Pastoral Lessons from Galatians
One of the central blessings of pastoral ministry is saturating your mind with the Word of God. Pastors have the privilege of devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. Over the last several months, I have been renewing my mind through studying the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians as I preach through this critical book. What I have found often has direct application to my own ministry. Here are four key insights that I have learned from Galatians:
The Message of Our Ministry: The Gospel
Paul had originally traveled to the region of Galatia preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to those who were enslaved to Satan in sin and announced their freedom through Jesus Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. Christ lived the righteous life they refused to live and then suffered the condemnation of death they deserved to die. In taking the place of His people, Christ triumphed over the curse of sin through His resurrection from the dead. We share in this eternal life through our faith in Him as our Savior and Lord. We are justified by faith alone, declared righteous by God because we receive Christ’s righteousness in exchange for our sinfulness.
It is this hope in Christ that we freely offer to all as we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ! God has raised us up as pastors to proclaim this message of good news to our communities and to the nations. So we are constrained to deliver this message and no other. We are not in ministry to share our own spiritual insights or to coach others with practical tips for living. We are called to preach Christ and Him crucified!
The Challenge of Our Ministry: Opposition
But we also face challenges in our ministry. Once Paul planted the churches in Galatia and continued his mission work, professing Jewish Christians came in with a false gospel. They taught that Paul’s gospel of grace was incomplete. While you need to believe in Jesus to stand justified before God, you must also become one of God’s people by receiving the covenant sign of circumcision and keeping the law God revealed to His people through Moses. So these false teachers undermined Christ’s work on the cross and led these Galatians to trust in their own obedience in order to satisfy God.
These Judaizers are just one example of those who oppose the gospel ministry. There are false teachers outside of our churches who will twist Scripture and use slick speech to try to reverse our congregation’s faith in Christ. But there are also false teachers who will rise up from within our churches and seek to persuade the flock to join with them on their own spiritual journey away from the cross of Christ. And because of the remaining sin in a believer’s life, it is natural for them to follow these false teachers with their pursuit of works-righteousness. So we must not only preach the gospel in our ministry, but we must also defend the gospel against opposition. This defense comes through reminding our churches of the gospel that saves by giving instruction in sound doctrine as well as rebuking those who contradict it. Pastoral ministry is not easy. It is a hard life of sacrifice and trials against opposition.
The Motivation of Our Ministry: Love
Paul could not simply stand by while the Judaizers were marching these churches to their destruction. He had to act! So he writes this letter with urgency and passion. As you read it, you quickly see how much love he has for the Galatians. This is a man distraught over the dangerous situation that has developed among them. He pours out his heart to them through this letter so that they will wake up from their spiritual slumber and recognize their need to repent of their sin and return to their Savior.
Paul’s love for them comes through most clearly when he writes: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (4:19). He pictures himself as their spiritual mother who gave them birth in the gospel. But now he fears they have returned to their former slavery to Satan by looking to God’s law and circumcision for their justification and salvation. So he feels like he must go through the birthing process again so that they will once more experience the freedom that Christ has purchased for us through His shed blood. Let us think about this imagery for a moment. Laboring to give birth is incredibly painful. But what mother is not willing in love to endure the suffering for her child to be born? She bears the curse of sin in childbearing in order for her children to have life. This is the kind of sacrificial love that all pastors should have for those God has entrusted to our care!
The Goal of Our Ministry: Christlikeness
We also see from this verse the goal of pastoral ministry. Pastors serve the church until Christ is formed in our people. Therefore, our work is not complete until Christ is formed in them. The goal of ministry is not conversion but Christ-likeness! So our work isn’t complete when an individual believes in Christ and joins the church—our work has just begun! This is a long term ministry that will continue through our lives. Our goal is the sanctification of all of the members of our congregation, and it is through our prayer and our preaching the Word that they will grow in Christlikeness. By faithfully shepherding their souls in love, Christ will be formed in them.
Why do we continue in pastoral ministry? Because Christ has not been fully formed in them. What hope do we have to be faithful in this awesome responsibility? That Christ is at work in us as well. In our own strength, we would fail. But through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our lives, God’s sanctifying work in His people will be successful. The gospel that we preach is also the gospel that we rely on for our ministry. As Christ promised His church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. As a result, we minister with our confidence in Christ and knowing that He will accomplish the renewal of His people. What a privilege it is to serve our Savior as a pastor!