O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works, who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD! (ESV)
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Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr
16 September 2014
What anguish Paul felt as he became aware of the defection of the Galatians from the gospel of Christ! He felt as though he was being ripped apart in the agony of childbirth. He wanted Christ to be formed in the Galatians through the preaching of the gospel. That formation would come only through faith and trust of the heart. This was certainly the business of the Spirit. Paul believed that it was not by human reason or strength that anyone should believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, but it was the work of God the Holy Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten those who believe. Paul was certainly a monergist, that is, he believed that salvation was one hundred percent the work of God. Here is the true opus Dei (Jn 6:29). Because he believed in the power of the divine Word to do what it promised Paul was agonized. He could not form Christ in the Galatians, He could only preach that which would form them. His agony could not be alleviated by anything he could do. He had to leave things to God.
Today, pastors still agonize for the sheep the Lord has placed under their care in the same way that Paul agonized. Like the blessed Apostle, we only have the divine gifts to share with them, but we can't make them believe, we can't believe for them, we can't take away their suffering, and we can't keep them from stumbling. We can only be there to pick them up, dust them off, embrace them, and pronounce the good Shepherd's forgiveness over them. If they defect from the church or fall from faith, we can't do anything but plead with them using the divine Word. We feel a wrenching grief, about which we can't do anything but preach. We will say anything we must to call them back to the fold. It is agonizing waiting for the Lord to work His will in people's lives, until Christ is formed in them.
Pastors are the fathers of those whom they call back to the sheep fold, because of the agony they feel, like childbirth. When the preaching of the gospel reaches the heart of those who listen, then it is as though the shape of Christ is being impressed or imprinted upon it. This is how Christ is formed in the heart through the work of the Holy Spirit in and with the Word of God. The continual formation through the Word of God cuts the form of Christ deeper and deeper within us. Over this process pastors suffer.
"'My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you' (Gal 4:19)! This also belongs to the rhetoric by which Paul caresses the spirit of the Galatians with gentle and soothing words; endearingly he calls them by a pet name. All the words are chosen to appeal to the emotions and gain favor.
"'For whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth.' This is an allegory. The apostles (like all teachers, although in a unique way) functioned in the place of parents. Just as parents give birth to the form of the body, so teachers to the form of the soul. Now the form of the Christian soul is faith, the trust of the heart, which apprehends Christ, and clings only to Him and to nothing else. A heart provided with this trust, by which on account of Christ we are just, has the true form of Christ. These things are provided by the ministry of the Word. 'I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel' (1Co 4:15), namely, in the Spirit, so that you might know Christ and believe in Him. 'You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God' (2Co 3:3). For the Word proceeds from the mouth of the apostle or minister and reaches the heart of the hearer. There the Holy Spirit is present and impresses that Word on the heart, so that it gives assent to the Word. In this way every preacher is a father, who produces and forms the true shape of the Christian soul through the ministry of the Word."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.19