A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
Bernard of Clairvaux, whom Luther once called “the most pious monk that ever lived,” said that the office of the public ministry is “Sacerdotium non est otium, sed negotiorum negotium.” Fortunately for me, the source where I came across that quote also contained the translation. The first part of it means “The office of the ministry is not leisure,” and the second part can be translated either as “but work above all work” or as “but difficulty on top of difficulty.” For those who are faithful in that office, that observation is certainly true.
Luther didn’t disagree with Bernard on that point, but he did have a more germane observation about the pastoral office. He said, “It is a very great glory for a miserable human being to be called a messenger of God and to have this name in common with the heavenly spirits.” In another place, Luther commented, “Scripture certainly praises and lauds this position very highly. St. Paul calls preachers God’s stewards and ministers, bishops, teachers, prophets, God’s ambassadors, too, sent to reconcile the world with God (2 Corinthians 5:20). Joel calls them saviors; David calls them kings and princes (Psalm 68:13); Haggai calls them messengers (1:13); and Malachi says: ‘The priest’s lips should keep the knowledge . . . for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts (2:7).’”
As with the priests and Levites in the Old Testament, God has in our time established and ordained a group of people through whom His Word is to be publicly administered. In the New Testament era, however, that office is not hereditary as it was with the priests and Levites. It is, rather, an office entered by a divine call, and its proper function is the public proclamation of God’s Word, through which the Holy Spirit works to create and sustain faith. “Thou [Jesus] wisely hast ordained / The holy ministry / That we, Thy flock, may know / the way to God thro’ Thee.” (v.1)
It is through God’s Word that saving faith is both created and sustained, and the public preaching of that Word is the primary function of the pastoral office. The pastor’s focus is not to be on the advancement of social welfare or on political advocacy, but rather on faithfully proclaiming and correctly applying divinely revealed Law and Gospel, to the salvation of souls and the spiritual feeding of God’s people. “Thou hast, O Lord, returned, / To God’s right hand ascending; / Yet Thou art in the world, / Thy kingdom here extending. / Thro’ preaching of Thy Word / In ev’ry land and clime / Thy people’s faith is kept / Until the end of time.” (v.2)
God has instituted the pastoral office for the blessing of His people, and it is our duty—and also our privilege!—to pray for God’s blessings upon those who publicly proclaim His Word on our behalf. What, then, should be the content of our prayers for our called servants? This hymn especially urges us to pray that they faithfully proclaim pure doctrine, that they may be preserved in sanctification, and that the Holy Spirit would give them power to boldly apply unchanging divine truth to the changing circumstances of Christians. “The servants Thou hast called / And to Thy Church art giving / Preserve in doctrine pure / And holiness of living. / Thy Spirit fill their hearts, / Endue their tongues with power; / What they should boldly speak, / Oh, give them in that hour!” (v. 5)
This world—increasingly so in our own day—is often antagonistic toward Christ and those who are His. The road ahead of us may very well be a bumpy one. Nonetheless, we know where that road ends, and the ministry of faithful shepherds helps us to know the way along that road and sustains us as we go. “Press onward with Thy Word / Till pastor and his fold / Through faith in Thee, O Christ, / Thy glory shall behold.” (v.7)
In the Israelites’ battle against Amalek at Rephidim, God’s people prevailed as long as Moses held up his hands and staff. But when Moses became weary, Amalek prevailed. Therefore Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands until sundown, and the Israelites overwhelmed Amalek. In like manner, it is our duty and privilege to be the ones “holding up the hands” of our pastors. Praying for them is an important part of that support. May we always remember to support those whom God calls to be a blessing to us.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.