My recent study on the Pastoral Epistles for craftofpreaching.com brought to mind how Saint Paul, the author of these epistles, identifies himself as the “apostle” of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1) – uniquely commissioned by the Lord Himself with authority equal to that of the Twelve. His apostolic authority was to be recognized and received by the universal church because of his Office as Apostle. That is very official. Paul writes and preaches by the authority of Christ’s own commissioning. So, insofar as he writes and preaches the content of this commissioning, his readers and auditors are reading the words of Christ and hearing Jesus’ voice. This is what it means for him to be a duly commissioned (called and ordained) ambassador—apostle—of Christ Jesus. He expects his readers to acknowledge this. And it is this acknowledgment of the office he holds and the role he fills for Christ that, with respect to authority, engenders some distance between himself and others.
In contrast, the three salutations (1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1) quickly turn toward the familiar as Paul references his personal relations to the recipients and closes the distance. He knows and loves Timothy and Titus. They have a history together. They have bonds as intimate as father and son and, expectedly, the distance collapses. The question then arises: How far is the authority of preaching affected by unique and distinctive personal relations? Thomas C. Oden states the matter thus: “The Pastoral [Epistles] are not merely personal greetings but official communications of an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). Yet they are combined with intense expressions of personal relationship and concern.” Indeed, Paul launches out with very official-sounding introductions but then delves deeply into his personal relationships with Timothy and Titus. Oden believes, “Person and office were profoundly mixed in Paul’s pastoral identity.” This is true. Paul does not merely set sharp boundaries and ecclesial order through the distinctiveness of his office, he also addresses the men as friends and sons. But does it affect his preaching or, more to the point for us, how might our personal relationships affect the authority of our preaching?
Paul, and certainly the Holy Spirit who inspired the Apostle’s writing and preaching, thought it should provide advantages and factor into good preaching. So far from keeping Timothy and Titus at arm’s length, the comingling of the distinguished office of apostle/ambassador and familial-quality relationships only seemed to enhance his capacity to preach and write with loving-authority, compounding the potential effectiveness of the Word. Oden surmises much the same saying, “Pastoral authority at best elicits and celebrates personal closeness, the intimate ties that emerge in the relational life that is hid in Christ.”
Paul did not preach from a vacuum into a vacuum. Instead, because he was so personally invested in the lives of his auditors, his words were willingly received as one who has the familial or relational right to speak into their lives. At the same time, because Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus, his writing and preaching were imbued with the authority of the King and received as such, but with this enhancement – Paul’s personal love and care for his auditors and readers was embraced as Christ’s own personal love and care. The apostle or the pastor, then, embody Jesus’ own disposition, posture, commitment, and affection for the people committed to his care.
The apostle or the pastor, then, embody Jesus’ own disposition, posture, commitment, and affection for the people committed to his care.
Authentic pastoral care optimizes the potential reception of the Word of Christ preached. When love-for-the-other is the posture from which one preaches, then love-in-the-other warmly receives the Word, even when the Word is one of rebuke, correction, reproof, or direction. Fathers instruct and discipline their children, as well as affirm who they are and what they have become (by grace and through sanctification).
This may be seen as a maxim since such preaching comes with affectations earnestly established through Christ’s love-through-pastoral-care. Professor Oden makes application to contemporary preaching when he says, “The quality of communication that will enable the renewal of the church and ministry today must be both apostolic and personal, both a rich recollection of the tradition and a highly personalized communication of that tradition through specific relationships of caring.” When love, concern, emotive closeness, and personal engagement characterize the nature, tone, and intent of preaching-to-the-Bride-of-Christ, it cannot but be inherently authoritative and familiar. It is the address of the intimate Bridegroom for the good of His bride, who loves her in a deeply sacrificial way, always with her betterment, her salvation and sanctification in view (cf. Ephesians 5:25-32).
When love, concern, emotive closeness, and personal engagement characterize the nature, tone, and intent of preaching-to-the-Bride-of-Christ, it cannot but be inherently authoritative and familiar.
Luther beautifully brought the ideas of authority and personal relationship together when he paraphrased Saint Paul’s opening salutation in First Timothy:
My dear Timothy, you know me … You know my teaching. You have observed all of the many things I have suffered and the false brothers I have had. You have seen from how many directions spies have set up attacks on me. And you know, too, that I have no hope other than Christ. You have worked together with me in persecution, and you know that I trust no man. So, I write to you in a more familiar fashion, because Christ is our Hope.
Luther speaks into a rich tradition. At least historically within Lutheranism, it has distinguished itself by authentically Christ-like pastoral care established by and through an unwavering commitment to true, Biblical doctrine, preserved in the confessions and catechisms of the Book of Concord.
Nothing, then, may advance your preaching quite like being an excellent student of our holy faith, who does so from a posture of pastoral love and a passion for the salvation and sanctification of the souls given to your sphere of influence. Nothing promotes good preaching quite like actually knowing the Word of Truth and delivering it from a disposition of passionate care, commitment through the long-haul, and life spent together with the people of God. Your reputation among your people greatly factors into the receptivity of the authoritative Word preached. Therefore, outstanding pastoral care is not merely a companion to good preaching, nor sound preaching a complement to faithful pastoral care. No. Both necessarily comprise the affections, compassion, commitment, truth, mercy and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ amidst His people. Jesus is in both and both factor into good preaching to collapse the distance with which the authority of the office is invested. Authentic proclamation must have truth and love, not either or. When both are present the notion of an authoritative word is maximized in the hearts and minds of Christians. His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10:2-6; 10:27). Implied in John’s words is the fact that the sheep know the Good Shepherd’s love and care in His voice, for the two are blended into one. Authentic proclamation, then, is the love of Christ for our souls, which we have seen and experienced through the under-shepherd’s pastoral care put into the words of Christ Himself.