The Wholehearted Pastor

Why Men of God Pursue Purity

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in . . . purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Pastoral ministry is not something low we pastors settle for. It’s something lofty we keep reaching for — by faith in God’s grace, in repentance for our sins, and with courage always to believe God for his reviving power.

The high calling God has given us as pastors is obvious in the final word of our agenda-setting verse, 1 Timothy 4:12. That word is purity. It’s a sure way any young pastor can gain the respect of people of all ages in his congregation.

Purity Demanded and Created

Purity is a bold word, isn’t it? It’s blunt and strong, leaving no room for compromise. That’s why the word is in this verse for us pastors. We need this splash of cold water in our faces. The morally corrosive ethos of our times (so contrary to purity) is well stated by Marilynne Robinson in her insightful book The Death of Adam:

When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, “I knew it all along,” and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true. (The Death of Adam, 78)

That fashionable outlook is deeply corrupt. There is a difference between sin and corruption. For all his serious errors, Pope Francis helped me articulate the critical difference between the two. He argued that corruption is sin repeated and repeated until it deepens to such a point that sin doesn’t feel sinful anymore (“The Limits of Dialogue”). Corruption makes sin feel normal. As a result, the corrupted sinner is no longer open to grace. And how can that end well? Whole denominations can be thrust into anguish over corruption in their midst.

Brothers, we must never allow the darkness of our times to start feeling normal. Men of God know that purity is not a throwback to a bygone era. It is not an embarrassment. It is the beautiful image of Christ himself marking us and honoring us, so that every one of us can be “a vessel for honorable use” in the hands of the Lord (2 Timothy 2:20–21). Is that not what you and I earnestly desire — purity within us and among us?

So, let’s be decisive. Let’s emphatically reject all cynicism that scoffs at purity as if it were somehow posing. Let’s humble ourselves, swallow God’s word whole, and by God’s grace keep walking the path of authentic Christianity that all generations of faithful pastors before us have walked. That path includes purity. It demands purity. It creates purity.

The Many Facets of Purity

What then is pastoral purity? Obviously, it cannot be sinless perfection. The man who wrote this called himself, earlier in this same letter, “the foremost” of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). There is, however, a real purity that everyone in our churches can rightly expect from us flawed but faithful pastors. The apostle considered purity essential to gospel ministry (2 Corinthians 6:6). Jesus considered purity of heart essential to kingdom identity (Matthew 5:8). Whatever purity is — it includes sexual integrity, but it is far more — we must deeply accept its all-encompassing authority over us.

Imagine with me that we could pick up this word translated purity like a beautiful gem, hold it up in the sunlight, and turn it over and over in our hands, looking at it from different angles, being dazzled by the splendors on its various facets. What would we see there? We would see the gem of purity sparkling with holiness, reverence, integrity, innocence, honesty, and sincerity — for starters.

Purity is wholeheartedness, dignifying every area of a pastor’s life. The Bible says, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). It’s why Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” It is possible to minister the gospel with a divided heart (Philippians 1:17). It is possible to preach the truth, but not “in truth” (Philippians 1:18). You and I turn away from such a sight with grief and abhorrence. We turn back to Christ himself both as our message and as our motive.

Purity in the Wild

Sadly, our world today is no friend of a pastor’s purity. Anything like purity just isn’t cool. To this tragic world, the very word purity can sound quaint, phony, even offensive. But God delights in our purity. To him, all aspects of the purity he sees in us are beautiful, and beautiful with something of his own beauty.

What does a pastor of exemplary purity look like? He has no hidden agendas. He can be taken at face value. He proves true time after time. He can be safely trusted. He follows through and keeps his promises. He doesn’t use people, but actually loves people. He doesn’t assess others with a selfish cost-benefit analysis but gives his heart away and remains a steadfast friend over the long haul.

When he accepted the call from his church to minister the gospel there, he meant it, and he means it — even when he is tested by hardship. His congregation never has to wonder what he really wants or what he really cares about. They know that their pastor is “the real deal.” That’s what a man set apart by exemplary purity looks like. What a glorious privilege for every pastor!

Men Who Stand Out

So then, my brother pastor, here is what you must accept. In some circles, if you commit to purity, you won’t fit in. The Septuagint uses this word translated purity in Numbers 6:2–3. It says there, of the person who takes a Nazarite vow, “When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink . . .” And your purity will set you apart in our day.

I don’t mean you will stand aloof from people. I hope you won’t! But if you devote yourself to purity before the Lord and your church, you might not be perceived as “just one of the guys.” Instead of fitting in, you will stand out. And some people might not know how to respond. A few might even despise you. But more and more, over time, fair-minded people will see you as you truly are: a remarkable example of Christian authenticity.

By God’s grace alone, for his glory alone, you can fulfill the exemplary calling of 1 Timothy 4:12. You will be respected. Your people will be blessed. And the watching world will know that a man of God has walked among them.