotonous greeting.
I believe that these first few sentences teach us a lot about leadership. Paul, in this opening, wants us to learn about authority in the church and what authority to lead in the church looks like. As we look at this passage, I want us to see that there are at least three lessons that we should learn about a leader’s authority.
The first thing I want us to see is that this authority is real. It is divinely instituted. God ordains that there be men who have positions of authority. The second thing that I want us to note is that this power is limited. In other words, the authority that God gives is not absolute. Leaders, in other words, are not supreme powers in the church. The third thing that I want us to see is that this authority is gospel driven. A leader’s power is based in and motivated by the saving power of Christ.
So, as we look at this passage, we’re going to recognize that Gospel churches grow out of good leadership. And when we understand the nature of church authority, then we are going to have a good foundation for building a gospel church. So let’s look at the first two verses. And I want you to see that God has divinely instituted an authority structure in the church.
I. This authority is real and divinely instituted
Look at how the passage begins. It starts off with Paul calling attention to the fact that he was made an apostle by the command of God. Now, ask yourself, “Did Timothy not know that Paul was an apostle? Did he not know that Paul’s apostleship came by God’s direct appointment?” The answer to that is, “Yes, of course he knew that.” Timothy was Paul’s protégé and would have known that quite well.
So you have to understand that Paul is not saying this for Timothy’s benefit. Timothy already was acquainted with the fact. Paul inserted this for the benefit of the other people in the church who would have likely read this letter. And when Paul says that Timothy is his “True child in the faith,” they would have recognized what Paul was attempting to communicate. They would have recognized that Timothy wasn’t just a good friend of Paul or Paul’s apprentice. They would have understood that this was about Timothy’s office. Paul was highlighting the authority Timothy had as a minister of the gospel.
Timothy was Paul’s child in that he too was a teacher. Like Paul he possessed real authority in the church.
Think about it this way, a child is one who is a replica. He is one who bears the likeness of his father. So, if an alligator bears a child, that child is an alligator, right? Jesus is the son of God. That means Jesus is divine, just like God the Father is divine.
When Paul calls Timothy his child, he’s identifying Timothy as one who has something in common with Paul. What is it that they have in common? It is the fact that they are ministers and leaders. Obviously, Timothy is not an apostle, but he carries on the apostolic work of teaching and preaching.
So, if I could summarize it, I would do it like this: God appointed apostles to act as the foundation for the church. And those apostles then appointed other leaders to carry on their work after they were gone. They had appointed elders, deacons, and men like Timothy to carry on the ministry of teaching and preaching the Word.
When the rest of the church read this, they would understand what Paul was saying. They would understand that they were to submit themselves to Timothy, just like they had submitted themselves to Paul. They were to recognize him as one who God had raised up to lead the church.
Now this is important in our day because we live in an anti-authoritarian age. Postmodern people do not like the idea of submission and authority structures. That’s why feminism and egalitarianism are such a big things today. The feminist movement tells us that no man can have authority over a woman. It is a denial of the biblical model of patriarchy.
And the church today has been highly influenced by this anti-authoritarian spirit. There are many who do not think that church leadership is a real or necessary thing. They think that they can stay home and read their bibles for themselves or do home church. Some people will just watch it on TV. They have TV church.
But more than that, there can be people in the church who are agitators and mutineers—and these are the most dangerous sorts. If such people stayed home and had their religion, we might be better off. But they are not content to do that. There are always those in the church who are anarchists and usurpers.
When it comes to church planting we have to be very careful on this too. I’ve been told in the past that church plants seem to lure in these kinds of people. Trouble makers gravitate to church plants because they feel that it is a place where they can take control. I’ve heard stories about how different church start ups have had people come in and say that they want to help this new church get started. And what they really want is a place where they can exert power and take control.
And you can understand why that is. A new church is vulnerable. It needs people to help out. It doesn’t have a lot of authority structures in place yet and the leadership is young. So it is a great place for these kinds of people to swoop in and start raising a ruckus.
In the face of this, we need to remember that God has given certain men the authority to rule and to teach and to care for your soul. If we do not honor the offices that God has instituted in the church and if we do not give proper regard to the leaders who hold those positions, the church will not move forward.
So we should make it our aim to respect those who are in authority and regard them with the esteem they are due as ministers of God.
That is the first thing we should learn from this passage. We should learn that there is real, divinely instituted authority in the church. The second thing that we should take from it is that this authority is limited.
II. This authority is limited
I don’t want you to think that I’m simply tooting my own horn and putting you in a position where you have to bend to my every whim. It is important that you and I both recognize that, even though God has given power to certain men in the church, no church leader has absolute power. Every leader is limited.
When you look at verse 1 you see that Paul recognizes the restraints of his power as an apostle. Look at it. He says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”
Paul’s authority came from God. He’s very specific about that. But did you notice that he mentions Jesus twice in this one line? He acknowledges the fact that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. That is to say, His power is delegated to him and he is under the headship of Christ. Christ is the one who sends him.
And then he adds the fact that Jesus is “our hope.” In other words, our hope is not in Paul. Our faith is not to rest in Timothy or any other human entity. We are to recognize that our ultimate hope—our ultimate leader, is Jesus Christ.
While God gives us leaders and gives those leaders authority to lead and guide the church, it is still power that has limits.
We just said that it is common to brush off leaders and not acknowledge their authority in the church. But we can err on the opposite extreme too. Sometimes we can put too much faith in our leaders. We can make them out to be a mini messiah who is going to save us from everything.
Just look at our presidential elections. Isn’t that what is happening in the political realm? The people of America have high hopes in their particular candidate. We are trying to figure out who is going to “make America great again”? Who is going to be our savior and who will usher in the golden days of national utopia? One of these people is going to have all the answers, right?
We can do the same thing in the church. We can make popes out of pastors. We can exalt our leaders to such a point where we think that they are the supreme leader and savior of the church.
It is easy for church leaders to think that of themselves too. We can become a little consumed with ourselves and think that we are the supreme leaders of the church.
This is what the Pharisees were doing. There’s a passage where Jesus accuses them for making the tassels on their garments long. Why was Jesus so in a knot about their style of clothing. Was he some sort of divine fashion police?
Jesus called them out on this because those tassels were associated with one’s authority. The longer your tassel was, the more important you were said to be—the more authority you were supposed to have. So, if you lengthened your tassel, you were basically saying, “I’m really important. You should listen to me.”
There’s another passage where there was a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She pressed through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. What she did was grab that tassle. Why was it she was so intent on that little piece of cloth? Why not pat him on the back or something? By grabbing those tassels she was basically saying, “You have all authority. You are my only hope of healing.”
But the Pharisees, by extending their tassels, were trying to take that position. They wanted that kind of recognition. They wanted to be regarded as little saviors and the great authorities in the church to whom everyone should look.
That’s the problem with humanity. It’s all a messiah complex.We like to exalt ourselves or put others on a pedestal.
To be sure, God has endowed men with authority. He has put them in office and given them power to rule and to teach. But what we need to remember is that this is not supreme power. Their power is real, but it is limited. We have to remember that ultimately, Christ is our only hope.
Now the third thing I want us to glean from this passage is that a church leader’s power is a gospel driven power.
III. This authority is gospel driven.
Look at verse 2. In this verse Paul pronounces a blessing. He says, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When we read these introductions we often gloss over them. But let’s remember that not one word of the Bible is a throw away. Every word is inspired by the Spirit. And these words are just as important as any others. And the reason they are important is because they remind us that the best of men are men at best.
In other words, church leaders need the gospel. And their whole ministry is to be conducted in the power of the gospel.
What is grace? It is God’s undeserved favor. It is God’s saying, “Timothy, you are a wretched, vile, loathsome sinner. You don’t deserve to be a leader in my church. But you know what? I have chosen you to be a shepherd of my sheep.”
Mercy is God’s pity. It is his holding back his wrath because he has compassion on you.
Peace is that shalom; the wellness and wholeness. Paul desires that Timothy, in all his brokenness and sin, would be restored and enabled to lead the people of Ephesus.
What Paul is trying to say is that true, Christian leadership is one that is immersed in and driven by the gospel. Christian leadership is just a bunch of broken men who are in need of Christ’s redeeming work seeking to help others experience the redeeming work of Christ.
We recognize that there are some sins that will disqualify leaders from office. There are some sins where you forfeit your authority. But no leader will be without sin. He’s not only going to be dealing with the sins of others, but he’s going to be dealing with his own sin. And if he’s going to have any success as a leader, he’s going to need the grace, mercy, and peace that Christ offers.
While we are at it, let me just remind you that at some point I’ll probably say or do something that will offend you. It is going to happen, and you probably won’t want to speak to me. You may even want to leave the church. I know it’s going to happen, because it has happened many times. I’ve been in the ministry for almost 15 years now, and I’ve had my fair share of sins.
I just want to say up front that I hope we can work things out. I know this though: I’m just as much a sinner as anyone else here. And the only thing that keeps this train going is the fact that God is gracious and has crucified His Son on my behalf.
I will say with the Apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things?” The answer to that is a resounding “No one.”
The crazy thing about God is that he has chosen to work through broken instruments. He has seen fit to propagate the gospel by men who are constantly in need of the gospel.
That’s the essence of leadership in the church. That’s not the kind of leadership you have out in the world. Go to any corporate meeting on leadership you’ll find that it is all about self sufficiency and personal image. You put on a messianic face and people will follow you. That’s the message of the world.
But in the church its not like that. You lead through the humiliation of your own sins. You lead only as you embrace the gospel and hold to the forgiveness and the grace that is offered to you in Christ.
You might say that that is the whole point of these first few lines: The best of men are men at best. Christ is the true and ultimate authority. He is the only God and savior. And our job is to simply look to him.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.