just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:07-08, NKJV).
The word translated "pastor" in the New Testament is derived from the word meaning "overseer", which, in turn, denotes the concept of "shepherd". Basically, there are two kinds of overseers described in Scripture. Those who perform for profit, who depart when the going gets tough. And those who protect and nurture the flock no matter what. Jesus Himself describes it this way: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. “The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep." (John 10:11-13, NKJV).
The Apostle Paul was no hireling. He had the heart and fierce devotion of a true shepherd, and you can hear it plainly in the focus passage above. Repeatedly, in every one of his epistles, he transparently reveals the depth of his love for those under his spiritual care, and that made him vulnerable, subject to hurt and mockery from the very people in which he invested his life. That is always the risk in being a pastor and not a hireling. But it is very clear that Paul did not let that vulnerability dissuade him from his calling, though he sometimes acknowledged his pain at being ridiculed or not loved in return.
When you study the encouragements and expressions of longing and affection in his letters, you are looking directly into his innermost part, as an under-shepherd of Christ, one who was so devoted to his Master, and so filled with the love of the Spirit that he endured countless travails on behalf of Christ's people: imprisonment, sickness, sleepless nights, anxiety, despair, humiliation, physical torture, and ultimately execution. Yet through it all, the prevailing emotion he expressed was love.
Paul had Christ's heart for Christ's children by faith. He saw them clearly through the lens of Scripture, and was therefore able to perceive both their human frailty, and their divine destiny. He thought the best of them, always, without glossing over their failures. He encouraged them without excusing their sins. He built them up even in the midst of being himself torn down.
He says it above, he had them in his heart, and understood his place in their lives, not as a tyrant lording his authority over them (though he surely had authority delegated directly from the Lord Himself), but as a fellow partaker of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And he longed to be with them, as all true Christians long for the sweet fellowship with other believers in the Lord. Their faith encouraged his own. Their sadness was his sadness, their joy his joy. His primary purpose in this life was to persuade others to accept the free gift of salvation, and then to build them up in the faith by simply teaching them the Word of God. He understood at what cost he and they had been bought, and it made each and every fellow believer precious in his sight.
Listen to this minute sampling of the depth of his regard even in this one short letter:
Php 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
Php 2:17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
Php 4:1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.
Thank God for the men He raises up to fulfill this role in the life of the church, and if you have a pastor like this, be especially grateful, because he is truly one of Christ's marvelous gifts to the church. Do not take such leaders for granted, nor suppose that he is immune from the everyday trials of life on this earth, nor from the particular trials reserved for those in leadership. Support him. Love him, and…
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. (Hebrews 13:7, NKJV).
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV).