“How To Treat Your Pastor”
December 24, 2017
Advent 4—Rorate Coeli
The Testimony of John the Baptist
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight[h] the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
How should Christians view their pastor? How should they regard him? How should they treat him and speak of him?
Well, before telling you how Christians should regard their pastor, I’ll break down some walls and tell you first how they shouldn’t treat him! There are two ways not to regard him, view him, and treat him. In other words, there are only two ways to dishonor your pastor.
The first way to dishonor your pastor is quite apparent: One way to dishonor him is to not honor, cherish, and respect him. When you dishonor your pastor, you dishonor God because God teaches Christians to honor their pastor. God gives a similar commandment to children. Children should be taught that when they dishonor and resist their parents, they are really dishonoring and resisting God who teaches them to “Honor your father and your mother.”
God teaches us to honor all authorities—This means pastors also. In fact, Scripture says something unique about the pastor. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders (whenever the Bible says elders, it means pastors—That’s the word in Scripture that means pastor) who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Did you get that? Pastors who rule well are worthy of double honor. What else does Scripture say? Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders (this word is referring to pastors once again) 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.” Did you get that? Why should you honor your pastor and submit to him? Because he’s watching over your soul and he has to give an account for every word and work done as a pastor on the day of judgment! This text alone should cause lazy and careless pastors to repent and take the preaching and teaching of God’s Word seriously!
Pastors have the exhausting and challenging task of remaining faithful to God’s Word while everything else in this world around them changes. They not only have to look after their own soul (praying, resisting temptation, reading God’s Word, submitting to the Word of God), but they must also manage their household well and look over after the souls of their wife and children (just like all fathers are called to do), and they must look after the souls of an entire congregation of sinners who are as sinful and weak as the pastor himself! This is difficult work: This is why God has only called certain men to be pastors and not all men.
Yet, how many times have we seen these certain faithful pastors demeaned, disrespected, and dishonored? Too many to count! Many times members ignore their pastor who cares deeply for them. Others refuse to address him as pastor, and refuse to treat him and call upon him as such. Some look down on their pastor because he’s young or inexperienced. More times than not, the pastor is the target for hurtful words and the subject of filthy gossip and slander. This is nothing new. Although I’m a relatively new and young pastor, I’ve been the subject of much gossip and slander within and outside of the church. I think it’s my “spiritual gift.”
To be honest, it’s not so bad. I’m not the only pastor to face this (and surely not the last). To be disrespected, demeaned, looked down upon, and dishonored is, paradoxically, an honor for the pastor. Ironically, when he’s wronged, it means he’s doing something right! The Bible teaches that such disrespect and dishonor from the world are not only inevitable, but it is also, in fact, a blessing from God! Remember what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:12). It’s hard to believe that someone would rejoice when they are persecuted and slandered, right? Well, believe it. This happened to the Apostles after Jesus’ ascension. When the Apostles were preaching, they were arrested for teaching in the temple that people should repent of their sins and be forgiven by Christ’s death and resurrection. But when the Sanhedrin, the council, heard them, they arrested them, were enraged, and wanted to kill them. Instead, they flogged them (they severely struck and beat them with whips and rods), and they commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, then let them go. Do you know what the Apostles did? They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name (Acts 5:41). They took Jesus’ blessing to heart, and they rejoiced in the midst of dishonor!
Christians should never be shocked that their pastors are met with such disgrace by others—They should expect it. Paul says, “When we are slandered, we answer gently. We have become, and are still, like the scum (the filth, the garbage) of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:13). Pastors should always remember that if Christ, their dear Lord, and Master, was mocked and slandered, His servants will also be. Pastors and Christians aren’t above their Lord. If Jesus was derided and scorned, his children will also be. Jesus reminds us, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first (John 15:18).
So, learn well that the first way to dishonor your pastor is by dishonoring him, disrespecting, demeaning, and demoralizing him.
Now, as terrible as that sounds, there’s something far worse. The other way to dishonor your pastor is the exact opposite of the first: It’s to honor him too much, to regard him too highly! It’s the sin of loving your pastor too much. This is actually just as common as pastors who aren’t loved at all; however, believe it or not, it’s worse to be loved too much. Some pastors become idolized by their congregation. They view their pastor as the “perfect pastor.” When this happens, the congregation sees their pastor as someone who can do no wrong, shows no injustice or favoritism, and whose every word is absolute gold.
How can you tell when a congregation esteems their pastor too highly? Well, when the congregation overlooks or defends the public and manifest sins of their pastor. For example, Scripture says that the pastor should not be a drunkard and that he should be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2); if he is guilty of sinning in these ways, then he should be defrocked and never preach another sermon again. Yet, how many times have you seen churches “vote” to keep their pastor after his adultery has become public and manifest? How many times have you seen churches “vote” to keep their pastor when he divorces his wife and remarries another? How many times have you seen churches and members defend the drunkenness of their pastor (this doesn’t mean that the pastor cannot drink: There’s a massive difference between drinking a beer and getting drunk—drunkenness is a shameful sin)? How many times have you seen churches overlook the false doctrine that spews out of their pastor’s mouth because “he’s a really nice pastor and I’ve known him for so long”?
When congregations defend the public and manifest sins of their pastor over and against the Word of God, then they are giving him a false honor, an honor that Scripture doesn’t tell us to give our pastors. To honor your pastor doesn’t mean to excuse or justify his sin. When this happens, the pastor has become the church’s idol, their god, their savior.
You can always tell who idolizes their pastor—It’s the people who go to church only because they “really like their pastor,” or they love his personality, his style, his charisma, his smile, his jokes, his tight pants and cool haircut. These are the ones who go to church as long as that pastor is there. But, as soon as he leaves, they leave also. I know that some of you have said, “I don’t know if I would keep going to Zion if you accepted that Call, pastor!” Although my sinful heart finds this totally flattering, it’s entirely wicked and wrong. If you leave a church just because the pastor has gone, then you were in church for the wrong reason—This is just as wicked and sinful as hating the pastor God gave you.
Now, we’ve seen both ways not to view, regard, and treat the pastor. Both instances depart from the Word of God. When you dishonor your pastor, you stray from the Word of God that commands you to honor him. When you honor him too much (that is, when you give him license to sin), you stray from God’s Word that commands you not to overlook sin and false doctrine.
If you’re guilty of dishonoring your pastor or honoring him too much, repent. Stop sinning in this way. Turn away from that sin and learn what Scripture teaches.
How are Christians supposed to treat and judge their pastors? John the Baptist teaches us all how to regard pastors—Like a disembodied voice crying out in the wilderness. When the Pharisees gave John too much credit and wondered if he was the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet, John answered “No!” Then when they doubted who he was and didn’t believe he had the authority to preach, teach, and baptize as he was doing, he said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” John could have said, “Who am I? I’m Jesus’ cousin. I’m the one who the prophets prophesied about! I’m the one who Jesus considers the greatest man born of a woman! I’m the one who is preparing the way for God Himself!” All these things are true—But John didn’t say them. He said he is a voice. That’s all.
That’s how all pastors should consider themselves and how all Christians should consider their pastor: A voice. Dear saints: That’s all I am. I’m here today, but tomorrow I may not be. My body may fail me, God may take me, or He may keep me here—I don’t know. But none of that matters. It doesn’t matter how long I live, how much work I accomplish, how much good I do: What matters is what I preach. It doesn’t matter if you like me or not, if you get along with me or not, or if you think I’m disorganized, too tall, too short, too loud, too quiet, too happy, too sad. The only thing that matters is if I preach God’s Word—This is the only thing God will judge His pastors for, and this is the only way you can judge your pastor. You should never leave a church because your pastor goes: The only reason you should ever leave a church is when the Voice of God has left, that is when God’s Word is no longer preached. You shouldn’t get too attached to your pastor—Rather, you should get attached to the Voice, the Word He preaches. When people ask you, who is your favorite pastor? You should answer, “The one I have right now.” Why? Because that’s the one God gave you.
But how do you know if you have a good pastor? Well, does he preach God’s Word purely and rightly, and does he refuse to preach what your itching ears want to hear? Then, you have a great and wonderful pastor. If your pastor is a “yes-man,” a pastor of the people, a pastor who says everything you want to hear, then you have a miserable, terrible, pathetic, and sorry excuse for a pastor. Get rid of him.
So, judge your pastor—But judge him with God’s Word according to God’s Word. Your pastor’s hygiene, personality, and sense of humor don’t matter. What matters is that the words that come from his mouth first came from God’s and that the voice you hear today is the voice of God Himself.
Your pastor is simply a voice, a voice that preaches the harsh and stern Law of God that condemns all sin. Your pastor is simply a voice preaching that sinners should repent of their sin—haters should stop hating, gossipers should stop gossiping, fornicators should stop fornicating, dishonorable people should stop dishonoring. This voice preaches the damning Law that condemns proud and stubborn sinners who love their sin more than God and refuse to repent. This voice preaches the Law which teaches that those who reject God’s voice will be rejected by His Voice on the day of Judgment. And it’s this same voice that preaches the sweet and precious Gospel to those who know their sin, sorrow over it, confess it, and long for the mercy of Christ. This voice preaches that the One whose sandals we’re not worthy to untie came to earth and washed the feet of sinners, and untied them from the cords of hell. This voice preaches that the One whose beautiful feet were pierced on Calvary were the same feet that brought us the Good News of God’s forgiveness. This voice preaches that the One who submitted Himself to Baptism and numbered Himself with sinful mortals is the same One who numbers us among His saints. The voice in you hear in your ear right now is the very Voice of God right now. This same voice that cries out for your forgiveness in the wilderness is the same voice that will declare you blameless and innocent on that Final Day.
Dear saints: Jesus, our dear Lord, was slandered, mocked, beaten, and crucified for you. He gave up His voice, yes, even His own breath, so that you would have this voice declare you righteous before God. Jesus suffered in your stead, innocently enduring the wrath of God against all sin and ungodliness so that you who believe in Him would have everlasting life. So, listen to this voice now that preaches the forgiveness of Christ—Soon, the night will end, and His Advent will be here. Soon, the voice that cries out in the wilderness will cry out from heaven. What you hear this voice say now in time is what you will hear said when God judges you for all eternity: I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In faith, Lord, let me serve You; Though persecution, grief and pain
Should seek to overwhelm me, Let me a steadfast trust retain;
And then at my departure, Lord, take me home to You,
Your riches to inherit As all You said holds true.
In life and death Lord, keep me until Your heaven I gain,
Where I by Your great mercy, the end of faith attain.