Monday, March 19, 2007

The Pastor's Heart in Paul's Letters

For a couple of years now, the Lord has been forming and reforming my view of the pastoral ministry through the letters of the Apostle Paul. Obviously I'm not the first to be struck by Paul's writings in general and his view of the ministry in particular. But I count myself in the line of men who have been humbled, inspired, convicted, instructed and made hopeful by God's Word through Paul.

So, I'm going to spend a little time just meditating out loud (or on the blog anyway) about some of the things I am drawn to again and again, things that seem to me to be foundational to the pastor's heart, and that have become a large part of my hope/vision for pastoral ministry.

We start today with one of the first verses I ever memorized. I can recall where I was when I first read it, and it was one of those verses that I understood by God's Spirit immediately, as if (I know it's a cliche) I were struck by lightning. Romans 1:16--

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

I said I understood this verse right away. That's a bit of a mis-statement. I understood in that "deep knowing" sorta way that leaves you without doubt about the certainty and truthfulness of the thing, though you'd be peeling the layers of meaning for years. That's been my experience.

Here's what struck me right away:

1. Not ashamed. Paul was not ashamed. I was at the time... in subtle ways... ashamed. When I read this there was no doubt that I shouldn't be and that I wouldn't be any longer. The statement sounded to me as much a resolution as a statement of fact. Somehow just by reading this verse my faith instantly became profoundly and unabashedly public; its proclamation moved aggressively to the center of everything, or at least the proclamation of the gospel made its claim to the center of everything. The years that followed have been the outworking of that claim.

2. The gospel. I was a young Christian when I first read this verse and the fact that Paul was not ashamed of the gospel just screamed "know the gospel well!" It's quite easy to be "ashamed" of things you don't know well. The very state of not knowing puts you in a slightly cowering posture, provoking doubt and hesitancy. But knowing the gospel, knowing that it is the Truth... well that emboldens and strengthens.

3. The power of God for salvation. Here's the basis of Paul's resolution against shame--this message about Christ is itself power... God's power... entailing the glorious end called salvation. Power. The gospel is power. That demands pondering. The message, the good news, is itself explosive, potent, effectual. Recently I heard Canadian evangelist T.V. Thomas say that he thought the greatest hindrance to the gospel today is that many Christians no longer have confidence in the message. I think that's probably correct. But here we're confronted with this grand truth that the power of God resides like so much gunpowder inside the keg of the gospel! That demands confidence. And it was something like confidence that I remember overtaking me on that bright day back in N.C.

4. Salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Salvation to everyone who believes. That's good news. Here's where my affection for the apostle Paul really grew. He intentionally related to others the applicability of the gospel to all peoples. Jew and Greek or Gentile. This was the primordial stuff of my view of the church. The same gospel saves all, and over the years I've been wrestling with how it unites (or should unite) all in the body of Christ, or at least how ethnicity shouldn't be an impediment to unity in this great salvation.

So, for ten years or so, Romans 1:16 has been shaping my view of the pastor's heart. The pastor is one who is not ashamed of the gospel, who builds his ministry on the gospel and relies on the gospel's power rather than worldly techniques, and who through the gospel has an expansive love for all people. There's much more that could be said about a pastor's heart, but the centrality of the gospel and confidence in its power should be in the marrow of the man.

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