Summary: Paul identifies three requirements for leaders who are engaged in fighting the good fight.
A few moments ago we commissioned this congregation’s Leadership Team. These are people who have accepted the call of God to carry out specific tasks as leaders in the life of the church. There will be new things to consider as they make the transition from serving as board members to members of a team that leads us in accomplishing our mission. Some may wonder, “Why me?” Some may feel inadequate for one reason or another. But leadership in the church is a God-ordained task. Pray for them.
I recall two occasions when Sue and I were commissioned for leadership tasks. The first happened in 1963 in Pettisville, Ohio, just before we went to Japan as missionaries. Even before we were married at the ripe, old age of 21, we felt the call of God to become missionaries, but we had no idea where. Eventually, it became clear that Japan was the place God was calling us. You might say we were two hayseeds from Iowa. We were young. And we knew not one word of Japanese, but we knew that God had called us.
That commissioning took place in a huge tent with hundreds of people attending. Those of us who were leaving for missionary assignments sat on the platform. Around us were probably 50 other missionaries going to places around the world: Japan, Israel, India, Africa and Europe. We had accepted God’s call. We knew it in our hearts and we declared it publicly before all those people. And the reality of that call sustained us through good times and bad over the next 19 years.
The other commissioning service took place right here on this platform in 1985 when Sue and I were licensed and installed as pastors of this congregation. That day, in front of 29 other people, we responded to the call of God through this congregation to serve as co-pastors.
This call came in an unusual way. Sue was studying in seminary at Findlay; I was teaching at Bluffton College. One day, the dean of the seminary asked Sue if she was interested in becoming a pastor. “Well, yes, but not right away.” She had just begun her course of study. The dean had learned from the district executive that a church in Lima needed a pastor. She came home with the request and we decided to find out more. And the rest, as they say, is history.
To us, Lima seemed as much a mission field as Japan was. There were hundreds of people in the neighborhood around this church who needed the gospel. It was kind of a scary time and a totally new experience. Even though we had been active members of the church all of our lives and had served in many different ways, we had never been in pastoral leadership. But we knew that God had called us through the voice of this congregation. And today we are beginning our 23rd year.
In I Timothy we learn that Timothy was a young man commissioned to a difficult task. Timothy had served as one of Paul’s assistants in leading churches. Timothy grew up in a religious home and was led to faith by Paul himself. That is why Paul calls him “my child in the fait.,” (1:2)
We read in 1:3 that Paul encouraged Timothy to stay in Ephesus, a city that was not an easy place to work. It was a city in which sexual immorality was rampant and in which a new church would face all kinds of obstacles. So Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him. Timothy was young. He may have had a physical problem. And he experienced discouragement. So Paul wrote this letter to him as he waged a battle for truth in this city and tried to lead this congregation
I don’t know if Timothy hung mottoes on his wall, but Paul’s words would have made a good one. “Fight the good fight,” he says in v. 18 and again in 6:12. The word behind this expression means campaign. The struggle he speaks of is bigger than a battle; it is a campaign. The campaign Paul speaks of lasts a life time and it is worthwhile in every respect. Paul calls it the good fight. It accomplishes God’s purposes. The rewards are eternal. These words are a worthy motto, not just for Timothy, but for leaders in the church, and for all of us on this first Sunday of the year.
Paul identifies three requirements for fighting the good fight,
1. A sense of call. It is not clear what kind of commissioning Timothy received, but most scholars think that verse 18 refers to an appointment by members of the congregation who had the gift of prophecy. It is possible that these members understood that they needed to respond to the situation in their congregation and concluded that Timothy would be the one to lead them through it. And they followed the pattern we find in other churches in Acts; according to II Tim. 1:6 Paul, and possibly others, laid hands on him to commission him for the task.