To borrow language from John Calvin, both “useless drones and faithful ministers” find their way into pulpits, and we must be careful to distinguish between them. As believers, we are to find faithful ministers and place ourselves under their ministry, but we must be aware that there are others out there who have a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). We are to avoid such people for they have drifted from the truth and sneak in and upset the faith of some, but how do we spot them? Here are six characteristics to consider to help us tell them apart.
Foundational Doctrines of the Faith
One of the first signs that a minister is not fulfilling his calling is if he avoids the Christian faith’s foundational doctrines. Such doctrines include sin, the wrath of God, the cross, the resurrection, the deity of Jesus, and countless others. Such men, if they believe them at all, usually stay away from such teaching because they believe they lack excitement in their hearer’s itching ears, and they know that teaching them will not help their status in the eyes of the world. Instead of preaching the word of God, they take their cues from culture. When it comes to the core tenets of the faith, the faithful minister reminds us of these things and charges us before God (2 Tim. 2:14). A faithful minister knows that these doctrines are of such great importance that they never grow tired of proclaiming them. These truths are what people need to hear.
Study to be Approved by God
Quite often, useless drones and faithful ministers will both be men who study. The difference is in who’s approval they are seeking with their work. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is often seeking the people’s approval; he desires for the people to look on him with admirations because of his oration and intelligence. This misdirected focus often reveals itself if you sit under such men’s preaching, and you leave the sermon more impressed by the pastor’s abilities and intelligence than you are with God himself.
Faithful ministers, on the other hand, ultimately preach for an audience of one. They know that God is their focus, and when it is all said and done, it is him with whom they must deal (2 Timothy 2:15). There is no approval of man that holds enough sway in their life to pull them away from this truth.
Rightly dividing the word of God
Faithful ministers, who seek to be approved by God more than men, will also rightly divide the word of God (2 Tim. 2:15). To borrow more language from Calvin, these ministers cut aright the word of God like a father cutting food for his children. They want to ensure their hearers correctly understand it and easily digest it without causing any complications to their spiritual health. On the other hand, useless drones will tear, mutilate, and torture the word of God. In doing so, they never come to the true meaning of the text and fail to nourish their flock; They degrade their congregation’s health by never giving them what they need.
The evidence of not correctly dividing the word of God is that it results in irreverent babble (2 Tim. 2:16). The hireling fills his preaching with such things as man-focused self-help, entertainment, and current cultural theories disguised in Christian language. In such preaching, we will often find teachings on spiritual formation built upon non-biblical traditions and works-based understandings of justification, postmodern theories of truth and language that undermine God’s word, and Marxist categories of social justice. When the word of God is neglected and not brought to bear on these topics, irreverent babble is the only result. It is irreverent because it does not honor God, and it is babble because it is of no spiritual benefit.
The useless drone’s irreverent babble tends to end in useless quarrels. When a minister does not study to be approved by God but seeks to be approved by men, they tend toward speculative theology. The preaching is often loaded with ostentation as the minister aims to display his intelligence before men on topics of little spiritual importance. For such men, their reputation is on the line with every counter-argument that comes against them. This selfish ambition leads them to be contentious men who have an unhealthy craving for controversy to show their intellectual superiority (1 Tim. 6:4). Faithful ministers have died to self, and have no time for such teaching and quarrels.
The final distinguishing factor between useless drones and faithful ministers is pride. This has flowed throughout the previous points, but is worth highlighting specifically. The useless drone will know nothing of the word of God but will be extremely pleased with their nuance and discourse. As already mentioned, they are driven by ambition, which leads to envy. Their pride will never be satisfied, and they will never find contentment. This drives them further and further down the path of corruption and uselessness.
On the other hand, the faithful minister, though they stand on a solid foundation and possess knowledge derived from the word of God, they will be gentle and selfless, patiently enduring evil. They are like this because they have found contentment in their God and know that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6). They do not need the admiration of men. They are satisfied in Christ Jesus, and, in meekness, they do not need to be defensive and strike back with a sharp tongue at the criticisms of men.
Scripture not only calls us to spot false ministers of the gospel, it also commands us to withdraw from them. We are to avoid such people (2 Tim. 3:5). They will consume our strength but offer us nothing in return, and their corruption will spread like gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17). In contrast, the faithful minister will point us to God and feed our soul. Draw near to such men.