There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblical in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he is in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. As a result Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).
There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor is to be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”
It is not difficult to fall off one side of the ledge while being so confident about our standing on the other. We can be indifferent to doctrine and extremely nice or we can be committed to doctrine and complete jerks. If we are indifferent to doctrine and try to be really nice then we abrogate our calling, dishonor Christ, and don’t help anyone. And, if we are committed to truth while being unduly harsh, rude, or biting then we undermine our doctrine. Surely you can see how you can fall off both sides of the cliff.
Have you noticed how often the Bible tells you, particularly pastors, to be careful with their tone? 2 Timothy 2:24-27 is one example. The context is controversy and we read:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26)
Paul is laboring, amid controversy to stress tone and truth: not quarrelsome but kind (to everyone), patient in the face of evil, correcting gently, all because this is the key that God uses to open the prison of sinful captivity.
It is almost like some today have read this in the opposite manner: The Lord’s servant must be ready to throw at any moment, harsh with everyone, impatient with evil, correcting his opponents merciless. After all, they have are foolishly following this doctrine instead of being smart like me.
I have found John Newton to be of great benefit in this aspect of pastoral ministry. Some of what follows comes from his letters, compiled in the book Select Letters of John Newton. There is need for personal inventory and consideration here.
If the person you are in a disagreement with is a Christian then remember to deal gently with them. This is the manner and custom of Christ. Remember David’s word to Joab concerning Absalom? “Deal gently with him for my sake.” Remember, the Lord loves this brother or sister and patiently bears with them. And so should you.
“The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.” Newton, p. 112
But if the person is a non-Christian then they are doubly in need of your compassion, gentleness, and love. They do not know what they do! Jesus saw this phenomenon and it moved him to prayerful pity (Lk. 23:24). If it were not for God’s sovereign grace you would be the scoffer, the mocker, the self-righteous one.
“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.” People who believe the Doctrines of Grace have no business being harsh, unkind, biting and lacking in understanding. We have a theological framework that makes sense of this and it bids us to be merciful!
There is a kind of selfishness that makes us angry with and opposed to those who are different than us. We believe that we are serving God’s cause in our anger. But, let us not forget the words of James 1:20, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness God requires.” You may absolutely right in your doctrinal or practical conclusion, however, you may be communicating your rightness in a sinful way. You could be right on truth and wrong on tone. And as a result, you are wrong on truth! Some feel they are serving the truth while actually discrediting it!
To those who thrive on controversy while using doctrinal purity as a cover Newton sounds prophetic:
“If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.”
If the minister of the gospel to effectively lead the church he must lead the church into Christlikeness which is far more reflective of patience, kindness, and gentleness than a lot of the knife-fighting and harshness that often gets passed off as the ministry of the word.
Pastors must remember that truth and tone go hand-in-hand.
(This is taken from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church entitled Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand from 2 Timothy 2:24-27. Audio here.)