As we go about serving others in the vocations God has laid upon us, the battle lines between the physical and the spiritual converge. In our vocations, temptations unfold as fierce engagements and physical and spiritual ambushes, relentlessly threatening our souls and bodies. Into this battle space, God sends a pastor, as a warrior-shepherd, to stand as a beacon of hope amidst the temptations that attack us, wielding the gospel of Jesus Christ and wearing the armor of faith.
Just as the Israelites faced the seductive glimmer of the golden calf, our modern lives are strewn with gilded idols, tempting us with the kinds of immediate gratification we crave. Physical desires, appearing like a mirage in the desert, can lure us in and ensnare our spirit, dragging us away from the grace of God. These vices, as helpful and useful as they may appear to us in the moment, are nothing less than weapons employed by sin, death, and the devil to entrap our souls.
It is this spiritual war that pastors are conscripted by God to enter into. They are sent to sound the alarm, to alert their congregations about the assaults that are ongoing, and to train up their flocks to wield the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – and to don the armor of righteousness. This is the primary calling of all pastors because, as God's Word and experience teach us, physical temptations can erode the spirit's foundation, yet through the gospel's redemptive power, God works through his preachers to mend those broken fortifications, transforming them into bastions of faith.
But it's not only the spirit that's under siege. Just as Job faced an onslaught of afflictions upon his body, we, too endure the consequences of spiritual temptation wreaking havoc on our flesh. Therefore, when a pastor cares for his flock, he must take seriously the connection between the soul's trials and the body's tribulations, ministering to both with the healing balm of Christ's death for sin and his resurrection for their justification.
For example, the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians, urging them to wear the full armor of God, cautioning them about the schemes of the devil, which afflict both body and spirit. This counsel is as relevant today as it was then. It is of the utmost importance that pastors teach their congregation that through faith in Jesus Christ, they are fortified against the machinations of the adversary. Just as David slew Goliath, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the stone that fells the giants of temptation, both physical and spiritual.
A pastor is thus sent by God to be a warrior-shepherd who guides his flock through these battles, reminding them also of Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).
Through the Word, the sacraments, and pastoral fellowship, a pastor isn't only a shepherd to his flock; he is a captain leading his troops into spiritual warfare. He proclaims the gospel, wielding it as a sword that cleaves through the ranks of temptation and sin. He administers the sacraments as shields that deflect the flaming arrows of sin. And, as Christ washed the feet of his disciples, pastors provide the pastoral care and godly encouragement that bind the wounds of those who stumble.
In our daily lives, as we go about serving others in the vocations God has laid upon us, the physical and spiritual assaults of sin, death, and the devil are ceaseless. But, God sends us pastors to stand as spiritual warriors and shepherds, as standard-bearers for Christ's defense and protection of us amidst these attacks. Guided by the Word, armed with faith, and fortified with Christian fellowship, God's preachers minister to their congregations through the dual challenges of physical and spiritual temptation. In this way, just as Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, a pastor, strengthened by God's Spirit, guides his flock toward the promised salvation of the resurrection to eternal life, proclaiming to them that, in Christ, the war is over.
In Christ, through faith, we have already overcome the assaults of sin, death, and the devil. In Jesus' death and resurrection, sin, death, and hell are defeated. So now, in Christ, as the apostle writes, "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom. 8:37).