Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Surprising Sources of Joy in Pastoral Ministry, 2

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:7-8).

The Apostle Paul penned these words just after telling the Philippians that he prayed with joy because of their partnership with him in the gospel, and that he expected God to complete the work He had begun in them. The thought of their partnership inspired joy in the apostle. And now he insists that feeling joyous was "right".

Should a pastor feel and know joy concerning the people placed in his charge? According to the apostle, of course! And why?

Well, it's because the Philippians were "in [Paul's] heart". And so should our people be in our hearts. It's a striking phrase really. We tend to hear the word "heart" with a kind of sentimentality that the biblical writers didn't intend. They were not merely in his head or on his mind. They were not merely the objects of syrupy affection. They were in his bosom, in his breast, the seat of his soul, lodged in the center of who he was. As Carson put it, his "whole life and thought are bound up with [the Philippians]" (D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, p. 18). So dear to him were the Philippian Christians that he could speak of them as part of him. And are not the pastor and his people to be similarly joined in one body?

Notice that his assessment wasn't fair-weather, like some vane spinning in the wind. "Whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me." Imprisonment didn't confine his love for the church. Neither did apologetic and preaching freedom distract his affections. Hardship didn't quench the concern for them. And prosperity didn't turn his heart.

So strong was his love for the Philippians that he could take an oath before God: "God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." How would God testify of my love for the church?

Paul is no hireling, and his love for the people is not prompted or limited by convenience.

Here, then, is a surprising source of joy in pastoral ministry: love for God's people has a way of becoming very much a part of you, working its way into the soul and stubbornly resisting dilution and distraction.

Pastoral ministry is filled with the surprising joy of love. We look out on God's people, those who "share in God's grace with us," and we can sometimes be positively startled at the intensity of affection and care.

I remember the first time my oldest daughter was hurt in my presence. She was a toddler. And as is the case with toddlers, she "toddled" and bumped her mouth against a cart. She let out this piercing shriek. It was all very minor, but I felt things I'd never felt before with an intensity that scared me. We were in Best Buy at the time. I had to leave her with her mother and walk to the opposite corner of the store with the big screens and A/V equipment to get myself together.

Sometimes, a pastor's love for his people, like Paul's, is as strong as a parent's love for their children. Perhaps that should be all the time. But we're fallen men with imperfect affections and vulnerabilities. But when it is like that, there is unquestionably a great joy that wells up in the heart.

And what joy it is to discover longing for the people of God "with the affection of Christ Jesus" in our hearts. What an assurance of God's grace and work in our lives. In a peculiar sort of way, pastoral ministry affords a man an opportunity to love in a way and scale otherwise unavailable to him. I don't mean that all Christians shouldn't love this way. I'm only suggesting that one surprising source of joy for the pastor is this opportunity to love "with the affection of Christ Jesus" that comes with shepherding responsibility.

There are the older members who become parents and grandparents to you. The pastor's care for them can sometimes become akin to a son's care for his aging parents. There is the love that develops for the children of the congregation as you watch them grow and play some part with their parents in shaping them. There are the teenagers who need another loving mentor, and the young adults transitioning through career, marriage, and first children. There are the bruised and hurting sheep struggling with weakness or wickedness and needing care. The pastoral privilege of "being there" as providence unfolds plants the congregation in a man's heart. At various times and in various ways we have the privilege of sharing the affection of Christ Jesus.

Surely that's a costly love, for Christ in His love poured out His blood. But it was also for the joy set before Him that He endured the agony of the cross. In a similar way, it's for the joy set before the pastor that he endures in loving his people in chains or in proclaiming the gospel.

1 comment:

Jason Park said...

Thank you Pastor Anyabwile for this encouraging post. It's such a delight to know and to have a "costly love" for the people of God to whom we are ministering. Thanks for reminding us that we are not hirelings but shepherds.