The Minister as a Man of God
The Minister as a Man of God
What a solemn subject is before us. Which of us dare treat it? Surely we would all agree that anything we say upon it can only be by way of aspiration rather than achievement in our Christian life and ministry — however long we have been Christians or ministers. In this matter (as in so much else pertaining to us) we have to confess with the apostle Paul, ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:12, and in the two verses which follow). But, thankfully, and how we bless God and encourage ourselves and one another in this, whatever and however many our failures, mistakes and shortcomings in the ministry, Psalm 130:4 applies: ‘But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared’. So let none of us despair, whether grappling with a call to the ministry, just setting out in the ministry, or an ‘old hand’ in the ministry.
We need a controlling text to help us, and we have the ideal one in Jeremiah 3:15, where the Lord declares, ‘And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding’. The minister as a man of God will strive, through grace supplied by the Holy Spirit, to be a man of certain particular characteristics. Consider the following ‘magnificent seven’.
This, of course, is plucked directly from the Jeremiah text. The word translated ‘pastors’ there may also (and very attractively and appropriately) be rendered ‘shepherds’. God’s words here invite — indeed they compel — the question: what sort of a heart is God’s own heart? It is a shepherd’s heart. But can we say more? What kind of a heart is God’s shepherd heart? We need to know, if we would be ministers after His heart.
It is a heart of wisdom, a heart of compassion, a heart of patience and kindness, faithfulness and closeness, a heart of unchanging and unfailing love. Each of these merits opening up closely, of course, but there are three things we must say.
Firstly, if we are not men who display such a heart as this (and the ‘display’ of it will soon become evident — or not — in the way we fulfil our ministry among God’s people), then we are not pastors/shepherds after God’s heart. We are in the realm here of godliness, Christlikeness.
Secondly, sheep can be silly creatures, however appealing they look. They can wander all over the place, get into all sorts of scrapes, pick up a whole range of infirmities, and sometimes do the craziest things — just like the people of God. So how much we need a shepherd’s heart according to God’s shepherd heart to deal with them.
Thirdly, never forget how God has dealt with us, the heart that He has exercised towards us, the chief of sinners all. Let this continual reflection assist us in pressing toward that mark in our dealings as his under-shepherds with his sheep.
Ministers of the Word must be themselves men of the Word. The word of Christ must dwell in us richly if it is ever to dwell in the lives of our people richly. There is no substitute for our constant exposure to the Word of God — its challenges to spur us, its promises to encourage us, its rebukes to refine us, its glories to enthrall us, its mysteries to humble us, its focus to delight us. And what is its focus? Better, who is its focus — the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the very sum and substance of holy Scripture.
We love to discover Christ in all the Scriptures, and to preach Him from all the Scriptures. Remember that it was as they were granted this discovery that those two dear ones on the Emmaus road experienced their hearts burning within them — the very sort of heartburn we need!
We must submit to the authority of God’s Word. We need to feel the power of God’s Word. When preaching it, oh! for the unction of the Holy Spirit, the ever-fresh anointing of the third Person of the Trinity, the breath of God (north wind and south wind) upon us. A friendly word of counsel: don’t fill your ‘holiday’ Lord’s Days with preaching engagements; benefit to the full from the opportunity to sit under God’s Word preached.
The minister as a man of God needs to be continually ravished by the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Recall how the Father speaks of His Son: ‘This is my beloved Son (my Son whom I love), in whom I am well pleased’. Can we possibly take any other view of Jesus?
Think of some of the names of Jesus given in the Song of Songs. He is the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys, the apple tree among the trees of the wood, the chiefest among ten thousand, altogether lovely. Then dwell upon some of the names He bears in His relationship with us. He is Saviour, Teacher, Lord, Friend, Shepherd, Advocate, Surety, Bridegroom, as well as being Prophet, Priest and King. His worth is beyond telling.
May He possess all our hearts, our lips, our lives and our hopes — ‘Christ in (us), the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). May we agree wholeheartedly with Paul that ‘to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21) — gain, not least because it is more Christ! May it be our consuming desire to ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18). May we have more and more of the mind of Christ (seeing, for example, sin, the world, time, sinners, saints as He does), and more and more of the likeness of Christ (after the manner of the Beatitudes and the fruit of the Spirit).
This was David’s great priority, he whom God Himself describes as ‘a man after his own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14). David was a man of one overriding and all consuming passion. He tells us so himself. ‘One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple’ (Psalm 27:4). This was, for David, the key to life, and sets before us the vital importance for any Christian (so how much more for a minister, who is a Christian before he is a minister, a converted man before he seeks the conversion of others) of maintaining communion and fellowship with God.
This is David’s passion. His choice of language carries the force of ‘I have desired and I do desire one thing above everything else – indeed, so much so that in comparison I really desire nothing else’. This is no sudden whim of his, no passing fancy, no transient impulse, which is ‘here today, gone tomorrow’. He means serious business. He loves ‘the house of the LORD’, but he loves it not for its own sake, but that he may ‘behold (gaze upon) the beauty of the LORD’. How this needs to be our passion, my passion, so much more than much of the time it is. Why can we often feel so sluggish in this, slow in the Word, heavy in prayer, lacking vigour in these things? For this is the most important thing of all for us. This is the lifeline.
Andrew Bonar is a help and challenge to us here. On one occasion he remarked, ‘One of the gravest perils which besets the ministry is a restless scattering of energies over an amazing multiplicity of interests which leaves no margin of time and strength for receptive and absorbing communion with God’.
This is at the very heart of our Jeremiah verse, which speaks of pastors/shepherds. We are the Lord Jesus Christ’s ‘under-shepherds’, whose calling, business and answerability it is to feed and take care of His flock. We draw all our needed wisdom and strength from Him. This pastor-people relationship, fundamental to the minister as a man of God, is very special. Indeed, it is unique, and is to be guarded jealously and undertaken after the model of Jesus Himself, the Shepherd of His sheep. Did He not say, ‘I know my sheep and am known of mine’? He has us in His heart, and we are to have them in our hearts.
The longer you pastor a particular flock, the closer you become to them. When, then, you move to another charge, you have to start all over again. But bit by bit it comes — they feel comfortable with you and trust you, they tell you their ‘business’ (both spiritual and otherwise), and they confide in you (by the way: a minister must keep confidences). You grow together and your love for them increases. You weep with them and you smile with them.
How absolutely fundamental this is if we are to be ministers who truly are men of God. Let me explain why. We believe in unconditional election and particular redemption, but we believe in something else as well — the free offer of the gospel.
We love those Scriptures which speak of election, which teach us that salvation is of the Lord, and which remind us that everything is all and entirely of grace. But we love also those Scriptures which speak in terms such as these: ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Romans 10:13) — ‘And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’ (Revelation 22:17) — and those sweet words of the Saviour, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden’ (Matthew 11:28), or, ‘All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37).
We love to read in Scripture that God has a people for His own possession that He has chosen for Himself. But we do so love those ‘whosoevers’ as well. And there is no contradiction between them. Moreover, where is the heart of God towards sinners more exquisitely revealed than in the matchless plea He utters in Ezekiel 33:11: ‘Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?’
The minister as pastor is also the minister as evangelist.
Let the wide open arms of the preacher be suggestive and illustrative of the wider open arms still of the Saviour, the divine embrace. Tell the people, including the children, that you have a Saviour for them who welcomes sinners. Urge the ‘Now’ of 2 Corinthians 6:2 and the ‘Today’ of Hebrews 4:7. Be earnest and faithful with their souls — for if we hold back here it will be yet another thing that we have to give account for on the last day.
I have in mind here, our longing for heaven — ‘having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ: which is far better’ (Philippians 1:23), when we shall ‘see the king in his beauty’ and ‘shall behold the land that is very far off (of far distances, or, far horizons)’ (Isaiah 33:17).
May we be given grace in all of these seven areas — including this last. May we be marked increasingly by a heavenly mindedness and a heavenly earnestness. And may we (by God’s grace and for God’s glory) take many to heaven with us!
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