The very first day after Thanksgiving is often called “Black Friday”. On this day, businesses hope to make some wonderful sales, buyers are hoping to get in on some great deal, and overall people welcome the Christmas season with gifts galore. Do you know that the Bible speaks about Christ giving us gifts? The Apostle Paul once wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “And he [that is Christ Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11 ESV). There are many gifts to consider, but the chief ones highlighted in this passage by the Apostle all refer to the Ministry of the Word.
As we examine each of the five offices listed by the Apostle Paul, we might express their distinct purposes in this manner: the Apostles convey God’s Word; the Prophets receive and echo God’s Word; the Evangelists aid the Apostles in the ministry of the Word; the Shepherd-Teachers instruct, exhort and train others in God’s Word. The Shepherd-teachers are synonymous with pastors. The word “pastor” itself come to us from the Latin word for “shepherd”. Why is that? Jesus called Himself the great shepherd and called ordinary men to follow as his under-shepherds.
If we were to look at the Old Testament, we find an abundance of Scripture teaching us about how God shepherds His flock. But what does a shepherd do? The shepherd is called to be amongst His sheep, to feed them when they hunger, to protect them when they are attacked, to call on them and draw them back to the flock when they stray. Likewise, the pastors of today are called to accomplish these same ends by means of 1) preaching; 2) pastoring; 3) praying; and 4) persevering. With these images in mind, how does Christ feed His flock?
Christ feeds His flock by sending His shepherds. We need only look to the words of Christ when He restored Peter to the ministry. Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). Years later the Apostle Peter echoed these same words to his fellow elders saying, “Feed the flock of God which is among you…” (1 Peter 5:2 KJV) This is the aim of all pastoral ministry. But what does it mean for ordinary men to feed the flock? Here we turn to the language of the Old Testament to guide us. We look specifically at the promise of God, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15 ESV) The shepherds feed the sheep of Christ with the Word of God.
Returning to the book of Ephesians, Paul could have listed many of the other gifts the Spirit. But Paul directs his listeners to the various ministers of God’s Word as one of the gifts Christ gives to His people.
Do you view the reading and preaching of the word of God as a necessary gift? Or is it more of an occasional and optional feature of the Christian life? Sinclair Ferguson helps elucidate what the heirs of the Reformation, the puritans, said about the necessity of preaching. Ferguson wrote, “Preaching is the chariot that brings Christ to the world.” If you are a Christian, then you are part of Christ’s flock. And if so, then do you see the Word as a necessary component of your spiritual life?
We know in our ordinary world what happens to us if any of us chose to stop eating. You would experience liver problems, gall stones, slowed metabolism, osteoporosis, heart disease, kidney problems, anemia, depression, IBS, suicidal thoughts, and inevitably death. If you had a friend who refused to eat would you remain indifferent? I doubt you would. You would care for them. You would love them. You would encourage them. You would warn them, check on them, worry for them.
If this is true about physical eating, why is this not the case for spiritual eating? Do you view your spiritual life and your need to feast on the Word of God as vitally as your need to feast on ordinary food? By means of Satan, our sin, or the world, we can often be tempted to diminish the centrality and necessity of the Word of God, as it is read, proclaimed, and feasted upon in the Sacraments. In His great moment of hunger as He was tempted in the wilderness after fasting for 40 days Jesus declared, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 ESV) Is the Word of God as precious to you as it is to Christ? Are you valuing Christ’s gift to you?
May the Lord enable you to see your great need for Him. May your eyes be opened to value His Word rightly today. May you be blessed especially in this Advent season to join in public worship. May the Spirit of God enable you to worship expectantly, attentively, prayerfully, selflessly, and faithfully. May you feast on more than turkey sandwiches this weekend, and “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8 ESV)