In serious-minded biblical churches, pastors rightly value theological rigor, biblical worship, exegetical preaching, corporate prayer, the right administration of the sacraments and the exercise of church discipline. However, one thing that does not seem to get the same emphasis in such circles is affectionate pastoral ministry. I’m not referring to the quasi-liberal softness which poses as a counterfeit of true Spirit-wrought affection. What I have in mind is that example of the Apostle Paul, who modeled both zeal for orthodoxy and zeal for the people of God themselves. If there is one area in which I wish to grow, it is in this–an ever increasing joyful and affectionate longing to be with and labor for the people of God.
In Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards surveyed the Apostle Paul’s expressions of loving affection for the people of God and wrote,
“Paul represents himself, as overpowered by this holy affection, and as it were compelled by it to go forward in his service, through all difficulties and sufferings (2 Cor. 5:14–15). And his Epistles are full of expressions of an overflowing affection towards the people of Christ:
he speaks of his dear love to them (2 Cor. 12:19; Phil. 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:2). Of his abundant love (2 Cor. 2:4). And of his affectionate and tender love, as of a nurse towards her children, “But we were gentle among you; even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thess. 2:7–8).
So also he speaks of his bowels of love (Phil. 1:8; Philem. ver. 12 and 20). So he speaks of his earnest care for others (2 Cor. 8:16), and of his bowels of pity or mercy towards them (Phil. 2:1), and of his concern for others, even to anguish of heart, “For out of much affliction, and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you, with many tears; not that ye should be grieved; but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you” (2 Cor. 2:4). He speaks of the great conflict of his soul for them (Col. 2:1).
He speaks of great and continual grief that he had in his heart from compassion to the Jews (Rom. 9:2). He speaks of his mouth’s being opened, and his heart enlarged towards Christians, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged”! (2 Cor. 6:11).
He often speaks of his affectionate and longing desires (1 Thess. 2:8; Rom. 1:11; Phil. 1:8 and ch. 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:4). The same Apostle is very often, in his Epistles, expressing the affection of joy (2 Cor. 1:12 and ch. 7:7 and ver. 9 and 16; Phil. 1:4, and ch. 2:1–2, and ch. 3:3; Col. 1:24; 1 Thess. 3:9).
He speaks of his rejoicing with great joy (Phil. 4:10; Philem. 1:7), of his joying and rejoicing (Phil. 2:1, 7), and of his rejoicing exceedingly (2 Cor. 7:13). And of his being filled with comfort, and being exceeding joyful (2 Cor. 7:4). He speaks of himself as always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). So he speaks of the triumphs of his soul (2 Cor. 2:14). And of his glorying in tribulation (2 Thess. 1:4, and Rom. 5:3).
He also expresses the affection of hope; in Phil. 1:20, he speaks of his earnest expectation, and his hope. He likewise expresses an affection of godly jealousy (2 Cor. 11:2–3).”1
I naturally think of the image of the Shepherd with the sheep, when I read of Paul’s joyful affection for other believers. Though the sheep are often difficult, the Shepherd does everything to care for the sheep (John 10). Though they wander, he expends all of his time and energy seeking out the lost sheep (Matt. 18:10-15). He carries the wandering lamb home on his shoulders (Luke 15:5). In the image of the Shepherd and the sheep, we find an apt picture of the great affection that Christ has for His flock. What more fitting illustration could we have of the tenderness ungdershepherds of the Good Shepherd ought to have for the people of God? May God give all of His undershepherds such affectionate love and longing for the people of God.
1. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith and Harry S. Stout, Revised edition, vol. 2, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 109–110.