This Morning we walk through John 4:19-42.
How Should We Treat Our Pastors?
What do I do with this? I usually ask that question when I see tools. If you ever go into the garage of someone who has tools, you know what I mean. There is no end and no limit to the tools they can buy. And you see that strange-looking tool hanging on the wall and ask that question, “what do you do with that?” And then, with joy and delight, the person says, “well, let me tell you…” Sometimes the challenge is not having a tool. Instead, the challenge is knowing what to do with it. The same is true when it comes to pastors. Last week we learned what it was to have a qualified pastor. This week we ask a different question: what do we do with our pastors? How do we treat them? And so, in Hebrews 13 we find this answer: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” (Hebrews 13:7 NIV)
What do we do about the pastors who have come and gone here in this congregation? What do we do about the men who have served here, reading God’s word from that lectern and preaching from this pulpit? God’s word tells us to remember them. But, remembering them isn’t a short and shallow act. There’s more to it. We read: “Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7 NIV)
Literally, we are told to carefully look at, study the result of how they lived. Again and again there were pastors who preached God’s word to you. Week after week there was warning after warning and promise after promise spoken to you. Study what they said and compare it to what actually happened. If Brug, Krug, Hilliard or any of the others said that God would provide daily bread and watch over them, then did that actually happen? How many of your previous pastors in the past are out there begging for bread in the streets? When you study what these men preached, you’ll quickly realize that what they preached from God’s word came true. When you think of these men, that’s what you remember.
And not only do you carefully study the outcome of their lives, you also remember them in another way: “imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7 NIV) How did your pastor’s faith show itself in their lives? Did they openly confess their sins and their frailties? Then imitate that. Did they wrestle against sins day by day? Then imitate that. Did they speak with gentleness and respect? Then imitate that. Did they share with you Sunday after Sunday the Savior who cares for you and takes away your sins? Then imitate that too. That’s how you remember your pastors in the past. You study the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith.
But there’s a problem with this, isn’t there? There is a problem with comparing ourselves with our previous pastors. The problem is that it’s impossible for us to measure up. For we can remember pastors who were gentle when they could be and strong when they had to be. We can remember pastors who knew God’s word so very well and spoke it so very clearly. How could we compare to them? And that’s where the next verse here in Hebrews 13 is important to read and understand: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)
Your previous pastors were all sinners—all of them. And there is such joy and strength in knowing that the same forgiveness that Jesus gave to them in their baptisms and every times they received the Lord’s Supper is yours too. How can we know this is true? This is true because Jesus does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
How do we treat our pastors? First, we remember our pastors in the past. We study how their lives turned out. Then we imitate their faith. But God’s word tells us more: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” (Hebrews 13:17 NIV)
We remember the pastors in the past. And we trust the pastors we have in the present. And again, if we would like to have some more details and know what this sort of trust looks like, God’s word tells us. Trusting your present pastor means yielding to their authority. It’s like when you’re merging onto the highway and you see that yield sign. Most of the time the car in your lane moves over so you can get in. But there are times that that car or truck can’t. So you yield because they have the right of way. And it’s like that with your present pastor. When your pastor speaks God’s word and it’s ever-so-clear that it is God’s word, then how do we show our trust in that word? We yield. We follow what God’s word says.
But that’s exactly where we see our sin, don’t we? If the pastor shares God’s word with you and says, “Do not lie, lust or be lazy! Gather together for worship. Gather together for bible study. Read God’s word at home and pray!” When our pastor says these clear commands from God’s word we do not yield. We stubbornly push back.
And if you want to know what it’s like to be a pastor, there’s your answer. Being a pastor is speaking God’s truth to people who will not yield. And the Writer to the Hebrews gives us even more details to show us what a pastor’s life is like. He says: “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17 NIV)
Literally, it says “They lose sleep over your souls.” To be a pastor means that you’re going to lose sleep. Being a pastor means offering up that prayer to your Triune God, “if only—if only they would see their sin and repent. If only they would stop going their own way and instead yield to your will.” And a pastor prays this prayer not just because he cares for the souls in his care, but also because he knows that on Judgement Day there will be a reckoning. There will be an accounting. He will have to answer the question for every soul he cared for: was I faithful?
And when this happens, month after month, year after year, with the stress and lack of sleep, what happens next? “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17 NIV) As the stress and lack of sleep piles up, instead of carrying around joy in their hearts, what that have instead is sighing and groaning. That is very often what it is like to be a pastor.
And the writer to the Hebrews shares this with you for these good reasons. First, he shares this with you so that you would see your sin through your pastor’s eyes. Parents know what this is like, don’t they? Parents have you ever seen your children do the very same sin that you did at their age? And when you see them commit this sin it fills your heart with pain. It never used to bother you like that when you were younger. But when you see it in your own children, it fills you with pain. Now, instead of having one or four children, imagine having a hundred children. That’s what it is to be a pastor. God’s word shows us our sin first of all so that we would repent.
Second, God shares these words with you so that you would see that you are forgiven. In our concluding words we read: “20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21 NIV)
One of the most comforting ways of speaking is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If you can lift up a 50 pound weight, then you know you can lift up a 10 pound weight. Here, in these words, we find an amazing argument from the greater to the lesser. If our Father in heaven could perform such an amazing miracle in raising his Son from the dead, then you can know that your sin is forgiven. Those sins you commit when you do not yield to God’s authority in his word—they are forgiven.
But there’s also another argument from the greater to the lesser here in these words. If Our Father can raise Jesus from the dead, then what else can he do? He can “equip you with everything good for doing his will,” (Hebrews 13:21 NIV) Not only can he forgive our sins, he can also equip us so that we can trust in him and follow him gladly and faithfully. And that’s an amazing promise, isn’t it? Through this gift of faith we remember our pastors in the past. We study the outcome of their lives. We imitate their faith. And we trust our pastors in the present by yielding to their authority. All of this we carry out by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
So then, my friends in Christ, how should you treat your pastors? Remember your leaders in the past. Trust your leaders in the present. Amen