What does a pastor preach as he is about to leave his flock? What final word does he leave with his congregation? Does he stand on one final soap box and speak his mind? Does he close his Bible, “speak from the heart,” and deliver a sentimental farewell address? Or does he look back over the years, highlighting his greatness and personal accomplishments? Sadly, many pastors would opt for one of these approaches. But Pastor Dave did what a true gospel minister would do: he preached the text. He simply preached the text of Scripture planned for that particular Sunday, continuing our pattern of preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible in order to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). And our church couldn’t have asked for a more fitting final sermon from one of its shepherds.
Insist on the Gospel
His text was brief (Titus 3:8-11) and his sermon was based primarily upon the first verse: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (Titus 3:8). The saying which Paul is describing as trustworthy, and the things upon which Titus is to insist, is none other than the gospel:
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).
He explained that this is the calling of the Christian—to insist on the gospel in everything. We are to believe and proclaim the good news of salvation. You cannot move past the gospel on to “deeper things”. Nothing is deeper than the Father’s love towards us, the Son’s work for us, and the pouring out of the Spirit upon us. He showed that only by preaching the glorious doctrines of the gospel will God’s people grow in wholehearted devotion to God, evidenced by lives of good works, love, and unity.
In other words, in his final sermon to our church, Pastor Dave did exactly what Paul instructed Titus, the elders on Crete, and all gospel ministers to do in these last days: insist on these things! He ministered the word to our church as he had for the entirety of his time as lead pastor. He demonstrated his belief in the authority, and sufficiency, and efficacy of Scripture. He proclaimed Christ and him crucified. He put the glory of God in Christ on display by declaring the good news of salvation. He called the church to faithfulness, good works, and unity, not through moralism and “law”, but through grace and truth. He preached the trustworthy saying. He insisted on sound doctrine. He preached the gospel.
Preaching the Word
This has been Pastor Dave’s heart from the beginning. Here’s an excerpt from an introductory letter that he included with his résumé back in 2014:
The gospel is paramount. This is a non-negotiable for me. A big problem that I see with the church in North America as a whole is the lack of understanding of, and inability to preach, the simple, pure gospel. Unfortunately, we are left with nothing more than teaching that leads to moralism and a general lack of conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit.
His assessment of the modern church, and his insistence on the gospel of Jesus as the only answer was correct; it is the gospel alone that is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17).
This is also why Paul gave the following charge to Timothy:
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Of course, the work of shepherding is much more than just the public proclamation of the gospel. But it is certainly not less. If an undershepherd truly loves the chief Shepherd, he will not only care for and oversee the church of God (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4), but he will feed the sheep (John 21:15-17). How? By “insisting on these things”—giving them Jesus, the bread of life (John 6:35). Pastor Dave faithfully set before the congregation a gospel feast each week from the pulpit. He continually pointed the sheep to the true Shepherd whether in the office or in his home.
Fulfilling the Ministry
I am incredibly grateful to our God for his providence in leading Pastor Dave and his family to our church. God has allowed us to experience an incredible revitalization during these four years under his leadership. I will miss them terribly, yet all the while trusting God will use them mightily in their new church. But I now find myself in his seat. I have been called by God and the church to shepherd the flock here at ECC as their lead pastor. There is a Savior to proclaim, a church to be built up, and a city to be evangelized.
I have found myself asking along with Paul, “who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:16)? How can I fulfill my ministry as a gospel minister? The apostle continues:
But as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. . . . Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 2:17, 3:4-6).
The pastor fulfills his ministry by proclaiming the glories of the new covenant and the promise of forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Christ alone. He is to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). He is to give himself to the preaching of the gospel according to Scripture alone to the glory of God alone. Confident in the sovereign purposes of God, centered on the atoning work of Christ, and controlled by the Spirit through the Word, he is to insist on these things. This is what Dave did, and what I, by God’s grace, will continue to do
Matt Bedzyk is the lead pastor at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Brianna have one daughter: Lorien Grace. In his spare time, you can find him reading, playing music, enjoying coffee, and supporting Manchester United. You can follow him on Twitter @mattbedzyk