Entrepreneur Max Anderson shares his final reflections on the great Tim Keller who influenced his life in a deeply profound way
There are a small number of great men and women in the world, people who shape their times. I have had the privilege of working with a few of them. I’ve also seen that not all who are great turn out to be good. When you meet someone who is both, you count yourself lucky.
In my first year of study with Tim, he said something I’ll never forget. He said that a pastor has a three-fold job, as prophet, priest and king. The prophet is preaching and teaching. The priest is counselling and pastoral care. The king is leadership of the church.
Tim said that natural gifting for these roles is important but even more important is a pastor’s godliness. Even if you aren’t that great a preacher, he said, if you are godly, people will want to listen to you. If you aren’t a gifted counsellor but you are godly, people will seek your advice. Even if you aren’t a natural leader, if you are godly, people will want to follow you.
That was one of the most liberating and also one of the most humbling pieces of advice I’d ever heard. Tim was a gifted teacher and preacher but he would be the first to say he had his ups and downs as a “priest” and “king”. But he was godly.
As my friend Scott put it, Tim’s secret was that he didn’t just preach the gospel, he believed it. And he believed it more than anybody else. So much so that its goodness spilled out of him naturally, into his counselling, into his leadership and into his preaching too.
Tim radically influenced my understanding of faith, my thinking about so many issues and my approach to life.
Outside of my head, he also shaped my lived experience. Jess and I would not have lived in Manhattan for so long had we not found such a great community in the church. And without being there so long we wouldn’t have so many enduring friendships.
When I step back and think about it, Tim Keller has influenced my life more than anyone else aside from my own parents.
I lament his loss personally. I grieve the loss of a friend. I also lament his loss as part of a society that desperately needs public leaders like Tim. We don’t need leaders who slam their opponents in debate. We don’t need leaders who are ostentatious with their wealth and showy about their connections. We don’t need leaders who spike our emotions with anger and grievances.
We need people who lead with wisdom, with reason and with gracious humility. We need leaders like Tim.
Two years ago, Tim wrote about the experience of living with cancer in a piece for The Atlantic, ‘Growing My Faith in the Face of Death’.
Tim had written extensively on suffering in Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, and on pastoring people who are dying in On Death. But this was a first-hand account; a meditation on finding contentment and even great happiness in the face of death. It is worth a read.
As good as they are, I want to close not with a quote from those pieces but with a selection from my favourite sermon, The Timing of Jesus. If you’d prefer to read it, you can check it out in Tim’s book, King’s Cross, now retitled Jesus the King.
It is about this passage from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is on his way to see Jairus’ daughter, a little girl who is sick. Along the way he is delayed by a crowd and by the woman who sought to just touch the hem of his garment. By the time Jesus arrives at the house, Jairus’ daughter has died.
“Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them: ‘Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him.
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“But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her: ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’
“And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” (Mark 5:38-42)
Here’s Tim’s commentary:
“Do you think it is odd that when Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house he says that the girl is just sleeping? The parallel account of this story in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels make it clear that Jesus understands she’s dead. She’s not mostly dead; she’s all dead. Then why does he make that reference to sleep?
“The answer is in what Jesus does next. Remember, Jesus sits down beside the girl, takes her by the hand, and says two things to her. The first is ‘talitha’. Literally, it means ‘little girl’, but that does not get across the sense of what he’s saying. This is a pet name, a diminutive term of endearment. Since this is a diminutive that a mother would use with a little girl, probably the best translation is ‘honey’.
“The second thing Jesus says to her is ‘koum’, which means ‘arise’. Not ‘be resurrected’, it just means ‘get up’. Jesus is doing exactly what this child’s parents might do on a sunny morning. He sits down, takes her hand, and says: ‘Honey, it’s time to get up.’ And she does.
“Jesus is facing the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. ‘Honey, get up.’
“Jesus is saying by his actions: ‘If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.’”
Tim, may it be so for you also.
Max Anderson is an entrepreneur and author. He is founder of Stagecoach Ventures and author of The Weekend Reader, a deep thinker’s guide to modern culture. He is author of Modern Meditations: Reflections from the Mid-Point of the Second Decade of the Twenty-first Century. Max is founder and CEO of The Lift Seminar - a personal accelerator for entrepreneurs, and a platform for teaching MBAs at the world’s top business schools the secrets of massive personal productivity.
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