by Eric Raymond
July 22, 2016
How can you tell that your pastor loves you? This could get tricky. We might be tempted to exegete his facial expressions, evaluate his manners, or consider whether or not he sends you a birthday card. However, the Bible actually gives several ways that demonstrate this love.
One of the ways the pastor shows his love is by feeding the flock (the church) the Word of God.
Where do we get this point from? There are many places in the Bible, but a good place to see this is in John chapter 21.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”” (John 21:15)
Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs. He says the same thing in verse 17. The word has to do with caring for or looking after the flock. In the Middle Eastern agrarian culture the shepherd would lead his flock to food and the still waters of refreshment. He ensured that they were properly fed.
Jesus goes on in verse 16,
“He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”” (John 21:16)
The word translated “tend” means “shepherd.” It is to take care of, protect, guard, and nourish. There are threats on the outside from wolves and threats on the inside because of bad decisions by the sheep. In both cases the shepherd is to be actively engaged in the thoughtful care of the sheep.
To what does Jesus connect the need to feed and tend the flock? It is to be his love for Jesus. It is this love for Jesus that translates into his love for the sheep, the flock of God. According to Jesus, this love demonstrates the pastor’s love for Jesus.
Let’s put it another way: a pastor who does not feed and shepherd the church is doing a bad job loving Jesus and loving the flock. (Jn 21:15-17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4)
How? How then does the pastor lead, feed, and protect the sheep? It is through the ministry of the Word of God.
“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15)
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.” (1 Timothy 4:13-14)
“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,”” (1 Timothy 6:20)
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
There are many ways that a pastor can show his love for Christ and his church, but none is more prominent then the ministry of the Word.
What is the content of this loving ministry? It is to be doctrinal preaching. Doctrinal preaching is preaching that endeavors to teach theological truth. I know that doctrine has fallen on hard times in our age, but it is nonetheless a hallmark of the ministry of the Word.
Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4. It is a solemn warning and charge in the presence of Christ who is to judge all people!
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
The pastor who loves Jesus and the flock is to preach the Word. He is to herald, proclaim, announce, declare the Word of God. It is not necessary that he be phenomenal communicator so much as a faithful proclaimer!
Notice also the synonymns for what this preaching is to contain.
–preach the word
–teaching (literally doctrine)
I have talked with ministers before who say, “I don’t preach doctrinal sermons because people can’t handle that. I am just trying to teach them how to know and love Jesus.” Quite frankly, this type of preaching, regardless of its ostensibly noble aim, is actually doing a poor job of modeling how to love Jesus—in fact they model unloving Jesus.
On the other hand, preachers who love Jesus and people will work hard to faithfully proclaim Christian doctrine in a way that people can understand. After all, this is the reason why pastor must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Part of this spiritual gifting to teach is the ability to make difficult things clear; it is not the freedom to avoid them all-together. Evidently it is important to Jesus. This is why the ministry of the Word is connected to the man of God’s love for the Savior. A pastor cannot say he’s preaching faithfully if he’s not preaching doctrinally (2 Tim 4:2).
I am not so much here talking about the preacher’s style or mannerisms but the content of his sermon. Does your pastor give you the Word of God? Does he reprove you? Rebuke you? Exhort you? Is this done patiently? Is it done doctrinally? If so, you have reason to believe that your pastor loves you.
How can you tell how much a pastor loves Christ and his people? It is by his preaching. Doctrinal preaching feeds and protects the sheep.
Eric Raymond is a pastor and blogs at THE GOSPEL COALITION.