7 Marks Of A Pastor



Christians have often observed the fact that the vigour and growth of the church is largely dependant upon its leadership. Anyone who even has a cursory knowledge of church history knows that all the great leaders of the past were pastors. Whether it is Athanasius, Irenaeus or Augustine from the patristic era or Martin Luther and John Calvin from the Reformation of the sixteenth century or John Owen or Jonathan Edwards or Andrew Fuller of the Puritan heritage, they were all pastors. True, they were great theologians, however they worked out their theology in the context of their pastoral ministry. It cannot be denied that throughout her history, the church experienced genuine revival and reformation through the ministry of her faithful shepherds. God, the Holy Spirit usually uses the faithful preaching and labour of a pastor to bring such revival and reformation to the church. It can also be observed negatively from the history of God’s covenant people, that heresy and false religion also abounded through the ministry of shepherds, obviously the false ones. It is suffice to say, how goes the pastor, thus goes the church. It seems worthwhile therefore to consider the essential qualities to be displayed by a man engaged in this vital ministry of being a pastor. In order to see how a pastor is sketched in the New Testament, we will try to expound Acts 20:18-35. The reason for the choice of this passage is due to its historical context. The passage deals with Paul’s final meeting with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. It records his farewell address to them and contains a summary of his pastoral ministry among them. Final words are by nature never trivial, and most often reveals that which is of primary importance to the speaker. Thus Paul’s final exhortation to the Ephesian elders reveals his own priorities in pastoral ministry. They thus sketch a New Testament pastor, as seen in the ministry of Paul among the Ephesians. In Paul’s summary of his pastoral ministry among them, we find seven descriptions of a genuine pastor, which are:

  1. A pastor is an example to his people. (v.18)
  2. A pastor humbles himself before the Lord, by remaining faithful in his service to his people, accepting all trials he has to face in being their servant. (v.19)
  3. A pastor never shrinks the message of God, but faithfully proclaims the whole counsel of God publicly and privately for the benefit of his people. (v.20,26,27,31)
  4. A pastor does not show partiality by changing his message based on the crowd. (v.21)
  5. A pastor has a strong sense of God’s calling in his life that he does not consider his life worthy, apart from finishing his ministry of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (v.24)
  6. A pastor puts his ultimate trust in God and His Word to save and to build his people. (v.32)
  7. A pastor works hard to help the weak and never covets anything from anyone – honour, money or clothing; but always proclaims with his life and service that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’. (v.33-35)

It is evident here that the seven marks noted above from the passage are virtues to be possessed by a pastor and not dealing with gifting or abilities, necessary for pastoral ministry. Though a pastor should definitely be one called for and equipped by God to do pastoral ministry, our present study is on the character of a true pastor. Too often we come across men who claim to have Evangelical convictions, but thoroughly lacking any character, thus spoiling their ministry. Both conviction and character are equally necessary for the pastor to have authority and authenticity in his ministry.

1. A pastor is an example to his people. (v.18)

Paul begins his address to the Ephesian elders by expressing his confidence in the knowledge of his hearers regarding his lifestyle among them. He says “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia.“ Paul goes on to explain what this lifestyle entailed in the following verses. However it is worthwhile noting here the confidence he had concerning his lifestyle among them. He knew he lived a blameless life. He knew he lived an exemplary life, one which he was never hesitant to call people to imitate. Thus the first insight we draw from Paul is that a pastor is always an example to his people and his conduct is worthy of imitation by his people.

Before dealing with the specifics of what it means to be an example, we must first all of be convinced that the pastor should be an example to his people. For us to be convinced in this regard, here are two reasons found in Paul’s pastoral epistles. First of all, the dignity and authority of the office requires it. When Paul gives Timothy the general requirements to be met by a man aspiring for eldership in the church, the first thing he says is that the man should be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). In other words, someone who is blameless, free from any just grounds of accusation that could harm the honour and reputation of the office of the pastor. It is thus implied that the person occupying this office must be a man who is to be an example to others in all that he teaches. Secondly, for having authenticity in one’s ministry. When Paul writes to Titus, he encourages Titus to be an example to avoid the danger of being despised by others, especially the enemies of the gospel. He said “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. “ (Titus 2:7-8) Paul thus tells Titus to have both character (model of good works) and conviction (sound teaching), with an aim to cut all grounds for being despised by others. If the pastor is authentic, people might dislike what he preaches, but they can never despise him. Thus being an example helps the pastor to have authority and authenticity in his ministry.

In this opening statement of Paul’s address, we find five aspects of Paul’s pastoral ministry and setting an example before his people. First of all he says “You yourselves know”, speaking of his confidence in their knowledge of his exemplary lifestyle. His way of living for Christ was so evident that he had no doubts regarding his witness before them. It is this confidence which gives him the assurance that he has done his ministry faithfully. Writing to Corinthians, Paul even says that his boasting in ministry is this witness of his conscience that his behaviour especially towards the church was one in accordance with godliness and grace (2 Corinthians 1:12). Having a clear conscience that one has acted in godly sincerity and holiness in one’s ministry is an asset for the pastor. It helps him to persevere in his ministry with assurance of God being with him. Secondly, Paul says, “how I lived”. It is noteworthy that Paul does not say, how I preached or conducted services, but rather uses a broader category of living. Sure Paul does not mean to eliminate his preaching or the way he conducted services, but it is not just in these ministerial domains that he exhibited his exemplary lifestyle. He was not a pulpit Christian, fervent in preaching truths, which hardly made any change in his life outside the pulpit. The gospel truths so penetrated the whole fabric of his being that Paul was a model to the Ephesians, in his whole lifestyle. A pastor thus should be an example in all areas, showing his people how the gospel radically transforms every area of one’s life. Anything short of this will only result in the preacher being a rank hypocrite. This is why when Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, he warns him to first guard his life and then his doctrine (I Tim 4:16). Not because doctrine is secondary, but as Paul says, we must make sure that we are first of all being saved and then make others saved through our preaching. Even in this passage, Paul goes onto make this exhortation to the Ephesian elders, to first watch over themselves and then the church (Acts 20:28).

Thirdly, Paul says, “among you”. In other words, Paul manifested his gospel-transformed lifestyle in their midst by living with them as one among them. He was thus a pastor who moved among his sheep. Today there is a notion among some that pastors should not mingle with their people and must be careful to maintain his “anointing” by secluding himself. Paul obviously had no such vain, puffed up notions about himself. His own understanding of pastoral ministry was that of parenting the church, not lording over them. He uses such metaphors in his epistles to his churches. To the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians he uses the language of being their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:15;1Thessalonians 2:11). He also uses the language of being gentle like a mother in his epistle to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:7). As parenting cannot be done by being aloof, pastoral ministry cannot also be done from a distance. The gospel-aroma of the life of the pastor must permeate the community he is serving. Just like the Divine Word tabernacled amongst His people (John 1:14), the pastor in likewise manner must be among his people. Fourthly, Paul says, “the whole time”, speaking of his perseverance. It is one thing to start well and quite another thing to end well. Moreover in the final analysis, it pays little to know whether someone started really well or not; all that matters is did they finish well. It is true in one’s own personal following of Christ, its true in this matter of ministry too. Paul was not just a pastor who started well, but one who kept his testimony well into the last day among his people. He says confidently that the whole time he was with them, he lived a model life for them to emulate. This is why 1 Timothy 4:16, where Paul tells Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely, he also commands him to persevere in doing so. It is only in persistent watching of one’s life and doctrine that will save one from being a hypocrite and also lead one’s hearer to be saved. So the pastor ought not to look to his past victories, the glories of yesteryears, rather he should be conscious of the battle to be waged today. To be free from being a hypocrite and to let the gospel transform him more everyday must be his daily business. It is only by watching over ourselves everyday that we will finish in the end. Finally Paul says, “from the first day that I set foot in Asia”. It is highly important for those who are engaged in ministry to begin their witnessing from the very first day. From the first day, the minister ought to display his lifestyle, make clear his convictions, his priorities and his purpose. Especially in church planting ministry, as Paul was engaged in, it is critical that we make our stand clear from day one. Appealing to dubious strategies which conceal one’s real motive in being in a place of ministry, might reap short-term gain but will inevitably result in long term loss. Paul was a man of the gospel from the very first day of his ministry in Asia. There was no difference between the first day and the last day, as to the essence of his lifestyle. Such straightforwardness and honesty is much wanted for ministers of the gospel.

Thus Paul was an example to his people by living a gospel-transformed life amongst them, from the very first day to the last.

2. A pastor humbles himself before the Lord, by remaining faithful in his service to his people, accepting all trials he has to face in being their servant. (v.19)

Paul now goes onto explain what it means for a pastor to be an example to his people. The first thing he notes is his humility before the Lord. He says in verse 19 how he served “the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews”. Humility is part of the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in all true Christians. However Paul is speaking here of how that humility was specifically manifested in his ministry to the Ephesians. Paul displayed his humility before the Lord by serving the Lord, despite the many trials he had to face. In other words, it was his perseverance in his service to Ephesians, despite the many tears and trials, that he shows forth as an evidence to his humility before the Lord. Paul was so committed to the Ephesians that he was willing to pay any cost to serve them. Thus the second lesson we learn from Paul’s pastoral ministry is that a true pastor humbles himself before God by accepting all trials sovereignly brought by God and remaining faithful in his service to his people.

There is no greater sign of one’s humility than serving God’s people while paying a painful price oneself. Paul himself while teaching humility to the Philippians draws them to the condescension of the divine Son of God (Philippians 2:5-8). The divine condescension, Paul says in v7-8, was to become a servant and obey God in the service of God’s people. Even Jesus taught the same truth to His disciples in John 13:14-15, where He washes their feet and tells them to follow His example. Thus throughout the Bible, it can be seen that humility is best seen in service to God’s people. Ministry with Jesus inevitably involves patronizing oneself, which involves humility before the Lord. Not only does ministry involve such condescension, but also severe trials. To persevere in one’s service, despite the trials is a sure sign of one’s deep humility before God. The true pastor, like Paul is thus one who humbles himself in being the servant of his people, while willingly paying a price for his ministry to them. Whereas, unwillingness to pay the price in the service of God’s people is a sure sign of pride. It is pride, as it is unwilling to trust in God who sovereignly orchestrates all of life. For faith in God inevitably entails humbling oneself and putting all trust in God. It is pride, as it is opposed to suffering for God. For, suffering for God inevitably entails counting His Name and His people more dear than oneself. Thus a person who keeps on shifting his ministry, because it is costing him to endure in one, can never be a pastor. A pastor might move out of his ministry, like Paul eventually did move from Ephesus, but only due to divine compulsion and never due to trials.

Paul thus was an example to the Ephesians, first of all in his humility to suffer for their sake. He showed them how one should not quit despite being persecuted for one’s proclamation of truth. He showed them how he endured through much trials, sure enough with much tears, but with steadfastness for the sake of Christ. He thus encouraged them to be faithful in their profession of Christ, even by dying if need be and at no point to beat the retreat. “The true trial of the servants of Christ,” as Calvin said is, “not to be changed as the times change; but to continue like to themselves, and always to keep a straight course.”

3. A pastor never shrinks the message of God, but faithfully proclaims the whole counsel of God publicly and privately for the benefit of his people. (v.20,26,27,31)

Paul now goes on to elaborate on his faithfulness displayed in his ministry to the Ephesians. In verse 20, he says he, “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house”. Here Paul deals with his faithfulness in his preaching and teaching ministry. He is confident that his preaching was both wholesome and beneficial to his people. It was wholesome as he did not shrink the message committed to his charge. It was beneficial, as it was profitable in the edification of his hearers. Thus Paul not only humbled himself and remained in Ephesus, despite the trials, but he was diligent in preaching and teaching his people. Thus the third mark of a genuine pastor we see in Paul, is that a true pastor is a faithful herald and teacher of the Word of God, who labours both publicly and privately, for the edification of his people.

In the ministry of the Word, a pastor is then faithful, first of all, by being a guardian of the doctrinal treasure committed to his trust. He does not just preach some of the truths entrusted to him, but all of it. To guard doctrine is not only to fight against perversion of it, but also to not conceal it from public consumption. Paul was a faithful pastor in that he did not shrink any portion of the message entrusted to him and never hesitated to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul was so confident of his faithfulness in his preaching that he says, he is innocent of the blood of all of his people (Acts20: 26). This is a clear allusion to Ezekiel 3:18, 20, and Paul uses it to say he has discharged all his duties as a pastor, specifically that of declaring the whole counsel of God. On the other hand, we sadly live in a day and age where shrinking the Christian faith is a common practice. Pastors are encouraged to preach only that which seekers would like to hear in a church. Popularity and relevance are given priority over faithfulness to the Scriptures. None of this can be found in Paul. He, like a true herald, was committed to never edit the message given to him by God.

A pastor is faithful in the ministry of the Word, secondly, by giving utmost consideration for the edification of his hearers. In other words, the aim with which he should conduct his Word ministry should be the edification of the saints. It is when this aim is abandoned that people tend to employ modern manipulations in ministry. When numerical strength, honour before the world, etc, are our aim in preaching, we would never be committed to preach the whole Word, but would rather resort to water down the gospel, endorse human wisdom and even bring elements from the entertainment industry. However if one sets edification of the saints as one’s goal in preaching, then one cannot help but humbly depend on the Scriptures. For they alone are powerful and sufficient to build up saints in Christ. God has so ordained that the church is edified the most when it gathers together and listens to the Word of God preached by a faithful shepherd. Paul, in fact, gives the most serious and solemn charge in all of the Bible, when he exhorts Timothy to be faithful in the preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). This is why most Evangelicals of the bygone age were thoroughly convinced of the primacy of preaching over all other aspects of corporate worship.

Finally a pastor is faithful in the ministry of the Word, when he labours not just publicly but also privately, to individual Christians under his care. When Christ calls one to be a shepherd, He calls him not just to preach Sunday sermons, but also to watch over, shepherd and build up individual souls under his care. Thus it is not enough to preach publicly, but also privately, from house to house as Paul says. Private ministry is aimed at meeting the individuals’ specific needs. It involves teaching the ignorant, counselling the broken hearted, warning the backslider and a whole host of such vital ministries of the Word, which if neglected would surely be a stumbling block to the growth of the church. If the pastor preaches gospel truths only in the pulpit and never applies it to specific life situations of his people, through his private teachings and admonitions, then surely the church would be filled with arrogant people who think they know it all. Much of the legalism in certain conservative Christian denominations is precisely due to a lack of private ministry of the pastor. Most pastors today make excuses to avoid the private ministry of the Word. They either deny its place in the church and shun it completely or see it as an inferior form of ministry and relegate it completely to lay men. However Paul, the Apostle, was not like that. He visited homes himself and ministered to each of them individually. He says for three years “he did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:31). It is worthwhile to note here again that Evangelicals of the bygone age, especially those of the Puritan heritage considered pastoral visitation and catechising a vital part of being a pastor. Much of their church growth in terms of the quality and depth of the profession of faith found among their people can be attributed to their private ministry of the Word.

Paul was thus an example to his people by diligently labouring in his preaching and teaching ministry. He showed them that God’s message in its entirety is beneficial to us and there needs to be no omission of any part or doctrine thereof.

4. A pastor does not show partiality by changing his message based on the crowd. (v.21)

Paul moves on to recite a gist of his preaching and says how he preached this same message to all people. For he says in verse 21, that he testified, “both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was thus so committed to the gospel entrusted to him that he preached it to all people, despite their differences. Thus we note our fourth mark of a faithful pastor, which is that the content of his preaching is not dictated by his audience, but is one tethered to the gospel. Paul specifically deals with his resolution to preaching nothing but the gospel in his first epistle to the Corinthians. There he does mention, how the Jews and the Greeks demand miraculous signs and human wisdom respectively, however he preaches Christ crucified. The rationale behind this resolution of Paul is two fold. Firstly, Paul knew that despite their cultural differences, both Jews and Greeks are fallen sinners in need of a mighty saviour (Romans 3:9). He knew in light of the testimony of the Word of God, that the ultimate need of both Jews and Greeks is not going to be met by miraculous signs or human wisdom, but by Christ alone. Secondly, Paul knew that the gospel is powerful enough to save any – be it Jew or Greek. He knew very well, that those whom God effectually calls shall come to see the gospel, not as a stumbling block or as foolishness, but as the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). In other words, he trusted entirely in the power of the Spirit, which God dispenses with the preaching of the gospel, to change the natural disposition of his audience, in order to empower them to embrace the gospel. Thus as a preacher, he enjoyed true liberty to preach the gospel and not be a slave merely catering to the felt-needs of his hearers.

A true pastor then should be one who is thoroughly evangelical in his preaching. In other words, the Evangel (the gospel) of God profoundly shapes his preaching ministry. He does not believe in the false dichotomy between ministry to sinners and that to saints. Whether to sinners or saints, his message is essentially the same – the sufficiency and efficacy of the person and work of Christ, as revealed in His gospel, and calling people to live their lives trusting this gospel. That is his message at all times. He is relentless in orienting all his theology, life and ministry to the truths of the gospel. Only in such a gospel-saturated, Christ-glorifying and God-honouring ministry, can we expect the powerful working of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners and the building up of saints, as seen in Paul’s ministry.

It is also worth noting in the text, how Paul sums up his evangelical ministry as consisting of two main points, namely repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. Firstly, it is worth noting that repentance and faith are jointly stated. To separate them is a fatal error. If one scans Christendom, it is very easy to note denominations and movements which committed this very same error. Revivalistic movements have always shown a tendency to preach repentance apart from faith. Thus they have gone to the extreme of being mere moralists, who by their preaching on purity and uprightness, apart from or before coming to faith in Christ has altered the definition of both biblical repentance and even the biblical gospel. Certain other groups, the more popular one these days, bank it all on faith, with no message on sin or repentance, but on faith as a kind of mere wishful thinking, enabling one to grab all kinds of material gain. They also preach another gospel. For the true gospel to be preached, both repentance and faith is to be held together. Repentance with no view of turning to Christ’s sufficiency to save is mere moral reformation. Faith with no conviction of one’s sin and need of Christ, as a saviour is mere presumption. However Paul preached both, the need to repent and the need to believe in Christ. Secondly it is worth noting here that edification of the church comes about by preaching both repentance and faith. As noted earlier, Paul was a preacher committed to the aim of edifying his hearers. If that be the case and as found here, the content of his message being repentance and faith, then it is logically deducible for us to say that the church is edified, when it hears the gospel message of repentance to God and faith in Christ. In other words, the church benefits the most, when it hears the same old message of the old rugged cross. Pastors would do well noting this point, that they are not to invent clever new ways of coming up with amusing, inspiring and relevant messages to keep the people in their church happy. Rather they are to expound every text to bring out the light of the gospel in them. Every text, every doctrine, every theme in the Bible, expounded to bring the gospel glory of Christ in them. Every sin, every need, every pain, every problem dealt in light of the gospel. This will edify the saint, feed the lamb and strengthen the Lord’s solider.

Thus Paul as a pastor was an example to his people, in that he was radically committed to the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel message entrusted to him. He showed his people that God’s message is all about the gospel – what God did in the person of Jesus Christ, and our necessary response of turning from sin and trusting in Christ.

5. A pastor has a strong sense of God’s calling in his life that he does not consider his life worthy, apart from finishing his ministry of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.

Paul after having told the Ephesian elders of his evangelical ministry tells them how persecution is awaiting him at all places. However he quickly reminds them his purpose in life. He says, he does not “account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God”. Here we have the purpose statement of Paul. He says his life is not dear to him, unless he succeeds in finishing his course and ministry from God. In other words, God’s calling in his life – both as a Christian and as a minister of God, profoundly shaped his understanding of his purpose in life. Suffice to say, he had no other purpose for his living, but the calling of God in his life. There we see our fifth mark of a true pastor, that he is one who sees all of life as meaningful only in the fulfilment of God’s calling in his life.

Paul made the same statement in a succinct manner, when he wrote to the Philippians. While explaining to them how he is confident and content to magnify Christ whether by life or death, he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In the Greek there is no “is” and therefore the verse is literally, ‘for to me, to continually live Christ..’. In other words, the chief end of Paul’s existence was Christ. Christ was everything and all to Paul. As Spurgeon noted, Christ was the “life of his life”. Thus Paul lived to commune with and serve Christ. Hence life was valuable to him, only if it served Christ. Thus service of Christ took precedence over every other pleasure and need in life. For life is life only when it served Christ. Thus the calling of God in his life to fellowship with and serve the Son of God so shaped his worldview that his priorities in life were radically transformed. Here we thus have an explanation to why Paul did all we saw earlier – of humbling himself, enduring trials, preaching the whole counsel in gospel light to Jews and Greeks, it is all because life to Paul is Christ and Christ alone. If the grace of God in Christ be not testified, then life is a waste to Paul.

A true pastor must then be a man whose worldview has been so shaped by the gospel realities in his life, that he derives his sole purpose of existence from the calling of God in his life, both as a Christian and as a minister. He therefore does his ministry not as a mere profession for earning his livelihood. He rather does his ministry as fulfilling his purpose in this life on earth, his joyful service to Christ, who is his very life. Such a vision of ministry enables the pastor in two ways. Firstly, it makes him approach his ministry with sobriety and blood earnestness. There is nothing trivial or frivolous to be found in his ministry. He settles for nothing mediocre. He labours hard in the vineyard of Christ with a willing and joyful heart. He is eager to please Christ and Christ alone. Man’s opinion and honour means little to him. He is faithful to Christ and His truth alone, and sides with only those who are with Christ. Secondly, it enables him to suffer for Christ gladly. He who sees life as all about heralding the gospel of Christ, is willing to pay any price to fulfil his life’s purpose.

Paul was thus an example to his people in that he faithfully served them in spite of all trials because Christ was life to him. He showed them that to live is to fulfil God’s calling in our life – of communing with Christ and serving Him in the proclamation of His gospel.

6. A pastor puts his ultimate trust in God and His Word to save and to build his people.

In his address to the Ephesian elders, Paul then breaks the news to them, that he will never see them again and that they are to keep watch over themselves and the churches under their care. He also tells them that even from their own group, false preachers will arise and twist the truths. However he does not stop there. He ends his word to them by commending them to God and His Word, which he says, “is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” There we see our next mark of a true pastor that his ultimate trust concerning his ministry is in God and His chosen instrument of the Word of God. Despite the many fears concerning their future, Paul expresses his deep trust in God who is well able to keep them faithful unto the end. It is of utmost importance that a pastor be knowledgeable of God’s power to keep His people through His word. It is also to be borne in mind that the knowledge so needed for a pastor is experiential and not merely notional. Moreover Paul makes it explicit that the means through which God saves and builds His people is His Word. Hence it is implied that the knowledge so needed for a pastor must be an experiential knowledge of the efficacy and sufficiency of the Word of God.

First of all then, the pastor must have an experiential knowledge of the efficacy of the Word of God. In his own personal pilgrimage, he should have regular experiences of the power of the Word to save and to build him as a Christian. For this, he must be a studious and sincere student of the Word of God. Daily praying, reading, meditating and believing the Word must be his delight. Only by letting the Word permeate one’s life would one enjoy the life-giving power of the Word. The power of the Spirit is dispensed by God only through His Word. The pastor must be a Christian who constantly experiences the Spirit’s power to sanctify and strengthen him. Confidence in the Scriptures grows with one’s personal experience of the power of the Word. With every victory wrought by the Spirit through the Word in one’s life, comes renewed confidence in the truth that the Word of God is efficacious enough to fulfil all of God’s purposes. From this confidence is birthed a sweet trust which enables one to entrust others to the Word of God. A pastor will inevitably find himself in circumstances where he is forced to entrust his people to God and His Word. That faith in God to be displayed by the pastor won’t come unless one has a personal experience of the faithful efficacy of the Word of God. Paul therefore tells Timothy to persevere in building his ministry on the Word of God alone, as he himself have experienced the power of the Word from his infancy (2 Timothy 3:15).

Secondly, the pastor must be a Christian having an experiential knowledge of the sufficiency of the Word of God. To have an experiential knowledge of the sufficiency of the Word is to know how the scriptures are sufficient in and of themselves to be the divine means of God’s work in us. It is to know how God saves and builds one, only through the Scriptures. Sadly we live in a day rampant with Charismatic excesses, where Christians are encouraged to know God and His will through every other means except the Word of God. The centrality and exclusivity of the Word of God in God’s dealings with His people is not a doctrine tenaciously held, even by the vast majority of Evangelical Protestants. However a true pastor, who like Paul, wants to build his ministry on the Word of God, needs to reclaim the cry of the Protestants during the Reformation – Sola Scriptura. Scripture alone is the only divine special revelation given to man to know God and be saved. Knowing this sufficiency experientially enables one to commend others to the Scriptures alone. This is why when Paul tells Timothy on persevering in true apostolic and biblical ministry, he tells Timothy to know the sufficiency of the Scriptures to make the man of God equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

If one comes to a place of having deep, spiritual conviction of these truths concerning the Scriptures, then one can receive the consolation of the following truths and entrust one’s ministry to God. First of all, the Scriptures declare God as sovereign (Genesis 14:19; Exodus 18:11; Psalm 93:1; 95:3;115:3; Jeremiah 23:20; Matthew 10:29; Romans 9:15; Ephesians 1:11). In other words He is the monarch who rules over all of His creation. He providentially orchestrates all events in time to make His purposes fulfilled. Thus we can be comforted to know that God is in control over all creatures and circumstances, and that He will work out His good for us in all things (Romans 8:28). Thus the pastor can entrust his people – their care, protection, nurture and preservation to God’s hands. Secondly, the Word says clearly that Jesus Christ is the builder of the church (Matthew 16:18). It is His ministry to save, build and preserve His people. It is He who has all authority over heaven and earth, who has also issued the great commission to His church. Thus the pastor can entrust his people to God, for the blood of Jesus shall reap all of its reward and shall keep every single one of them till the end (John 6:37-40;10:28-29). Thirdly, the Word says the Spirit of God is at work amongst His people (Ephesians 1:13). From divine illumination on the gospel, to regeneration, to sanctification, to comfort, to ministry gifts, to preservation till the end, the Word declares it all as the diverse workings of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. Thus the pastor can entrust his people to God, for the Spirit of God is faithful and efficacious to work in His people.

Paul was a pastor who knew very well that he was an under-shepherd tending God’s flock and that the great Shepherd’s blood is well able to equip the church with everything good for doing His will (Hebrews 13:20-21). Thus the ultimate confidence of Paul concerning the growth and preservation of the church was in God Himself.

7. A pastor works hard to help the weak and never covets anything from anyone – honour, money or clothing; but always proclaims with his life and service that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’. (v.33-35)

Paul ends his address to the Ephesian elders by making note of how he was free from covetousness. Covetousness is an evil which can surely destroy one’s ministry. Paul here says how he was free from all forms of covetousness and moreover was someone who worked hard to take care of others. There we have the final mark of a true pastor from this passage, that he is free from the love of personal profit – be it money or any form of wealth, but is one who, like Christ, is committed to giving than receiving.

In this matter of covetousness, the testimony of the Scriptures is crystal clear. From the tenth commandment in the Decalogue to the teachings of Jesus to the writings of the Apostles, the Word of God condemns all forms of covetousness. However in Pauline writings, it is mostly dealt in the context of false preachers. Paul gives special emphasis in showing how preachers who are covetous invariably preach false doctrines (1Timothy 6:3-5;Titus 1:11). This is why a pastor should constantly watch over his heart to see if any covetousness is there. For if he lets the splendour of wealth and earthly riches fill his heart and mind, then his convictions and priorities in ministry would also be greatly twisted by this love of money. Like Jesus said in Luke 16:13, he will then start loving money and hate God. He will thus be serving money rather than God in his ministry.

In times recent we have seen how a whole host of preachers, swayed by covetousness, are preaching a different gospel commonly known as the “prosperity gospel”. Their greed for money has let them to believe another Jesus, who was not like Paul says here, one who believes “it is more blessed to give than to receive”. The true Jesus of the Bible was one who strongly condemned the love of money. His teachings cannot be clearer than they are in the gospels. He spoke clearly that life is not found in the abundance of one’s possessions (Luke 12:15), that one can only serve either God or money, not both (Luke 16:13), that being man-centred and not God-centred is satanic (Matthew 16:23-26), that worrying after earthly needs is what the pagans do whereas a true believer is one who rather seeks God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:30), that eternal life is found only in knowing God through Himself (John 17:3) and that one is to treasure God more than any earthly treasure and be liberal and charitable with earthly wealth (Matthew 6:19-24;19:21).

Paul as a disciple of Christ, was one who exemplified all these teachings of the Lord. Regarding material needs, he says, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content”(1 Timothy 6:8). Paul would be content if he has just food and clothing, nothing more. Just the bare necessities to sustain one’s physical life on this earth is enough for Paul to be content regarding material needs. The world around us however does not want to be content with mere food and clothing. Our craving for material needs has no end. It is greed more than any need. Much of this rat race is to keep up with other people in this world. A pastor however like Paul, must be one having no desire for this rat race. He is quite content to just have food and clothing, not even shelter is mentioned by Paul. Not that having a shelter or some extra blessings in life would be sinful to possess, but they are not necessary for Paul to have contentment. His great goal in life, as shown earlier, was to testify Christ, not die as a proud rich man. For him, the great gospel truth that in Christ, he has died to this world and has been raised with Christ to heaven was a reality in which he worked out his life on this earth.

Some might object that this unwillingness to enter in this rat race of the world is a mere excuse to be lazy and live by fleecing the flock. Though such kind of abuse of this truth is possible, Paul certainly was not like that. He laboured hard, supplied for himself and even for his co-labourers by his own work. Though as a minister of the gospel, he was entitled to receive the support of the churches, he willingly sacrificed it, so that he will not be a burden to them. A true pastor then, like Paul, must be one who is not a stranger to hard work. He must not give way for the common perception of pastors, at least in our land of India, that they are lazy gluttons who just sleep and stroll on their beds till evening for conducting some meetings. He must rather be one who labours hard, of course in prayer and study of the Word and if need be in physical labour, all for the blessing of the church. He does not see the church as a people he uses for his own profit – whether for gaining honour or money or clothing. Rather he sees the church as the people of God, whose spiritual profit is his all-consuming concern and burden. It is this type of loving service that God honours. The Prophet Samuel in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 12:3-4) and Paul in the New Testament (Acts 20:33-35), testifies to their freedom from all kinds of covetousness in their ministry. Thus a thoroughly biblical pastoral ministry would have to have this mark of freedom from covetousness.

For the encouragement of pastors to pursue this goal of freedom from covetousness, here are some truths worth meditating. First of all, for our hearts to be relieved from the false glory of earthly things, consider the glory of God. For, treasuring Him is the only way of losing our grip on earthly treasures. Study the Bible then to see His glory – in Creation: how He created all things by His Word; and in Redemption: how He saves us through the person and cross-work of His Son Jesus Christ. Seek the Spirit to create a hunger for the glory of God laden in every page of Scripture. The more we are satisfied in Him, the less we hunger after earthly things. Like Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. The eye set on the glory of heaven will cry out like the Psalmist: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Ps73:25). Secondly, concerning the welfare of our ministry, we ought to be confident in God’s providential care and faithfulness. The Bible is replete with divine testimony concerning the Lordship of God over His creation. He sovereignly orchestrates all things, even our financial needs and provisions. However if we as faithful, obedient followers of Christ are engaged in serving Him, then we can be confident that God is our patron. He will not let His work suffer due to lack of any resources. Church history bears witness to this truth that God has never ever failed in keeping His word to any missionary or minister, who sought God in true faith, in any generation or country. Reading missionary biographies are greatly helpful to see how God providentially took care of every single need of each of them. If God did that to them, then He being no respecter of persons, will surely do it for us too, if we seek Him in faith for His work. The knowledge of God’s faithfulness thus should be a constant motivation to be content and not yield to love of money. Hence the author of Hebrews says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus taught the same truths to His disciples, by expounding God’s fatherly love for His people and how knowing His heart, would free us from sinful unbelief and worry. He also promised us that if we are seeking the Kingdom and His righteousness, then all our earthly needs – what to wear and what to eat, will also be added to us.

Paul, was thus an example to his people, in that he showed his people, that through the gospel, we are already rich in things we ought to be rich: the knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ. Being thus rich in eternal things, our hearts are free to be charitable with earthly things.

Conclusion

We saw from this passage seven key descriptions of Paul as a pastor to the Ephesians. These seven descriptions can be summarized as seven marks as follows:
  1. Model lifestyle
  2. Humble sacrificial service
  3. Doctrinally faithful pastor
  4. Gospel-centred or Evangelical preacher
  5. Christ-saturated worldview
  6. Man of faith in God and His Word
  7. Free from the love of money

The church needs such pastors and may the Lord be gracious unto us to raise up such men to serve the Lord among her.

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