But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. 20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. 22 But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. 23 Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. (KJV, Phil. 2:19–24)
Just as in Paul’s time, today we have a large number of would-be spiritual leaders who should be rejected as unworthy guides to God and eternity. Though some are unorthodox and easy to spot, many are orthodox but possess subtler problems of character that ought to be just as disqualifying. In Phillippians 2 Paul references problems of practice and character that should remove someone from spiritual leadership. A quick look at five thoughts the Holy Spirit gives us in this passage will help clarify whom we should accept for spiritual oversight,1 and whom we should not.
1. Likemindedness (Phil. 2:20)
“Likeminded” (or like-souled: ισοψυχος, isopsuchos) is a new word to Paul’s readers, never before appearing in his writings and not to appear again in Scripture. It’s a word of comparison, and a word of creation. Though the KJV uses the word “mind,” the second half of the word is actually “soul.” Since God knows the difference, it will be helpful to remember.
“Like-souled” is a word that encourages the question of whether or not another person has something inside him that only God could create. How would we know such a personal and private characteristic? The word indicates that we can compare the candidate with Paul and the other Apostles. If someone acts, thinks and teaches like the Apostles, if he evidences the same sort of behavior, then God has gifted him with an unusual spirit. The effects reveal the cause. Apparently, Paul had no difficulty seeing the truth about others, and I doubt that the evidence is much harder to see today than it was then.
One way to see better is to develop a “not list.” Study Paul and the other Apostles, and figure out what is not like them. Since Paul said that the Roman churchmen were not likeminded, so we can use the same construction. It is not like Paul to dismiss, deny, misinterpret, or change Scripture. It is not like John to be worldly or carnal. It is not like Peter to neglect evangelism, etc.
A “not list” I have compiled from the book of Romans goes something like this: it is not like the true minister to be deficient in understanding the core doctrines of salvation, grace, righteousness, mercy, and sovereignty. It is not like a true minister to be anything less than a living sacrifice, wholly dedicated to God and man. It is not like these servants to be prideful, or to misunderstand spiritual gifts, or to misunderstand the believer’s relationship to government. It is not likeminded to misinterpret the doctrine of liberty. The same goes for missions and giving and love for the brethren.
2. The nurture nature (Phil. 2:20)
It is instructive that Paul’s first clarification of likemindedness concerns a natural care for others. He did not say “I have no man likeminded who will preach expositionally to the people,” or “I have no man likeminded who will study 40 hours a week for you.” I am not downplaying expositional preaching or good study habits here. Rather, I am affirming that love and concern for others is a primary attribute and motivation, not a secondary one. Some people reveal a complete lack of care for others’ spiritual state despite being in the ministry and apparently loving “the work.” It appears quite possible to confuse a love of the work of Christ with the necessary love of the people of Christ.
This point has an added virtue. It’s not just a benchmark for understanding differences in men, but it’s also a precious promise. For the wrong kind of spiritual leader, I am nothing more than a resource to be exploited for his own gain. But the truly God-given leader offers himself as a resource to me (2 Cor. 12:15), to help me for my spiritual and eternal gain, often at great sacrifice to himself. Think for a moment about God sending men to “naturally care for your state,” and what that implies about benefit to you. The leader who naturally cares for my state will never do anything to hurt me spiritually and eternally, but will only help. The other is a huge danger to me and my family.
3. Seeking for Christ’s things (Phil. 2:21)
This is a statement about general trends in a person’s life. It implies many qualities over a long period of time, but essentially shows their focus to be upon the Savior. In this we find such considerations as a life of prayer and devotion to God, total consecration to God’s plans and sovereignty, love of the brethren, love of the Word, love of the ministry, and other such qualities.
Though it may be impossible to list every character quality that goes into this headline, individual acts, events and traits may be tested. Indeed, Paul indicates that testing or proofing is important for the peace of mind of the church (2:22). The next point then is interlocked with this point.
4. Passing the test (Phil. 2:22)
The idea of testing or proving someone else is always distasteful to a person trained in the biblical mandates of politeness and respect. This is surely one of the main reasons so few congregations seem willing to push along these lines. It’s a terrible irony that politeness wins out over God’s requirements in many instances. Despite the need for politeness, Paul was willing to evaluate others in what may have seemed a fairly harsh manner when it came time to select leadership.
After testing to determine fitness for the “top” job, unworthy candidates must be rejected. For a list of individual traits, accomplishments, and characteristics to be tested, one need only turn to the Pastoral Epistles for ideas, but here are some for consideration.
- Clear and accurate testimony of salvation?
- Proven evangelistic fervor?
- Proof of prior service in a local church, under a proven servant of Christ?
- Willing to stay in school or seminary as long as God wishes? Grades? Recommendations by faculty?
- Able to teach through a technical book like Romans in an orthodox manner?
- Willing to open his music, video, and book library to inspection?
- Willing to work for a fair but not exorbitant wage?
Contrary to what we might think, the right man, God’s man, would not be put off by such testing. Indeed, one of the worries of a pastoral candidate is whether or not the people to which God sends him will have any concern about these issues. The truly God-designed minister has worked hard over years to obtain a testimony about these things and would like for some congregation to appreciate the effort and sacrifice involved.
5. Labor in the gospel (Phil. 2:22)
This part of the verse references factors we think of as “pastoral preparedness.” Training, schooling, seminary, missions, study habits, work habits, personal evangelism and more. Though already mentioned previously, I felt it unwise to leave this point out, in light of some deficiencies of our movement in this area. It seemed important to Paul to disciple Timothy personally, from which example, mingled with various statements that God makes in other parts of the New Testament, we can be quite sure that a man of God must be discipled thoroughly in orthodox churches and schools under the direction of orthodox and gifted pastors and faculty to the maximum that God allows. Even if he never says anything wrong, an under-prepared man has far less to say that is right, which is arguably a kind of wrong in itself.
I believe the Conservative Evangelical insistence upon extensive seminary training is highly commendable. Likewise, Fundamentalism has always had a good number of adherents who wanted nothing less, but there’s been some sabotage somewhere along the way, and the message never seemed able to pervade our movement. I don’t, however, put all the blame on the untrained minister for his position in the church. I also blame those who hired him, in effect telling him he was qualified enough to lead people rightly into eternity despite insufficient preparation or character.
The wolf will never serve its own flesh to the sheep. We cannot expect false leaders to teach themselves out of their positions. Likewise, there is no movement or push within the wide body of the church laity to self-educate and learn their responsibilities in the area of ecclesiology. That leaves one group with both the knowledge and position to affect change—the present conservative leaders of the church. The like-souled. Though it may not be a welcome addition to their duties, the current state of the world argues for further instruction of the laity2 in the area of ministerial qualification.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
1 You don’t need the “like-souled” just to send word back to a church, or to find out how people are doing. Likewise, there’s no need to convince a church of the “proof” of a man’s ministry experience unless that man is going into oversight.
2 I’ll not argue for further reform on the supply side, but rather on the demand side. Too many congregations don’t want and don’t choose the likeminded, but something inferior.