The Pastor, His Pulpit, and His People
July 2, 2017 Pastor: Don Green
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: 1 John 1–5
Well, for a number of months now we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 but our schedule over the next month or so gives us an opportunity to maybe pause the study for a bit. I'm going to be gone next week and also gone at the end of the month and I want to establish some continuity with this important material that lies ahead in the Sermon on the Mount and also I realize that a number of people are away on vacation and so it just gives us an opportunity to hit the pause button and do a couple of different things maybe in the month of July that I think will serve us well as we seek to follow Christ in our church and as I was thinking about that, something occurred to me. You know, as you go about in the week to week work of ministry, you just kind of go with the flow and then sometimes you step back and realize what's happening and what has happened. It was over five years ago, December 18 of 2011, that I preached what was essentially a candidating sermon, as it turned out, to a group of 46 people that were gathered in a large auditorium in northern Kentucky and that message was really foundational to the whole concept and the whole philosophy of Truth Community Church, and now that five years have gone by and most of those 46 people have scattered to the wind, many of them, some of them are still with us here today and I'm very grateful for that, but what that means is this, is that most of you, probably over 95 percent of you, have not heard what was intended to be a most foundational sermon for the life and the philosophy of Truth Community Church. Well, we need to correct that. We need to set things straight with that and to bring everybody kind of up to speed and I'm not sure if this will be one message or two, but we'll just go and see what happens with it.
The message is titled "The Pastor, His Pulpit, and His People" and it comes from the book of 1 John in the New Testament and I invite you to turn to 1 John. We taught through 1 John verse by verse several years ago and the whole concept of the pastor, his pulpit and his people, I should probably explain a little bit. When I talk about the pastor, I mean I am the pastor here but it's not simply me as the pastor. What Scripture does is it uses a number of terms interchangeably to talk about those men that have responsibility for spiritual leadership in the local church. You might describe them as elders, you might describe them as overseers in different contexts, a shepherd, a pastor, different words are used and I intend this message to be kind of a comprehensive look at the disposition of spiritual leadership in a biblical local church. And so I think that this is going to be helpful. It reflects what Christ requires of all men who aspire after spiritual leadership in the body of Christ and I know that there are men amongst us who looking down the road would say, "Maybe I would be one day in spiritual leadership in a local church, if not this one, in another one someplace." Well, these are the kinds of principles that you need to understand and embrace.
Speaking more broadly, I realize that in fact our church was founded with many people who came from a difficult church past and perhaps even now bear some of the scars of poor church leadership. Well, a message like this can provide some closure to you, some strength to you to realize that your experience was not what the Bible says should be reflective of true spiritual leadership, of men under the influence of Christ. You get a sense of what the Bible requires. For those of you that are newer to our church, maybe you've come in just the past few months and you're kind of jumping in midstream, so to speak, well, this is an opportunity for you to understand kind of the roots of our church, to understand our aspirations to either more fully embrace it or say, "Do you know what? I'm looking for something else." We understand that. And for those of you that have been with us for the years, God bless you. That's a great blessing to have faithful people that have stayed with us over time. What a joy you are to my own heart. Well, for us, this will refresh our commitments, this will remind us of why we do what we do. And it's so important for you to understand that, to understand why it is that we do what we do. Not simply to do it but to understand the reasons. You know, you wouldn't want to walk into a house that had no foundation under its flooring. You'd realize that sooner or later it's just going to fall through and collapse. Well, there is a foundation underneath what we do and that's what I want to bring to your mind today, and also to say that for some of the men in our church that have perhaps sat on the fence and have withheld any meaningful commitment to involvement in the life of the body of Christ here at Truth Community, I want you to hear and I want you to step up. I want you to realize that there is a call of God particularly to men in the church that you need to respond to for the sake of Christ and for the glory of Christ, and to give yourself over to that which Christ himself died for, gave himself up for. So this has multiple applications for us as we come to it here this morning, even though we are giving it a more narrow title, "The Pastor, the Pulpit, and His People."
So 1 John, just to remind you, it's often described as a black-and-white book because of the sharp distinctions that John makes in his teaching. He talks about light and darkness, love and hate, sin and righteousness, truth and error, and the book is unfortunately often referred to in those kind of sharp terms as if that was the only aspect of what John was doing was that he was being a lion for the truth. Well, I don't think that that's really the best or fairest reading of the spirit of what John says and what he's writing because when you read 1 John, what you will find is that the Apostle John is modeling what true pastoral leadership looks like.
John was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – mark this – to real people with real problems in a real spiritual environment, not unlike our own. John is writing as a man of God in order to lead the people of God so the question that we want to see, the thing that we want to explore, is how does he do that? What does it look like when John recognizes he has an audience in front of him, so to speak, an audience with spiritual needs that are being attacked by false teachers and they are spiritually vulnerable and they need strength, they need encouragement? What does he do? How does he do that? And what we find as we study that over a period of time is we find him modeling what pastoral leadership looks like and I want to point these things out to you as we take kind of an overview look at the entire book of 1 John.
So, first of all, we want to consider the pastor in the pulpit. The pastor in the pulpit, and you don't need to be a man who is actually a teacher in order to benefit from this. The truth of the matter is that even the humblest of believers could learn these things, see these things, and realize what to look for, what to ask for, what to demand even, from those that would lead them spiritually. And we realize that we have visitors that come and go and people move on and move on to other churches, what is it that you should be looking for in a local church and Scripture does not hide this. Scripture makes it plain. Let's consider what it has to say about the pastor in the pulpit.
Now, in 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to preach the word in season and out of season, that the man of God who would lead the people of God should be a man of the word of God and John does this by example. What is it that flows out of a teaching ministry that is based on biblical principles? That's the first question that we want to deal with and we'll deal with it in three kind of subsets here, and at the center, at the focus you find this: the pastor in the pulpit, what does he do, first of all, he speaks about Christ. He is a man of Christ as he opens the word of God and the Apostle John teaches us that to be full of Christ when we teach, to be full of Christ in the pulpit, to be full of Christ as the teaching office of a church goes forward, as a teaching function of a church goes forward, it must be full of Christ and I want you to see this from multiple passages.
John even opens his letter from that perspective. 1 John 1, beginning in verse 1. Look at it with me now. What is it that the man of God does? What is it that the pastor in the pulpit should do? He should be talking about Christ. Verse 1,
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life-- 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us
John starts with the Incarnation of Christ and says, "This is what I'm writing to you about. I'm writing about the one who is the eternal Son of God. He was with the Father and now has been manifested on earth." John writing some 16 years, probably, after the crucifixion, John writing this letter as a man in his late eighties or perhaps his early nineties, this is his apostolic swansong and after all of those decades of knowing Christ, of walking with Christ, of serving Christ, of being an apostolic representative of Christ, he is still full of Christ as he speaks.
And what is it about Christ that he tells them? Well, look at verse 7 of chapter 1, and I'm only giving you representative passages here. He says,
7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
The emphasis on Christ, Jesus and his shed blood being the sole merit by which a sinner can be saved and he brings Christ to their attention right from the start.
In chapter 2, verse 1, look at it with me. He says,
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Look over at chapter 4, verse 9, as the apostle continues writing and says,
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
One more in chapter 5, verse 11. John says,
11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
Do you see it, beloved? Do you see what he's doing? From beginning to end there is the velvet thread of Christ woven throughout everything that he says. From beginning to end, from start to finish, he is talking about Christ and emphasizing Christ to his readers. Christ, Christ, Christ, chapter after chapter. He was speaking as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, he said, "we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord."
So here's the thing, beloved, in terms of how we think about ministry, what we look for in a church, what we aspire after as this developing local body, it is this: that the pulpit of a true church displays Christ repeatedly, consistently and urgently. Christ is not hidden. You should not have to search and look for Christ in a man's pulpit ministry. You shouldn't have to wait to hear about him while other things are said and done. Christ naturally and by compulsion rises to the center and becomes the focus of that which is said. That's the pastor in his pulpit. He is speaking about Christ.
That has implications. That has implications that directly confront the spirit of the broader church of Christ in our world today, and let's just say it kindly but plainly so that it cannot be misunderstood: the pastor's pulpit is not for his stories; the pastor's pulpit is not for politics; the pastor's pulpit is not for entertainment and comedy. You can get stories from movies, you can find your politics on Fox news or MSNBC if you want, you can go to a comedy club for laughs. That has nothing to do with the pulpit of a true Christian church. A true church and the true pulpit, the teaching ministry of a church is to proclaim Christ and him crucified and that is the mark of a true church, that is the mark of a true pastor. The church of Christ exists in order to proclaim him and to build men up in Christ.
So we see as we understand that principle, we see the Apostle John modeling it in his letter of 1 John and all that we want to do here at Truth Community Church, our aspiration from that is to say, "That's what we want to be like too. We want to be like the Apostle John who was like the other apostles who proclaimed Christ and when Christ was here, he was proclaiming himself saying that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which has been lost, putting the focus on himself. If any man wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow after me." You see, a true pulpit is not a cheap tawdry substitute for the entertainment of the world. That's not the point. That is not Christian ministry and it doesn't help it, it doesn't salvage it, it doesn't save it if you tack on a couple of Bible verses along the way. The centrality of a pulpit is the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified.
So when you ask about a pastor, his pulpit and his people, you start by recognizing he speaks of Christ and we gladly separate ourselves, we want nothing to do with a philosophy of ministry that is geared toward entertaining the audience. Beloved, I would be betraying a trust, I would be betraying a stewardship if I made it my goal to entertain you and make you laugh, if I would somehow soften the urgency of eternal issues and eternal consequences of things in your mind by giving you lighthearted humor that made you think that everything was okay, proclaiming peace, peace, when there is no peace. Those of you that are sinners still rebellious against Christ and you have not submitted to Christ, you have not come to him in faith, what is there to laugh about from my perspective as I speak with you when you endanger the eternal well-being of your own soul by your hardhearted resistance and your indifference and your cold attitude toward Scripture and the Christ of Scripture? How can I affirm you? How could I affirm you in your self-destructive spiritual ways by making you think things were okay and speaking on things other than Christ? That's not why the church of Jesus Christ exists. We exist to preach Christ and him crucified. That's the pastor in his pulpit.
Now, what else does a pastor do in the pulpit? What do elders do as they teach and instruct? What is spiritual leadership about? Well, secondly we could say this: the pastor speaks of Christ, we've covered that, he also speaks with authority. He also speaks with authority, and in our day and age, this is so easily rejected, detested and criticized, but we must take our cues from the word of God, not the world around us. We must take our cues not from our critics who would soften and diminish the authority of the word of God, but we take it from Scripture. We come and say, "How does Scripture speak to us? How does Scripture address us?" And then we follow that, we model after that rather than saying what will be most pleasing to the audience in front of us. We don't go with the spirit of our age. We realize that Scripture warns us that people will want their ears tickled in the last days; people will want to hear only that which pleases them; that they won't want to hear the true pure milk of the word of God. So we realize that we can't cater to that. We take our cues from Scripture and when we do that, we find that the man of God is one who speaks with authority as he teaches the word of God.
Let's look at this from 1 John. Without going into every passage to show this, John uses the word "commandment" 14 times in these short five chapters. He uses the imperative mood another 10 times. He is speaking with authority throughout this letter and using words like "commandment" and things like that to impress the authority with which he speaks.
Let's take a look at a couple of examples, shall we? 1 John 2:7, for example. We'll come back to this theme of commandments later on, but for now just to see that he writes with authority. In 1 John 2:7 he says,
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.
John isn't writing with pastoral suggestions, he's not writing with helpful hints to have a more convenient life. He's writing with authority and saying, "This is the commandment with which I write to you," and this commandment now as we teach now, it's not inherent in the pastor himself, it is derivative of the inherent authority of the word of God and that is reflected in the way that a true pastor teaches.
Look at 1 John 3:23, beginning and end, the bookends of this verse, his commandment and authority. Verse 23, he says,
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
Those of you that are here without Christ, without the Spirit of God, you are separated from God and you have not believed in Christ, let me say this as plainly as I know how to say: God's word comes to you and commands you to believe in Christ for your salvation and to reject Christ, to refuse him, to turn away from that call is sinful and it's a reflection of the greater sin that anchors and controls your heart. It is a commandment of God that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you do not have an option to disobey. John speaks with authority, with a commanding tone and notice, beloved, notice that there are no words of softening that say, "Well, you know, and there might be another way to Christ. All religions lead to God. Or, you know, God will be merciful and save everyone in the end." That is not true. God has no intention of saving everyone in the world. Jesus said that there will be many who call him Lord on that final day and he'll say, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."
So there is this authority of Christ, there is this apostolic authority that attends the teaching of God's word and the pastor, the elder, the overseer of the flock of God, does not have the liberty to diminish the authority of God's word by compromising it, saying maybe there are other ways or speaking in some kind of effeminate tone that makes it sound like it's less serious than it really is. You speak of Christ and you speak with authority in a manner that is befitting of the great eternal issues of which the word of God addresses.
Stated another way, and I'm glad for this: the pastor, the man of God, is not trying to be cool. He is not trying to be hip. He's not catering his ministry so that the millennials will love and flock to him. Oh, we would have a younger generation filling this church to overflowing, we would love that, but that's not what we're after. We're not trying to be someone other than what we are in order to attract people to us. And look, the men who pretend to be pastors who do that, they don't realize how foolish they are being because the pulpit is not meant for that and all that you can do is be a cheap knockoff of what the world does far better anyway. If you want somebody cool, you can find that in Hollywood. You can find that in the glamour pages of entertainment magazines. That's not what we are about and I'm glad that a pastor doesn't have to be cool because, do you know what? I understand and have for a few years now, I'm not cool and I'm okay with that. That's not the point. That is not the point and it would be a travesty, it would be foolish for a man of my age and a man of my position to try to be cool in order to relate to someone who is 20 years old. Live according to the position that God has given you and let him draw and send people away as he sees fit because what God will do and the whole theological premise that underlies that, is that God uses his word properly and accurately taught in order to draw people to Christ. We're not trying to draw people to ourselves. We are not trying to develop an audience of people that will tell us how cool and great we are. We don't want that, we despise that, we reject it. It has nothing to do with biblical ministry. What we want is for people to be drawn to Christ that they might be saved from their sins and become dedicated faithful disciples of Christ serving him until he calls them home. That's what we want and do you know how God does that? It's not through men trying to be cool in human terms, he does that through his word. "Go and make disciples, teaching them all that I commanded you to teach."
So the pastor, the true pastor, is a man who speaks of Christ and he speaks with authority. The Apostle Paul, it's interesting how you see these parallels between John and Paul, the Apostle Paul said to Titus in chapter 2, verse 15, you don't need to turn there, Titus 2:15, Paul told Titus as he sent him out to establish churches, he said this, "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you." So for the people of God, what this means is that it's wrong to resent the authority of the teaching of the word of God. It is wrong to be critical of the fact that a pulpit ministry conveys a sense of authority. The reason that it conveys a sense of authority is because the word of God has authority, because God has all authority, Christ has all authority and they have manifested that authority in the written word of God. Well, if you're going to teach it, the authority has to flow over from that so that people understand that they are under an obligation to respond with obedience to what the word of God says. You cannot compromise that without throwing the whole thing away.
It's not personal. This is the way that it goes and it means this, beloved, it means this: the pastor, the true biblical pastor is not at liberty to cater to the carnal desires of his audience. He answers to Scripture. He answers to Christ, Christ the head of the church, Christ who is the authority over the church. The pastor is an under-shepherd to Christ. He answers to him and therefore when Christ says, when the word of God says teach with authority, the man of God does not have the ability to say, he does not have the prerogative to say, he does not have the position to say, "I think I want to do it different. I want to be cool. I want to be hip. I want to be funny. I want to be really relational. I want to have a dialogue." No. Christ has laid forth for us in his word, John has modeled for us, commandment, authority, and that somehow has to be reflected. Not in an overbearing way, not in lording it over people, but when it comes to the word of God, beloved, each and every one of you has to understand as a fundamental premise of your spiritual life that the word of God has authority over you and respond accordingly.
Thirdly, speaking about the pastor in his pulpit, we could say this: that the pastor is one who speaks with balance. He speaks with balance and what I mean is this: as you look at the teaching of the Apostle John in 1 John, you find that he teaches both the positive and the negative side of truth. Notice how he states both sides of the equation in what I'm about to read to you.
So look for example at 1 John 2:3-4 where he's kind of giving the moral test of true salvation. The moral test of true salvation and he says this,
3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
Do you see it? Positive side: if we know him, we will keep his commitments. Negative side: if we don't keep his commitments, then we don't know him. Positive and negative. Both sides. There is a balance to the nature of the teaching.
Look at 1 John 2:9-10 when he speaks about the test of love as a mark of true salvation. He says in verse 9,
9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
Negative and positive. One who hates his brother, one who loves his brother. There is a symmetry. There is a balance to his teaching.
You see this also in verse 23 of chapter 2 where he applies a doctrinal test as a mark of true salvation. Verse 23,
23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.
Now, here's all I want you to see. There is just such a beautiful simplicity and asymmetry to the teaching of the word of God. Here's what he is saying: he's saying this is true and this is not true. This is right, this is wrong. Get this, reject that, is the sense of it. A pastor – and here's the point, this is really really critical, man is this important – a true pastor, a biblical pastor, a man who is in the office of spiritual leadership and truth does this: he establishes truth in his audience. He teaches truth, he doesn't simply criticize error, and that is an essential distinction to have. The true pastor is able and must be able to build people up in the true doctrine of Scripture in addition to being able to point out the error of that which abides in our day and age. Titus 1:9 says this, listen carefully, he says an elder must "be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict." There is this need to build the saints up with true teaching without getting it confused by the errors that are rampant in our age, and there is also the need to refute the errors of our age. You do both but the point is that you do both, not simply one or the other.
And with that, beloved, I would say this just kind of as a practical point of application for you as you follow different things in your life and as you are exposed to different kinds of ministries and teachings, speaking to you as your pastor, I guess: be careful, indeed, beware of so-called discernment ministries, so-called discernment bloggers who are known, who only specialize in pointing out error but do not systematically teach the truth in their own right. Beware of people like that because inevitably what happens is they are doomed to become self-righteous, to become critical and imbalanced in their approach. And there are these ministries that do not systematically teach the word of God, they simply target people and attack them, often for very minor differences and distinctions that they might have over what a man has done or what a man has taught in the past, things of this nature. Watch out and beware of that. Beware of that kind of, I don't even want to call it teaching and I certainly don't want to call it ministry. Beware of the people who do that and who pride themselves in being the writers and the keepers of discernment. Do you know where God has placed the discernment and the teaching? It's in the body of Christ. It's in local churches throughout the world with those churches that teach the word of God, not from some isolated blogger somewhere in a distance who is not under biblical authority, who is not prepared and who is not systematically teaching the word of God. Beware of that. There is a lot of danger there to be avoided.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones understood this when he said this about preaching and negative preaching, that kind of consistently critical preaching, he said this and I quote, "Whenever there are two dogs fighting, a crowd always gathers. If you attack various things and appeal for money to help you do so, you will always get people to support you but it is negative, it is destructive, it does not build up a church. You cannot build up a church on polemics." Polemics being the art of attacking false teaching.
So, beloved, just as you are going forward now in life and you're thinking about the men that you follow, the people that you read and all of that, step back and ask that most critical question: is this a man, is this a ministry that is known for teaching truth or do they simply attack their enemies? Do they simply go after people that disagree with them? Do they simply go after atheism, that's all that they want to talk about? Beware of that. Beware of letting that be what ultimately most feeds your soul because it contradicts the balance that Scripture calls the man of God to teach in sound doctrine and correct those who contradict. There must be both. If you see the positive edifying dimension of exposition and systematic teaching of truth missing and absent, only riding a hobbyhorse against one man or one movement, it's okay to walk away from that. It's a good thing to walk away from that and not become infected by the disease of criticism that is not balanced by a positive presentation of truth. This is really important. This is really important.
John avoids that imbalance in 1 John. He refutes error while declaring the truth and so we see the man in the pulpit speaking of Christ, speaking with authority, speaking with balance. That's the picture that Scripture gives us of spiritual leadership in a healthy local church.
Now, there is more to spiritual leadership than simply the teaching aspect of it and John shows us this side of it as well. There is more to pastoral ministry than simply being in a pulpit. John also shows us a second aspect of pastoral ministry and he shows us the pastor with his people. The pastor with his people. You could say the pastor in his relationships in the body of Christ. And John shows us how the biblical leader handles relationships and we're going to see three subpoints here as well. An elder, an overseer, doesn't simply lead through his teaching, he leads in the midst of personal relationships with his listeners, with those who follow him. We could say it this way and I'm going to get more specific here: the pastor is a man who is not simply an overbearing zealot who won't have anything to do with anything else and who isn't interested in personal relationships. The pastor is not a remote scholar simply cloistered away and never interacting with the people.
John shows us this with the way that he interacts with his people in this letter and we can say this, first of all, what you find in a true pastor according to Scripture is this, first of all: he is one who expresses affection. He expresses affection, and I'm talking here not about physical affection, of course, but the sincere love of one who has the well-being of those to whom he speaks in mind; their well-being is close to his heart. John addresses his leaders with terms of endearment that show this so very clearly. This letter, as I said, is so often called black-and-white and it's harsh and distinct and all of that. You don't get that... if you bring that mindset to the letter, you'll find it there but if you read the letter on its own terms, you find John ministering to this audience with a completely different spirit from that. He's not speaking as a thundering prophet from Mount Sinai, he loves these people and he addresses them as such.
Look at this, look at how he addresses them. First of all, he frequently uses the term "my little children." My little children. Look at 1 John 2:1. I really want you to see this. 1 John 2:1 he says,
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
Picture a wise and a kind grandfather speaking to you. He knows he's toward the end of his life and he addresses you, "My little child, let me tell you this." It's affection.
Chapter 2, verse 12, he does the same thing,
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake.
This isn't a condescending term as if he's saying, "Oh, you're a child. Oh, you're so little." That's not the point at all. This is the affection of one who is addressing those who are younger than him, those that are under his care, and he's addressing them like the most affectionate paternal father saying, "Come here, my little children, I have something that will benefit you." That's the mark of true biblical pastoral leadership.
He even ends it on that term, chapter 5, verse 21. Look at it with me. Chapter 5, verse 21, he says,
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
The last word, as it were, that he speaks to them, what echoes as the letter ends, "My little children, guard your spiritual life as you go forward based on what I've said to you." This is affectionate.
He addresses them as beloved. Chapter 2, verse 7, go back to the beginning of the book with me now. Chapter 2, verse 7, he says,
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning
And he cloaks the authority of what he is about to say, he puts it in an envelope of love. It's as if he seals the letter, he seals the envelope with a kiss. "Oh, my beloved, here's what I have to say to you," and that tender love helps the authority of the word go down deep into their souls.
Chapter 3, verse 2. Look at it with me. Chapter 3, verse 2, he says,
2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.
Beloved. Now he cloaks the hope of the Gospel, the ultimate hope of the Gospel. Think about it this way: in chapter 2, he addresses them as beloved and he addresses the authority of the commandments to them, now he's taking them up, as it were, taking them up to heaven. Look at the end of verse 2 there. He says,
We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
And he joins with them and he embraces them. He hugs them, as it were, with this term "beloved" and says, "Don't you realize, do you realize the glory that awaits us? That all of these troubles with doubts and false teachers are one day going to be put away?" God has saved you, and I speak to you now in the room, God has saved you in order to bring you to heaven. You are going to see Christ face-to-face. You are going to be made like him. You are going to share in his glory. You are going to know the love of God in a perfect way of which this life is only a small foretaste. The wonders and the glories and the promises of the Gospel and what John does is he says, "Beloved," and he stretches his arms out, he reaches around them and he embraces them with the warmth of the love and the promises of the Gospel and says, "Beloved, this is where we're going. This is what we have ahead. We are going to see Christ and we are going to be like him." And out of a deep affection for their spiritual well-being he says, "Beloved, remember this life and these struggles are temporary. You are going to see Christ face-to-face and it will be worth it all." And the promise receives an extra measure of emphasis, an extra measure of significance when this apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ who walked with Christ, who saw him resurrected, who had his head on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper, who knew that kind of intimacy with him, knew that kind of intimacy with Christ says, "Beloved, you are going to be there with me." Oh, the energizing comfort of that and he loves them and wants to share his joy. He loves them and speaks to them with authority. He loves them and he shares the joy of the Gospel with them as well. This is pastoral leadership. This is what a man of God in a position of spiritual leadership does.
One last one, chapter 4, verse 1 as he calls them to discernment, calls them to responsibility. Chapter 4, verse 1, he says,
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
He says, "Beloved, I see a danger. There is a danger and there is a risk to you. It's these wolves that come to you in sheep's clothing that would teach you false doctrine, that would take away your hope and joy in Christ and would lead people away from the Gospel." And out of concern for them he says, "Beloved, there is a danger. I want to protect you. Beloved, I speak to you with authority," this is his commandment, "Beloved, I share my joy with you. You're going to see Christ and be with him and be like him. Beloved, I have to protect you therefore you must test the spirits."
There is this predominating love and concern for the well-being of his audience that animates everything that he says and it is woven throughout this entire letter that he speaks that way to them. He's affectionate toward them. He loved them. He protected them. That's the mark of true pastoral leadership. I don't claim, just to be clear, I don't claim that I model this with any degree of excellence. I'm simply showing you what Scripture says, that this is what the office is to be like so that you can recognize it going forward wherever the Lord takes you in the future. Some of you young people will go to college, you will move away, you will need to find a church of your own some day. This is what you look for. You look for a ministry, you look for spiritual leaders that model something of what we're talking about here that is shown in the word of God.
Turn over, would you, to 1 Thessalonians 2 for just a moment. 1 Thessalonians 2. This matter of affection is not something that's just being imposed on the text of 1 John, this is the heart of true ministry and in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 you see Paul appealing to the knowledge that this church had of his own ministry at an earlier time in their midst, and he says in verse 5, let's say, he says, "we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness--nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But," here's the point, here's the affection, Paul says, "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us." The affection, the love, the concern that marks true pastoral ministry is seen in the Apostle John, it is seen in the Apostle Paul, it is preeminently exemplified in the loving ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself up for us, who loved his sheep and laid down his life for them, John 10.
Now, that has consequences. That means there is a lot of application to this. First of all, a pastor, an elder who resents his people, is a man who should vacate the office pronto. Furthermore, speaking outside our walls here, you all well know, it's prominent in our own area here, that some pastors like to multiply their presence by speaking on video feeds to remote locations and still claiming the title pastor of those that they never see. What you should understand is that's not the biblical picture of ministry. A man on a screen, a video image, is no substitute for a flesh and blood man who knows you preaching the word of God to you. There is no substitute. There is no comparison to that. So we should not be drawn in by the glitz and glamour of things like that and think that that is a substitute or that is an expression of biblical ministry. You cannot express true, genuine, knowing affection to people that you're not even seeing on the other side of the camera and so let's not pretend that that's something that it's not. A screen cannot replace a pastor with his flock.
Let me say one other thing that I say out of concern that perhaps some of you have walked down this road and know something of it by experience. It is common for men to go into an existing church – this has nothing to do with Truth Community Church whatsoever but it is common, in fact they are often taught to do this – men go into churches with a so-called vision about where they want the church to go. Usually that vision involves going to people who have upper middle or upper class credentials and wealth to support them, not always, but this principle of affection condemns that so-called visionary pastor who comes in – watch this, watch this – who comes in and forces out long-standing members who aren't quick to go along with his agenda. I've heard over the years so many sad stories of people who were on the receiving end of that kind of pastoral brutality. "Do you know what? You don't like what we're doing, get out." Where does that spirit fit in the affectionate care that a pastor has for all of his flock just because they won't support the change that he wants to bring? Don't you realize that the people in front of you are more important than your agenda in ministry? Don't you realize that it's the people whose eternal souls that are going to live on after they die, long after you've moved on to your next opportunity for a bigger and better platform, after that and you're gone, their souls will remain. Don't you realize, don't you understand that the purpose of the pastor is to show love to those who will receive it?
Well, that's the affection of the pastor. The pastor also does something else, he expresses affirmation. Affirmation. Watch how John writes to believers who had doubts about their salvation. Look at chapter 2, verse 12. I love this. I love this and this is an overflow of the affection. 1 John 2, beginning in verse 12. This is what it looks like. He says in verse 12, he says, knowing that they are concerned, doubting their salvation, he writes to them and says,
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake.
21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
Chapter 4, verse 4,
4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
Do you see it? Can you imagine a man of the stature of the Apostle Paul, a man who knew Christ personally, and a man like that, an appointed apostle of Christ himself coming to you in your spiritual struggles and saying, "I know that you belong to Christ. I know that your sins are forgiven. You belong to God and you've overcome them. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world." Can you imagine? Can you imagine the strength and the confidence and the comfort and the joy that would bring to a first century believer who is like you in their struggles and their uncertainties and their doubts?
Well, this is what pastoral leadership is supposed to do. A pastor is given his position to strengthen his flock with timely words, to affirm them in preaching and in private conversation. Not to be like some of the fundamentalist guys that I've encountered in the past on the East Coast, one in particular comes to mind. I didn't know him personally so it's okay. Who just want to beat their people with demands that you need to serve more, you need to pray more, you need to give more. "I am the authority in this flock," I heard a guy say. In fact he said, "I am the God-appointed authority in this flock and I am commanding you to be at the Tuesday service." Wow, really? That's pretty cold, isn't it? That's pretty severe. Well, the picture that John gives us is somebody saying, "Beloved, I'm confident in you. Beloved, I know your sins are forgiven. I know that you belong to Christ. Yes, you're struggling, yes, you have this doubt, but he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world and you will overcome." People feed off that kind of information, don't they?
Well, there is one final thing we could say about the pastor with his people as we are about ready to close this up. He expresses affection, he expresses affirmation, and in his relationships he also expresses, this is kind of an awkward way to say it: he expresses aspiration. He shows them, he sets spiritual desires and goals before them is what we mean by that. A true spiritual leader seeks the spiritual good of his people. He looks beyond worldly circumstances and reminds them of that which transcends earthly things, which transcends daily life and John does this. He points them to spiritual qualities and goals that they might otherwise miss.
Look at chapter 1, verse 4. We are almost done here, sadly. Chapter 1, verse 4, he says,
4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
"Our joy" meaning yours and mine. Saying, "I want your joy to be full. This is why I write. I want you to have an inward confidence and an inward delight and joy in Christ. That's why I write to you, that it would banish the doubts and uncertainties and struggles that you sense, and that you would be overwhelmed with the joy of belonging to Christ. That's what I want for you," he says.
Chapter 2, verse 1, he sets holiness before them. Chapter 2, verse 1,
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
He says, "Beloved, I desire spiritual excellence for you. Set aside the things of sin, turn away from them and pursue the holiness that God has called you to."
Then finally he lays assurance before them. Chapter 5, verse 13. Why have you said all of these things, John? Why such authority? Why such affection? What is it that you're after? Well, he can't be after any earthly benefit of his own, he's at the end of life, and so he gives this parting word to his flock and he says in verse 13,
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Assurance. Holiness. Joy. A spiritual leader is designed to set that tone that everyone sees that this is what we're after. This is what we are going after, not the next capital campaign. Ultimately John, ultimately Paul, ultimately any biblical leader, is simply a pale reflection of Christ himself. All of this is designed to point us to the preeminent one, the only one, the surpassing one, the Lord Jesus Christ because do you know what? It wasn't the Apostle John that hung on a cross to die for your sins. It wasn't Paul. It wasn't any pastor. It wasn't any human being that you know in this life. We all in ministry, the goal of ministry is to take whatever stewardship the Lord has given us, to take the spotlight, as it were, and to redirect it, to change the emphasis, to take your attention, to take your mind and to point you to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who alone loved you and gave up himself for you; the one alone who can save you and bring you to Christ; the one alone who holds you in his hand from which no man can pluck. Ministry is designed to glorify Christ through the proclamation of his word so that the people that belong to Christ would love him and know their security in him. And the best thing that can happen to the man behind the pulpit is that he just recedes into the background and is quickly forgotten because Christ has used his ministry in order to elevate Christ and captivate the affections and the attention of the people so that they are in love with Christ and the man becomes a forgotten sideshow. That's the pastor, his pulpit, and his people.
Well, let's say this: as you have men in the future who provide this kind of leadership to you, let me show you from Scripture what is your response to that kind of leadership? It's always so very uncomfortable for me to say anything like this but this is biblical, this is in Scripture, this is not me speaking here. What's the response of a congregation? What's the response of an individual Christian to that kind of leadership? 1 Thessalonians 5:12. There is a reciprocity that takes place that is designed by Christ for his church and he says, Paul says, "we request of you, brethren," see the affection even in Paul? "We request of you, brethren." We request, not with a thundering demand but we request of you, brethren, "that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction." You see, there is a corresponding duty upon those that would be in a local church with a biblical ministry. Paul says, "I request that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work and live in peace with one another."
Beloved, I point you to that verse not because I need more affirmation or love. I don't. It's not my point to get something out of view in pointing this to your attention. That's not the point. I get plenty. I thank you for the kindness that every one of you shows to me. What I would encourage you to do as we look to the future, look to other men who are providing spiritual leadership, look to the other elders, look to others who come up down the road in spiritual leadership, and when you see men like that, perhaps a man who doesn't hold a title but who is showing you care and concern and giving you counsel, that you wouldn't simply receive that counsel but you would reciprocate with a sense of appreciation for that man who is giving his time to you; that that is the spirit that marks a healthy biblical congregation that is responding to a biblical ministry. What we see is that Christ calls his people to reciprocity. As men give themselves to our spiritual leadership, you and I, we respond with appreciation and a commitment to peace in the body.
Well, men, young men, middle-aged men, older men, let me say this, speaking to the men now, not ladies so much: men, you have seen from Scripture the pattern of biblical ministry. This is not just ministry, this is what Christian men are to be like. This is what God calls men to be and the question is: will you be a man like that? Will you be done with the lesser things that have occupied your time heretofore and give yourself over to the service of Christ and the service of his people and come out of the shadows, come out of the edges and step forward and contribute to the life of a church that is seeking to model this kind of ministry? We need men like that. Christ calls men to that very kind of service, the question is will you respond?
Let's bow together in prayer.
Our dear Lord, we've covered so much in such a short time. Father, let us simply say thank you for the love of Christ, thank you for your wisdom and caring for the church which Jesus bought with his own shed blood. Father, we look down the road years from this moment, we think of the long-term future of this church after some of us have come and gone, and we pray that you would have this church in your hand. We pray that the men who lead Truth Community Church would always model the best of pastoral leadership, would model the best of a biblical pulpit, that would model the best of biblical relationships. Father, we are weak and broken vessels. We need the help and the grace of your Spirit to even begin to approximate something of a shadow of what your word calls us to do. Indeed the Apostle Paul said, "Who is adequate for these things?" We feel our own inadequacy, Father, as we stand before you here this morning but, Lord, by your Spirit and by your grace, you are able to raise up such men and we pray that you would raise up others for the task, not only now, not only in this period, but in the days to come in our church after we're gone. We ask you to bless this church greatly as you do that work, Lord, that there would be godly men leading godly people and that a preeminent love and focus on the Lord Jesus Christ would cause all other things and all other men to fade into insignificance, to be forgotten. In the words of the hymn, Father, we pray, "May they forget the channel, seeing only him." In Christ's name we pray. Amen.