Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor of the Reformed Witness Hour. This article was aired on February 6, 2000.
What does God promise to a church that is filled with sincere repentance?
The answer is this: ministers, elders, and deacons—after His own heart.
In Jeremiah 3:15 we read this promise of God: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah is referring to men like David, for the Scriptures refer to David as a “man after God’s own heart.” The people of Israel, especially the ten tribes who fell away from the house of David, were walking in a way of spiritual adultery. And in that way of spiritual adultery, forsaking the Lord their God, they did not receive kings or princes or priests who were after God’s heart. They received men under whom they suffered; men who led them to ruin; men who seduced them to apostasy and encouraged them in the way of folly. Here God says that, to a people who are moved in their heart to return to Him in a way of repentance, He will show His mercy in a tangible way. He will give to them spiritual leaders who will truly care for their souls and rule them in the spirit of David.
The fulfillment of this promise in Jeremiah is in Jesus Christ, the Shepherd of the sincerely repentant church. And Jesus Christ gives to His repentant people and church shepherds: elders, deacons, and pastors to feed them, on His behalf, with knowledge and understanding. This promise is fulfilled in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ when Christ gives to His church servants after His own heart.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has a tender regard for His church on earth. Having purchased the church with His own blood, and having laid down His life for the sheep, He gives them shepherds after His own heart. And it is in the presence of such men—faithful pastors, diligent elders, dedicated deacons—that we as the church have the tangible evidence of God’s goodness to us. Christ our Lord is, therefore, pleased to care for His repentant children gathered into the church by means of pastors, elders, and deacons. Let no one take that for granted. Let not one believer in Christ fail to see the significance of faithful and godly elders, pastors, and deacons in the church. The pastor, elder, and deacon are not simply functionaries in the church. They are not simply officers appointed by the corporation. But they are men appointed by Christ. And in the way of their faithful and dedicated labor, they are a sign to us of the love of Christ and His care for us, whose faith we must also follow.
But let no one fail to see the connection between our own spiritual life and the presence of such godly officers in the church. When the church backslides; when the people of a church no longer have a heart for God and His glory, then that will be evident in God’s removing from them men of conviction, men who are true spiritual leaders. If we forsake the way of God, if we minimize God’s Word, if we say that the Word of God is no longer the power and authority in the church, and if we corrupt the worship of the church and begin to worship in the church as we would like, then God’s judgment is often found in this, that to such a church He does not give men after His own heart, but men after their own heart, who will lead the people of God to ruin.
It is in the church that is alive and repentant, it is among believers who seek to humble themselves before God and to obey God, that God fulfills a promise to give men after His own heart, godly officebearers. Let no one say, “Well, the spiritual state of the church is none of my business.” Oh yes it is! Our own spiritual life and the presence of faithful servants are inseparably connected.
God is saying to us that when He gathers His people together into a church, then that church must be governed by the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon. InJeremiah 3 God says, “I will bring them to Zion.” He does not go on and say, “I will bring them to Zion that they may live as they would, doing their own thing.” But He says, “No, I will place them under leadership, under discipline, under proper spiritual government.” He uses the figure of a flock of sheep under the care of their pastor or shepherd. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not to be compared to a savanna, with wild beasts roaming at their own pleasure and little ones learning the ways of the wild. The church is under the figure of sheep in a pasture, under the care of shepherds. Those shepherds are vital for the defense, care, and feeding of the flock. The shepherd is entrusted with the most precious thing in the universe—the care of the flock that Christ has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
So God says, “These men whom I entrust with the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon are to be men after My own heart.” The Scriptures bring out many graces that a pastor and an elder and a deacon must covet. They must be faithful. They must be steadfast. They must be wise. They must be self-denying. They must be patient. But there is one attribute that sums them all. There is one that makes everything else possible. There is one that must be cultivated above all things. It is this, that they must be men after God’s own heart—like David, of whom we read in Acts 13:22, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.” Note that. When your heart is after God’s heart, you will be one devoted to doing the will of God. When the things of God’s heart are in your heart, then the practical result will be a concern that His holy will and His holy name be glorified in the church—not yours, but your Lord’s.
What does that mean, to be after God’s own heart? Obviously, it is a figure of speech. God’s heart refers to all of those things that God desires, wills, yearns for, and loves. From His heart God loves His church. God loves His elect whom He has chosen from eternity. And He wills also that they know and love Him and are comforted in Him and see His glory. From His heart He wills to save those whom He loves in Jesus Christ. Therefore men after God’s own heart burn with the same purposes of God. They desire as God desires. They seek what God seeks. The things that are dear to God have been made dear to them, so dear to them that it is the only thing that counts. They are God-like in their desires, they are God-like in their spirit, in their words, in their temper, in their demeanor. By grace they desire to be in tune with the things of God’s heart and to be pleasing to God.
There are many things that we could say about being after God’s own heart. But certainly it means that shepherds are to be men who are renewed in heart and live godly in Christ Jesus.
A pastor, an elder, or a deacon must not be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but he must be a man who has experienced the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3), a man who is sanctified in Christ Jesus with the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, a man who is purged daily from the vicious appetite of his own flesh, from his own pride, his self-importance, his self-esteem, and is now a man with an eye single to the divine glory and the building up of the precious body of Christ. He must be a man with a gracious sincerity, not ruled by a selfish spirit, but one who will naturally care for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means that you, as a pastor, an elder, or a deacon, are to care for the faith, for the repentance, for the souls of the people of God. How can a person do that without first experiencing the reality of that life within his own heart? The aim of his work, the single aim, is the honor of the Redeemer and the life of the people entrusted to his care.
That means that he must walk daily with them. A shepherd walks among his sheep. That means that we must walk among them as elders, deacons, and pastors as examples of godly life in Jesus Christ. It means that we must be full of eyes: quick to spy out danger, vigilant. We must be men of a heart after God. That certainly means that by the grace of God we are constantly extinguishing the fires of sin in our own souls.
Elders, deacons, and pastors after God’s own heart are men of the Word. They know the Word. They love the Word. They are sound in doctrine, doctrine that is reviving and strengthening and refreshing. They destroy and detest all error against God’s holy Word. That means that an elder, a deacon, and a pastor must be acquainted with the Master’s will as it is revealed in holy Scripture. They must be men of conviction, not of stubbornness, not making their own headstrong feelings a matter of principle, but men whose judgments and opinions are forged by the principles of holy Scripture, and whose principles are prayed into their souls.
They must be, further, men of godly graces, of a humble spirit, of wise and prudent demeanor, patient, plain, and forthright, men of prayer, not easily provoked, not irritable, not soon sinfully angry. In short, a man after God’s own heart is a man who possesses a dove’s innocence, an eagle’s eye, a lion’s courage, an angel’s zeal. He is a man who desires to show the heart of God to His people. Imagine that! One who is called to show the heart of God to His people.
Such shepherds (elders, deacons, and pastors) are God’s gift to His church.
Now, you who are called to the office of elder, deacon, and pastor, and you who are under their leadership, you must not start looking, first of all, to self, to the man. It is not of self. We acknowledge that. We must acknowledge that every servant in the church, by his own nature, is the very opposite of a man after God’s own heart. This is not a natural gift. This is not to be found among the sons of men. This is a gift of the ascended Lord who pours out this gift upon the church. He says, “I will give you pastors after my own heart. I will give this.” The presence of such men in the church is the evidence of God’s gift of grace. It is the mighty power of Christ crucified. The presence of such men in the church is the presence of the gracious power of Jesus Christ. That means that God raises them up. God apprehends them by His grace and Spirit. They have nothing of which to boast. God orders the time of their birth, their rearing, their preparation. God works within their heart. The office of faithful elders, deacons, and pastors is God’s gift. It is something that Christ has purchased. It is something that Christ alone can give.
It is His great favor to the church to give such men to the church. That means that as a member of the congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ you will be much in prayer that you may be given such men. And you will be in prayer for them. Do you pray for your elders, your deacons, and your pastor? Do you stand in the place of prayer asking God to be with them? Do you abound in prayer, wrestle in prayer for them? Paul asked in Romans 15:30that the church of God strive in their prayers for him—literally, wrestle in prayer for him. For him! The apostle Paul. We would say, “Well, there was certainly a gifted servant. If anyone could do it, Paul could.” Oh, no! says Paul. Do not ever think such a thing. I am dependent upon the prayers of God’s people. They must strive for me. They must pray for me or I cannot perform my duties.
Still more. You must avail yourself of them. You must come under their care. You must come under their ministry with love and humility.
Still more. You must honor and love them from the heart, inwardly. You must do so for Christ’s sake.
“I will give unto you pastors after My own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Knowledge and understanding are often mentioned together in the Bible. Very briefly, knowledge here refers more to the content of what we believe. Pastors especially, but also elders and deacons, are given to the church in order to give to the people of God knowledge. Not just a cold knowledge, not a merely intellectual knowledge, but a vibrant, heartfelt knowledge of all the content of the Christian faith as it is revealed in holy Scripture.
The word “understanding” is more the acting out of knowledge. It refers to acting prudently, acting in accordance with the knowledge that one has, the ability to apply the knowledge. God says, I will give shepherds who will feed My people with understanding—that is, I will give them men who will show My people how to respond to that Word. I will feed them. I will feed them through the ministry of pastors, elders, and deacons in order that they may know My Word, see it, and grasp it; and that they may know how to act in response to it to the glory of My name, so that My church may be built up in faith and love and peace and unity.
Then the church is built up. Then repentant sinners are gathered into Zion and are comforted and healed and restored. Then the sheep may rest and the lambs may grow and the flock may be cared for.
Let me put a solemn question to you as a pastor, an elder, or a deacon: Are you a pastor after God’s own heart? Let me put a question to you, congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ and believer: Is this the kind of elder and deacon and pastor you want—a man after God’s own heart? Then let us be much in prayer and let us continually ask God personally, in our own lives, for the great grace of repentance. For it is to a repentant people that God promises the gift of pastors after His own heart.