and That Other Really Hard Stuff
In the July issue of TABLETALK* there is a “pastor’s Perspective” column titled, “Standing Firm.” In the first paragraph the author quotes the great reformer Martin Luther, thusly, “An upright shepherd and minister must improve his flock by edification, and also resist and defend it; otherwise, if resisting be absent, the wolf devours the sheep.” The author of the piece, Bill Haynes, then comments that “Resisting and defending require that the pastor-shepherd stand firm on the truth of the Gospel and lead his congregation to do the same.
Haynes, who happens to be a Baptist pastor in Kentucky, further elucidates the problem this way:
For the past year I have been preaching through the book of Acts, and I have noticed a recurring situation. One evening I told my congregation that one thing was a constant in Acts, especially in the life and ministry of Paul: When the truth of the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed, somebody is going to get beaten up or thrown in prison. It is amazing to me that in the twenty-first century we have developed a mentality that if we are proclaiming the truth, then everybody ought to like us.Jesus taught that His people should love the truth. He also taught that His people should give to the needy, avoid divorce, pray for one another, and not be judgmental (among other things). He also taught that a tree is known by its fruit. This is really a hard teaching. We’re supposed to look and act like what we claim to be.
People, in general, don’t want to hear the truth today. We have arrived (I don’t know how long ago) at the time that the Apostle Paul predicted when he wrote to His protégé Timothy,
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.This stuff can be discouraging for the pastor. You work at preaching Biblical sermons preaching God’s truth. Then you try to help people as they (along with you) struggle to live a Christian life in a hostile world. No matter how you approach people when you want to talk about "issues," you become the bad guy – and they shoot the messenger. It hurts a lot. You get so that you don’t trust anyone; don’t want to entrust anyone with your thoughts. Who knows, they may be the next one to turn on you. Then, how will they use the information you’ve shared with them?
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myth.
(2 Timothy 4:2-4).
Does this sound pessimistic? It really isn’t. It’s realistic. It’s what Paul was teaching about. It’s what seminary students talk about and what pastors discuss when they get together. I’ve heard it from dozens of pastors – and ex-pastors.
So, what does Paul have to say about this? Well, after he gave Timothy the instruction that he would often be preaching what people did not want to hear, and might even get hostile about, he instructed the young shepherd, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (Verse 5).
Do your job, Paul says, enduring the pain and suffering; keep on preaching, teaching, leading, correcting, rebuking and encouraging (I invite the reader to return to the words of verse 2 above).
Why do I write this little essay? Well, it’s timely, having been brought to the attention of all who read TABLETALK just last month. Also, I’d like to encourage all of my readers to be aware of what your pastor’s job entails. There are times when the most dedicated of saints is not going to like what the pastor says. Instead of taking the worldly route of walking out in a huff and talking to everybody else about how mean he is, why not try the Biblical route? Talk to him. Explain your dilemma. It’s possible you are right. It’s also possible that he is. Either way, that talk is mandated by God.
Much has been written about commitment-phobia in recent decades. Jesus, however, said it best, as recorded in Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
Brothers and sisters, take this as encouragement.
We all get caught up in things that sort of carry us along – and before we know it we are in a place we don’t want to be. Then pride kicks in and we find it difficult to get things right. Resist. As Bill Haynes wrote, reflecting the teaching of God’s Word: “stand firm,” on the foundation of God’s Word and nothing else.
What do you think?
*TABLETALK is a monthly devotional magazine published by Ligonier Ministries.