2 Timothy 2

2 Timothy 2

A Shepherd’s Most Important Task: Feed the Flock

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus           

Note:  This sermon was preached at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego in 2005.  I was asked to speak at the installation of my dear friend Carlton Harris as Pastor.     

Introduction:  When Carlton called and asked me to come and preach at his installation service, I told him I would pray about God’s will in the matter, hung up the phone, and immediately asked my wife to order some airline tickets.  God’s will is not hard to determine when the question is a trip to San Diego in January! 

I am very honored to be here for this occasion.  Carlton and I go back 25 years to the Spring of 1981.  I was pastoring the same church I pastor today (though in between I spent 20 years in St. Louis), and one day I got a call from a young man in Dallas asking if I could use a summer intern.  The fact of the matter is I was looking for one, and for some reason that year the candidates were scarce at our denominational seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

So, I went to our Elder Board and told them I had found a possible summer intern and asked for approval to hire him.  They wanted to know where he was going to seminary, and while they would have preferred a Trinity man, I had gone to Dallas, so they were OK with that.  We talked about his job description and what we could afford to pay.  Then I said to them, “There’s something you need to know about Carlton–he’s black.”  A few of them hesitated, because ours was a typical white, middle-class suburban church, and, of course, this was 25 years ago!  But several spoke up and said, “Hey, that’s OK; in fact, it will be good for us to have a little diversity (with emphasis on ‘little’).” 

Then I said, “There’s one other thing I need to tell you–his wife is a Mennonite girl from Whitewater, KS.”  Now you have to understand that a black Mennonite is as rare as a rational Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, so they knew what I was saying.  The room went silent; several turned as pale as a white sheet (no, that’s probably not a good metaphor to use!). 

Well, I am proud of that Elder Board.  They eventually said, “Well, what does the Bible say about racial intermarriage?  That’s all that matters.”  For the next week they each researched all the Bible says about the topic, and when they came back, their conclusion was that the Bible is silent.  So, they approved Carlton as our intern.  The week he arrived several families left the church, never to return, but God put his stamp of approval on that bold decision.  Carlton did a great job that summer, and I believe God honored the step of faith we took, as it initiated the strongest three-year period of growth the church has ever seen.

Carlton and Carol have remained dear friends of mine ever since.  I have watched God use them significantly everywhere they have gone.  I have had Carlton preach in my church in St. Louis, and again when I returned to Wichita.  I hope you have some idea of the magnitude of the gift that God has given you in Carlton and Carol Harris!  But Carlton didn’t invite me here to reminisce about the past nor to brag on him, but to preach the Word, so let’s turn our attention in that direction.   

An old farmer, attending a denominational convention (I don’t know whether it was Baptist, Free Church, or some other abomination), chuckled to himself as he read over the subjects for the seminars.  “See here,” he said to his pastor, “there’s one thing always amuses me when you church leaders go at the business.  You’ve had discussions all day on how to get people to attend meetings.  I’ve never heard a single address at a farmers’ convention on how to get cattle up to the feed rack.  We put all our time in discussing the best kinds of feed.  I have a notion that if you put in more time on what to put in the rack, you wouldn’t have to spend so much time discussing how to get your folks to attend.”

I am often asked by people within and without our denomination, “What is the key to the success you have experienced in church planting and church growth?”  Often they seem to be looking for some logistical secret, some technique or methodology they can copy that will result in automatic growth and multiplication.  And indeed, there are churches which have grown far more rapidly than ours, which have been built in accordance with just such a plan.  Some have used telemarketing; others have adopted a whole new worship format which stresses entertainment and outreach; still others seem to be built around a charismatic personality.

But as I have considered my own experience in Wichita and St. Louis and now back in Wichita, and as I have observed other growth situations in our own denomination and around the world, I have come to the conclusion that the sine qua non, the very essence of planting and growing healthy churches, is not found in technique or methodology but in feeding, fellowship, and freedom.  I believe that to plant and grow healthy churches we must feed people, we must foster fellowship (or another way of putting it is, we must love them), and we must give them sufficient freedom to grow up in Christ.  I am of the strong opinion that if the pastors and leaders of a local church do these three things well, the church will be reasonably healthy even if they do everything else wrong.  It is also my opinion that if any one of these three factors is missing, a church cannot possibly be healthy even if they do everything else right.  

This morning I have time to address only the first of these three factors, and my thesis is relatively simple:  It is the primary duty of the shepherd or the pastor to feed the sheep.  Yet at the same time a wise shepherd doesn’t just stuff the sheep; his goal is not to see them get fat, but rather to see them become healthy.  In speaking of the need to feed sheep I am obviously speaking of the preaching and teaching that comes from the pulpit.  However, effective, balanced Bible teaching and discipling also needs to permeate the entire educational program of the church.  In other words, there is a sense in which every growing, healthy, serving Christian is a shepherd, for all of us have been assigned some sheep to feed.  So while my message today is focused on Carlton, it includes every one of us within its purview.

Shepherding, you know, is not high on the list of respected professions today, but I find it interesting that down through history God has solved many problems by laying hold of a shepherd.  When He wanted to have a people of His own, He laid hold of a shepherd named Abraham.  When He wanted to build that people into a great nation, he took another shepherd named Jacob.  When He wanted to save that nation, He called another shepherd—Joseph.  And when that nation was in terrible disunity and needed a great leader, God called upon still another shepherd—a young man named David. Even Jesus was not embarrassed to be called “the Good Shepherd.” 

I would like for us to turn to 2 Timothy 2 and look at some of the things that are involved in feeding sheep properly.  This is a portion of Scripture addressed by the Apostle Paul to his young protege, Timothy.  While it is particularly relevant to pastors, it also has application to anyone involved in the work of building the Church of Jesus Christ.  I want us to read the entire second chapter of 2 Timothy, though I wish to focus on verses 14-26.  

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. 

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 

Here is a trustworthy saying: 
If we died with him, 
we will also live with him; 
if we endure, 
we will also reign with him. 
If we disown him, 
he will also disown us; 
if we are faithless, 
he will remain faithful, 
for he cannot disown himself. 

Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. 

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

The first requirement for faithful shepherds I wish to examine is this:

Keep reminding God’s people of sound doctrine.  (14)

The first part of v. 14 reads, “Keep reminding them of these things….”  Paul has, in the previous 6 verses, set forth some very basic doctrinal truths, including the death and resurrection of Christ, election, salvation, the Kingdom, and judgment, and then immediately he adds, “Keep reminding them of these things.”  One of the rude awakenings I had as a young pastor was that my parishioners didn’t always remember the subpoints of my messages two years after I preached them.  In fact, I now consider myself distinctly honored when a noble soul now and then remembers even the topic I preached on the previous Sunday.  The fact is that people regularly need to be reminded.  

One of the things a spiritual shepherd must learn is that basic truths must be taught over and over; we learn by repetition.  It was the Apostle Peter who, quite late in life, said to his charges, 

“I plan to keep on reminding you of these things even though you already know them and are really getting along quite well!  But the Lord Jesus Christ has showed me that my days are numbered here on earth, and I am soon to die.  As long as I am still here, I intend to keep sending these reminders to you.”  (2 Peter 1:12-15)

So, the first requirement of a faithful shepherd is to “Keep reminding God’s people of sound doctrine.”  The second requirement is sort of a counterpart to the first.  While we must remind of sound doctrine, we must not become doctrinaire.  We must …

Warn against mere word battles.  (14b)

“Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.”  The phrase “to quarrel about words” is just one word in the original, but it is a compound made up of the term for “word” and the term for “fight.” It literally means “word-fights.”  It is amazing how easily we can slide from doctrinal teaching and expositional preaching into merely carting words back and forth and fighting over them.

Perhaps you heard about a group of theologians who were discussing predestination and free will.  When the argument became heated, the dissidents split into two groups.  One man, unable to make up his mind which group to join, slipped into the predestination crowd.  Challenged as to why he was there, he said, “I came of my own free will.”  The group retorted, “Free will?  You can’t join us!”  He retreated to the opposing group and was asked the same question.  “I was sent here,” he answered honestly.  “Get out!” they stormed.  “You can’t join us unless you come of your own free will.”  And the confused Christian was out in the cold.  Mere word battles!

On a somewhat more serious note, I am currently on a committee in the Free Church that is considering some changes in our Statement of Faith–changes that I believe will strengthen it and make it more biblical.  But as always, there are some who don’t like change.  You know, minor change is a lot like “minor surgery;” it’s only minor if it’s being performed on someone else.  One of our pastors wrote a treatise attacking the proposed changes, in which he did a statistical analysis of the new and old Statements of Faith.  He counted all the words and discovered that the name Jesus constituted 2.2% of the words in the old Statement and only 1.8% of the words in the new one.  Now mind you, “Jesus” was mentioned just as many times in the new statement, but since it is a little longer, the percentage is 4/100’s less.  Mere word battles!                      

Paul is so opposed to this sort of thing that he solemnly charges God’s people (he doesn’t just charge them but lays a solemn charge on them).  And he does it in the presence of God, calling upon Him to be witness.  But why is word-wrangling so wrong?  Paul gives two reasons:  first, it’s useless.  That is, it doesn’t accomplish anything good.  But secondly, worse than that, it does accomplish something bad, “It leads to the ruin of the hearers.”  The Greek word for ruin is katastrophe, from which we get our English word “catastrophe,” and that describes the results rather well.  Word fighting creates dissension among believers and it destroys the reputation of the church.

So important is this issue that Paul later raises it again in verse 23: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”  Oh, how some people love to get involved in foolish and stupid arguments, and how they love to argue!  But the Lord’s bondservant cannot allow such activity to characterize his life.  You can’t fish and fight at the same time.  You’ve got to neglect either your net or your gun.  Sheep are not fed when the shepherd is conducting word battles.  The third requirement for feeding sheep well is:

Be honest with the Word of God.  (15)

Verse 15 reads, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  Our children’s club, AWANA, takes its name from this verse.  AWANA is an acrostic for “approved workmen are not ashamed.”  An approved workman is one who, when he stands before God, has no occasion to blush, no feeling of shame.  I remember a poster in the student lounge of Miami Christian College, where I taught many years ago.  It showed a little boy drawing a picture.  I don’t remember the picture, only that it was typical for a very young child.  But what I do remember is that he was proudly signing his name, and the caption read, “Would you put your name on all of your work?”  Well, there’s one way, Carlton, to be sure that you won’t be ashamed to have your name on your work:  “Be honest with the Word of God.” 

The King James Version in verse 15 reads, “Accurately dividing the Word of Truth,” which was borrowed as the title of a once well-known and influential book on dispensationalism, implying that we must accurately divide up the Bible into dispensations.  Ironically, that very book is a classic illustration of what Paul was warning against here, for the furthest thing from his mind was dividing up the Bible into time periods.  Paul was telling us to deal accurately with God’s Word, not allowing our theological prejudices to color our interpretations.  Unfortunately, I see within conservative evangelical circles all kinds of tortuous interpretations used to substantiate theological hobbyhorses.

I know pastors who are so Calvinistic that they interpret John 3:16 to mean, “God so loved the world of the elect that….” I do not believe that is being honest with God’s Word.  There are those who are so convinced of a pre-tribulation rapture that they are willing to go to the passage which is the most difficult for the pre-trib view, 2 Thessalonians 2, and take the word apostasia, translated, “falling away from the faith,” and twist it to mean a “falling away upwards” or “a rapture.”  That, too, is not handling accurately the Word of God.

I cannot emphasize too strongly the need to let the Bible speak for itself.  You may have to change a long-cherished viewpoint, you may have to break with the opinion of your favorite seminary professor or radio preacher (God forbid!), you may end up being forced out of the pulpit or classroom of some church, but any or all of those eventualities are to be preferred to forcing God’s Word to fit your preconceived notion of what it should say.  

What we desperately need today are men and women willing to be completely honest with this Book!  Jess Moody said, in the way only he can, 

“If you preached a biblical sermon and the whole world hates it, tell them all to go to Heaven–and begin preparing another sermon just like the other one, only better.  But beware, a man can be tempted to compromise.  He who resists this temptation will one day find the applause of the angels to be deafening.”[i]

The fourth requirement for faithful shepherds is:  

Avoid false teaching.  (16)

And avoid it like the plague.  Verse 16 reads, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”  How do I get false teaching out of godless chatter?  Well, from the context.  Paul mentions two culprits as examples—Hymeneus and Philetus—and he informs us in verse 18 that they “have wandered away from the truth.  They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”  Then in verse 20 he adds that in a large house (like the Church) we must expect both good and bad dishes (standing for true teachers and false ones), and our duty is to cleanse ourselves from the false teachers, i.e., to stay away from them.  

You see, Paul is here giving us the other side of the word-battle issue.  We aren’t to fight over mere words, but we are to hold our ground on basic doctrines, like the resurrection.  I don’t believe God is pleased when He sees Christians fighting one another.  But at the same time, we should be declaring war on those false apostles and deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ, all the while espousing doctrine that clearly undermines the Christian faith.  I’m thinking of the cultists, the New Age thinkers, the liberation theology advocates, and even some on the edges of evangelicalism who are pushing the doctrinal envelope on the grounds of some new postmodern epistemology.  What they teach is godless chatter.  Faithful shepherds avoid false teaching, and false teachers.  

Fifthly, I skip over to chapter 4 for the most basic requirement of all for a faithful shepherd:  “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.”

“Proclaim the Word!”  

Carlton, I remind you of those words on the front wall of our seminary chapel, “Kyruxxon ton logon.”  Preach the Word.  Those words are the best motto any minister of the Gospel, clergy or laity, could place before him or her, but they are an absolute necessity for preaching pastors.  If a preaching pastor fails to proclaim the Scriptures, he fails at the point of his greatest responsibility.  He can succeed at almost everything else–counseling, vision, visitation, administration, assimilation, you name it–but if he doesn’t preach the Word, he is a failure.  He can preach current events, he can be a great storyteller, he can be funny and entertaining, but if he doesn’t preach the Word, he has missed his calling.

Paul here offers four marks which should characterize the proclamation of the Word: urgency, relevance, patience, and intelligence.  First, there is the mark of …

1.  Urgency.  “Be ready in season and out of season.”  Be prepared on all occasions, whether convenient or not.  Don’t get lazy and leave your Bible study preparation to the last moment, when something more urgent may leave you totally unprepared.  Secondly,…

2.  Relevance.  “Reprove, rebuke and exhort.”  The one who teaches the Word must be relevant in application to people’s lives.  Depending upon the occasion he may need to use any one of these three tactics.  

Those with doctrinal problems he may need to reprove or correct.  

Those with moral problems he may need to rebuke.  

And those with emotional problems he may simply need to exhort or to 


The Christian worker who can’t distinguish these three can ruin his ministry.  If he rebukes the person who needs encouragement or encourages the one who needs to be corrected, he may exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.  The third mark is …

3.  Patience.  “Reprove, rebuke and exhort with great patience.”  This balances the urgency we spoke of earlier.  While we must be ready at any moment to proclaim the Word, we must not use human pressure techniques to contrive decisions from people.  The work is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s.  We must be patient as they grasp the truth, accept it, assimilate it, and mature in it.  

Finally, the preaching of the Word must be accompanied by …

4.  Intelligence.  “Reprove, rebuke and exhort–with great patience and instruction.” Feeding sheep must not be primarily on the emotional level, nor even on the exhortational level.  It must involve instruction, teaching, doctrine, and truth based upon the careful study of God’s Word.  So, the charge to Timothy, and to you, my friend Carlton, is to “Proclaim the Word,” being urgent in your approach, relevant in your application, patient in your manner, intelligent in your presentation.

Conclusion:  In conclusion, let me observe that unfortunately there are many shepherds today who are not feeding the sheep.  Listen to these powerful and convicting words from Ezek. 34:  

The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock…. 

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD :  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.

Friends, there are shepherds like the shepherds of Israel in abundance today.  I assure you that Carlton Harris is not one of them.  Pray for him, guard his time, give him the benefit of the doubt, respect and honor him, and challenge him to be all that God wants him to be.      

DATE: January 29, 2005



Interracial marriage




False teaching

Preach the Word

[i] Jess Moody, A Drink at Joel’s Place.