The ministry of the word is a calling which requires much attentiveness to and emphasis on the words of 1 Corinthians 13:13, where we read that love is the greatest of the three Christian virtues. In fact, ministering to fellow saints and ministry in general are referred to as a “labor of love” in Hebrews 6:10. The calling to love permeates all of the call to be a pastor. Lord willing, I will one day enter into that calling. If I am to be an effective church leader, keeping in mind that my work is a “labor of love” will be vital. If it ever becomes simply “a job,” there will undoubtedly be problems. This is not to say that the other two virtues of 1 Corinthians 13 (faith and hope) can be diminished. On the contrary, all three must coincide and remain inseparable from one another, for the ministry of the gospel to be an effective endeavor. However, love is what ties it all together for a pastor, and he ought to incorporate it into all that he does.
In order rightly to understand how a minister is called to love, he first must understand what exactly it is to love biblically. Not now the world’s definition; the world would simply say that true love is buying someone an expensive piece of jewelry or giving of one’s time for another. Certainly, there can be love in these actions, but they are merely specific ways to show love outwardly, and they fail truly to capture the idea of love. No, at its heart, love is much deeper than this. God gives something of a definition of love in 1 John 4:10. There we read, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” True love is epitomized in the sacrifice on the part of God of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as well as in Christ’s willingness to endure what he did to redeem sinful humans. How much stronger an image is this than to give of one’s time or energy to serve another! Christ gave of himself completely – nothing of him was withheld, even to the point of death. At the core of this action is the true meaning of love. Christ gave of himself freely. There was no ulterior motive. He died purely because it was his good pleasure to save us from our fate of hellfire.
This, then, is how a minister must serve his congregation. There is no room for any pretense in his labors; all must be performed purely out of a desire to serve his congregants and the church at large. Professor Russell Dykstra writes, “…the minister recognizes that he is simply not important. What happens to him is not significant. What people think about him is not his concern. If he is despised, yea even the offscouring of the world, so be it! So long as God’s Word and work go forward. A faithful minister does not want to stand out, to draw attention to himself. He deliberately stands off to the side as much as he can. He is ready, eager, to serve” (Dykstra)!
In fact, this is so serious a matter that in 1 John 4:8, we read, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” In order for one to truly be a child of God, one must love. In order for one to truly be a minister of the word of God, then, one must truly act out of love and service to others.
But how might this be put into practice? There are a number of ways in which this can be done. For instance, there is a certain sense in which the preaching of the word is a manner of displaying love. God, as our shepherd, leads us, his flock. We all learn Psalm 23 from an early age, so the image of a shepherd is not a new one. But we also do well to remember that a pastor reflects God as shepherd. Just as God is the Good Shepherd of his sheep, so a minister shepherds his flock – his congregation. Of course, the picture is limited because no human can rightly exemplify the characteristics of God in his perfection, but the idea remains a good one. As the “mouthpiece of God,” a pastor is tasked in part with expounding God’s words to his people. This means leading them to green pastures beside still waters (Ps. 23:2). God will send us another Comforter (John 14:16), and proclaiming the comforts of scripture and the doctrines contained in it is certainly a way for a minister to show love to his congregation through the preaching.
Those comforts are also prevalent in our Psalter’s Consolation of the Sick. I remember once hearing my own minister say to two seminarians, “Make this form your friend,” and that seems to be good advice for anyone going into the ministry. This a form designed to be read to a saint nearing the end of his or her earthly journey. 1 Corinthians 15:26 accurately characterizes death as “the last enemy;” for the child of God, it is one of the greatest trials one faces to meet the end of one’s life. To come to the death bed of one of his congregants with no understanding of or empathy for the situation would be a great mistake for a minister to make. Love must be central to his approach, and the love needed is exemplified in the language of the Consolation of the Sick. Over and over again the form refers to scripture. Scarcely a sentence goes by without quoting or paraphrasing a verse from the Bible. The comfort of this form is immediately evident to anyone who reads it, and quoting it for an ailing saint is clearly an effective means of showing love in that trying situation. Christ sent his Comforter out of his deep love for us, and it behooves a pastor well to reflect that act of God by bringing his own words of comfort to a fellow saint who is nearing death out of his love for him or her.
However, scripture is not merely the surface level doctrine of much of mainstream Christianity, with its “comfort” that there is nothing more to the gospel than “Jesus loves you, and your sins are all forgiven.” Rather, God’s word also contains throughout its pages a call to repentance. In fact, we learn from the language of Hebrews 12:5–11 that God uses chastising as a means of displaying his great love toward us. Just as an earthly father disciplines his child out of love, desirous that the child remain on the straight and narrow, so too God, out of his infinite mercy and love, chastises us to keep us on the path of righteousness. A true pastor of God’s word is one who fears not to bring this gospel of repentance to the assembled flock. He loves his fellow saints enough that he calls them to turn from their wicked ways and back to the way of obedience to God’s righteous laws. He is willing to use his shepherd’s crook to pull the sheep back among the flock, even if it causes some initial pain. He understands that our sufferings in this present life, even pain resulting from having one’s sins pointed out, are unworthy of comparison with our future glory (Rom. 8:18).
In fact, even in our Form for Excommunication, the prayer we recite bears this same attitude. It acknowledges that God does not desire for the sinner to perish in his sin and that the church is always open to a repentant sinner, then reads, “…we therefore humbly beseech Thee, to kindle in our hearts a pious zeal, that we may labor, with good Christian admonitions and examples, to bring again this excommunicated person on the right way, together with all those, who, through unbelief or dissoluteness of life, go astray.” This makes clear that even the most drastic action that can be taken against a member of a church, removing him or her from participating in the sacraments and the communion of the saints, is designed with the intent of bringing the sinner to repentance. The hope is that the person and “all those” leaving the faith might be regained to the folds of the church.
A minister has ample opportunity to show love through the labors of his office. Indeed, he must do so, recognizing in the first place that love is made manifest in God and in Christ’s sacrifice, and secondly that to truly fulfill his office he must love and serve those around him. He can do so in various ways: through the bringing of comfort, calls to repentance, and others. However, all share a common goal: in all his work, a minister seeks to glorify God by reflecting his love. In the book of Hosea, God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, rescuing her out of her promiscuous lifestyle. This action on the part of Hosea reflects what Christ did for us, we who were dead in trespasses and sins. The pastor, then, seeks in some small way to mirror this boundless love in his work as well. May all our ministers have this at the forefront of their minds in all their “labors of love,” and, Lord willing, may I one day as well.
Dykstra, Russell J. “The Meekness Required in the Servant of God (1).” The Standard Bearer,
15 Sept. 2007. Accessed 23 May 2017.
*Matthew Koerner is a member at Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He is a junior in college and intends to pursue the gospel ministry.