How should a pastor feel about his flock? And how should these feelings be expressed? Check out these somewhat surprising words from Pastor Paul to one of his church plants:
“But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while – in person, not in spirit – were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, more than once – and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (I Thess. 2:17-20, NASB, 1995).
Whenever you study the Bible verse-by-verse, you find surprising nuggets like this passage. It gives us insight into Paul’s heart of love that we should all emulate.
Paul’s love was similar to parents’ love for their children. Now that he’s torn away from them by time and distance, brought on by persecution, “having been made an orphan from you”, Paul desperately wanted to see them face to face.
Our son spent an adventurous semester in Israel while a student at The Master’s College. We tried a couple of Skype sessions but the internet was too spotty on his end. We had a couple of phone calls, but that left us wanting more. What relief to have him in our presence, telling his stories and laughing together.
And so it goes with a pastor and his people. Paul shows us in this passage that a Christ-like pastor loves his people like they were his own children.
The first proof of this is how much he wants to see them (v.17). Paul’s words are rated I for Intense. He says “with much strong desire or passion or intense longing, we were more abundantly zealous or eager to see your face.”
Let’s stop here and consider two lessons for all Christians.
#1 It’s right, normal and Christ-like to miss people and long to see them. Pastors especially should grow in this toward their flock. As more of an introvert, I know I struggle with this at times. I also know I pastor best when I long to be with my people.
#2 There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Paul could write letters and dispatch Timothy but he knew there was nothing like being there.
The second proof that a Christ-like pastor loves his people like they were his own children is he makes repeated efforts to be with them (v.18). The missionary team wished and willed and wanted to come to them, more than once Paul says. He gave all diligence, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I imagine Paul hated the distance between them and hated Satan even more for hindering him and hated that persecution had driven them away. He lays blame at the feet of Satan.
Ponder these four points about our enemy.
Like the normal hope of every parent to see their kids grow to maturity and become productive (and even reproductive – can I get an Amen?), so this is the normal hope of every pastor who loves his flock.
Paul tells them they are his “crown of boasting”. Stephanos in Greek speaks of the wreath placed on the head of winners in the Greek athletic contests. They were the anticipated wreath upon his head when his contest was over. They would be the gold medal around his neck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary explains: “When life is over and we stand in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming, you Thessalonians will be our source of glory and joy; you mean that much to us.”
Though Paul does not receive glory from men (cf. 2:6), these converts are his pride and joy, his crowning achievement as a missionary and apostle and pastor, whose presence in heaven will vindicate his ministry on earth.
“For you are our glory and joy” (v. 20)
At first this seems over the top, too emotional, even unspiritual. I thought Christ was to be our glory and joy? Paul was no detached, calculating professional clergyman in it for the paycheck. He is no hireling passing time until retirement. He’s an invested and committed shepherd who loves God’s sheep and derives great joy under Jesus when they prosper spiritually.
To some degree, he hooks his happiness wagon to how they are doing as Christians. Isn’t this dangerous? Of course, but love always is. True ministry of the gospel is never disinterested or detached or without suffering. Sounds like godly parenting again, does it not? True ministry of the gospel will always be dangerous, risky, costly and invested at the deepest levels.
Christ-like love binds the hearts so tightly that the spiritual life of one affects the spirit and emotions of the other. So I said to my church recently: “When you ask me, “how are you?” I will say, “it depends. How are you?”
Let’s be clear. God’s sheep are never the validation of a pastor’s identity or salvation but they are the validation of his call and public ministry of God’s word. They should become his glory and joy.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight