“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9)
“The servant of God must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.”(2 Timothy 2:24)
This passage presents the greatest description of the pastor or the shepherding elder. Paul’s words come to the very heart of it. In fact, if there was one word to describe a pastor, it would be “gentle.” If any person in the world were to spend ten minutes with you for the first time, what adjective might they use to describe you? Not every person would have the discernment to discover that you were a godly man. I hope they would say, “There is gentle man.” This is the word others should use to describe the Christian pastor.
Gentleness is not softness, nor is it effeminacy. Jesus commends John the Baptist in Matthew 11 for his faith that is able to stand in a high wind, and persevere under severe violence.
“What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? . . . From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt. 11:7, 12)
Of course, our Lord wants us to be strong and resilient, but not harsh or hard. He wants men who are able to stand in the face of many difficulties, and dangers. He calls for men who continue in faith . . . in the evil day. . . having done all to stand. These are men who keep going when the way is intolerably weary. Men who persevere. These are indomitable men like Eleazar the Son of Dodo and Shaman who faced down that the Philistines in the Field of Lentils, even when all else abandoned the front. These are men like Greatheart in the second book of Pilgrim’s Progress. He cheerfully takes on the big giants for the little church group. He bears the brunt of the battle.
Nevertheless, we do not want this hardness and harshness that comes out of a self-centeredness and pride. May the Lord deliver us from the spirit of impatience with others, that is bothered when others prove to be an inconvenience. The pastor will wake up with sheep hoof marks on his face, and he must not be bitter about it. The gentle man does not give way to a hard-edged gracelessness. He completely rejects that Nietzschean, nihilist spirit of wrath and spite for God, the will to power that fights against one’s fate or against God’s difficult providences. We are not fatalists, biting the towel and resigning ourselves to a hopeless, hardened resignation to an inevitable doom.
The gentle pastor does not assume that members of the Church are not Christians. He does not sit and hope the worst of them all. Even the warnings in the Book of Hebrews are quickly followed up with. . . “but we are assured of better things of you, brethren.”
1 Thessalonians 2 describes the gentle pastor with several terms. In this text, the Apostle describes the pastoral leadership as gentle, like a child. The Greek word used is not common. It speaks of a man who is “child-like.” He is not complicated and difficult and unapproachable. How might a shepherd know if he is this gentle? I would suggest several tests. Gentleness will be patient with people over a long period of time. I think of Bunyan’s Greatheart character again, who was patient with Mr. Fearing and Mr. Ready to Halt. At times, one wonders if they will continue along the Pilgrim pathway. Their growth in faith is very slow. They are often very fearful. You may have to pull out a microscope to see if there was any faith there at some points. Yet, by the grace of God they come along. Others have come into the church after receiving the Word with joy. They appeared strong at first, but they are no longer with us. Mr. Fearing and Mr. Ready to Halt however, do not quit. The pastor encourages them, day by day and week by week and year by year. They move along on this encouragement. We cannot assume that we have encouraged them enough.
Another test of our gentleness may be applied when we come into contact with the children in the church. They should expect your gentleness and your godly love for them. The children in the church should flock to the pastors and elders, if he is looked upon as a gentle man. It may take a year or two for some of the shy children to warm up to you, but sooner or later you will feel them tugging on your pant leg, expecting a pat on the head or a little hug.
The third test of the pastor’s gentleness is seen with those who are offended. Occasionally, a family or individual may leave the church a little upset about something or other. When they come back to the church a year or two later, and they feel the warmth of the elders and the acceptance of the congregation — there is mostly likely a gentleness there.
Further, Paul says, that we cherished you with a tender love as a mother does her own children. This is perfectly exemplified in our Lord, especially as He is described in Isaiah 40:11:
“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
I think of the story that Mark Hamby tells of his attempt at shepherding sheep in their small family farm. Initially, he says, they did not follow him. They would run away from him. He commanded them. He shouted at them. He ran after them. They were entirely uncooperative, and in fact he grew to dislike them. He said that several of the rams tried to kill him. It was a “hate-hate” relationship. During the third lambing season, he decided to spend eight weeks out at the barn with the sheep. He writes of this, “About the sixth week, after sheering, de-worming, immunizing, and bottle feeding, I noticed that the ewes were behaving differently toward me. They were observing my movements and were not as anxious around me. Now, picture this: there I was, not feeling very well, with no energy and little hope; but I was giving these sheep the best care I could give. I often sat in the hay, reading the Psalms and praying aloud, holding a lamb that nibbled on my finger. I truly began to love these creatures of God, and the mother sheep knew it. Then one day, as I walked to the other side of the barn, all seventy sheep moved toward me. I walked to the other side, and they followed. I quickly opened up all the stall doors and then began parading up the path toward our house and when I looked back, all the mothers and their lambs were following!”
Again, it is the Lord Jesus Christ that Jesus shows His love for the sheep in real, demonstrable ways. He gave His Life for the Sheep. He has attended to us first. And now, we attend to Him. He sacrificed for us first, and then He leads His sheep and teaches us to follow Him. He has come out to the barn. No, He has done more than that. He has come down from heaven, to the lowest parts of the earth — for our salvation, to give us His life and to give it to us more abundantly. And now, we hear His voice, and we follow Him.
Paul also speaks of this “affectionately longing for you.” He likes these brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants to be with them. This will motivate him to provide special care and attention to the flock, not as a hireling . . . but as one who truly loves these people. Before I come to meet with our church on a Sunday morning, I ask myself, “Do you love these people?” But there is a question that I hear before I ask myself that question. It is the voice of Christ calling out, “Kevin, do you love me?” I say, “Yes, I do Lord. You loved me first, and now I love you.” His reply is the same, “Well then, love my people. Love these people. Feed my sheep.”
Paul concludes this section reminding the Thessalonians that “We gave you the Gospel. And, we gave our own lives for you.” This leadership requires the sacrifice of our lives. Above all others in the congregation, we are the sacrificed ones, dear brothers. Let us not be surprised when we are called to sacrifice! Let us not repel from it. This is our life. We will hate our own lives for His sake. We will give up our own lives, and that is what we find our life. It is the life of Christ, and it is the true life.
In conclusion, I think it is helpful to study the shepherding of the Great Shepherd. How does He correct His disciples? Think of how He responds to their faithlessness and sin.
They cry out in the boat, “Master, Carest thou not that we perish?” He responds with questions, “Why are you so fearful? Where is your faith?”
The Sons of Bonarges tell him to burn the Samaritan village down He responds, “You do not know what spirit you are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them!”
They argue over who will be greatest in the kingdom. He asks them the question, “What were you arguing about on the way?” And he tells them, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, the servant of all.”
They fall asleep in the garden, the moment of the most intense spiritual warfare. And he says, “Simon. . . are you sleeping? Could you watch for just one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
He returns them after the disciples denied him, after the resurrection . . . He enters the room, and He says three times, “Peace be unto you . . . Peace be unto you . . . Peace be unto you.” This becomes the essence of the church gathering. expressed in this simple phrase. . . peace be unto you.” It is the restoration of relationship.
Brothers, these are the things that matter more than anything else. In the words of 1 Corinthians 13: You may speak with the tongues of men and of angels. You may soar above the heavens with the most incredible rhetoric, the best preaching, ever. You may have all wisdom and all knowledge, the most doctrinally precise church in America; you may have all faith to remove mountains . . . you may be the most charismatic, the most power-filled, dead-raising, the blind healing pastors that ever lived. But if you have no agape love, you are nothing. Nothing! Nothing! Love is the absolutely indispensable ingredient to pastoring, discipleship, counseling, evangelism, for every single aspect of church leadership.
If you have love, everything begins to function in the body. If you do not have love, nothing functions in the body. Oh, pastors and shepherds, this must be the greatest cry of our hearts, “God give us love.”
Help us to see your Love for us the height, depth, breadth, and the width of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.