2 Corinthians 6:4-6
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Paul pleads with the Christian to "know" their pastors and to "esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake". In the last lesson we looked at what the Scripture gave as a definition for a pastor. In this lesson we shall try to get to know our pastor better by studying his heart and motives. When we truly get to "know" the pastor, we will have no trouble loving him or listening to his counsel.
Without a doubt, all pastors are not alike. Yet, if you study the Scripture you will find that they do have some things in common that are related especially to their roles of shepherds. Moses was a great pastor, but God had to mold and make him into this. For example, in Exodus 32:1-6 we find that while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, the people of God were committing great sin. In verses 7-10 God told Moses that He was going to utterly consume the Israelites. In verses 11-13 Moses pled with God to have mercy on them and in verse 14 God repented.
It is entirely impossible that God really intended to destroy the Israelites, for that would have made the counsel of Moses wiser than God. In addition, God had long ago made some prophesies and promises (Genesis 49:10 for one) that would have been violated by their destruction. No, what we find in verses 7-14 is the molding of a man into a great shepherd. The way Moses reacted brought out and revealed his true heart and motives for him and for us. It is this text that we shall turn to in order to really understand our pastor. As we study this lesson, let us keep in mind that we can find all of these things revealed too, in Jesus: the good shepherd, the chief shepherd, and the shepherd of our souls.
Why should you love your Pastor? Because he loves and cares for you. Why should you listen and heed his counsel? Because his motivation is to seek what is best for you. Why should you keep yourself from sin and live a holy life? If for no other reason, because it breaks the Pastor's heart when you turn away from God. To better understand this love, let us consider the love revealed in Moses in our text. Every Pastor is different and no Pastor is perfect, but if they are truly a Pastor they will exhibit this love for you.
If we consider the flock involved in our text, we will find that Moses possessed an unusual love. These were not perfect sheep and most of them were not even good sheep. They were people that had caused him trouble (Exodus 16:2), murmured against him (Exodus 16:2), and later out right rebelled against his authority (Numbers 14:4, 10). These were people with a track record of being difficult (i.e. stiff-necked) and there was no evidence that they would get any better. Yet, Moses begged God not to destroy them. He displayed this love many times later, falling on his knees before God and pleading for mercy for the very people who were causing him trouble (Numbers 14:5; 16:22, 45; 20:6). What an unusual love, and a dim and yet recognizable picture of the love of Christ (Romans 5:7-8)!
Think of the opportunity that Moses had. He could have had all the troublemakers wiped out in one fell swoop and started fresh with a new congregation consisting only of family members. However, a shepherd loves his flock even though to some, they may be unlovable. In Ezekiel 34:1-6, God prophesied against the shepherds who had not this love. In verse 4, God lists the diseased sheep, the sick, the broken, and the lost. He was against the shepherds of Israel because they had not taken care of these people who had great troubles and needs. It is indeed an unusual love that cares for even those that the world would consider as unlovely.
Not only could Moses have had all the troublemakers eliminated from his congregation, but he could have become the head of a great nation (verse 10). It could have been Moses to whom the Jews looked back rather than Abraham. It could have been the children of Moses that would have entered Canaan and not the children of Israel. It could have been through the line of Moses that the Messiah would be born. Moses had the opportunity to become the founder of Moses Baptist Church, but he turned down fame and personal gain for his people. This was an unselfish love, and quite characteristic of pastors who willingly give up their lives "not for filthy lucre" but for love (1 Peter 5:2). A man that is a true pastor has a love not for himself but for others.
One may profess to love someone but the truth will come out in their actions. Imagine the potential danger involved in questioning God's decision. God told Moses in verse 10, "let me alone", but Moses risked his life to disobey and plead with God to reconsider. Later in the chapter he returned to God requesting forgiveness for the people. In an effort to make an atonement for their sin he says, "if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written" (verse 32). No one could claim that Moses did not love his people, who was willing to go to hell for their sakes. Likewise, who could really claim that a pastor did not love his flock who is willing to devote his life to their spiritual wellbeing and endure the suffering, grief, loneliness, and pressure that comes with the position (see Numbers 11:11-15). In fact Paul explicitly mentions this unfeigned love in his description of ministers of God in 2 Corinthians 6:6.
The pastor has similar experiences to the gardener who labors through spring and summer battling with weeds, insects, and drought, often facing discouragement and disappointment when the plants he has cared for do not produce what they could have. Paul used the analogy of birth in his letter to the Galatians saying "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19, see also 1 Timothy 3:1). This was what Paul was referring to when he mentioned "them which labour among you" in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, that for "their work's sake" we should love them. He told Timothy, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine" (1 Timothy 5:17). It seems obvious that we should esteem and heed those that are laboring on our behalf; and if we only knew the discouragement we bring to them when we fail, perhaps we would find greater motivation to live right.
Could there be a more woeful situation then when God has no more patience for us and is ready to bring destruction? We find in our text that when no one, including God, would stand in favor of the children of Israel having one more day of life, there was a man that made petition for them: Moses. He brought their case before God reminding Him who it was that brought them forth from Egypt and the covenant He had made with Abraham, and pointing out that the testimony of their destruction would not bring Him glory in the sight of the Egyptians. This should serve as a great reminder to us that when no one else is there to pray for us, we can count on the fact that our pastor will be there to bring our names before the God of Heaven! Again we see too in this, the wonderful picture of our Lord Jesus Christ as our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). It would have been easier for Moses to have kept silent than to have hazarded his life for the Israelites. So it is for the pastor: they have not chosen that which was easier. Anyone who has spent time in prayer knows that it is work. Paul mentions Epaphras in the closing of the letter to the Colossians as a man "always labouring fervently for you in prayers" (Colossians 4:12). Paul's incredible testimony to Timothy was "without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day" (2 Timothy 1:3). That takes work! Let us remember that our pastor labors to bring our names before God.
When Moses returned from Mt. Sinai, he was bringing to them the Laws of God. This is one of the duties of the pastor - to bring the Word of God to the people (1 Timothy 5:17). Paul exhorted Timothy to "Preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2) and he told him that a pastor was to be "apt to teach". It takes work to seek God for the right message, to prepare it in such a way that it can easily be received, and then to deliver the message. No wonder so many pastors suffer discouragement; after laboring for just the right message they find those who need it most are not present or are unwilling to listen. You can see this discouragement and disappointment over sin revealed in Moses when he returned from Mt. Sinai and broke the stone tablets (verse 19). You might be surprised to know that pastors sometimes get the desire to quit, but they cannot because this is their life's work (J. Frank Norris for example). His job is to feed the flock, perfect the saints, edify the body, and strengthen the member's beliefs (Ephesians 4:11--14).
Not only does the pastor have to labor in bringing the Word of God; the way he is to do this adds to the work. Paul told Timothy, "be gentle unto all men" and "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:24-25). It is difficult enough to teach and preach, but to do it in a spirit of meekness can take much restraint. In addition to this, the pastor is to teach through example as well (1 Peter 5:3). They must labor to be all that they teach and preach that a Christian should be.
Perhaps if we could get to know and understand our pastor, the next time he preached we would listen before we got offended. Perhaps we would understand his choices of subjects to preach on. Perhaps the next time we shook his hand we would treat him with esteem and let him know we love him. Perhaps the next time we contemplated committing some sin, we would remember the labor the pastor spent trying to make us more like Christ. Perhaps we would remember Jesus, the good shepherd, and keep our life pure and righteous.