by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).
“Obey your leaders and submit to them . . .” What? In everything? In the color of the carpet in the parish hall? No. The reference is to submission to the clear Word of God. “Remember your teachers, those who spoke the word of God to you” (Heb. 13:7). The pastor wears a stole. He’s yoked, a man under authority. He’s been placed in an office by Christ, through your congregation, not to make you happy. He’s there to bring you joy–eternal joy through faith in the eternal Word of God. “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). That’s a pastor’s goal for all of us.
But we all have the sinful nature. So, when our pastor must speak the Law, we’re prone to rebel, even become angry. “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Rom. 7:7). “Sorry, Carl! You and your girlfriend may be seventy years old, but shacking up is wrong. I don’t care what the income tax ramifications are!” Can you imagine the pressure, the burden a pastor bears, being the one who must “give an account” for the souls of his flock? On top of that, he has to deal with his own conscience (clearly knowing right from wrong) and face the ire of one man, one woman, a family or even a whole community for saying and doing what is right. No man should face this alone. But pastors often do. It can break a sensitive soul. It can sap his preaching. It can kill his prayer life. It can destroy his home life. It can drive him into loneliness and bring his visitation to a halt. It can cause him to vanish from the community.
What God gives, we receive, including the words and person of our faithful pastor. When the pastor is speaking and teaching in accord with the Word of God, his authority is God’sboth to call sin what it is and to absolve (John 20:23). “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16). This authority would seem oppressive or prone to abuse. And it can be and isin its pseudo-forms. Jesus certainly did not “lord it over” anyone, and Paul followed Jesus in this regard. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Cor. 1:24). Peter gives pastors a specific pastoral admonition against coercion of the flock. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:23).
Have you ever considered how frightening a task it is to know you must speak the Word of God whether folks like it or not? And then to do so as a sinful, emotional, fearful “maggot sack” (as Luther called himself) makes it a super-human burden. It’s only possible to carry out the task with the help of Jesus and His grace (2 Tim. 1:6). Such a burden, combined with an eternally important responsibility, is enough to drive a man into loneliness and despair. But that’s how Jesus became the Great Shepherd, and through crossesand only through crossesHe continues to make great shepherds of fallible men (Gal. 6:14; 2 Cor. 12:9). And through crosses, He also creates sheep ready to hear the voice of their shepherd and carry each other’s burdens (including the pastor’s).
Pastor Matthew Harrison
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38
> Adapted from A Little Book on Joy (CPH, 2011)