Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (9)
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
“The ministers of Christ should be persons of the same spirit that their Lord was of: the same spirit of humility and lowliness of heart; for the servant is not greater than his Lord. They should be of the same spirit of heavenly-mindedness and contempt of the glory, wealth, and pleasures of this world: they should be of the same spirit of devotion and fervent love to God: they should follow the example of his prayerfulness; of whom we read from time to time of his retiring from the world, away from the noise and applauses of the multitudes, into mountains and solitary places, for secret prayer, and holy converse with his Father…”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
A matter of orientation
Jonathan Edwards explained that pastors should see themselves first of all as servants of God and His people. Like Jesus, they did not accept the call to ministry in order to be served – to be loved, lauded, and lavished with attention and benefits – but to serve, and to give themselves to the flock, to spend and be spent for the souls of God’s people (Mk. 10.42-45; 2 Cor. 12.15).
This is the pastor’s basic orientation in ministry, one in which, like Jesus, he must be renewed, refreshed, and revived day by day. The demands of pastoral ministry are many, and the acknowledgements of a job well done can be few and far between. But the essential nature of the calling does not change: Pastors are called to serve the people of God, to wash their souls with the grace and truth of the Lord, so that they might be fit vessels to worship and serve Him.
Christ came as a Servant, His mind fixed unswervingly on His Father and His Father’s will, and His back bent daily to meet the needs of those around Him. No one can be said to be following Christ Who does not assume this same posture and focus. God has called us to serve His flock by the example of our humility, just as Jesus did.
Serving others is the North Star of a pastor’s calling.
Oriented to unseen things
How is it possible to sustain such a perspective on our work? Edwards suggests that we need to keep in place two other orienting perspectives if we are to fulfill our calling to serve.
The first of these he referred to as “heavenly-mindedness.” We’ve heard the quip that someone is so “heavenly-minded he’s no earthly good.” And certainly it’s possible to be so spiritually eccentric that we don’t think we need to serve others, given that we’re just so close to God and all.
On the other hand, it is also possible to be insufficiently heavenly-minded. That is, unless we have set our minds on Christ, exalted in glory; and unless we meditate on Him so that the vision of Jesus reigning at the Father’s right hand increasingly fills our minds and hearts; unless we are properly and continuously heavenly-minded in this way, we may forget that our calling is to curate the souls of God’s people so as to draw them ever closer and more deeply into their relationship with Jesus Christ.
We need to work on our vision of unseen things, both to gain clarity in that vision and to have that vision continuously shaping and informing our work. Peter encourages us to include in that vision of unseen things the “crown of glory that does not fade away” as a driving force in our service.
The second perspective Edwards wrote about is the “beatific vision” of Jesus Christ, encouraging his hearers and readers to make the pursuit, enjoyment, and continuance in this vision an increasing part of their walk with the Lord. If we are enthralled with the beautiful vision of Jesus in glory, we will be less likely to be allured by the fleeting pleasures of the flesh and world. Pastors who live in the light of such vision are more likely to encourage the people they serve to walk in it as well. Thus the faith of all is strengthened, since “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1, my translation).
Invested in prayer
This heavenly-minded vision is acquired through meditation and prayer. The Scriptures offer abundant glimpses of the beatific vision. As Edwards noted, pastors should devote seasons of solitude to meditating on those passages of Scripture, melding them together with the eye of the heart into one powerful, expansive, beautiful, and growing vision of Jesus, exalted in glory.
We must devote regular time to contemplating Jesus and the unseen realm in our times of “secret prayer.” But we also do well to draw aside from time to time for more extended periods of silent reflection, focused contemplation, singing, and prayer, in which we work to make the beatific vision of Christ the spiritual screen saver of our soul.
As the servant of God’s flock, the pastor bends his back to meet the needs of his flock, to encourage and equip them for greater growth in the Lord and His Kingdom. As the servant of the Lord of glory, the pastor bends his knee to gaze upon His Lord and Savior, wonder at His loveliness, bask in His radiance and power, and draw near to His transforming mercy and grace.
This was the example of Jesus, Edwards noted, and it must be one that all follow who are called to shepherd the flock of God.
“Except pastors retain this end in view, it can by no means be that they will in good earnest proceed in the course of their calling, but will, on the contrary, become often faint; for there are innumerable hindrances which are sufficient to discourage the most prudent. They have often to do with ungrateful men, from whom they receive an unworthy reward; long and great labors are often in vain; Satan sometimes prevails in his wicked devices. Lest, then, the faithful servant of Christ should be broken down, there is for him one and only one remedy, ― to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ. Thus it will be, that he, who seems to derive no encouragement from men, will assiduously go on in his labors, knowing that a great reward is prepared for him by the Lord.”
- John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Peter 5.4
The Landscape of Unseen Things
Need some refreshing on this glorious vision of Christ and the unseen world? Our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, is a 24-lesson tour de force of that world we are to focus on in following Jesus. It’s an excellent resource for church leaders. Order your copy by clicking here.
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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).