Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Battling a Lion - 1 Peter 5:8-11

In 1898, the British East Africa Company sent Lt. Col. John Patterson to Kenya to oversee the building of a bridge over the Tsavo river. Soon after Patterson arrived, the work camp began to be plagued by the nighttime attacks of two man-eating lions. Over the course of nine months, twenty-eight railway workers and countless local villagers were viciously mauled by these stealthy predators. Patterson began to search for a way to deal with the lions and the crisis they were causing among his workers. After nine months of failed attempts to deter or trap the lions, Patterson shot and killed one of them on December 9, 1898. Three weeks later, in a confrontation that nearly cost his own life, Patterson shot and killed the second of the two lions. The work on the bridge resumed and was completed just a few weeks later.

I have been to Africa numerous times, and I am glad to say I have never encountered a lion there. I would imagine that most of our experiences with lions have been on television, in movies, or at zoos where a cage or glass keeps a safe distance between us and them. Some of you who are from Africa may have had or know of more dangerous encounters. But there is another sense in which every Christian finds himself or herself engaged in a daily battle against a lion-like predator. Here in this text, the Apostle Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, likens our spiritual enemy, the devil, to a prowling and roaring lion. Just as John Patterson had to strategize in order to gain victory over the wild beasts of Tsavo, so we must have a spiritual strategy against this enemy. And we find just such a strategy in the words of this text.

I. We must know our enemy.

John Patterson was chosen by the British East Africa Company because he knew how to hunt predators. He had been successful in hunting tigers in India, but now Patterson would have to learn about the habits of lions, how to find them, where they were vulnerable, and how to effectively kill them. Similarly, in human warfare, military strategists have known for centuries that knowledge of the enemy is crucial for victory. Sun Tzu, who wrote the classic Art of War in the sixth century before Christ, said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” And the same is true in our spiritual warfare as well. We must know our enemy. And for that we turn to Scripture, where God has recorded for our information and instruction all that we need to know about him. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “We are not ignorant of his schemes.” In texts such as this one before us today, we find the necessary data about our enemy to equip us for battle.

First, we are told his name. He is “the devil.” The Greek word diabolos is a word that typically means “slanderer,” or “false accuser.” Jesus said that the devil is a liar and the father of lies, and that there is no truth in him (John 8:44). In Revelation 12:10, he is described as the “accuser of the brethren.” So, by his very name, we know that he is a liar, a slanderer, an accuser, and an adversary.

Then we are also told something of his nature: he is our adversary. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the word diabolos, or “devil”, was used 18 times to render the Hebrew word Satan, which means “adversary,” or “one who withstands.” As an adversary, he is an enemy or opponent. But whose enemy is he? We know from the rest of Scripture that from the beginning, since his fall from the position of being an exalted angel, he has been opposed to God. Throughout the life of Jesus, we find that he is an enemy also of Christ. But here Peter reminds us that by entering into the family of God by faith in Jesus, the devil has become our adversary as well. Notice the personal pronoun: “YOUR adversary, the devil.” He is not only radically opposed to God; he has you in his crosshairs as well. Peter understood this from experience. Jesus told Peter during the last supper, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:31). And Peter reminds his readers and all of us here that the devil is “your adversary.”

Notice that we find here a description of the devil’s tactics. He prowls around like a roaring lion. The description is one of a lion who is stalking his prey in silence, and then launching upon the prey with that ferocious roar at the opportune moment. Grudem writes, “The metaphor is apt, for a prowling lion attacks suddenly, viciously, and often when its unsuspecting victim is engaged in routine activities.” He doesn’t always roar and make his presence known in an obvious way. If he did, avoiding the battle would be easy. He stalks in silence until he has the prey right where he can attack and then comes the roar of the attack.

Three biblical examples illustrate this stalking, prowling behavior of our enemy. The first one comes from early in the book of Genesis when Cain was wrestling with his frustration against God and his brother Abel. God confronted Cain and said, “sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:7). The image there is of a ferocious predator positioned at the door prepared to pounce upon whoever walks through it. The other comes from the book of Job, where Satan comes before God and says that he has been “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7). As the context unfolds we discover that he has been looking for someone to attack as his prey. The third illustration comes from the life of Jesus. After He was tempted by Satan during 40 days in the wilderness, we read, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him alone until an opportune time.” He was never far away; he was lurking in the shadows waiting for that opportune moment when he might come out roaring to attack the Lord Jesus once more. From these examples, and the words of our text today, we see how Satan camouflages himself in the environment around us, like a lion in the tall grass of Tsavo, silently waiting to attack his prey at the opportune moment.

Then we are also informed here of his objective. This lion-like enemy is not a kitten looking for someone to snuggle or play with. He is out to devour us. The Greek word used here means, “to swallow.” In the Greek version of the Old Testament, this word was used to describe the fish swallowing Jonah. Only, in that instance, the fish swallowed Jonah to save him; here the lion devours the Christian to destroy him or her. Knowing that he can never prevail against the Lord, Satan attacks humanity, who bears the image of God, and Christian humanity, who bear the divine image and the divine name, in particular in an effort to destroy the work of God in the world.

The great reformer Martin Luther, who knew a thing or two about spiritual warfare, said this: “If Satan were far from you and would leave you alone in peace, he would do little harm. But … he encircles you … He does not lie upon a cushion and sleep and snore, but he walks about … day and night. He does not do so that he may joke and play with you, … he is angry and furious, and hungrier than a wolf or lion.... His only purpose is to swallow you whole. He walks about … until at last he causes you to fall; now he attacks you and stirs you to adultery and anger, then to avarice and pride. If he does not succeed in this way, he tries with terror and unbelief, to persuade you to let go of the Word of God and to doubt His grace. … So cunningly and wickedly does he plot for you Christians!”

Now we know about our enemy: his name, his nature, his tactics, his objective. He is not a cartoon character in red tights with a horn and a tail and a pitchfork. If you think of him that way, he’s already got you fooled into not taking him seriously. Better to think of him as a bloodthirsty lion that is crouching in the tall grass waiting to pounce on you and destroy you at any moment. Knowing this is essential for the battle, but it is not sufficient. There is more that we must take from this text if we are to effectively battle this lion.

II. We must take our position

I love reading adventure stories that take place in some of the far away places I have visited, and a few of those have had to do with hunting lions in Africa. In a number of those stories, the hunters talk about how they went to an area where they knew the lions would be coming, maybe because there was some bait or prey there, and they positioned themselves in an elevated spot so that they could see in all directions. They crouched down behind a blind so they could see without being seen, and the carried the right weapons with them in order to down the beast in one shot. If you aren’t positioned rightly for a battle with a lion, you lose the battle. It’s that simple.

Now Peter says that we have to be in the right position for this battle as well. There are three primary imperatives for the believer here in the text that describe for us what we must do in order to be well positioned for the battle that we will surely face. The first is to be of sober spirit. This idea has to do with clear thinking and sound judgment. It literally means the opposite of intoxication, but it is used figuratively in 1 Peter three times to indicate, as Grudem writes, not “letting the mind wander into any … kind of mental intoxication or addiction which inhibits spiritual alertness, or any laziness of mind which lulls Christians into sin through carelessness.” If you knew that lions were prowling around preparing to devour you, you wouldn’t want to be drunk or in any kind of stupor that may dull your senses, dim your reasoning, or lull you to sleep. No, when the lion is prowling you want to make sure that you can see straight, think clearly, and act quickly. And that is what Peter is saying that we must positioned to do in the spiritual realm against our prowling enemy as well.

Related to this is the command to be alert. Like spiritual sobriety, alertness has to do with being sharp in senses, reason, and reaction; but it also has to do with the focus of our attentiveness. It has the idea of being watchful; and for what are we watching? We are watching for the enemy to attack. It is one thing to know that Satan and his forces may attack. As long as we think like that, you know, “he may,” then we might get lazy and even begin to slumber spiritually. And before we know it we are under attack. Being alert means thinking not that “he may attack,” but knowing that “he will attack.” We don’t know when, or specifically how, and that is why we have to be like a watchman on guard duty: awake and alert, on watch at all times, knowing that the lion will strike. We have no excuse to not be ready when he does.

And when he does, what must we do? Do we cower in fear? Do we attack him back? Do we speak to him or rebuke him or attempt to bind him? Interestingly, in many popular Christian books and television programs, we are taught some of these very things. Attack the devil; bind the devil; rebuke the devil, etc. But we never find any of these notions in Scripture. Throughout the New Testament, we are told that our response to the attacks of Satan is to resist him. In Ephesians 6, we are told about a great panoply of spiritual armor that we have been given, but we are told that our orders are to “stand firm” and “resist” the devil. In James 4:7, we are told to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The word that Peter uses for “resist” here is a common one in the New Testament. In various contexts it means to stand your ground, to not back down, to remain courageously unmoved. And how do we do that when Satan is attacking? Peter says it is by remaining “firm in your faith.” Just as he sought to tempt Adam and Eve by making them question God’s word, God’s goodness, and God’s faithfulness; just as he sought to tempt Jesus to question God’s promises and purposes; so also he desires to ruin us by luring us into abandoning the gospel, abandoning the truth of God’s word, and abandoning our convictions concerning God’s nature. But even in the thick of battle, we must hold fast to the faith that God’s Word is true; that the gospel is our only hope; that God is good and faithful, a loving Father to those who are His by faith, and that God’s purposes will ultimately prevail. Satan only gains ground in the battle when he persuades a Christian to weaken his or her confidence in one of these fundamental truths.

When the battle begins to rage, and the enemy begins to roar and attack, the most natural inclination in any of us is to give up. But God has called us to resist the enemy and stand firm in our faith. We have to be sober and alert, knowing that the attack is going to happen; and then to be unmovable once it happens, with our feet firmly anchored in the truth of God. This has to be our position in the battle, otherwise we will be devoured. So, we have to know our enemy and take our position, but it would be presumptuous folly to do this without also following the final admonition here.

III. We must trust our God

Lions have no natural predators. The greatest threat to lions are other lions. And this is good news for us, for though our enemy is here described as a ferocious lion, we find in Scripture another, greater, and more ferocious lion who is for us, not against us. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And our greatest hope against our enemy is knowing that another, mightier lion has been unleashed to fight our enemy on our behalf. Our confidence for victory is not in our own strength; not even in our own ability to resist; but rather in the God whom we serve, and to whom we belong by faith in Christ.

We are repeatedly reminded in Scripture that this world is filled with suffering, and that as Christians we will often be faced with suffering simply for the reason that we believe in Jesus. As Peter says here in verse 9, our brothers and sisters around the world face this reality daily. Peter’s readers in the first century understood this fully well. And Peter encourages those who read these words here by saying that though suffering is certain, it has an expiration date, and from the vantage point of eternity, the time spent suffering for Jesus will seem to have been very brief. He says, “After you have suffered for a little while.” Notice that! “After”: that means that suffering will come to an end one day. “A little while”: that means that we will one day look back on the hardships we endured for Christ and find that it did not last long compared to the joy of eternity in God’s presence. But the greatest encouragement here is not just knowing that suffering is temporary and brief, but in knowing that God is actively at work in and through our suffering accomplishing something good for His people through it all.

God, who has called us into His eternal glory in Christ by His infinite grace, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. The little while of our suffering may elapse within the boundaries of this life, or they may endure until our death; indeed, this suffering may even precipitate our death as it has done for countless believers throughout history. But now or then, here or there, it will end, and when it does, God will be proven to have been faithful to His people as we emerge from the fire refined like gold. God will perfect us. The word that Peter uses here is the same word used in the Gospels to describe the fishermen mending their nets. Peter is saying here is that God will set all things aright after we have suffered. If we have suffered loss, God will supply; if we have suffered harm, God will restore; if we have suffered death, God will give life. And all the while He is shaping us, perfecting us in our faith by making us more like Jesus through the fiery ordeals of our suffering.

God will also confirm us through our suffering. Those who truly belong to Jesus will be proven, confirmed, through the ordeal of suffering. They will not fall away because the going gets tough; they will emerge with their faith in tact, as one lexicon says, “more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief,” concerning the truth of Christ because of what they have endured. And God Himself will strengthen you through your suffering. One would think the opposite would be true, that we would emerge from the suffering of a spiritual battle in a weakened condition. But where God at work in the battle, He is strengthening His people through the midst of it, and bringing them through it spiritually stronger in the end than they were when it began.

And God Himself will establish you. Here Peter uses a word that he has used elsewhere to denote a house that has been built on a secure foundation. Jesus spoke of two men who built their houses on different foundations. One he said built his house on sand, and the other on a rock. We might imagine that to the naked eye, both houses looked equally solid. The one built on sand may have even been more impressive in size and grandeur. But Jesus said that a storm came and the house built on sand fell to the ground, while the one built on the rock withstood the storm. Jesus said that this story illustrated how the wise person builds his or her life on the rock foundation of God’s word. And it may take a storm to prove what kind of foundation your life is built upon. Only in the aftermath will those that are built on the rock be revealed. God brings His people through the spiritual battles we face with our enemy even more firmly established on that rock solid foundation.

How do we respond to these precious truths? It seems that all we can do is stand in awe and worship this great God who gives us victory. Here in the text, Peter erupts, as should we, into worship and praise, saying, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen!” Dominion means power and it speaks of God’s sovereign rule and reign over all things. Though for a while, Satan prowls about like the king of the jungle, there is a mightier lion, a greater king, seated upon a higher throne, and He shall reign forever and ever. We pass through the field of battle under the banner of His sovereign Lordship, and we emerge from it victorious, with Him defeating the enemy forever through the blood of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

John Patterson didn’t know what he was getting into when he went to Tsavo to build that railroad bridge. He didn’t know that he would stare death in the face as he fought the maneating lions who preyed upon his work camp there. But he defeated the ferocious beasts, and after his work there was done, he took the skins of those lions home and made rugs for his home out of them. Every day he tread underfoot the fur of those beasts that wreaked so much havoc. When I think about our enemy the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us, I am reminded of the wondrous promise of Romans 16:20 -- “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” That ferocious adversary who threatens to destroy us now will one day be crushed by the sovereign dominion of our risen Lord Jesus, and we will take part in his destruction. He will be crushed beneath our feet, and all the suffering and hardship that we endured in this brief little while of life in this fallen world will be vindicated forever.

If you are not a follower of Jesus today, you might find it silly that we would spend so much time talking about fighting the devil. To you it may seem like a fairy tale or something to think that we actually believe in such a being. The fact is that Satan has no need to show himself to you, no need to attack you whatsoever. If you are not a follower of Jesus, he already has you imprisoned in his kingdom. Your agnosticism to his existence is itself one of his tactics to keep you in his grasp. But the good news is that a great liberator has come to your rescue. The Lord Jesus Christ died to redeem you from your bondage and has defeated the enemy through His death and resurrection. If you would acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior today, you would be set free from Satan’s grasp. Though the remainder of your days will find you often in battle against him, God will bind you securely to Himself and preserve you for His presence in eternity. So we would invite you today to know this Christ who would save you and follow Him with your life by faith.

Those of us who know Christ are encouraged by this Word today to know our enemy; to be sober and alert to his tactics and schemes and to resist him with firmness of faith; trusting in the power of our Sovereign God to rescue us from the battle through the power and victory of Christ who reigns forevermore.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Call to Humility (1 Peter 5:5-7)

There is a quality often found in humanity that was once identified by Aristotle as the crown of virtues. The great philosopher said that this characteristic was inseparable from nobility and goodness of character. Centuries later, Nietzsche said that this quality was part of a past set of master morals which had been lost and replaced by a lower, slave-type of morality. In his estimation, unless humanity could recover this lost trait, mankind would remain forever in a state of servitude. Yet when we turn to the Bible, we find this same quality called a sin and spoken of with intense severity. This sin is called a thing that God hates, a quality found in evil men, a thing that precedes personal destruction, even the very sin that transformed an exalted angel into the very devil himself. And the devil has used this sin to bring about the downfall of countless men and women throughout human history. This quality so highly praised by history’s secular philosophers and so roundly condemned by Scripture is, of course, pride. In our text today, we read that God is opposed to the proud.

Of course, the opposite of pride is humility. Throughout the pages of the Bible, humility is championed as a crowning virtue of a holy life. While today, humility is a cherished quality even among some who have no regard for the Bible, it has not always been this way. In the writings of the ancient Graeco-Roman world, humility was rarely even mentioned, and when it was, it was almost always in a negative light. In some writings it is considered to be a mark of an evil and unworthy person. It was widely considered to be a characteristic of weakness and cowardice, appropriate only for slaves. It would have been shameful for a free citizen of the Roman Empire to be considered humble. Christians were among the first people in the history of the world to champion humility as a virtue, and the high esteem that many have for humility in our world today can be said to be a result of Christian influence. In a sense, true humility is a uniquely Christian virtue.

Yet, humility, though essential in the Christian life, does not come naturally to any of us. As sinful people, we are consistently prone to fall into the error of pride. Throughout life, we find our feet on a slippery slope that will spiral us into this deadly sin if we are not constantly on guard against it. The great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once received a letter filled with words of praise. Baxter understood the great temptation that pride perpetually posed, and responded to this letter by saying, “I have the remainders of pride in me; how dare you blow up the sparks of it?” Pride is so native to us, and humility so foreign, that the Scriptures have to continually echo warnings against pride and commands to be humble. And God, who so opposes our pride, actually enables us for humility through the work of His grace in our lives as we allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate godly character within us. As Peter says here, quoting from Proverbs 3:34, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” He actively works against the proud and actively works to prevent His people from becoming proud. But once His people determine to embrace humility, He grants to them the grace to make it possible.

The Apostle Paul provides us with a great example of this from his own life in 2 Corinthians 12. There he said that a “thorn in the flesh” had come into his life in order to prevent him from “exalting himself.” We do not know what this “thorn” was, but we know that Paul calls it a messenger of Satan that tormented him. But he says he prayed three times for this thorn to be removed, and the Lord’s answer to him was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” We can draw from this that God was willing to allow His servant to suffer great hardship in order to keep him humble, but God would also supply His servant with the grace necessary to endure the hardship and demonstrate the humility.

Now, in our text today, we find a call for Christians to be a humble people. This humility is to be demonstrated in two different directions, if you will. First, there is a call to humility within the church, and second a call to humility before the Lord. Let’s take a closer look at this call to humility that God requires, and which God’s grace enables us to have in our lives.

I. Christians are called to be humble toward one another in the church (v5)

Our society is not too much different from that of the first century in some respects. Like that day, so in our own, it is common, and often expected that a person will assert himself or herself to rise above others and grasp for power and prestige, popularity and prosperity. The one who does not do that will not advance far in our society, and will at times be looked down upon or pitied by others. And certainly there are right ways to be ambitious, but most often our sinful nature prompts us to pursue ambition in a prideful way. Now, what happens when this kind of prideful ambition is found within the church? Members begin to look down their noses at their fellow members, they begin to lobby for power and prominence, they use others for their own ends and agendas. And God only knows how many churches have been destroyed by this kind of pride, but typically when a church is facing internal conflict, pride can be found at the root of it. This is why humility is so vital for the health of a church.

Peter says here that the younger men are to be subject to their elders. While it is a good general principle for younger generations to show respect for the older generations, that general truth is not what Peter is talking about here. A few verses before, he defined what an elder is in this context. An elder, as we discussed last week, is another word for a pastor. It speaks to a pastor’s spiritual maturity and qualifications for church leadership. Therefore, when he speaks of younger men, he may not have in view a person’s age at all, but rather he may be speaking to those who are younger in their standing in the church, or to those who lack spiritual maturity. We find throughout the New Testament a call for the church to submit to its leaders who are gifted by the Spirit to guide them according the the Word of God, and this could be one further echo of that call.

But there is some relevance here especially for younger generations of church members as well. Younger Christians are often more resistant to being led by someone else, more headstrong, more determined to do things their own way. Macarthur says that it is “obvious that they generally tend to be the most aggressive and headstrong members of any group.” I can remember when I began to grow in the Lord, I became very critical of my pastor and my church because I felt that they didn’t do things the right way, which could be translated as “the way I wanted them done.” I had no sensitivity to the need to make changes slowly, the need to minister to people with a variety of needs and interests, the need to preserve and honor some important traditions. And this is a common pitfall that young Christians who are beginning to grow in their faith fall into. Some of you students have a desire to go on to seminary, and when you do, sometime during your first semester or so, you will know enough Greek, enough Systematic Theology or Philosophy, or enough Church Administration principles to be dangerous! The knowledge that will be imparted to you in the classroom is valuable, but also volatile if it is not tempered with humility. So, while all believers must have a humble attitude toward those who lead them in the church, younger believers in particular must beware of a prideful zeal that would undermine the unity of the fellowship. Humility would place us at the feet of those we would otherwise criticize, that we might learn from them how to proceed in the right direction with the right attitude, rather than rupturing the fellowship over matters that in time will prove to be of lesser importance.

But then notice that Peter turns the focus from the humility that needs to be expressed toward church leaders to the humility that needs to pervade every relationship within the church fellowship. He says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” This command is issued to all believers, pastors, leaders, deacons, teachers, new believers -- all members alike. The idea of “clothing yourselves” has to do with tying something on, such as an apron worn by servants. Humility is to be our garment, our covering. Surely all of us give at least some thought to how we will dress when we gather with the church. Some would insist that they are not dressed for church until they have put on their tie, or their certain shoes or specific kind of dress. Those preferences vary from place to place and generation to generation, but one garment is always a necessity when believers gather together -- humility. Paul says in Romans 12 that no Christian should think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment. He says that rather, Christians should give preference to one another in honor. This means that the humble Christian will look upon his brother or sister in the faith as someone who to serve, someone to sacrifice for, someone who is more deserving of honor than oneself. How would church fellowship be transformed if we began to look at each other through these eyes? What kind of revival would erupt in our congregation and others if believers began to clothe themselves with humility?

The really ironic thing is that not only do we often fail to wear the covering of humility, we actually do the opposite. When we come together, we often put on airs that portray ourselves as something of significance and importance, as people who have no problems or needs, as people who are stronger, better, and more holy than we really are. And sometimes we can pull it off and fool some folks, but never as many as we think, and certainly we can never fool God. Why do we do this? Pride! Too insecure to admit weakness; too afraid to admit our needs; too ashamed to confess our sins, and so like Adam and Eve, we stitch together the fig-leaf garments of false pride to cover our true condition. But have we not heard? Do we not know? Peter says here that God is opposed to the proud. In all of our efforts to dress up and look godly, we are actually walking in defiance of God, and lining ourselves up under His active opposition. But if we would abandon pride, we would find that God gives us the grace we need to be humble, and this humility would cover us like a garment. No church would ever be the same where this kind of mentality began to take root.

II. Christians are called to be humble before the Lord (vv6-7)

In 1792, England sent George Macartney to China in hopes of having him installed as the first British ambassador there. It was explained to Macartney that when he entered the throne room of the emperor, he must “kowtow,” that is, kneel three times, and each time he knelt, he must bow three times with his head touching the floor. This manner of approach was the customary way that one would approach a deity, and the Chinese considered their Emperor to be a god. Macartney explained that he would only do this if a Chinese official would do the same before a picture of King George. This was refused, but Macartney was granted audience with the emperor anyway. When he entered, he bent his knee as he would have done before his own king, but Macartney was not allowed to become the ambassador. Some time later England tried again, this time sending William Amherst to the Chinese Emperor. When Amherst entered, he refused to kowtow or even to kneel, and for this he was called a rude man who did not know how to behave, and he was sent back to England. Thus, early efforts for the British to have an embassy in China were frustrated in part because of British pride and the refusal of the British to show the kind of humility that was required in the Imperial throne room. Now, whether or not the Chinese Emperor was worthy of such humiliation in his presence is beyond the scope of our discussion. Our question is rather, how should we come before the throne of the King of Kings? And the answer is quite obvious: we must be humble. There is no room for pride when we come before Him.

Peter says here that in light of the fact that God is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble, we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. To approach God with any measure of pride in ourselves is the epitome of arrogance. To be humble under His mighty hand recognizes God’s complete sovereignty. The very fact that I am alive is something attributable to His grace alone. That I might approach Him at all is something that I do not deserve. In our sinful condition, if God were to grant us what we deserve, we would be cut off from Him to perish forever in hell. And every day that a human being wakes up and finds himself or herself not in hell is a day to give God thanks for His mercy and His grace. But God, in His sovereign grace, has even given us the offer of redemption; the opportunity to be reconciled to Him by having our sins forgiven and being made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ who died bearing the penalty of our sins and rose from the dead in victory. No one will come before this sovereign God boasting of his or her own accomplishments and insisting on rights!

The Christians to whom Peter was writing were undergoing extreme hardship. They were the objects of hatred, slander, and persecution. Could they come before the Lord with any sort of claim that He had been unfair to them or had given them something worse than they deserved? By no means. They were not in hell, and hell is what they, and we, deserve. So the call to be humble under God’s mighty hand is a call to recognize God’s sovereign hand, and to accept the circumstances in which we find ourselves, no matter how difficult. God could have prevented them; God could change them, and in time He may yet. But we are not to assume that God needs our counsel or advice on how we think things ought to go. We must approach Him humbly knowing that if He has choreographed our circumstances, even if they be unpleasant, then He will supply the grace to endure them for His own sake.

But notice also that the call to be humble before the Lord also recognizes God’s faithfulness. Should we find ourselves in a state of suffering for Christ, as Peter’s readers did, or surrounded by difficulties that press down on us from all sides, we must return to the promises that God has made to His children. Those who are His by faith in Jesus Christ have been promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us; that He will provide for us; and that ultimately when this life is over, He will raise us up to eternal life. So, in this life, though it is often filled with the hardships of a world broken by sin, we can embrace our position and find contentment in our circumstances knowing that God has not forgotten or revoked any of His promises. We can humble ourselves under His mighty hand in full confidence that if we are to be exalted beyond these things, He will be the one to do it, and He won’t need our help. It will happen “at the proper time.” We do not know when that time will be, but God does. For some, it may be a season in life; things may be difficult today, but tomorrow things may change, and God will raise you up from the difficulties of life. Or it may be next week, or next month, or next year, or sometime in the distant future. But for others, it may not be in this life at all. The “proper time” may be when God calls you home to glory through the door of death, and even that death may be unpleasant. Peter’s audience included many who did not know but that the next day their lives may be required of them simply because they followed Jesus. Yet the promise is still true for them and for us: if we humble ourselves before God, He will exalt us at the proper time. We do not need to exalt ourselves, but rather to wait patiently, humbly, on the Lord to do what He intends to do both in us and through us. And when He has completed that work, in this life or in the life to come, He will exalt us to a height that we cannot imagine, and which we certainly do not deserve, if we have pledged ourselves to Him by faith in Jesus.

And Peter says that this humility before the Lord recognizes, in addition to God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness, also His goodness. As we humble ourselves under His mighty hand, we are invited to “cast all of our anxiety on Him.” The word that Peter uses here for “cast” is a word that means “to throw something on something or someone else.” It is used in Luke 19:35 to describe how the people threw their coats on the back of the colt that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. Are you loaded down with anxiety? You are welcomed here to throw it upon the Lord, that He might bear it. Do not say, “God will not give me more than I can bear.” God will regularly give you more than you can bear, in order to teach you to give it to Him. God will not give you more than HE can bear, and He invites you to cast it upon Him. To go on trying to bear those burdens yourself is prideful and arrogant. You cannot handle it, no matter how strong you think you are. You must humble yourself and say to the Lord, “I need help!” If you don’t, you risk the opposition of God, who opposes the proud, and you forfeit the grace that He gives to those who are humble to admit their weakness. The Greek word here for “anxiety” is the same word used in the parable of the sower, where Jesus says that the “worry” of the world, among other things, can choke out the Word of God from our lives. So we are left stumbling under a load that we cannot bear, starving for lack of nourishment on the very bread of life that would strengthen us. Why be so proud to bear it alone? God is good! He cares for you! And because He cares for you, He says that you can cast all of that anxiety upon Him. How do you do that? You do it in prayer, as Paul says in Philippians 4, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As the old hymn says, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Humility. It was not highly regarded in ancient societies. It is not highly regarded in our own. But we who have been purchased by the mercy of God through the blood of Jesus Christ are not citizens of this society. We have become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and a mark of that citizenship is humility. It is a humility that considers one another of more importance than ourselves, and leads us into serving each other. It is a humility that recognizes God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness, and God’s goodness. God calls us to this kind of humility; and it is contrary to every prideful fiber in our being; but His grace makes it possible within us if we abandon and embrace humility as our way of life. The challenge from this word strikes us all today. How do we view one another within the church? How do we approach the throne of God? Perhaps the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart today about your attitude toward another Christian, or your prideful estimation of yourself; or perhaps He is speaking to you about your prayer life, your worship habits, your beliefs and heart-attitude toward Him? Let humility be our clothing as we respond to God’s word prayerfully today.

Others perhaps would recognize that they have never truly come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Understand that He died for your sins, including your pride and every sinful manifestation of it. And He has defeated your sin and all of its penalty through His resurrection from the dead, and offers to cover you in His perfect righteousness if you will turn to Him by faith. This means that you have to abandon the pride of thinking that you can be good enough or do good enough to make yourself right with God, and in humility recognize that you are hopeless apart from Jesus. May God’s grace empower you to make that decision today if you never have.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Marks of a Faithful Pastor (1 Peter 5:1-4)

This is a longer version of this message than I actually preached. Time constraints forced me to eliminate several lengthy portions of the message, but I retained them in the manuscript because I thought they were essential to the full development of the message. The audio of the shorter version is available through this link.

I was scheduled to meet with a pastor in a New England town about a mission project we were involved in in his city. I didn’t know what he looked like, and he didn’t know what I looked like. When I got to the church I asked a guy, “Are you the pastor?” He chuckled and said “No, but you’ll know him when you see him.” Several others said that to me as well. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be looking for that would be such a dead giveaway. But suddenly, bouncing down the steps from an upper floor, I saw first the tennis shoes and black socks, then the bare legs and khaki shorts, then the black shirt with the white clerical collar, then an enormous cross that hung around his neck, then a smile that stretched from ear to ear. “Ah, you must be the pastor,” I said. Sure enough, I knew when I saw him. In contrast, almost daily people come to our office and I greet them at the door and they ask to speak to the pastor. I confess that sometimes I am tempted to say that he’s not in at the moment, but I never do. When I say that I am him, people regularly say, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be the pastor.” I’m never quite sure if that is a compliment or not. I don’t know what they were expecting … an older man, perhaps; a suit and tie maybe; more hair care product; a collar or something like that? Traditionally Baptists have shunned the use of a collar among pastors, and even the robe to a large extent. I chose a number of years ago to begin wearing the robe on occasions that I felt demanded a higher degree of formality and gravity, such as today when we observe the Lord’s supper, or on significant occasions and ceremonies. But I do not presume to think that wearing a robe makes me more spiritually qualified or a more holy person. It is, for the most part, just for appearance and symbolizes the seriousness of the moment.

Policemen wear badges, doctors and nurses wear scrubs, soldiers have uniforms. Each of the identifying marks of the person’s respective vocation. But what are the marks of a pastor? Is it the robe or the clerical collar? Is it the big Bible or the heavily sprayed hair? No, according to Peter in our text today, the marks of a faithful pastor have nothing to do with how he looks or what he wears. Peter, who identifies himself as a pastor, here sets forth an exhortation to his fellow pastors about the marks that should distinguish them in their faithful service to Christ and his church. His qualifications to give these instructions are based in a description of himself that he provides. He is a fellow elder, perhaps having even been the pastor of many of the Christians to whom he is writing when they lived in Rome. He is also a witness of the sufferings of Christ, indicating his apostolic ministry that began as he walked with Jesus during His earthly life. We also have the confidence that he is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and can therefore say that this is God’s Word for the church in all generations.

These words are particularly relevant to us today for a number of reasons. First, they set forth, together with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Acts 20:17-38, Ephesians 4:11-16, and Titus 1:5-9, the standard that pastors should be measured by. Second, we see from this passage and others that the biblical descriptions of pastors have far more to do with the kind of people they than the kind of tasks they do or results they produce. And third, we are on the precipice of a major crisis in pastoral ministry today. Fewer and fewer seminary graduates are entering traditional pastoral ministry, opting instead for roles as church planters, specialized church staff roles, missionary service or parachurch ministry roles. This means that small churches in particular will have a far more difficult time finding willing men to serve as pastors in the years to come, and if we do not have some sort of objective standard for measuring candidates, disaster could loom large over the church.

There may be some who would criticize me for addressing this subject here today for a couple of reasons. First, it may be said that we are not all pastors, and therefore we do not all have a need for this instruction. To that I would say that if it was important enough for God to record in His book, then it is important enough for our consideration in this setting. Additionally I would say that while we are not all pastors, we all need pastors (myself included) to shepherd us in the Christian life, and therefore we must know what the Scriptures teach about pastors. Second, some may suggest that it is self-serving for me to preach about the work of pastors. I would have to respond to that by saying, initially, that if it can be shown how this message is in any way self-serving, I will apologize for mishandling it. I would add that, on the contrary of being self-serving, I am actually setting before you today a standard that I hope you will use to judge my work as a pastor, and that of any other pastor. This passage and the others I have mentioned are ever before me as a lofty standard that I know, apart from the enabling of the Holy Spirit, I can never attain to. So daily I reflect on these as my own marching orders from heaven and seek His help to abide by them. And, though I have no intention of leaving Immanuel for another place of service, none of us knows what the future holds. If the Lord tarries, we can be quite sure that death, or the call of God, or some other unforeseeable circumstance will necessitate you calling another pastor someday. And if and when that day transpires, if I have not taught you the Word of God concerning the role of pastors, I will have failed to equip you in a matter of fundamental importance for the life and health of this church. My own pastor used to regularly teach the congregation on matters of pastoral ministry, saying, “If I don’t do this, who will?” I would echo that sentiment here today. And then of course, there are some who would be critical of this message today simply because they are critical people. In fifteen years of pastoral ministry, I have yet to discover the best way to deal with that kind of criticism, except to just pray for them, love them anyway, and press on in service of the Lord knowing that ultimately He is the one I have to please in the end.

Now, that said, let’s dive into this text and examine what God’s Word teaches us here through Peter’s letter about the marks of a faithful pastor.

I. The faithful pastor is marked by his titles.

I walked up on a church in another city and noticed that the sign indicated who the speaker was to be for the upcoming Sunday service. Since I have forgotten his name, we’ll call him John Doe. But what I have not forgotten was his title that was spelled out in full on the sign: The Very Right Reverend Monsignor John Doe. That sounds impressive doesn’t it? While I assume that John Doe did not select this title for himself, but rather it was granted to him by the denomination in which he ministers, I was taken aback that none of this impressive collection of titles is found in Scripture. In fact, most of the titles that are commonly used to refer to church leaders around the world are not biblical titles. Not Reverend, Priest, Father, Monsignor, or even the collective title “Clergy.” Rather, these titles come from centuries of man-made traditions and hierarchies. Any time you see the title “Reverend” in front of my name, you can be sure that I didn’t put it there. When I write a title before my name, I use “Pastor.” Pastor is found in the Bible; Reverend is not. When we turn to the pages of the Bible we find something far more simple, far more humble, and far more appropriate for those who would serve Christ in His church than all of these elaborate and honorific titles that have arisen through history.

There are, in the New Testament, only two “offices” or positions held within the church. They are the deacon and the pastor. When it comes to the office of the pastor, we actually find that there are three terms used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. First, the word pastor, which is the least frequent title used in Scripture, and which translates the Greek word poimen, which means literally, “a shepherd.” Second, we find the word presbuteros, which is most commonly translated as “elder” in our Bibles. And third, we find the word episkopos, which literally means “overseer” but which was translated in the King James and other English versions as “Bishop.” While some churches today hold that these three titles refer to three different positions, we find in the New Testament that all of them actually refer to the same position. Take this passage before us, for example. Here, Peter is addressing the presbuterous, the elders, and he exhorts them to poimanate, that is, to shepherd or pastor the flock of God, by exercising episkopountes, or oversight, of the congregation. The elders are admonished to pastor as overseers, or bishops. Turning to Acts 20, we find the same thing. There Paul calls together the elders (the presbuterous) of the Ephesian church and reminds them that God has made them overseers (or Bishops, episkopous) and that their responsibility is to shepherd or pastor (poimainein) the church of God. So, in at least these two passages, and others could be cited, we see how the terms are used interchangeably to refer to the same office in the church.

But what do these titles teach us about the faithful pastor? Is he faithful simply because he wears one or more of these titles before his name? Certainly not. Many have taken up these titles and abused the office that they held and failed to serve the Lord or the church faithfully. Rather, these titles give us insight into the kind of person who is to hold the office and the kind of work that he is to do. What does it mean that this person in this position is called an elder? Does it mean that he must be elderly? I think that is what some people think because often when people meet me they say, “Oh you are too young to be a pastor!” I still get that, even after doing it for so long. But we know that this cannot be the case, because in 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul actually tells the young pastor to not let anyone look down on his youthfulness. Rather, the idea of being an elder has to do with a person’s spiritual maturity. That is why, for instance, Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:6 that a pastor must not be a new convert. He must be seasoned in living the Christian life and wise according to the Scriptures in order that he might be able to teach and preach them faithfully. He must have walked closely with Jesus for a long enough time to be able to lead others to do the same.

The primary exhortation that Peter gives to the elders here is that they shepherd or pastor the flock of God. Throughout the Bible, the people of God are compared to sheep, and the comparison is not always complimentary. Sheep are meek, gentle, and tranquil creatures, but they aren’t very bright. They require the care of a shepherd to provide for them, to protect them, and to nurture them. But the pastor must be under no delusion in thinking of the church in this way, for he himself is first of all a sheep before he is a shepherd. I have often referred to pastors as sheep in shepherds’ clothing. We pastors are not immune to the challenges of life as sheep. Left to our own devices, we are just as spiritually dumb as any other sheep. That is why we must be anchored to the Word of God and desperately adhered to the power of the Holy Spirit in our ministry. Though we are shepherds, we are under-shepherds; Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, as Peter indicates in verse 4. We have to be guided by Him and by our fellow shepherds as we do our own shepherding. Shepherding sheep is a multifaceted task, as is pastoring a church. There is the element of guidance, the element of caregiving and nurturing, and the element of feeding, which in the spiritual realm occurs through the proclamation of God’s Word. His Word is the food for the Christian’s soul, and the faithful pastor must be committed to feeding the flock with a healthy diet of the Word.

Then, when we think of the term overseer, there seems to be some suggestion of the responsibility that the pastor has among the church. I prefer the term overseer to Bishop because it is a literal translation of the Greek word, and it is a much more descriptive term. In this passage, the phrase “exercising oversight” is adverbial, describing how the pastor is to shepherd the church. He does so while exercising oversight. The pastor has a responsibility before God to oversee the spiritual well-being of the church and its members. This means that there must be a certain degree of authority invested in the pastor’s position, but it is not unlimited or unaccountable authority. He is accountable both to the Lord and the church for the exercise of that authority and oversight. Hebrews 13:17 says that the leaders of the church will give an account for your souls before the Lord, and therefore, there should be some degree of submission and obedience given to them in light of this responsibility. If he leads the church astray, he will answer to God for doing so. But, should the members of the church make his work grievous rather than joyful, that same verse indicates that it will be unprofitable for the church. In other words, the pastor will answer to God for his leadership, but the church will also answer to God for their “follow-ship.” There are individuals in many churches who have gained reputations as “pastor-killers”, and Hebrews 13:17 stands as a warning to those individuals that they will be held accountable before God for their attitudes and actions toward their pastors.

So, as an elder, the pastor is to be a spiritually mature person who is able to lead others in their walk with Jesus. As a shepherd, he is to provide care to the flock, chiefly in the form of teaching the Word of God to them. And as an overseer, he is an administrative leader and a spiritual guide for the church. Paul summarizes these responsibilities in 1 Timothy 5:17 when he speaks of elders who rule well and work hard at preaching and teaching. These, we may say, are the biblical responsibilities implicit in the titles that the faithful pastor bears.

II. The faithful pastor is marked by his relationships

The Christian life is entered into individually. Each person must make his or her own decision to follow Christ. But the Christian life cannot be characterized by individualism; it must be lived out in the context of relationships. As Christians, we have a certain relationship with the Triune God: with our Heavenly Father, with our Lord Jesus, and with our indwelling Holy Spirit. We also have a relationship with other Christians: those within our own church family, those in other church fellowships, those who live all over the world, and even to an extent with those who have lived at all points of Christian history. We stand in a line with them, receiving much from those who have gone before us and leaving something behind for those who come after us. And then of course, we also have a certain relationship with those who do not know Christ, as witnesses and missionaries who testify in word and deed of the saving grace of Jesus to those who do not yet know him. And these same relationships also mark the life of the faithful pastor.

We see in this text something of the pastor’s relationship to the Lord. As an elder, we have already mentioned, he is a person of spiritual maturity that has been nurtured through walking with the Lord by faith over a period of time. But in his role as a shepherd, he has a somewhat unique relationship to the Lord Jesus. After all, it was Jesus who said, “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Since that is the case, pastors should seek to emulate the shepherding ways of Jesus as we serve Him. Peter actually makes the case here that we are “undershepherds.” In verse 4, when he refers to the return of Jesus, he calls Him the “Chief Shepherd,” using the word archipoimenos, the highest of all shepherds, in the Greek. So in a very real sense, Christ is our Lord and Savior first, but also our “boss” if you will, serving as our example in shepherding and our master to whom we will give account for our ministry as His undershepherds. Incidentally, this text is the reason why I despise the term “Senior Pastor.” This term “Chief Shepherd” is the closest thing we have in Scripture to “Senior Pastor,” and it is a title that belongs only to Jesus.

We also see in this text something of the pastor’s relationship to the church at large, throughout history. This is suggested in Peter’s description of himself as a “fellow elder.” We stand in line with a group of Christians who have served Christ’s church since the time of the apostles and include even some of the apostles. While we do not know for certain how many of the twelve actually served as church pastors, we do know that Peter did, and John did, and Paul to a great extent did as well. And we know that wherever in history and geography the church of Jesus Christ has been present, there has been someone called by God to lead and feed that church on the Word of God. On the one hand, there is honor in this reality. When we are tempted to think of our work as insignificant and meaningless, we are reminded by this that the calling of Pastor has been foundational to the work of God since the earliest period of church history. But there is also something humbling about this. Many of these who have held this office throughout history have suffered and died for their calling as pastors, and therefore we must not be surprised by suffering if it comes or way or think that we deserve something better. Also, we are reminded because of these relationships with pastors throughout history that we are not irreplaceable in the program of God. While the office of pastor seems to be a fixed reality for the church until Christ returns, no individual pastor holds the keys to the kingdom all by himself. Should he fail to exercise his calling faithfully, should he abuse his authority, should he mistreat the flock in any way, or should calamity fall upon him in the ordinary coming and going of life, he can and will be replaced. Therefore no pastor should think himself to be irreplaceable in the purposes of God, and no church should think of their pastor in that way. You will have another pastor some day unless the Lord returns before my death or before God calls me to serve elsewhere. And it is a fundamental part of my work as your pastor to prepare you to follow the next person to occupy this position. It has always been one of my goals as a pastor to make the job of my successor easier. Understanding our relationship with the church at large, throughout all time and over the span of the whole world helps us keep this fresh in our minds.

Now, we also see something of the pastor’s relationship to the local church among whom he serves. I had just begun my first pastorate when an older man in the congregation came into my office to talk about some issues with me. He began to address thirty years of church problems with me, before I finally asked him, “Why are you telling me all of this?” He said, “Well, you are the pastor, and you are the head of the church, so you need to do something about it.” I agreed with him that perhaps there were some things I could do about some of these problems, but I said, “If anyone in this church thinks that the pastor is the head of the church, then THAT is the root of all of our problems.” We’ve already established that pastoral ministry involves some degree of accountable authority, but no pastor must ever think that he is the head of the church or that the church belongs to him. In the same way, neither the deacons, the church council, nor any other individual or group of people must think that the church belongs to them or that they are the head. Jesus Christ was very clear in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church.” The church belongs to Jesus and, as Paul says in both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 1, it is Christ who is the head of the church. Here in this text, when Peter speaks of the church, he says that it is the flock of God. Though the pastor is called to shepherd this flock, he never becomes the owner of it or the head of it. The flock belongs to God. And as such, the pastor does not stand above the congregation, but alonside of them on level ground before the Lord. This is why Peter refers to the pastor shepherding the flock of God among you. They are not beneath him, nor are they above him. The pastor and the people are brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God; coworkers together under the Lordship of Christ; and fellow pilgrims indwelled and empowered equally by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has gifted each of us for the service of God in some avenue of ministry. Some are gifted and called as pastors, but those are not more important than those who are gifted and called to serve Christ as teachers, businessmen, stay at home mothers, plumbers, carpenters, or any other vocation. Whatever skills and gifts we have are to be exercised in the service of the Lord, and for some those gifts and skills are carried out under the divine calling of pastoral ministry. Pastors must remember that there was a gracious work of God going on in their lives when He set them apart for His service. I don’t deserve to do what I do. I haven’t jumped through certain hoops to earn this position. I stand here by God’s grace and nothing else. You didn’t call me to serve in this position because you couldn’t find anyone better to do it. It was because we both recognized that God was bringing us together in His sovereign grace for this purpose. Thus, Peter says that the pastor must always bear in mind that the church he happens to serve is one that has been allotted to his charge, as he says in v3, by the grace of God. And we must each recognize the sovereign hand of God in bringing us together in this way: His calling me to serve you as pastor; His allotting of you to my charge. This comes into sharper focus as we examine the third mark of a faithful pastor …

III. A faithful pastor is marked by his attitude

As we look at the New Testament passages concerning pastors and their service to the church we find that there is always more emphasis placed on who and how than what. That is, the priority in all of these texts are on the spiritual qualifications of the man, and the manner in which he conducts his ministry, rather than on the specific tasks listed under his job description. Every pastor is unique in his gifts and abilities. Some are better teachers and preachers, others are better counselors, others are more compassionate in their personal caregiving, and others more effective as organizational leaders. While all pastors must engage in all of these tasks on an ongoing basis, each one will excel at differing aspects of pastoral ministry. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” Different gifts, different ministries, different effects; but all of it is empowered by the same Spirit, rendered unto the same Lord, and accomplished by the divine work of the same God. And this sovereign God who calls pastor and church together knows with perfect knowledge the strength that each pastor brings to his office, and the needs that each church has in that season of its history. So, we mustn’t begrudge the fact that Pastor Jones is a better preacher, but a worse counselor than Pastor Smith; or that Pastor Davis is a better leader, but a worse caregiver than Pastor Murphy. Rather, we trust that God knew what He was doing when He brought the pastor and people together, as it were, “for such a time as this.”

But, though there are great varieties among pastors in terms of their strengths and abilities, one thing must remain constant. There is an attitude that must pervade all pastoral work if the pastor is to be found faithful. That attitude is expounded here in this text in the form of three contrasts.

First, Peter says that the Pastor must shepherd the flock of God “not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.” Essentially, Peter is here speaking of the difference between doing what you’ve got to do and what you get to do. The pastor must not engage in any of his duties with a begrudging spirit as if he is being forced to do something against his will. Rather, he must see all of the aspects of his ministry as part and parcel of what God has called him to do, as God’s will for him, and therefore engage in those tasks joyfully and willingly.

Then Peter says that this shepherding must be done “not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” Here Peter is saying that the motivating factor in a pastor’s ministry must not be the power, privileges, prosperity, or other personal benefit that he would hope to gain from it. Moreover, the word that Peter uses actually goes farther to suggest that he must never resort to dishonest or manipulative means to acquire such benefits from the work of the ministry. Rather, he is to serve with eagerness, ready to do what God has called him to do, even if there is no reward or recompense this side of heaven at all. This raises the question of whether or not it is right, and to what degree, a pastor should be compensated for his work in the church. There are two issues here. First, the New Testament is clear that a church who benefits from the ministry of a pastor should compensate the pastor for his labors. And chief among these labors is the duty of preaching and teaching the Word of God. We see this in 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says that the elders (or pastors) who rule well are worthy of double honor, particularly those who work hard at preaching and teaching. He goes on to say that withholding compensation from such a pastor would be equal to muzzling an ox while it is threshing, thus preventing it from eating of the grain beneath his feet; or withholding the wages of a laborer. In 1 Corinthians 9:14, Paul says that the Lord has directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. So, there is a biblical expectation among the churches that they will financially support the pastors who serve them faithfully with the Word of God. But then, the other side of that coin has to do with what is right for a pastor to expect. First of all, according to this and other passages, we see that the pastor’s primary motivator is not to be his salary but his calling to proclaim the gospel. If that is so, then he will do it whether he is being paid to do it or not. As Paul says 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” If this is what God has called me to do, then a paycheck or the lack thereof will have no bearing on whether or not I obey that call. And then secondly, understanding the true nature of the church and the pastor’s relationship to it, each pastor must be willing to live on what the church provides, according to its means based on the giving of each member. And if that figure is unreasonably low, then perhaps the church needs to adjust its expectations of the pastor so that he may take up some other vocation to supplement his income, even as Paul did with tent-making. Think of it this way: if a church has a hundred members, and all of them tithe, and ten percent of that church’s budget is devoted to the pastor’s salary, then he would be receiving the average income of his congregation, without placing an undue burden on the church budget. When I met with your search committee in the summer of 2005, they asked me, “How much salary would you require?” And my answer was that I trust God to provide, so if He is calling me here, then whatever the church offers me will be sufficient to meet my needs. The committee was shocked by such an answer. They told me that they had met with numerous candidates who insisted on six-figure salaries. How many of you draw a six-figure salary? If you were supporting a pastor with that kind of salary, his standard of living would be far beyond that of the average church member, and this should not be. So, while the church has a biblical mandate to support the faithful pastor in his work, the pastor is to serve God in obedience to the call and trust Him to provide, with or without a church paycheck.

The third contrast concerning the pastor’s attitude is found in verse 3: not “lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” You want to know the must humbling, stressful, anxious part of being a pastor? No, it’s not moderating business meetings, but that comes close. Rather, it is this reality -- my spiritual leadership must never be that of just telling you what to do. I have to show you what to do by my own life. That means that when things in the church aren’t going in what I think is a good direction, the first place I have to look is at the mirror and see what kind of example I am giving you. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” It would be much easier for me to just say, “Follow Jesus and do what I tell you to do,” and you know, kind of boss people around in the name of Jesus. But this is not the calling of a pastor. Rather, the shepherd walks in front of the sheep, showing them the way to go by leading them along in his footsteps. If you are going to have a close relationship with Jesus, then I must make sure daily that I have a close relationship with Jesus. And that is really humbling when I think that I will answer to God not just for my sermons but for my example as well. Jesus told His disciples that the rulers of the Gentiles “lord it over” the people. They demand things of the people and insist on being served by the people. But Jesus said that this was not to be so of His followers. Rather, the greatest disciples of Jesus will be those who serve others. Jesus said that even He Himself did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. If I would be an example to you, then I must follow Christ’s example. I must not think of you as my servants, but of myself as your servant; and I must be willing to give even my very life for you. I have preached this sermon to myself for 15 years, and I have a long way to go in living it out. These words are ever before me, and I hope they will work their way into your hearts and minds as well as you consider your church and your pastor, whether that is me or any other pastor in the future.

Now, in closing, I want to point out what Peter says about what the faithful pastor has to look forward to. Throughout his ministry, he will have hard days, he will make hard decisions, he will bear heavy burdens, he will suffer, sacrifice, and struggle. But if he remains faithful, if he carries out the responsibilities that come along with the titles he bears, if he nurtures the relationships that God has placed him in as a pastor, and if he maintains the proper attitude, then the pastor can look forward to a great reward when we see Jesus face to face. When the undershepherds stand before the Chief Shepherd, those who have been faithful to their calling will receive the unfading crown of glory. It is not fair to call it a reward, because it is of grace. It will not have been earned or deserved, but freely bestowed by the One who freely called and freely empowered us to serve. I pray that I might be found among that number of pastors who receive that crown on that day. But if I am, don’t look for me to be wearing it in heaven, for it will be cast with all other crowns at the feet of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, the Senior Pastor, to whom belongs all glory and honor forever and ever, Amen.