Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (7)
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5.16
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the [light] is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)… Ephesians 5.8, 9
“But so are ministers honoured by their great Lord and Master, that they are set to be that to men’s souls, that the lights of heaven are to their bodies; and that they might be the instruments and vehicles of God’s greatest goodness, and the most precious fruits of his eternal love to them, and means of that life, and refreshment, and joy, that are spiritual and eternal, and infinitely more precious than any benefit received by the benign beams of the sun in the firmament.”
- Jonathan Edwards, The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister
The pastor as the sun
Edwards saw John the Baptist as the sun. Like plants, bending and straining toward the sun, people were drawn to John from every direction. As the sun warms the earth, John’s preaching warmed the seeking souls of those who repented and prepared for the coming of the Lord. As the sun gives light to direct our paths, John’s preaching lighted the way into the favor of the Lord. And as light is indispensable for life, so John’s preaching opened fissures in the souls of men, through which the light of truth poured, illuminating and dispelling the darkness of sin and unbelief.
John’s ability to draw, warm, illumine, and bring life to people was part of the true excellence of his ministry, and an important part of what Edwards wanted for the ministers who served with him in 18thcentury New England.
The pastor, Edwards explained, is the sun in the solar system which is his congregation. As the sun, he embodies and radiates life-giving light. Christ is the true Light, Who gives light to the world. The goal of a pastor’s ministry is not that people should orbit around him, but that they should thrive and flourish in the Light of Christ, of which he is for them a primary source. The Spirit provides the power to apply that light to men’s souls. And the Father is the Giver of light and glory. It pleases the Lord to use ministers as epicenters of light, like the sun, to enliven the souls of His people. This has important implications for how we think about our calling.
But whereas the light of the sun comes from within that gaseous star, the Light of a shepherd comes as his birthright, and that of all true followers of Jesus Christ. It is passed down from the Father of lights, and comes to dwell in them as the Light of truth.
Children of light
As an important part of their example to the people they serve (1 Pet. 5.1-3), the shepherds of God’s flock must demonstrate a firm and expansive understanding of what it means to be “children of light” (Eph. 4.8). They must be living demonstrations of that understanding, and this will mean that they will have no fellowship with the darkness of sin, and they will seek the light diligently and gladly as their natural environment. Where the light is, darkness is banished, sin is exposed and confronted, and confession and repentance bring the light of truth to where the lie of sin formerly held sway.
As children of light, shepherds will be diligent to seek the light, evidencing in their study, prayer, and conversations, a delight to be in the presence of Christ, and to have their entire being illuminated by His glory. Like the face of Moses, shepherds will radiate the glory of Christ and His love in all aspects of their being (1 Cor. 10.31-11.1). As a son resembles his father, so shepherds, as children of light, will resemble in glory and truth and love the radiant light of Jesus, the Light of the world. As they walk in the light, their ministries will bear fruit of the light that radiates all goodness and righteousness and truth. The light of their lives and ministries will exemplify the birthright of light which belongs to every follower of Christ.
Above all, shepherds must lead those they serve into the Light of Jesus, teaching them to pray and to study the Scriptures, leading them in worship into the very presence of the Lord, guiding them to practice such light-giving disciplines as solitude, confession, repentance, and thanksgiving.
All believers are children of light, but it falls especially to the shepherds of God’s flock to embody that lineage and heritage, walking in the light as He is in the light, and thus showing the way for those they serve to increase in Jesus day by day.
Shine the light
It is not enough to shine the light of Christ on the people we serve in our weekly sermon. Shepherds must let their light shine at all times; and in every situation, shepherds must seek ways of bringing the light of the Lord to bear on the people, issues, and concerns of the moment.
This will only happen as shepherds grow into their inheritance as children of light. We must be diligent to seek the light and to bask in it, spending much time in God’s Word, meditating deeply on His truths, fixing our eyes on Jesus in His exalted glory, praying without ceasing, and bringing the light of Jesus, Midas-like, into everything we do and everyone we meet.
Just now, the light of the sun has broken through several days of gray and snowy skies, and the earth is radiant with the refracted energy of that magnificent star. The brighter it shines, the more everything here on earth, absorbing and reflecting the light, reveals its own colors, form, and function, radiating the light of the sun to everything around it, and even back to the sun itself.
All believers are called to let their light shine, and while this calling does not require a pastor – for Jesus is the Light of the world – where pastors serve, the people they serve must be greatly encouraged to shine their lights by the brightness and consistency of those who lead them. John the Baptist would not have been able to lead many to the light of God’s love were it not that he himself embodied that light so richly.
That person places the lamp under a bushel who obscures and conceals the light of good teaching with earthbound interests. Rather, one should place the truth up high “on the lampstand.” That indicates the light that shines as a result of bodily service, so that it is presented to believers through their embodied ministry. In this way our voices and tongues and other operations of the body are conveyed into good works by those who are learning.
- Augustine (354-430 AD), Sermon on the Mount 1.6.17
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 middle of the website), 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).