* This is the second half of the speech given at the convocation exercises of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, September 6, 2006. The last editorial (January 15, 2007) explained that Scripture draws a comparison between the labors of a minister and the self-sacrificing work of a mother. The editorial concluded with a call to the churches to continue holding before Christian mothers the calling to lay down their lives for their children. Lacking good mothers in the church, aspiring ministers will lack one great example for them in their ministry. As Calvin put it, explaining II Thessalonians 2:8: “a mother nursing her children manifests a certain rare and wonderful affection, inasmuch as she spares no labor and trouble… and even with cheerfulness gives her own blood to be sucked.” Faithful mothers are examples for ministers.
Both minister and godly mother are motivated by love for God and love for the people of God.
Nothing but love will motivate the minister to sacrificial giving. A mother-heart is needed.
A sense of duty will not carry a minister through. He will quick resign or be always miserable if obligation alone drives him. The eminently practical Martin Luther understood:
Men who hold the office of the ministry should have the heart of a mother toward the church; for if they have no such heart, they soon become lazy and disgusted; and suffering, in particular, will find them unwilling…. Unless your heart toward the sheep is like that of a mother toward her children—a mother, who walks through fire to save her children—you will not be fit to be a preacher. Labor, work, unthankfulness, hatred, envy, and all kinds of sufferings will meet you in this office. If, then, the mother heart (the great love) is not there to drive the preachers, the sheep will be poorly served.
Duty alone will certainly not cause a mother to persevere. What mother will endure all the painful and sometimes demeaning labors of a mother—because of duty? What mother would continue to deny herself, take up her cross, give up her life—because of duty?
Likewise, no minister will do all the painful, self-denying work of a minister, out of duty. Not for very long anyway. Luther said in another place: “For who is willing and eager to suffer ingratitude, to impair his health and possessions by studying and then put himself into the greatest danger? This is why he (God) says: It is very necessary that you love Me.”
Are there ministers who work because they are in duty bound to do the work? Of course there is duty. Of course duty drives them. But if it is duty alone, soon the drive will ebb, or transform itself into something ugly. To the extent that a minister is driven by duty without love, he must seek forgiveness and a renewed mother-heart.
A paycheck will not do it.
You could never pay a woman enough to get her to do the work of a faithful mother. Try that once. Give a paycheck to a woman, who is in it for the money, to care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a brood of children. For a while avarice may carry her along. But soon she will abandon the work (7 days a week, day and night!) as not worth any amount of money.
Some ministers are driven by money. But not for long, and not in the right way. The church father, once more:
But there are… men who have spiritual charge of people, and seek their own gain, that they may fatten their paunches. They seek the wool and milk of the sheep… just like the present-day bishops. Now this is certainly a dangerous thing and a vice, for in a bishop such a mercenary spirit is especially shameful. Therefore the apostles Peter and Paul… have repeatedly spoken of it. Therefore also Moses says: You know that I have never coveted any man’s cattle…. Again, the prophet Samuel: You know that I have never taken from you any man’s ass or ox…. For if he whose duty it is to feed the flock is so anxious for wealth and gain, he himself will in short time turn into a wolf.
Love—not duty or money, but love alone—will rightly motivate the minister.
“So being affectionately desirous of you….” That is, desiring, longing for, yearning after you. Paul explains the mother-heart this way: In the same manner in which a mother loves her children—desires them with hearty affection— the minister loves the flock assigned to him.
If you ask how that can be, that a minister loves a people so, you must understand the tense of the verb Paul used in II Thessalonians 2:8. Literally, “youbecame dear to us.” As a mother’s affection for her children grows, even in ways that surprise her, so a pastor in relation to his flock. Theybecome so dear to him.
Even quickly. For a new minister as well.
If you ask how it could be that a minister loves a people soquickly whom he hardly knows, that, too, is not unlike the mother’s love for an unborn child, carried under her ribs for nine months, but relatively unknown to her. That is a mystery I might be tempted to add to Solomon’s list in Proverbs 30:18, 19: “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air… the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; the way of a man with a maid.” I might add: And the way of a mother with a newborn. Or, the way of a new minister with a congregation.
The minister loves the people of God. He loves them because he loves God, whose people they are.
Love—and only love—motivates him to work as he ought. Because of love he is willing to sacrifice himself, to have his life sucked out of him. Love leads him to go without, in labor and travail. Long hours, busy evenings, in the heat of the battle for the safety of God’s flock in a sinful world.
The minister’s experience
This—love—is what causesmany of his sorrows and travails. Among the young people he serves, one walks in unbelief. Because the minister loves him, he is grieved for the soul’s peril. Just as a mother prays for and weeps over her wayward child, the minister travails in his labor with prayer for the wandering sheep. Among the flock, one couple’s marriage is strained to the point of breaking. Love for them and for marriage burdens his heart to labor day and night, putting off other work for a busier tomorrow and a later night. Deep sorrow weighs down his heart when the Lord does not give repentance, because of love.
You learn that from mothers, too. No one knows heartbreak as a mother knows heartbreak. The sorrows of mother with respect to her children are as deep as sorrows get. God is good in hiding much of that from the aspiring minister.
God is wise in what mothers and ministers know in advance.
But, although there is much sorrow, the ministry is not all sorrow, travail, disappointment.
The pastorate is also joy and rejoicing. As with mothers.
For mothers—joy, great joy, greatest joy, in observing their children love the Lord, and mature in that love. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John. 4). Is there another calling besides the gospel ministry that holds such joys? Not in my judgment, and I think God’s also. Not the least of these joys are watching the young people come to faith in Christ through catechism instruction; seeing the peace of God in the hearts of repentant sinners; observing the Word effect reconciliation in a marriage; sitting with the old saint who falls “asleep” in the hands of Jesus, at peace.
A good translation of what Paul said to the church at Thessalonica is: “We were delighted to impart to you our own souls.” The principle holds true: he who finds his life shall lose it, and who loses his life, for Christ’s sake, shall find it.
The churches’ profit
But we are not interested primarily in the minister’s blessedness. We are interested in the churches’ profit! What a blessing for the churches in such a ministry, where the pastors lay down their lives for the flock, enter into their office not to be served, but to serve. What a blessing… that kind of minister!
The alternative is almost unthinkable. What disaster for the churches if the minister is anything less. There are too many churches that know.
What disaster if a mother is any thing less! She wants her own time, her own pleasure, her own checkbook, her own nights out, and all the rest. She asks for pity, and is cantankerous when she does not receive it. How ruinous for the family under her care.
What ruin for the church under the care of such a minister. He wants his own time. And pleasure. He lives for his own personal satisfaction. He asks for pity. And quits if he does not get pity, or thanks.
May God give us men who are filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. May this mind be in them, “which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” May Christ’s Spirit drive them, “that nothing be done through strife or vainglory. In lowliness of mind let each (minister) esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
Defense of the gospel and…
When the church has such ministers… what a defense of the gospel!
This, primarily, was the apostle’s purpose in II Thessalonians 2: to defend the truth that he had preached. The truth of God in Jesus Christ was all-important.
Paul’s defense of the gospel’s truth over against the accusations hurled at him was, “I lived among you in honesty, gentleness, sacrificial giving. My life was lived for the sake of the gospel.” Paul had passion for the honor of God’s gospel.
And … because the gospel was God’s gospel, he was passionate for the honor of God.
Take note of that passion in the chapter that precedes. Always God. The church of Thessalonica is in God the Father (I Thess. 1:1). Their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope is in the sight of God and our Father (I Thess. 1:3). They are beloved by God (I Thess. 1:4); their faith is toward God (I Thess. 1:8). When they converted, they converted from idols unto God, so that they would serve the living and true God (I Thess. 1:9). When Paul called the church to a holy life, it was a life worthy of God (I Thess. 2:12). Thus, God put the apostles in trust of the gospel (I Thess. 2:4). When they spoke, it was God they would please, and not man (I Thess. 2:4), because the gospel was God’s gospel (I Thess. 2:9). God’s gospel, God’s church, God’s name.
What a glorious defense of our faith and of God’s honor when ministers, with mother-hearts, offer up their lives.
For the sake of the gospel… and God, whose gospel it is. God’s name, God’s gospel, God’s church. It’s all for the sake of God.
Lord of the church, give us such ministers. Lord of the church, make such ministers.