April 22, 2008
Posted by goodsoldiers under Sin
, The Fall
My brother, Ryan, lives in the Virginia Beach and is in the Air Force. Now, my brother is the complete opposite of me. We are only 18 months apart and we look a lot alike, but we’re completely different. I’m more laid back and just like to take it easy. I don’t really like a lot of attention drawn to myself. I’m quieter and stuff like that.
But my brother is a little crazy to say the least. I mean this guy is not afraid of anything and there are many reasons for that. For instance, he was stationed in Korea and the USA basketball team had come to play and he went to watch the game. He was telling me how he had really close seats and he went up to Lebron James and told him his game was garbage and that he didn’t want any of him on the court! Of course, Lebron laughed and so did my brother.
The main reason I suspect for my brothers courage and craziness is the fact that I beat that boy senseless everyday of his life. Yes, if I were to describe my brother in his early years, he would be a man under a curse. I mean think about it, he woke up everyday, thinking I don’t know when or how, but I’m going to get beaten unto oblivion sometime today. He was truly under a curse!
My brother was not the only one who has ever awaken to this thought, but also the original man, Adam. Adam was the man who brought the judgment of God upon himself and the entire human race. It was through this man who represented all of humanity that sin and its curse has spread to the whole world. And when we come to Genesis 3, the paradise of Eden, that place of rest, peace, and the presence of God is slowing fading over the horizon and the dark clouds of sin, suffering, and death are filling the skies.
Just prior to God’s pronouncement of judgment, Adam and his wife were deceived by Satan. They were deceived into doubting the word of God and were deceived into having resentment against God for not allowing them to eat from the forbidden tree. Then, this doubt and resentment towards God quickly spread like a wildfire in their hearts turning into unbelief and then engulfing into all out disobedience. The two quickly felt their shame for doing what was wrong, attempted to cover their shame, and hid from the God who made them!
The Curse of Satan
Now, in the second half of Genesis 3, God comes and confronts them for their rebellion. And the first one to be dealt with is Satan himself. Genesis 3:14 says, “The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.'” What I want to point out here is whatever Satan uses as an instrument of wickedness, will suffer the curse of sin. Satan, just like a well camouflaged rattle snake, took possession of this animal and waited for the right opportunity and bit the woman when she was unsuspecting.
But because of his attack against the image of God, this animal is cursed of God above all other animals. My dad used to tell me a good snake is a dead snake. I do not think it is ok, to deliberately go out an be cruel to animals, but I think out of all the animals in this world the snake is one that is looked upon with disgust and fear. Now, I know some love them, but my point is this that what the snake represents in the physical world, Satan represents in the spiritual. He is dark, deceptive, poisonous, and accursed.
You may remember Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc. Well, there is one scene, where he is dropped into a dark room and when he lights his torch the whole room is crawling with snakes. And he says, “Snakes, I hate snakes!” Just as there is hostility between mankind and snakes, God has placed hostility between Satan and his people. Genesis 3:15 says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Not only did God curse the instrument of Satan’s attack, the snake, but he cursed Satan himself. First, God cursed Satan by putting ‘enmity’ or hostility between God’s people and Satan and between the children of God and those who reject God. There is an on going animosity between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven. Second, God cursed Satan by saying that the woman whom he deceived will one day have a child that will crush his head!
God’s Judgment against Mankind
So, after God gives the verdict to Satan, he turns to his two accomplices in the crime. Because of their sin against a holy God, they are judged as guilty before him and given their sentence. Genesis 3:16 says, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'” First, God speaks to the woman about the consequences of her sin. Notice the first part of God’s judgment against women, “‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’
Now, what in the world is going on here? Remember what Genesis says about what it means to be a woman. Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” One of the most essential aspects of being a woman according to the Bible is being a mother, having children. The Bible teaches that this is a part of God’s design. This is her role, but now one of her fundamental purposes is flooded with pain and hardship. This command that God has given to you ladies is frustrated because of sin.
I don’t know how many of you all have been in the delivery room after a woman has given birth to a baby, but it’s scary. I mean everyone is happy because of the little baby, but the girl looks like she has been through some pain. And you know what, she definitely has! And this is the result of God’s judgment against sin, women will give birth, but through great pain and difficulty.
But there is a second part of God’s judgment towards women, Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Some have taken it to mean sexual desire. The woman will desire her husband physically. How could that be a curse?
Well I hate to ruin the dream, but I don’t think this is what it means. In the next chapter, Genesis 4, in the story about Adam and Eve’s first two children, we have the very same words used of sin’s desire to master Cain. Genesis 4:7, “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” God is saying sin’s desire is against Cain, it desire is to rule him, master him, and control him. So, if we take this way of thinking back to Genesis 3:16, what does it mean? Because of the curse of sin in the life of women, their essential role in their relationship with their husbands has been drastically altered from one of a ‘helper’ to one who desires to control, rule, and master their husbands. So, now instead of peace and agreement in their relationship, there will be resistance, because both are trying to run the show.
So, women will desire to rule men, but men will also exploit the weakness of some women. Genesis 3:16, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Man, do we not see this in our world or what? There are fractured relationships all around us. I mean, just turn on the TV five minutes and you’ll see some woman being exploited by a man because she looks good or a woman using her looks to gain control over a man. This is the judgment of God against sin.
You ladies need to be aware of this in your lives and the way you relate to your brothers in Christ and the guys who are non-believers in your lives. You need to know that there is a deep seated root of sin that desires to distort your role as a woman. It might appear in the way you dress? Do you dress in a way to draw attention to your body? I heard Paul Washer say one time that if the way you dress is a frame for your body then it’s sinful, but if the way you dress is a frame for your face then it’s pleasing to God. And any guy who’s worth dating won’t want someone who wants to draw attention to themselves by the way they dress. Are you rebelling against God’s design for you as a woman to be a wife and a mother? Are you letting some guy rule over you by taking advantage of you? Ladies think about these things!
Genesis 3:17, “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” So after God finishes with the woman, he turns to Adam, he turns to the protector to the man. He begins by telling Adam why he giving him this judgment.
Genesis 3:17, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.” Now, it’s not saying guys, when you get married don’t listen your wife or God will judge you. But that Adam sat back and watched his wife being preyed upon by a blood thirsty wolf and did nothing about it, but listen to the voice of his wife. Whose voice should he have listed to? Genesis 3:17, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it.'” He should have listened to the voice of his God! Guys, how are you doing in this area? Are you listening to God and the lies of Satan, coming at you from every avenue in this world? How much time do you spend in God’s word everyday? I’m telling you, it is my joy to hear God’s word everyday and I couldn’t survive without out it. Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” We’re just like Adam, unless our paths are guarded by the word of God, we’re fools and Satan will destroy our lives!
These are the reasons for God’s judgment against Adam, but the actual judgment is that just as the woman’s primary function is confused now, so is man’s role as a leader and a provider. Genesis 3:17, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” If you remember in Genesis 2, Adam’s primary role was to serve the Lord in the garden and take care of the creation. This was to be free of frustration and hardship and was actually joyful act of worship. But now, his sin has destroyed everything and if he is to do anything, it will by through pain and suffering.
Genesis 3:18, 19, “Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So, because of sin there is not only a rivalry between men and women, but also between us and the creation. The creation is cursed. We who were called to rule over the creation are now being ruled by it. Can we not look out at the world and see that something has gone wrong somewhere. This world is groaning under the weight of sin.
God has placed a curse upon the earth because of sin and now it’s no longer like Eden, but chaotic and thorns and thistles come up out of the ground. Look at Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” So, man’s privilege of work will now be done through hurt, pain, and emptiness.
One of my best friends plays in the NFL and I once told him that the NFL isn’t like a job or work or anything, not really thinking about what I was saying. He responded by saying, “Yeah, ok!” The first hand off he ever received in the NFL was given to him by Brett Favre. I’ll never forget watching his retirement speech and him saying that knew he could still play, but that he had give it his all and he was threw. You see, even our sports figures can be brought to the point to where they have nothing left to offer. He’s tired. He’s frustrated. And in the end, man dies and returns to the dust he was made from. There is an entire reversal of the creation! This is the result of sin!
God’s Grace in the Midst of Sin
Despite this terribly dark situation, there are sparks of light. Despite the awful thing it is to fall into the hands of angry God, this passage does not rule out hope, but is filled with the grace of God. God is a gracious God! Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
In this verse, God promises that one day, there would come one who would crush the head of Satan. There was coming a man born of a woman who would defeat Satan and the curse that stands against all humanity. And at the appointed time in God’s plan, there was a daughter of Eve, her name was Mary and she was a virgin and God caused a new creation to be created within her. He was to be called Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. He was coming to crush the head of the serpent. He was born into this world and that serpent bruised his heel all the way to the cross, biting and striking all the way.
On that dreadful day, the serpent was poised to strike, the son of God, and when he did and that cross came crashing down like a shotgun blast and Jesus Christ complete crushed the head of his enemy. Colossians 2:13-15, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Praise God, the curse is lifted for all who are in Christ!
Check out this talk on The Curse Motif of the Atonement by R.C. Sproul
April 7, 2008
Posted by goodsoldiers under Marriage
What would make paradise seem like a desert? What would make even the most ideal of situations seem like torture? Being alone! Adam was the ideal man, but yet being alone was not a good thing as we will see. It’s doesn’t matter how tough you are, being alone is not good. Even Chuck Norris would cave under these circumstances. Now, I know that saying this, I’ve just put myself in the risk of possible death, but it’s true. I know Chuck Norris doesn’t believe in Europe, that he doesn’t believe in Evolution, but only a list of animals that he allows to live, that he sets ants on fire with a magnifying glass, at night, that he has counted to infinity, twice, that his tears could cure cancer, but he has never cried, but even after all of this, paradise would be a desert if Chuck Norris was alone. That’s why Chuck is married! He’s no dummy! Enough said. Get married or deal with Chuck!
God created a real paradise for man to live in, put all things at rest with himself, but one thing was missing, woman. We were all made for relationships. Just as God is a community of people, so God made us in his image to be in community with other people. One of the most vital aspects of our being in community with other people is being married. The Bible teaches that marriage is fundamental to being a man or woman and crucial to any lasting human community. Marriage is good!
Genesis 2 presents us with the pattern for marriage. This marriage occurred before sin entered into the world. Marriage is not the result of sin, but it is the purpose of God for all mankind. Genesis 2:18, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Is this not shocking to you? God says that it’s not all good here! After every other day, God said, “It is good!” But here God sees that man is alone and proclaims, “It is not good.” God wants to draw our attention to this issue.
So, the Lord devises a plan, “I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now, I know that when you hear the word ‘helper’, you might think that this is oppressive to women and degrading, but this is not what it means at all. Actually, this same word is used of God himself. Of course, we would never say that God being called our helper is oppressive to him or degrading to him. Psalm 20:2 says, “May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!” So, here the Lord is described as giving help to his people and support. So, in the same way, man was in need of support and help. This is the woman’s God-designed role, not making her inferior, but vital. God sees that if man is to truly represent him to bring him glory on the earth that he is in need of support and help to do this. It is not good for man to be alone! Matthew Henry, a puritan writer from back in the day said, “Perfect solitude would turn a paradise into a desert, and a palace into a dungeon. In our best state in this world we have need of one another’s help.”
So, look at what God does, Genesis 2:19, 20, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Notice the language here, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field.” What does that sound like to you? It’s is the same language that was used of God sculpting the man, like a master work of art. God also forms the animals the same way from the ground, just like a potter. Genesis 2:19 says, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” God creates all these animals and parades them before the man for a purpose and the purpose, is so that the man would name them. In the Ancient Near East and in the Bible, naming is a sign of authority and leadership over something or someone. Just remember what God did with the things he created in chapter one. Genesis 1:5 says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” God is ruling over the heavens and causing them to exist, by making them do his will, and by naming them. In the same way, man is representing God, by having authority over creation. Genesis 2:20, “The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Is this not strange? God said that he was going to make man a helper, but what has he done? He has brought the animal world before the man to exercise authority over it. What is God doing? God is trying to show man that there is nothing else in all of God’s creation that he was made to have a relationship with, only a woman. God is showing him his inadequacy of accomplishing his God given task without help, a wife. God is teaching him to value his wife! You are not to treat her like these animals! But it says, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.”
Awhile ago, I was watching The Colbert Report. His guest was David Levy an author and title of his book was Love+Sex with Robots. This guy was serious too! He was talking about how the technology would soon be available to where someone could have a physical relationship with a robot. Because in this world people are becoming more and more individualized and isolated from one another, the author was saying there would be need for something like this. This screams the truth of Genesis 2! Man cannot function in this world without relationships and will go to great lengths to have community, even buying a robot!
Genesis 2:21, 22, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” You see what the Lord does here? God caused Adam to go to sleep and took one of his ribs. Look at the material the woman was made from? All the animals and man were made from the ground, but woman comes from the man’s side. She is not made from the ground, so that she would be trampled on, or from his head to dominate the man, but from his side, to be protected by the man, to be under his arm, to be loved, and provided for by the man. She is equal with him, but to have a distinct role from him, one of support and help. She was made to be with him and him with her!
Isn’t this what a woman wants? I mean I’m not an expert here, but it seems like women want to be treated with kindness, cherished, protected, know that you will never leave them, nurtured, encouraged, and provided for. They want a man who will actually be a leader and not a stinking sissy! They want a man who is not passive and indecisive, but at the same time cares about and respects their opinion. They want someone who they can respect. This is the picture we’re given here!
Genesis 2:23, “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.'” So, God creates the woman and presents his daughter to the man and the man speaks his first recorded words. Is that not amazing? Man’s first words were a love poem to his wife. He sees her and says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” There is someone fit for him, fit to have a relationship with. Just as Adam names the animals, he now names the one God has created for him. Genesis 2:23, “She shall be called Woman!” The point here is that man is to be the leader in the relationship. Naming is a sign of authority. Man is to exercise loving God-honoring leadership in the relationship. His role is different that the woman’s.
At work one night, I was talking with this girl. We talked for awhile about all kinds of things and she was telling me about her childhood and how her parents were divorced, when she was young. Then she went on to talk about her boyfriend and I asked her because this passage was fresh on my mind, “Do you want to get married?” She said, “No, because I saw my parent’s relationship and how it didn’t work with them. I want to do things more non traditionally.” You know I could really feel what she was saying and I know so many other young people out there resonate with her. I mean, I have witnessed my parent’s marriage as well and all the pain, hurt, and fights. But let’s stop here for a minute, just because we have seen it done poorly doesn’t mean it’s bad, broken or we should throw it in the trash. This isn’t the way marriage was designed to be. I’ve also witnessed marriages and when being around these couples, thinking to myself how I wanted what they had. Marriage is good!
Genesis 2:24, 25, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Men should not be alone. It’s not good. We were designed by God to get married. Look at this. Notice the initiative the man is to have here. He is to leave his father and mother. In other words, grow up, get a job, and move out. Launch the ship baby! He is also the one who is to initiate the relationship. He is to leave and cling to his wife like super glue, no other woman!
Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Doing things God’s way is good. Marriage is a good thing. It’s a beautiful thing. Outside of a marriage between a man and a woman there is shame. There is pain. This is an honorable thing. When you do relationships God’s way, the result is a trip back here, a trip back the garden where there is no shame, where there is rest for your soul!
April 4, 2008
Posted by goodsoldiers under Church History
The modern church for the most part is suffering from amnesia about its past. Many seem to think that they are pioneering a new movement, while failing to see that they were preceded by two thousand years of church history. These churches and Christian leaders are embarking on the most dangerous of journeys without realizing a narrow path has already been blazed for future generations to follow.
The Discovery Channel has produced a reality show called Everest: Beyond the Limit. This show is the story of a few brave souls who are willing to have their attempt to conquer this terrifying mountain recorded for the world to see. However, when setting out on this rigorous journey, they don’t neglect to seek the counsel of those who have gone before them. In fact, an expert climber guides them the whole way up the mountain by radio. These climbers are not only led by a professional, but follow a trusted path to the summit of Everest.
How, the church today could learn by the example of these climbers and look back to those who have successfully climbed the mountain. Justo Gonzalez is right when he says, “Without understanding the past, we are unable to understand ourselves”. It is this self-understanding that is missing in much of modern Christianity. The church lives,
moves, and has its being in the traditions of her past or lack there of without even knowing it. But the church is not only affected by the traditions it inherits, but by a failure to realize that many of the situations the church faces today have already been weathered by previous generations, as Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).”
Therefore, it is the purpose of this paper to present the life and work of Gregory the Great, in order to hear from one who has walked that narrow path, while at the same time not covering up his stumbling along the way. First, his life will be briefly sketched. Second, a sample of some of Gregory’s theological views will be addressed. Third, this paper will examine the works and writings of this saint.
Gregory was born in 540 A.D. in Rome, Italy. His family was very devout. He great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III. His father worked for the Church of Rome and his three sisters became nuns. His mother, Silvia was made a saint by the Catholic Church. When his father was on his deathbed, Gregory converted the entire house into a monastery, which he dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew. He also later on entered the monastery as a monk.
He reluctantly became bishop in 590 A.D. He was grieved and sorrowful to take on a position of such dignity. Upon hearing of his grief, John, archbishop of Ravenna rebuked him for his hesitancy. Gregory’s Pastoral Care is a response to John,
explaining to him his own understanding of the weight of the office. Even though, Gregory I did not jump at the opportunity of becoming a bishop, he evidently executed his duties with skill and character. Commenting on the significance of Gregory I and his papacy, Noll says, “The summit of early papacy was reached in the pontificate Gregory I.” Gonzalez also agrees, saying, “The next pope, Gregory, was one of the ablest men to occupy that position.”
One of the reasons that Gregory is accredited with such honors is because he was a man of integrity. Furthermore, Noll explains, “The crowing glory of Gregory’s pontificate was that somehow…he seems to have remained a humble, pious Christian.” While others gloried in the power of the papacy, Gregory wanted to retreat from the position. Even those soon after the Great, perverted their leadership and a dark cloud loomed over Rome. But throughout his papacy Gregory seems to have remained faithful.
Another reason Gregory was such an excellent leader was his love for preaching and teaching the word of God. In fact, a quick skimming of his Liber regulae pastoralis will prove his love for scripture. The work is saturated with text after text. Gregory was a preacher of the word, as Noll points out, “He was highly regarded as a preacher, especially for his ability to apply the gospel to the many tumults and disasters of his time.” His zeal for preaching led him to inspire many to rededication and missions work. Gonzalez also commends Gregory for his passion for preaching, when he says, “Gregory considered himself above all a religious leader. He preached constantly in various churches in Rome, calling the faithful to renewed commitment.” So, Gregory was truly a man mighty in word and deed.
Gregory’s theology flowed from this method of interpretation. He had a threefold method of exegesis (literal, mystical, and moral). For instance, Gregory commenting on Exodus 25:12-15, says, “What is symbolized by the ark but the Holy Church?” This would later become a standard. Gregory’s Liber regulae pastoralis is full of mystical interpretations of the Old Testament priesthood. This can especially be seen in reference to the apparel of the priests and the articles within the Tabernacle and Temple. However, the other two aspects of his hermeneutic can also can be clearly seen in this writing, making it very profitable.
Based on Augustine’s speculation about a place where people might be purged of their sin before going to heaven, Gregory “gave impetus to the development of the doctrine of purgatory.” In fact, Gregory’s writings were heavily influenced by St. Augustine, although he should have differed with the bishop at this point. Additionally, on the impact of Augustine, Gonzalez comments, “His greatest pride was not to say anything that had not been held by the great teachers…particularly Saint Augustine. To him, it sufficed to be a disciple of the great bishop of Hippo, a teacher of his teachings.”
While furthering Augustine’s speculations about purgatory, Gregory I rejected Augustine’s understanding of predestination and irresistible grace. Gregory “was more concerned with the question of how we are to offer satisfaction to God for sins committed.” He saw this as being done through penance, which consisted of contrition, confession, and actual punishment or satisfaction. He believed that the living could help those who had died out of purgatory by offering masses on their behalf. In conducting these masses for people who had died, Gregory believed “that in mass or communion Christ was sacrificed anew.” While the there are many wonderful doctrines and practices where Gregory should be followed, the above are a few where it would be unbiblical to agree with.
Gregory’s Works and Writings
Gregory the Great, after becoming Pope, did not seek merely to retain the monastic lifestyle he had previously lived, but was rigorous in fulfilling his office as bishop. Moreover, Noll expounds, “The list of Gregory’s energetic accomplishments as pope is breathtaking.” He is one of those men whom it may be unreasonable for most to imitate, because of the sheer vastness of his accomplishments.
Here is only a sampling of this ‘Great’ man’s undertakings. When the Lombards attacked, Gregory oversaw the Roman defense. He aided with negotiations with the Roman emperor in Constantinople. He transformed the finances of the church. Concerning the boundaries and responsibilities of the Western dioceses, Gregory reorganized them.
He was a zealous student of the word. He also sought to reform worship. He was serious about promoting music in the church. To top it all off, Gregory gave oversight to the churches changes in missionary strategy. He sent missionaries North and West to important European locations. The missionary advances spearheaded by Gregory led to the conversion of the Arian Visigoths in Spain to orthodoxy. They sent Augustine (Not the North African) to England, which brought about the conversion of the Angles and the Saxons. During a time of disease and extreme poverty, in Rome, Gregory spearheaded the distribution of food to the poor.
He wrote many expositions on scripture. Particularly, Gregory wrote a commentary on Job, which Noll says, “Became staples of study throughout the entire middle ages and beyond.” In 590, Gregory the Great wrote Liber regulae pastoralis. Concerning this work, Noll says, “For nearly a thousand years, it was the Western Churches principle guide in pastoral counseling.”
This writing, which has been translated into English and given the title Pastoral Care, was to many a sure guide in unforgiving terrain, just like the expert climber on the other end of the radio for those on Everest: Beyond the Limit. The purpose of the book was to show that “the care of souls as the key activity for all pastors.” The book is divided into four sections: 1) “one should carefully consider the way in which the position of supreme rule ought to be approached,” 2) “how life should be spent in it” or the life of the pastor, 3) “one should teach others,” and 4) “with what vigilance one should realize each day one’s weakness.”
Part one deals with the one who is considering the office of pastor. Gregory uses the title “one should carefully consider the way in which the position of supreme rule ought to be approached,” as mentioned above. In this section, he examines several criteria that one should seriously contemplate if a man is even thinking about pursing this high calling.
In chapter one, Gregory begins by saying, “No one ventures to teach any art unless he has learned it after deep thought.” He is saying that the pastoral ministry should not be entered into lightly. Gregory warned those carelessly and also prudently wanting to become pastors to think deeply about it, just as Jesus warned those who were seeking to follow him in discipleship to count the cost. In this case of the negligent, he warns, “People who are utterly ignorant of spiritual precepts are often not afraid of pressing themselves to be physicians of the heart.” However, the opposite should be the case, but being unaware of the warnings to those who instruct people from the word of God, some people fly into the position without being qualified. This should not be for those who are aware the magnitude of pastoral ministry.
Chapter three of part one is given the title The burden of government. Every adversity is to be disregarded, and prosperity feared. Speaking of Jesus, Gregory says,
“He fled from the exalted glory offered Him and chose the pain of an ignominious death, that His members might learn to flee from the favours of the world, not to fear its terrors, to love adversity for the sake of the truth, to shrink in fear from prosperity, for this latter thing often defiles the heart by vainglory, but the other cleanses it by sorrow.” Rarely if ever will young ministers hear in the churches in which they are being discipled “to shrink in fear from prosperity”. However, as Gregory points out, this is the burden of government which is laid upon all who truly come after Christ in this manner. Pastors should expect similar temptations as were presented to Jesus, when he was offered the kingdoms of this world in exchange for worship of Satan. In addition, their response should be the same.
Gregory titles chapter ten The character required of a man who comes to rule. One of the main character traits, required of a pastor is that “He must die to all passions of the flesh and by now lead a spiritual life. He must put aside worldly prosperity; he must fear no adversity, desire only what is interior.” The one approaching this ministry must “by now lead a spiritual life”. In other words, this should already be something as normal as breathing to the prospect. He must already be an example to the flock. Gregory goes on to say, “He so studies to live as to be able to water the dry hearts of others with the streams of instruction imparted.” This is how important the pastors own personal sanctification is to his hearers; it is life giving water. For by watching his life, he is able to point them to spring from which he is already drinking.
Part two is given the heading How life should be spent in it, which means the life of the pastor. So, Gregory moves on from what to consider before taking the office to what the pastor’s life should look like once in that station. The first chapter in this section is called The conduct required of one who has in due order reached the position of ruler. Gregory says, “The conduct of the prelate should so far surpass the conduct of the people, as the life of a pastor sets him apart from his flock.” It is a sad thing in this day, when the character of the flock succeeds that of the pastor and when the flock is leading the shepherd. Chapter one outlines the rest of this part of the book.
In chapter four, Gregory deals with the topic of speech, giving it the title The ruler should be discreet in keeping silence and profitable in speech. In it, he says,
“Often, indeed, incautious rulers, being afraid of loosing human favor, fear to speak freely of what is right, and, in the words of truth, do not exercise zeal of shepherds caring for the flock, but serve the role of mercenaries; for when the wolf appears, they flee and hide themselves in silence.” How true are these words, when the air of much modern preaching is so clouded with the fear of men that the word of God is eclipsed. When this happens, pastors prove that they “do not exercise zeal of shepherds caring for the flock”. They show where their true allegiance lies which is with themselves and their own foolish pride.
The seventh chapter in this section is given the title In his preoccupation with external matters the ruler should not relax his care for the inner life, nor should his solicitude for the inner life cause neglect of the external. Expounding upon this idea, Gregory insightfully says, “For often some persons, forgetting that they are superiors of their brethren for the sake of their souls, devote themselves with all concentration of heart to secular affairs.” Here the heart of Gregory’s work is clearly seen, when he says, “for the sake of their souls”. It is the duty of the pastor to look after the souls of his people, but how can he do this when he is wrapped up in civilian affairs. The result of this type if desertion is “Consequently, the life of their subjects undoubtedly grows languid, because, though these wish to make spiritual progress, they are confronted with the stumbling block, as it were, of the example of their superior.”
Part four only contains one chapter with the caption With what vigilance one should realize each day one’s weakness. This chapter deals with the minister’s self-watch. One of the greatest dangers in ministry is that while “restoring others to health by healing their wounds, he must not disregard his own health and develop tumors of pride.” This is the paradoxical trap of ministry that in seeking the good of others, one neglects the good of their own soul. If the physician is unable to work, how can he attend to his patients? Furthermore, Gregory says, “In many instances, indeed, the greatness of certain men’s virtues has been an occasion of their perdition.” How many countless men have failed to see this crevice in the glacier of pride and have fallen to their death?
The life of Gregory the Great is truly one that is remarkable for many reasons as have already been mentioned. In a day, when one rarely hears of a minister leaving a larger church for a smaller one, Gregory was extremely hesitant to accept the role of bishop. This is a great insight into the humility of this man. He was also a fervent lover of scripture and pastoral ministry. However, his teaching was not free from error, noting his views on purgatory and his rejection of the Augustinian idea of salvation.
Nevertheless, his life’s work is vast. He achieved many great things, which are worthy of emulation. One of which was his love for the people of God. This love is clearly seen in his Pastoral Care which survived for a thousand years in the Western Church. Rightly so it endured, since it is a safe path up the Everest of pastoral ministry. It may not be the principle text of pastors today, but the truths in it are timeless, touching even this generation staggering from historical amnesia!