2 Corinthians 1:1-10
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (ESV)
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St. Matthias, Apostle
24 February 2014
There is nothing more useful than an understanding pastor. Even pastors need spiritual counsel. They are flesh and blood too and struggle with sin and weakness. The devil is always hounding them. They are not immune from spiritual struggle. Even Martin Luther struggled with his own doubts and spiritual terrors which drove him to strive against God. He was plagued by his hatred of a righteous God while he was a monk before the Reformation. He knew only too well the absolute holiness of God and the implacable requirements of the law, which only pointed out his failures to keep that law. How he despised, even hated, God because He promised wrath against him, a hopeless sinner. What could he, the sinner, do about it? The harder he tried, the more impossible it was to please God. The more he struggled, the more certain it was that he would drown in his own wickedness. His confessor chided him for his anger against a God that was not angry with him. Luther recognized the rectitude of that spiritual judgment. Sometimes we need that direction from a spiritual father or brother.
Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us when we are down in the dumps. A pastor's pastor is the one who will listen to a brother who is troubled by his sins, or is plagued by his congregation's hard-heartedness. A brother may well have had the same struggle and might offer the comfort with which he himself had been comforted by God (2Co 1:4). This is why the continuously triumphant preacher may not be the best confessor, for he will not have been pummeled by the trouble that would make him into a pliable listener. He has not debated with God or groaned under the spiritual burdens that caused his shoulders to sag and his heart to ache. He has not suffered sleepless nights wrestling with his own weakness or God's judgments against him or his flock. For the triumphant pastor, ministry has been easy and he cannot understand why the other should groan. The triumphant pastor simply counsels his weaker brother to buck up and quit whining.
Luther sought the spiritual counsel of the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, Johannes Bugenhagen who was a Pomeranian, and whom Luther called "Pomeranus" or "Pommer." On one occasion that Luther recalled in his "Table Talk" he was left behind in Wittenberg with Pomeranus, while the University vacated Wittenberg for Jena to escape the plague. Pomeranus counseled the disconsolate Luther over his kitchen table, and suggested that God was also despairing of Luther, to whom he had granted so many great gifts and yet he struggled. Perhaps Pomeranus meant this in a humorous fashion to gently chide his dear brother, but Luther took this to heart and found great consolation in it. Here is the true spiritual work of a great pastor counseling his treasured brother in need of encouragement. May God send us such pastors!
"When I was in spiritual distressa gentle word would restore my spirit. Sometimes my confessor said to me when I repeatedly discussed silly sins with him, 'You are a fool. God is not infuriated against you, but you are infuriated against God. God is not angry with you, but you are angry with God.' This was brilliantly said, although it was before the light of the gospel.
"Right here at this table, when the rest of you were in Jena, Pomeranussometimes consoled me when I was sad by saying, 'No doubt God is thinking: What more can I do with this man? I have given him so many excellent gifts, and yet he despairs of my grace!' These words were a great comfort to me. As a voice from heaven they struck me in my heart, although I think Pomeranus did not realize at the time what he had said and that it was so well said."
Martin Luther, Table Talk, 122
Lord Christ, send us pastors who will give us the spiritual counsel we need when we are struggling with our own weakness and sin. Help us to respect them despite their own weaknesses, and let the comfort You have granted to them overflow to us, when we pour out our hearts to them. Amen.
For Reverend Daniel McMiller and the Luther Academy, that the Lord would prosper the Academy's endeavors in sharing confessional Lutheranism throughout the world
For Aiden Webber, that the Lord would grant him health and strength
For Simon Leavit, that the Lord Jesus, the suffering Serant, would bring healing to him in accordance with His will
Art: MEMLING, Hans Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014