This weekend DJP was installed as the pastor of Copperfield Bible Church, and I was there with my family to celebrate the occasion. I was asked to give a charge to the congregation, and by the wisdom of my wife I briefly gave the following message:
My friends, I’m grateful this morning to be with you as you receive and install my dear friend and brother Dan as your new pastor. I am reminded today that I am not myself a pastor but only a fellow sheep. For that reason I ask you to remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.Here we most often read Paul to be speaking of the provision we have in Christ, and that’s fair enough. But there is something broader Paul is speaking to which I think is a challenging and fruitful point to reflect on when a local assembly of believers installs a new pastor and teacher.
1. The Christian life is an uneven field full of ups and downs. This is the part of the passage we are most familiar with, but notice that Paul says that even he – an apostle, chosen by Christ – had needs. He knew what is meant to be brought low because he had been brought low; he knew how to prosper because he had in fact prospered. But let’s be certain not to miss this: Paul knew these things in spite of being an apostle, chosen by Christ, and specially gifted to serve God’s people. The apostle abounded, and the apostle knew hunger and need. If that’s true of the man who God used to write 30% of the New Testament, how much more is this true of us who, frankly, have a long way to go in our running the race to keep the faith?
2. Certainly, it is unmistakable that Christ is the cause and foundation and resource for us to have what it takes to do all things and face these ups and downs. Paul says it plainly enough: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. The “all things” there is certainly a reference to the variations of abundance and neediness Paul has faced, and what we will certainly face over time as we live in this world. But think about this with me: the context for Paul’s statement here is not merely generic suffering and rejoicing where Christ is sort of hovering above it all with a beatific demeanor. The context here is that Paul was in need, and his need was met by his fellow believers. “I can do all things through Christ,” he says, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.”
3. One of Christ’s provisions to strengthen us to do all things is the one most obvious on a day like today: being together as a local church. This is true for all of you who have spent time together without a pastor seeking through your elders to find the right man for this work, but how much more true is this now that you have found a man you say you want to follow under God’s authority? It is kind of you to share in each others’ trouble, and much more so that you can take hold of and revive a concern for the man you have called to lead the charge of love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
Listen: you have called this man and his family to lead and teach your church. This is no small burden you ask him to take up. You are asking him to take up the burden of the ministry of the Gospel. Share in this burden with him.
You have not called an angel or a wooden saint: you have called my dear friend. He is not a monument. He is not a figurehead. He is a man. And like all Christian people – like me, like yourselves, like Paul whose words I am charging you with – he needs his fellow believers to share in his burden.
This is the thing, my friends: you are here, and seek forgiveness in Christ. Offer it to each other, and especially to your pastors and elders, because you are forgiven. You are here seeking the love of Christ. So offer it to each other, and especially your pastors and elders, because you are beloved. And because you are sinful people, and you will fail to love and forgive, be kind to each other. Share in your burdens. Share in the burdens especially of those whom you call to wade into these burdens ahead of you. As the Philippians shared in Paul’s burdens – that is, as Christ strengthens you for both the times of plenty and the times of need – share in the burdens of one another both in the times of plenty and the times of need.
Let’s pray: Jesus, help this assembly to labor side by side with these men whom you have called to shepherd them for the sake of your Gospel. Let their reasonableness be known to everyone. Teach them to be anxious for nothing, but in everything let them turn to you in prayer, and petition, and thanksgiving. Teach them what it means to rejoice in every circumstance as Christ strengthens them, and to share in one another’s burdens, especially the burdens of their pastor whose calling to this place we celebrate today. And we pray this today, Lord, by the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Amen.