True Piety

A shepherd's example is one of his most important tools for ministry.

Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (5)

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to bea pattern of good works; in doctrine showingintegrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. Titus 2.6-8

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 1 Peter 5.2-4   

“True piety is not a thing remaining only in the head, or consisting in any speculative knowledge or opinions, or outward morality, or forms of religion: it reaches the heart, is chiefly seated there, and burns there. There is a holy ardour in every thing that belongs to true grace: true faith is an ardent thing, and so is true repentance; there is a holy power ardour in true spiritual comfort and joy; yea, even in true Christian humility, submission, and meekness.”

  - Jonathan Edwards, The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister

Three tools
The shepherds of God’s flock have three tools to use in fulfilling their calling: The work of prayer, the work of the Word of God, and their personal example.

Jonathan Edwards saw in John the Baptist an example of true and ardent faith, exhibited in holy power to bring comfort and joy to repentant sinners. He was a humble man and knew his place within the structure and framework of the divine economy; and, while he did not regard himself as worthy even to untie the sandals of our Lord, he was diligent and faithful about all his work, winning people to repentance as much by his life as by his words.

True piety begins in the heart, as Edwards explained. It is “chiefly seated there, and burns there.” Piety such as John the Baptist expressed cannot be patched on or otherwise feigned. It must glow and radiate from within, the fruit of deep rooting in the soil of Christ and His Word.

The Lord’s shepherds must pay more attention to their own growth in Christlikeness than to any other aspect of their ministry. Unless we stoke that fire of piety in our hearts, the example we put before the people we serve will be shallow and uninspiring. We must work hard to see Jesus formed within us, praying each day, as John the Baptist advised, that He might increase in us and we might decrease, so that the reality of His life might be visible in us.

Four areas
Edwards mentions four areas of John the Baptist’s piety to which the shepherds of God’s flock should particularly pay attention: faith, repentance, power, and humility. Let’s consider each of these briefly.

Faith. Faith is the result of grace and is “an ardent thing.” Faith comes, Paul would insist, from holding right doctrine with integrity, reverence, and incorruptibility. Faith is forward-looking, hopeful, courageous, and even infectious. Faith believes everything God has spoken, pursues everything He has promised, holds firm to Him in every situation, and urges others to trust and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith infuses “every thing that belongs to true grace,” every area and aspect of life, all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities. Our faith in God and Jesus Christ gives meaning, purpose, and direction to all we are and do; and when the people we serve see this faith in us, they will be encourage to live more by faith themselves.

Repentance. The shepherds of God’s flock must not overlook or downplay the importance of repentance in the work of the Kingdom. Though we can hardly see how he required it, Daniel prayed for repentance for himself and the people of God (Dan. 9). He took the need of repentance to himself, for he knew that we are not always mindful of the many ways we fall short of God’s glory. And he prayed for repentance for the people of God, knowing that God has called us to be holy, as He is holy.

Sin must have no place in the lives of God’s people, but if they are to walk the path of holiness in life, their shepherds will have to lead in the way of repentance as a daily personal and corporate discipline.

Power. The “holy power ardour” we need for following Jesus comes from the Spirit of God within. He is working to make us willing and able – hence, powerful – to do what is pleasing to God (Phil. 4.13). As we learn to tap the Spirit’s power, opening the spigot of obedience in our soul, so that rivers of living water well up and flow from us (Jn. 7.37-39), all the evidence of the Spirit’s presence in us will be increasingly manifest: power to witness, fruit and gifts, the tokens of holiness, consistency in love.

When God’s shepherds demonstrate such power, and lead their people into pastures where they can feed on that power, the power of the Spirit will make the church a true Body of Christ, visibly bringing His Kingdom to earth in their community unto righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Humility. Finally, the shepherds of God’s flock must practice humility, following the example of John. Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name be glory (Ps. 115.1): This must be our watchword. We will not be humble if we feel as if our name has to be plastered on everything, or there are works in the church we are not willing to undertake, or too busy to talk to the small and weak but not to the strong and influential in our church.

Concentrate on Jesus. Meditate often on Him Who humbled Himself to come amongst us as a Servant (Phil. 2.5-11). Then reflect on John and the humble conditions of his life. Such humility has power to attract people to the Lord, and we must labor to increase in it day by day.

The shepherd’s promise
Peter holds out a remarkable promise to those who shepherd by example as much as by the Word and prayer. An unfading crown of glory awaits them. I am not entirely clear on what he intends by this, or what we should actually expect, but this much is clear: Those whose example in life and ministry helps the sheep in their care to realize more fullness of Jesus will be eternally recognized for their service to the Lord and His Church. They will have an unfading and therefore always present crown to cast at the feet of Jesus, thus glorifying and exalting Him forever in glory as they do through their shepherding by humility here and now.

Look to Jesus. Look to John. Strive to be a shepherd in whom true piety is a distinguishing trait.

Practice what you preach, so that you may offer your people not only advice but a model as well, that they may imitate your example.

  - Paschasius of Dumium (515-580 AD), Questions and Answers of the Greek Fathers 43.1

Shepherding God’s Flock at The Ailbe Seminary
We’re pleased to announce that our course, Shepherding God’s Flock, is now open for registration at The Ailbe Seminary. Whether you are a pastor, elder, or church leader in some other capacity, this course can show you how to make disciples, build the Lord’s church, and advance His Kingdom according to His example and teaching. Watch this brief introductory video, then register at the website (upper right hand corner), download the Course Introduction and Overview, and seek the Lord about enrolling in this course.

Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995), Vol. 2, pp.  955 ff. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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