Thursday, August 23, 2007

Surprising Sources of Joy in Pastoral Ministry, 6

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose (Phil. 2:1-2).

Theology is tremendously practical. Never let anyone drive a wedge between good theology and "practical" information. The Apostle Paul (one of the writers of Scripture) never falls into that trap. He never writes as though some lofty statement about God is really merely a frill, a lace doily on an otherwise useless idea. He writes in such a way as to maintain profound and necessary connections between theology and practice. And sometimes surprising things emerge.

For example, in Phil. 2:1-2, the Apostle begins as he often does with good theology... reminders really of astounding truths:

1. Christians are united with Christ; our lives are joined with His through faith. We are accepted in Him; He is our Head and we His body. We are one new man in Christ.

2. Christians draw comfort from Christ's love. And who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Can anything in this life or the next, in this world or the one to come? What comfort is offered by the knowledge of God's unchanging, unshakeable love in Christ!

3. Christians "fellowship with the Spirit." We commune together with the Third Person of the Godhead, the Spirit through whom the love of God is poured into our hearts, by Whom the Father and the Son come to us and take up residence, and by Whom we cry out, "Abba, Father!"

4. Christians have new hearts. Where a stone once filled the cavity of our souls, now there beats a heart of flesh, a heart of Christlike compassion and tenderness. Christians are now free and empowered to love like God loves as the new heart of the new covenant throbs in our breasts.

That's all theology. And then the Apostle shows the practical implications of that theology. Christians, then:

1. Should be like-minded. With Christ as head, with the same mind or attitude of Christ (v. 5), Christians can and should experience a great deal of unity of thought and sentiment.

2. Have the same love. No longer are there variations in our love according to natural affiliations (ethnicity, class, etc), but now Christians love their brethren as Christ has loved them, not regarding one another according to the flesh but according to the shared life and love of Christ in us all.

3. Should be one in spirit and purpose. Where does unity in the church come from? It springs, it seems, from the application of good theology. Right thoughts about God lead to right living. Properly understanding our fellowship with the Spirit of God leads to oneness in spirit and purpose with His people.

Paul beseeches the Christians to remember the truth about God they've been taught and then to live that truth out in their relationship with one another.

And this, he tells us, will "make [his] joy complete." Whatever is lacking in the Apostle's joy is supplied by the Philippian Christians walking in the knowledge of God. The Apostle John says the same thing: "It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 3-4).

Seeing his people walk in the truth was for Paul a complete joy, and for John the greatest joy. And so it is with the pastor and his people. Perhaps there is no sweeter joy than to see your people lay hold to the truth, imbibe it, make it apart of themselves, and walk it out.

I don't know that I've been more encouraged than when I've seen Christians take some teaching of God's word and really accept it as truth (which is in itself a declaration that truth exists and matters), walk in it, and rejoice in it. A pastor may rightfully be surprised by the joy he finds in ministry when amidst difficult situations (the loss of loved ones, persecution, the threat of divorce, debilitating disease, and so on) his people stand and walk in the truth.

And if a pastor frequently and consistently comes close to the sheep, he may not only smell the sheepiness of sheep but also rejoice that they hear the Shepherd's voice and follow Him. And what undershepherd is not pleased that the flock follow the Chief Shepherd? Unique among the joys of ministry is to see the truth of God seep into the hearts of His people and overflow in like-mindedness, mutual love, common cause, humility and service.

This joy, when it's observed, surpasses even the joy the preacher-pastor receives as he studies and prepares to teach. What sweet fellowship with the Spirit and Christ study and preparation is. And how much sweeter to see the fruit of that study in the lives of your people, to see the Spirit at work in the word and the walk. Pastors have no greater joy, no more complete joy, than to see their people walk in the truth.

To experience this joy more fully, we have only to do two things:
1. Keep teaching the truth with patience, clarity, gentleness and joy; and
2. Develop skill at looking for evidence of the truth working itself out in our people, to see them walking in it.

Therein is complete joy in pastoral ministry.


Anonymous said...

thank you for your good words, brother. The picture is great, too. I don't recall seeing it before. do you have any information about it? I'd be curious as to the artist and any background you might be able to provide.

Jim Harrison

Anonymous said...

I'm a pastor's wife. I, too, can relate to all that you have said about experiencing joy in ministry. Another distinct joy I have is knowing that as we continue as servants of the Lord, seeking to do His will, finding evidence of the truth working itself out in the people we are called to minister to, we are at the same time also being matured in our own personal walk of faith through the power of His Holy Spirit. We do have an awesome God.