THERE is an eloquence far more powerful than the eloquence of words in the quiet, consistent life of a pure, true Christian. What a man is has more influence than what he says. — The Ministry of Healing, p. 469.
Thus wrote the servant of the Lord.
That which I bring to you is nothing new. My burden is that we apply some very vital truths which we already know. They have to do with the importance of exemplary ministerial conduct.
Without doubt the influence of a minister's conduct was uppermost in Paul's mind when he wrote the following admonition to Timothy, the youthful pastor of the Ephesian church: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tina. 4:12).
The Secret of Power
It is not hard for a young minister to accept the admonition of an older minister provided the one giving the advice is himself "a pattern of good works" (Titus 2:7). In fact, a leader who lives his religion need give little exhortation as to proper deportment. His very presence has a sanctifying influence upon all who associate with him. Such was the impact of Paul's life upon others. We are told in Gospel Workers, page 59:
Paul carried with him the atmosphere of heaven. All who associated with him felt the influence of his union with Christ. The fact that his own life exemplified the truth he proclaimed gave convincing power to his preaching. Here lies the power of the truth. The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. Argument, even when unanswerable, may provoke only opposition; but a godly example has a power that it is impossible wholly to resist.
Sacred and Dangerous
I am certain that Timothy gladly accepted Paul's counsel to be an example of the believers. For no one was better qualified to write in this vein than was the apostle himself. Ever since Timothy had gazed upon Paul's bruised and bleeding body, which had been dragged outside of his home town, Lystra, he had been deeply influenced by that godly life. Timothy probably was only a teen-ager then, but Paul's willingness to risk life itself to spread the gospel prompted Timothy's decision to enter the ministry. Through years of intimate fellowship with Paul, and especially during his travels with Paul and Silas visiting the churches in Galatia and Macedonia, Timothy learned that the gospel ministry is not only a dangerous calling but a sacred and serious one as well. Timothy knew Paul to be a minister who was not motivated by the spirit of avarice and pride but by the unassuming spirit of the lowly Nazarene. Paul lived his own instruction given in Titus 2:12: "Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." Surely no one, least of all Timothy, could feel that Paul was self-righteous when he wrote to the Philippians: "Brethren, be followers . . . of me," (Phil. 3:17), and to the Corinthians: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Every Seventh-day Adventist minister should be able to say those words!
Why Timothy Was Effective
Paul said: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example." Timothy probably was not more than forty at this time, and could be considered a young pastor. Paul loved Timothy dearly and called him "my own son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2). Timothy had proved to be a faithful disciple throughout Paul's ministry. He contrasted Timothy's steadfastness with the instability of other workers in these words: "For they are all looking out for their own interests" (Phil. 2:19-24, Goodspeed). Paul had been disappointed with such selfish men as Demas, but Timothy could be depended upon to the end. It was no wonder, then, that Timothy was much in Paul's thoughts before his death, and that Timothy was the recipient of Paul's last Epistle.
Timothy's positive influence was a testimonial to the fact that his name had been well chosen. It meant "one who honors God." We are told that Timothy's effectiveness as a pastor came from his "knowledge of experimental piety."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 205. Why, then, did Paul say to such an upright minister, "Be thou an example"? No doubt the writer wished to encourage Timothy to continue to be a good example. Moreover, the Spirit that guided Paul's pen knew that these words would be read by thousands of ministers down through the ages, and last would be studied by the ministry of this people. That very Spirit today cautions, "Minister, watch your conduct!"
Daily Review of Actions
Let us then take heed to this counsel, and its amplification in such Spirit of Prophecy passages as:
Let ministers make the actions of each day a subject of careful thought and deliberate review, with the object of becoming better acquainted with their own habits of life. By a close scrutiny of ever., circumstance of the daily life, they would know better their own motives and the principles which govern them. This daily review of our acts, to see whether conscience approves or condemns, is necessary for all who wish to reach perfection of Christian character.—Gospel Workers, p. 275.
An Example of the Believers
The instruction further reads: "Be thou an example of the believers." One rendition is "to the believers."
In preparing the way for an effort among the Chinese we do what most evangelists do —visit the backsliders first. Many justify their absence from services with the excuse, "Mu shih da bang yang bu hao," or, "The pastor's example is not good." To which I give the stock reply (one that I dislike very much), "My brother, don't look at the pastor; look at Jesus." The backsliders' comeback is always the same, "But we see Jesus through the pastor, who is supposed to represent Him."
Much as we would like our laymen to have such an intimate connection with Christ that nothing which they see will shake their faith, the fact is that it takes a staunch believer to remain unmoved in his religious experience upon observing the indiscreet actions of a careless minister, to say nothing of a careless fellow believer. God will not hold a minister guiltless who in any way becomes a stumbling block to any member of his flock. Christ said, "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6).
Brethren, the laity throughout the world are watching Seventh-day Adventist ministers. And in the words of the old Chinese proverb, "One tells ten, and ten tell one hundred" of what they have seen and heard. Moreover, the heavier a minister's responsibility in this denomination, the more widespread is his influence. As he travels from place to place he is greeted not as "Mr." but "pastor." To the members he is a man set apart. They expect him to be different from the crowd—dignified, serious, and earnest. They expect him to be genuinely interested in the spiritual welfare of the flock. Many members get only a passing glimpse of our itinerating ministers. They are hasty to size up the gospel messenger by what he may be saying or doing at that moment. Thereafter he becomes to them "the tall man with the big laugh," or "the small man with the big appetite," or "the kind man with the big heart."
"Do You Know Pastor Crisler?"
During our first term of service in southwest China my wife and I had occasion to visit our Miao believers in the mountains of Yunnan Province. These were simple aboriginal people, but they were very observant. Every now and then one would ask us, "Do you know Pastor Crisler?" Of course we were well acquainted with this China Division secretary who had for so many years been Ellen G. White's personal secretary. "He was so gentle and polite and friendly," they would recall. The concluding comment on this devoted servant usually was, "And do you know, he not only refused to ride a horse, he carried much of his own equipment."
Unfortunately, another minister we knew will not be remembered by certain believers with as much affection. It was necessary for an office worker to absent himself from Sabbath school and church in order to process this minister's curio purchases through customs.
Not only does a minister damage his own reputation by unwise actions, he brings disgrace upon the entire ministry. Human nature being as it is, people will often lose confidence in all ministers because of their unfortunate experiences with one or two. Certainly a man who finds it difficult to conduct himself wisely and assumes the attitude that it is no one's business how he acts, should seek another type of work. For if any individual should take to heart the scriptural truth "No man liveth to himself," the minister should. Let us give heed to the injunction of 2 Corinthians 6:3: "Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed."
Patience or Impatience?
May I suggest, too, that if we are to be an example to the believers, how much the more we should live our religion before unbelievers. How strange that often we are long-suffering with the wayward among us, yet impatient toward the traveling salesman or impolite motorist. A number of years ago I was embarrassed in having to admit to a consular official that a certain clergyman was a Seventh-day Adventist. This minister had stormed into the official's office not many hours before, demanding the immediate issuance of a visa. "What kind of a man is he?" queried the official. I hardly knew how to answer, for I had never seen this stormy side to my brother's disposition.
Many times clergymen are granted preferential treatment. However, we cannot always expect it, much less demand it. We are first and foremost ambassadors for Christ and not members of an earthly diplomatic corps. We represent the kingdom of heaven and not the political kingdoms of this earth. For this reason we will not always be given the so-called "VIP treatment." On the contrary, we may be treated with curtness and suspicion. But let us always remember, when our Master was falsely accused "he opened not his mouth." Can we as His representatives do otherwise?
Being a minister of the gospel, I have always tried to be conscientous in making out customs declarations. It would be tragic if an Adventist preacher were caught smuggling. My weakness is not in stretching the truth but in maintaining a serene countenance when my integrity is questioned. One time a customs inspector held up a plane because I had misplaced the clearance slip to a small transistor radio. The inspector refused to take my word on the matter but insisted that the records be checked. This entailed quite a delay. Sensing the impatience of the waiting passengers, and stung by the inspector's refusal to accept my explanation, I became indignant. In a hurt tone of voice I said, "Why do you treat me this way? You don't trust me, do you?" Needless to say, he was very much provoked by my attitude. Then it was that a fellow missionary sidled up to me and whispered, "You better apologize. That is the chief inspector. He has been very good to our people." I felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. It was hard to apologize when I thought the other man was making things difficult for me but I did, and learned a much-needed lesson. Ever since, I have endeavored to maintain a smiling countenance when faced with a tense situation.
Wives Also to Be an Example
Not only should ministers be an example to their flock, the wives should be examples also. Nothing will bring greater strength to our churches than to have the pastor and his wife united in soul winning. The wife may not have had the hands of ordination placed upon her, but in choosing to marry a minister she has pledged to give herself not only to her husband but to the cause which he has espoused. Her first duty is to her own family and then to the larger family of God. If she is a Bible instructor she will labor by her husband's side. If she is a teacher she will have a burden to teach in our own schools. If she is a nurse she will choose to serve in our own medical institutions, even though the pay may be less. Thus both the minister and his wife will demonstrate to the believers that they have made a covenant with God through sacrifice, that their hearts and souls are in this movement, and that they are willing to spend and be spent in order that the truth may triumph. Let no wife negate the influence of her minister-husband by her love of fashion or her desire to make money that she might enjoy luxuries which he cannot afford.
The servant of the Lord says:
The minister's wife who is not devoted to God is no help to her husband. While he dwells upon the necessity of bearing the cross and urges the importance of self-denial, the daily example of his wife often contradicts his preaching and destroys its force. . . . The wife of a minister can do much if she will. If she possesses the spirit of self-sacrifice and has a love for souls, she can with him do almost an equal amount of good.—Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 450-452.
Examples in Word and Conversation
The minister is next admonished to be an example "in word, in conversation." Though we understand the term "conversation" as here used to refer to one's manner of life, let us first think of conversation in word.
Words are a revelation of the inner life, "for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34). Christ drew attention to the importance of carefulness in speaking by saying, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (verse 37). The Epistles are full of instruction on conversation and I think we do no injustice to the meaning by using the literal interpretation, for it is impossible to divorce a man's speech from his life. Peter reminds his readers that they were redeemed from "vain conversation" and that their conversation should be "honest among the Gentiles" (1 Peter 1:18; 2:12). Paul admonished the Hebrews that their conversation should be "without covetousness" (Heb. 13:5), and that they should always consider "the end of their conversation" (verse 7). He also urged the Philippian believers to engage in conversation which "becometh the gospel of Christ" (Phil. 1:27).
Scripture is well supported by the Spirit of Prophecy in this important matter of conversation. We read:
Let not Christ's ambassadors descend to trifling conversation, to familiarity with women, married or single. Let them keep their proper place with becoming dignity; yet at the same time they may be sociable, kind, and courteous to all. They must stand aloof from everything that savors of commonness and familiarity. This is forbidden ground, upon which it is unsafe to set the feet. Every word, every act, should tend to elevate, to refine, to ennoble. . . . While we should cultivate sociability, let it not be merely for amusement, but for a higher purpose.—Gospel Workers, p. 125.
Again, if the minister is a "frivolous, joking man, he is not prepared to perform the duty laid upon him by the Lord. . . . The flippant words," she continues, "that fall from his lips, the trifling anecdotes, the words spoken to create a laugh, are all condemned by the word of God, and are entirely out of place in the sacred desk."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 142.
In the light of the above injunctions, can we as ministers, whether we be pastors, administrators, department leaders, or otherwise, engage in ridiculous banter during our committee meetings? Can we stoop to "kidding" the office secretaries? Can we act like clowns during some social occasion? The answer is No. Seventh-day Adventist ministers do not wear clerical collars nor a distinctive garb. If a group of Adventist ministers were standing together on a street corner, or eating together in a restaurant, could a passer-by, overhearing their conversation, identify them? Or might they be mistaken for members of a Kiwanis Club discussing some business enterprise, the latest cars, or the baseball scores? Brethren, let us earnestly ask God to help us who are called to be a "spectacle unto the world" (1 Cor. 4:9), yea, even an "epistle . . . , known and read of all men" (2 Cor. 3:2), to utter words which edify, encourage, and convert. All who hear, or overhear, our voices should be convinced that we are what we profess to be. May God give us the wisdom to discern between healthy humor and cheap foolishness that we might speak in such a manner as to "minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29).
(To be continued)
* Smith and Goodspeed. The Complete Bible: An American Translation. Copyright 1939 by the University of Chicago.