Friday, March 23, 2007

The Pastor's Heart in Paul's Letters, 4

Why am I a pastor?

Why are you a pastor if you are one?

If you're not a pastor, why do you submit to one? Why do you love one as "your pastor"?

I suppose there are various answers one could give to these questions, ranging from the answers that grow out of practical circumstances to more profound spiritual reasons. If I had to give in one sentence why I am a pastor and not a policy wonk or a basketball coach or a garbage man or a teacher or a criminal or a full-time World Series of Poker wannabe... it might be this:

Having been loved by Christ, and having had that love supernaturally excite love in me for the Savior and love for His people, the Lord has put it in my heart and burdened me with a desire to love and give myself to Him and His people by watching over, teaching, and living with them.

At God's initiation and by His design--because following my own preferences and wisdom, I ran from pastoral ministry for a good little while, so I can't take credit--I earnestly want to be poured out, to be spent for the people of God.

Paul's letters helped clarify that for me. Seeing Paul's heart for the churches he corresponded with not only caused my heart to resonate with him but shaped my understanding of a pastor's heart... perhaps what it should be.

It was statements like:

"O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open" (2 Cor. 6:11).

"You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together" (2 Cor. 7:3b).

I find these some of the most beautiful statements in the Word of God. The vision of reciprocal love between a faithful shepherd and loving sheep is sweet. Here's a man betrothed to Christ... which includes betrothal to the Lord's body, His people. Here's a man whose commitment and love for the church spanned this life and the next... to live together and to die together.

Here's how Paul put it to the saints in Thessalonica:
"For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness--God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (1 Thess. 2:5-8).

It was contemplating this passage that settled my heart and mind in coming to the wonderful people of FBC Grand Cayman. Particularly v. 8: "affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives." And here's the reason: "because you had become dear to us." The Lord had enlarged our hearts for the people here and filled it with affectionate longing, pleasure in preaching the gospel, and a desire to give our own lives to them.

Certainly not that my heart is by any means perfect or that there aren't times when my flesh seizes the reins... but I find it uncommonly sweet to be able to give my life to dear ones here, beloved in the Lord. And this example of Paul has become my desire for the pastorate the Lord has entrusted me with. For me, Paul's heart expressed in 2 Cor. and 1 Thess. is foundational to the pastor's heart: jofully self-giving affection for those Jesus has purchased and entrusted to their care.

So many pastors and congregations have found themselves with their hearts only slightly open. Pastors and congregations have at times completely closed their hearts to one another, speaking only guardedly and secretly. In some situations, the congregation has ceased to be dear to the pastor and vice-versa. What a mournful tragedy to live together and die together without mutual affection in the heart.

I pray that every church could be as the Macedonian churches who "first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us (Paul and his companions) by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:5). May the Lord be pleased to unite the hearts of pastors and congregations in uninhibited, holy affection each for the other--for their mutual blessing and the glory of Christ, the Chief Shepherd.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're doing this well, bro. You're "leading with love." You're giving yourself to the work of this church, to the lives of our people by the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep giving yourself away!

dave

DavidR said...

This post struck a chord. Actually two. God bless you for it.

Q. A. Jones said...

wonderful thoughts...as I prepare to pursue God's calling in my life as a pastor (which I have in some sense been running from also) I have been recently meditating on Paul's heart and life as an example...particularly his careful and comprehensive teaching (went house to house teaching the whole counsel) and his parental heart (1 Thess 2).

Praise God for giving us such a specific example of pastoral ministry in His Word and praise God for your work.

Hoping to meet you some day.

Q

Tom said...

Thabiti,

What a wonderful reflection on the heart of a pastor toward his people.

To encourage you, I sensed this deep love for God's people even in the short time you were with us (DGCC) in Charlotte.

Your example continues to provide encouragement to me in what, God helping, I hope is a deepening and more abiding love for the people God has called me to shepherd.

Despite the sinfulness that is all too present, I love them, miss them when I'm away from them, and earnestly desire to see Christ formed in them.

Would that God might grant these small seeds of love to grow into towering trees that provide shelter and shade for our people.

Grace to you,
Tom

Anonymous said...

I believe that you are loving us well; dying to self and humbling yourself. Just as importantly, God is teaching us to love each other more deeply through your example and preaching

ian