* This is the text of the speech given at the convocation exercises of hte Protestant Reformed Seminary, September 6, 2006.
Ministers’ mothers have a keen interest in their minister sons. A minister’s believing mother has her son in her heart and a special interest in the ministry, its challenges, joys, sorrows. For that reason, you will often find ministers’ mothers in the audience of church functions, especially seminary functions: graduation exercises, synodical examinations, even convocation exercises. I dare guess that there are ministers’ mothers here tonight, and mothers of the seminary students—who are able to attend—and not merely because they were intrigued by the announced title of the speech: “Ministers and (Their) Mothers.”
But a minister-son ought to have a keener interest in his mother than his mother has in his ministry. I refer, now, not to the filial duties that every son must be aware of and carry out. I refer to the special instruction he can re receive as a minister from his mother, specifically from motherhood—Christian motherhood.
There is this relationship between the pastoral ministry and motherhood that the apostle points out in I Thessalonians 2.
But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
Although it does not appear in the King James Version, these two verses (and those that follow) indicate a comparison between ministers and their mothers. For the apostle is not thinking of a nursemaid, but of a mother nursing her own dear children. The work of a minister is to be compared with a faithful mother of children. The faithful, Christian mother is an example for gospel ministers.
Indeed, the minister may serve faithfully who did not have the example of his own godly mother. Thus, the title of my convocation speech has their in parentheses: “Ministers and (Their) Mothers.” Nevertheless, mothers are important.
Over against those who were undermining the gospel, Paul is explaining and justifying his ministry among the Thessalonians. His detractors were attacking his gospel by discrediting him. If they could bring the minister into disrepute, they could discredit the gospel itself. In answer to their charges that his was a mercenary spirit, and worse, Paul says that he was no spiritual charlatan. Rather, he had conducted himself as honorably as a Christian mother with her children.
At first glance, it might appear that the comparison Paul makes is limited to the mother’s gentleness (v. 7: “we were gentle among you.”) A closer examination shows more. Verse 8 begins with “so,” that is, “in like manner,” or “in a similar way,” and then proceeds to show what else in a minister resembles Christian motherhood.
The Vital Importance of the Minister’s Approach
In the pastor’s work, most important is that he bring the Word in truth. Nothing is more important. The seminary impresses that importance in all its instruction.
At the same time, how a minister brings the truth is also crucial.
So important is this that the apostle takes an oath. Twice. “God is witness” (v. 5). And, “Ye are witnesses, and God also…” (v. 10). Why is the manner of the minister’s preaching significant? In the minds of God’s people, it is impossible to separate the word that a man brings from the man who brings the word.
Because this is vital, the people of God—all of us—must know what is required of their ministers. More is required than that they be theologically sound. The people of God must know what qualities to pray for in seminary students. The churches want ministers who are like faithful mothers.
Faithful Christian Mothers
The life and labor of a Christian mother is a lovely pattern for gospel ministers. The mother does not talk about how busy she is, complain about how hard, how heavy is her load. Perhaps when her own mother asks, and then only briefly, but not to her husband and never to her children. For the faithful Christian mother, there is no labor too low to which she stoops, no indignity so shameful she is unwilling to endure it. It is a thing of grace when Christ’s Spirit so works in mothers. This woman is beautiful, no matter how earthly standards may judge her. This woman is valuable, far above rubies, no matter how little (if at all) she adds to the household’s take-home-pay.
Scripture says or implies much about the work of a mother as that becomes a model for a minister’s labors.
You think of a mother when Paul speaks of “labor and travail” (v. 9). Labor is more than just work. It refers to the mother’s fatigue at day’s end. Travail is the sorrows, hardships, disappointments, distresses.
The mother is also a servant. Though she carries an awesome weight of authority, she’s no “lord” in her home. Her spirit is a servant- spirit, her work a work of ministering. That is her “office.”
A Christian mother certainly labors with a gentle spirit (v. 7). With meekness and quietness she tenderly serves her household. Though she labors in great strength—spiritual and physical—her strength is the strength of gentleness.
However, what most especially characterizes the Christian mother (as pattern for the minister) is that, for her household, she gives away her life. This climaxes the apostle’s description of the mother’s calling as he compares it with the gospel minister. Calvin’s description is fitting:
…a mother nursing her children manifests a certain rare and wonderful affection, inasmuch as she spares no labor and trouble, shuns no anxiety, is wearied out by no assiduity [BG: hard work, perseverance], and even with cheerfulness gives her own blood to be sucked.
Ministers Learning from Mothers
A minister may learn much from his believing mother: to labor, to serve, to be gentle, patient. But one thing he learns (must learn) more than all the others. Like a mother, he gives away (must give away) his life!
we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only but also our own souls
This is not Paul’s expression of willingness to become a martyr for the sake of the Thessalonians, as if standing for the cause of God and truth, he would die at the hands of Christ’s enemies. Though he would. Nor is he referring to his willingness to give up his soul (if he were permitted to will so), as if he would be willing to go to hell, to perish everlastingly, for them. Though he would. And every minister, with his own eye on Paul’s amazing sentiments inRomans 9 and Romans 10, so loves his family and flock that he could wish himself accursed for their sakes. But Paul is not referring to these when he says, “we were willing to have imparted unto you … our own souls.”
“Imparting his soul” to the church meant this: the life he could live he gives up and gives away for the sake of God’s gospel and church. What a Christian mother might be able to do and be she forgoes for the sake of her children. She imparts her own soul to the family.
What is true for all Christians is true emphatically (and severely) for the gospel minister. He gives up his life for the ministry. Like a mother. A Christian mother.
Laying down the life he might be able to live, he takes up the life of a laborer in the gospel. Giving up his life as does a faithful mother, he becomes a servant. The focus of his attention is not himself, but others. He labors and travails—works to the point of fatigue, performs his duties in sorrow as well as joy. Although very gladly, he spends himself and is spent (II Cor. 12:15) for the people of God. To use Calvin’s expression, he allows his own life to be sucked out of him.
As a faithful mother, an upright minister does not want, nor does he ask for, his own time (it’s the church’s); attention (because he’s the “friend of the bridegroom,” attention belongs to Christ); pity (don’t pity ministers any more than you do mothers); pleasure; or applause. And he is certainly not interested in the people’s money. Paul made a special point of that—his own example showed his steadfast determination not to have a reputation as a man interested in money. The faithful preacher does not care about money, does not talk about money, does not ask for it. Fifty years ago, perhaps, he had to. Not today. Not in the PRC.
Mothers’ Fundamental Place in the Church
Something fundamental about the work of a minister is to be learned from (their) mothers.
Thus, because “principles work through,” if the church loses the important teaching of motherhood, she will also lose the important teaching of the life-giving labor of the minister.
That is, there is more to be learned from this than what to expect of our ministers, what to pray for in ministers. There is also this: to maintain the truth and importance of Christian motherhood.
Suppose, once, that the churches lose the good doctrine of the proper place and conduct of mothers—that they lay down their lives for their families as “keepers at home,” gentle servants who sacrifice all for the sake of others. Suppose that mothers in Israel become career oriented, determined to have an occupation and a paycheck. Suppose that the churches’ children grow up observing the mothers who are determined to “get” and “succeed” and “be fulfilled.”
The churches will also lose the faithful ministry. The ministers, who learn from (their) mothers, will follow suit. And they will not devote themselves single-mindedly to the one cause that is important. They will not forget about themselves. They will not allow their lives to be sucked out of them for the sake of others.
There is more at stake in the battle regarding the place of women than we realize. For the sake of the gospel ministry, we maintain the call for wives and mothers to be faithful to their calling to lay down their lives, selflessly, for their families.
We are thankful for faithful mothers. Thankful to God.
Ministers, take note.
… to be continued.