(2 Cor. 5:17)
Studies in Second Corinthians
The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel In The Pastoral Ministry
A pastor is called by the Holy Spirit through a Christian congregation. He is placed in that congregation by the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, who gives pastors and teachers to His people as a gift. A pastor is to be honored and listened to because he is a representative of Jesus. Jesus said to the seventy whom He sent out in His name: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Lk. 10:16).
A pastors does not come on the basis of his own authority or personality. He is responsible to Jesus for the exercise of his ministry. A pastor comes in the authority of Jesus. Some feel that today there is growing lack of respect for the ministry and an attitude of not having to listen to what pastor or congregation says regarding an individual’s conduct. The apostle Paul experienced this very same problem in Corinth.
Tools Of The Trade
Both Law and Gospel are the tools of the trade for a faithful pastor. A pastor by the very nature of the Gospel minstry is to be meek and humble. He deals with the sheep with a Christ-like patience. A pastor is to be careful that he does not crush the faith of the weak. He is to seek the lost sheep. His ministry is to be evangelical, that is, centered in the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is to dominate his preaching and his practice.
Sometimes the Gospel-spirit of a faithful pastor is mistaken for weakness and tolerance. The flesh will take advantage of grace to sin all the more. Believe it or not, this happened to the apostle Paul. There were some in the Corinthian congregation who questioned the effectiveness of his ministry and of the Gospel itself. There were others who saw Paul as an empty threat. Paul in this letter spoke of the weakness of the clay pot which contains the treasure of the Gospel. After defending the Gospel ministry and his ministry among the Corinthians, Paul ends this letter with a strong warning.
Paul warns the Corinthians that they need to repent of their sins and listen to his pastoral letter. In conjunction with the Old Testament command to establish everything in the mouth of two or three witnesses, this is Paul’s third warning. If there is no repentance and acknowledgement of Paul’s ministry, the apostle will not spare those who sinned earlier. The law has a good purpose if used lawfully. It exposes sin and calls to repentance with its severe message and threat of eternal damnation.
God is not fooling. This is serious business. Do not confuse the crucifixion for weakness in Jesus. Don’t you realize that Jesus is in you with the power of His Gospel unless, of course, you fail the test? Your pastor calls upon you to examine yourselves whether you are even in the faith. Test yourselves. If you do not listen to the Word of God that your pastor applies to your heart, you also will have to hear the severity of the condemnation of the law. Your pastor comes to you in the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is sad when people in their pride and under the influence of the devil cavalierly dismiss the admonition of their pastor, for he watches for their souls as one who must give account.
A Final Gospel Appeal
The authority of the ministry can either build up or tear down. In this last chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul tells these people that he does not want to come with the sharpness or harshness of authority. Every pastor would rather build up his people with his pastoral authority. Thankfully, this is what the pastoral ministry consists of most of the time. However, there are times that a pastor has to use this authority to tear down. If necessary, the apostle Paul would come in all the severity of the law to discipline and bring to repentance those who had rejected his ministry and the Word of God. Sometimes your pastor has to come to you with the authority of Jesus and tell you that you are wrong and that you need to listen to Jesus’ words. Both the Law and the Gospel have to be applied in the pastoral ministry.
It is remarkable that in the face of these strong words, Paul is able to close this letter with a final Gospel appeal and blessing. The confidence is that the Holy Spirit will work through the words spoken and produce within people a change of heart and attitude. Paul closes with this appeal: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”
He then closes with the familiar blessing which not only mentions the three persons of the trinity but also describes their work. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” Listen carefully when your pastor speaks this benediction over you. God has committed unto us the ministry of reconciliation. Be, therefore, reconciled to God.
–Pastor John Schierenbeck