God's Provision to Come into His Presence
Jesus – God's Perfected High Priest
– Hebrews 5
Thus far we have seen how Jesus is the supreme revelation of God (Heb. 1). We have seen Jesus is our great Savior (Heb. 2). And we have seen the faithfulness of Jesus as One greater than Moses (Heb. 3), who offers us rest and peace in life (Heb. 4). In Hebrews 5 we will continue in what was introduced at the end of Hebrews 4, the High Priesthood of Jesus.
A righteousness before God that relies on the work of human beings will never lead to rest. That is because when righteousness is based on human efforts and works one can never be sure that what they've done is enough. When you try to work your way to heaven there is no way of knowing whether or not what you do is enough to meet God's perfect standard. Human effort is doomed to fall short of any standard of Holy God let alone His perfect standard. That is why in Paul's letter to the Romans he is inspired to write, "For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:21b-23). When Paul wrote to Pastor Titus he was inspired to emphasize:
· Titus 3:4–7 (NKJV) - 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
It is "not by works of righteousness which we have done," it is according to the work Jesus has done on our behalf "through Jesus Christ." And as we have seen, "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His." (Heb. 4:9-10). That "rest" or peace is received when we put our faith in Jesus as Savior initially and as Lord continually (Romans 1:17; 5:1ff.). And that rest is what characterizes the presence of God. God's restful presence is the Promised Land He desires us to reach and live in eternally. That restful presence is something we can experience now, in this life, through faith in Jesus.
This has been the "word of God" from the beginning. God's word is "living and powerful" because it is timeless and ever-relevant in history (Heb. 4:12). Jesus has come to be our High Priest; a mediator between God and man and man and God (Heb. 4:15). It is through Jesus our High Priest that we can "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). It is that High Priesthood of Jesus that is further elaborated upon in Hebrews 5, a priesthood fulfilled and that leads us into the restful presence of God.
Hebrews 5 (NKJV)
5 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
You might ask, "What is the definition and qualifications for a high priest?" Here this is considered not such much to review what a high priest is but to emphasize these characteristics as pointing to and fulfilled in Christ.
First, the high priest is "taken from among men." A high priest is a man. That is one of the reason Jesus became a Man to fulfill this qualification. At the end of Hebrews 4 Paul wrote, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). It is the humanity of Jesus that shows us He is able to empathize with our state. Because Jesus is human we can be confident that He understands us. And because He was tempted just like we were, "yet without sin," we can be sure that He holds the way to victory
Second, the high priest was "appointed for men in things pertaining to God." It was the role of the high priest to be the go between, a mediator who represented people before God. Under the Old Testament Law the high priest, once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), was sanctified to go on behalf of the people into the presence of God. On that day the high priest served as the representative man to seek atonement from God for the people and nation of Israel as a whole. This was extremely important because sin separates from God (e.g. Isaiah 59:1-2; Hab. 1:13; Psalm 66:18). The high priest had to follow a specific set of instructions in approaching God. If he was in any way irreverent or negligent to keep these specifications it could cost him his life.
Third, the high priest served as the human representative who brought the "gifts and sacrifices for sins" from people to God. The people of God were unclean to approach God. Those stained by sin cannot enter the presence of a Holy God (e.g. Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 66:18). They were polluted by sin. The sanctified high priest therefore served as their representative bring their gifts and animal sacrifices before God as required by the law. The separation from God that sin causes made this intermediary process necessary.
This was a foreshadowed and extremely important truth about the ministry of Jesus. Under the Old Covenant a person could not directly bring a gift or sacrifice before God, they had to go through a priest. On the Day of Atonement the people had to come before God through the high priest. This foreshadowed the truth about the ministry of Jesus that gifts and sacrifices (including any and all good works) are only acceptable to God as far as they come through Jesus ("in the name of Jesus").
There are many "good" people in our world who adhere to religious systems other than the one specified in scripture and in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The issue is not whether or not there are "good" people in the world. The issue is that there are no human beings good enough to atone for their sins apart from Jesus. Due to the sin of humanity, apart from the intercessory atoning benefit of Jesus, any and all good works or efforts to appease God are inadequate and fall short of God's requirement for righteous atonement. Without the seal of the Spirit "in the name of Jesus," nothing we do is acceptable to Holy God. That would include works or good deeds done in our strength and not relying or resting by faith in Jesus as the stamp of approval for them before God.
2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray,
Fourth, the high priest was to be compassionately empathetic to the weak people he served. "Weakness" (Greek astheneia) means feebleness (of mind or body), moral frailty, having the effects of sin physically, mentally, spiritually. The priest was to be a person serving with "compassion." "Compassion" (Greek metriopatheo) means to be moderate in passion, gentle and acting with an awareness of one's weakness, one not unduly disturbed by errors, faults, sins of other, but bears them gently. Compassion was needed because the weakness of humanity is characterized by "ignorant" (Greek agnoeo) or not knowing, lack of intelligence, lack of information, lack of understanding and "going astray" (Greek planao) or to roam from truth, safety, virtue; to be deceived, seduced, err, wander, get out of the way or right path.
We see from these definitions why the idea of a "shepherd" and "sheep" is appropriate. The high priest served as a shepherd over people-sheep who were prone to wander away from the safety he provided. This image is perfected in Jesus as our Good Shepherd (John 10; Psalm 23).
since he himself is also subject to weakness. 3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.
Fifth, the high priest himself was "subject to weakness." There is an important difference between the human high priest and Jesus the incarnated Human High Priest. The high priest was well aware of his "weakness." The difference between the high priest and the High Priest Jesus is that the high priest "since he himself is also subject to weakness" (5:2). The high priest was no better than those he served. Jesus on the other hand was far better than those He served in that He served as our Human Representative and High Priest "yet without sin."
4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.
Sixth, the high priest was to serve as one "called by God." The high priest was a "man," not a woman. The office of high priest was a position of "honor" (Greek time ) or something of value, something to be esteemed (to the highest degree), something of dignity and to be respected, precious, honorable. But men weren't to see the office of high priest as something to be grasped or attained to; it was an office or position bestowed on them by God or "called by God."
The example of a high priest called by God is Aaron. There is an Old Testament example of one who saw the position of high priest as something to be grasped and who jealously rebelled against God's anointed high priest in an effort to supplant him. In Numbers 16 we have the account of Korah's rebellion against God's called and anointed high priest Aaron. Korah was driven by pride and jealousy and rose up against Moses and Aaron to resist God's installed leadership and priest. Moses and Aaron humbly interceded before God on behalf of the rebels. God proved His distinctive call on Aaron and differentiated between Aaron and Korah by budding Aaron's almond branch and not the branches of the others. Fruitfulness is often the confirming evidence of one called of God. Those not called by God, like Korah, crash and burn. 
We have seen the weaknesses and reality of mere mortal high priests. Now we turn to Jesus our Perfected High Priest.
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
First, Jesus our High Priest is called directly by God. Jesus did not take His position as High Priest to Himself. Jesus didn't promote Himself or market and politic His way to the position of High Priest. No, He exemplified exactly what it means to be called by God in ministry. Elsewhere the mind of Jesus is described as:
· Philippians 2:5–11 (NKJV) - 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It was the Father who begot Jesus in the incarnation and in so doing anointed Him High Priest. Here, just as in Hebrews 1:5, Psalm 2:7 is quoted and just as the verse is quoted to show the superiority of Jesus to angels in Hebrews 1, here it is quoted to show the superior priesthood of Jesus to the mere fallen man priesthood. God has expressed His approval of Jesus repeatedly (e.g. Mark 1:11; Mat. 17:5).
It's important to understand that when God the Father speaks of Jesus as "Today I have begotten You," He is not speaking of the creation of Jesus. Jesus is eternally God; the Second Person of the Trinity. God has "begotten" Jesus in that Jesus is incarnated to serve as Messiah Savior Deliverer and High Priest of fallen lost humanity.
6 As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
Second, Jesus our High Priest is eternal. This is a quote from Psalm 110:4. It is the most frequent Old Testament quote found in Hebrews. The priesthood of Melchizedek is introduced as the Messianic priesthood in contrast to the fallen human priesthood of Aaron. We will see this contrast in Hebrews as a means of Paul to distinguish the superiority of Jesus' eternal "forever" Messianic High Priesthood (cf. Heb. 7:24-28) to the inferiority of Aaron's fallen human priesthood.
7 who, in the days of His flesh,
Third, Jesus our High Priest is our example of compassion. The Aaronic priest was to have compassion on weak people because he was also a weak human being. The evidence of Jesus capability for empathy is His prayer life. Jesus because of His incarnation "in the days of His flesh" is seen as a source of compassion for us who are fallen. The fallen human priesthood lived in a class above the common folk of their day. They were better educated and frequently far more wealthy than the people they served. This caused a great separation and proneness to be dis-compassionate toward people.
Jesus, though God in the flesh, was exactly the opposite. Jesus came to serve and give His life a ransom for the lost (Mark 10:45). Jesus who is God became a Man and went to the cross to make a way for all and any people to be saved from their sin (John 3:16). The incarnation is the supreme empathy, the supreme act of humility. Jesus is our humble compassionate High Priest. He humbled Himself to save us from the fear of death and from death itself (e.g. Hebrews 2:14-15).
when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,
Fourth, Jesus our High Priest is our example for prayer. The human priesthood is often weak in prayer. The weak priesthood falters in many ways but prayerlessness is one of its severest sinful failings. Not so with Jesus; He was a regular example in prayer so much so that His disciples sought Him out to teach them to pray the way He taught (e.g. Luke 11:1-13).
Jesus provided the model outline for our prayers (e.g. Matthew 6; Luke 11). And here we are blessed with drawing back the veil to see Jesus in His prayer closet. It's likely this is a reference to Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:44 in Luke 22:39-46). "Vehement" (Greek ischyros ) means strong, mighty, forcible, powerful, valiant, "cries" (Greek krauge) means outcry, expression of grief, uproar, clamor, and "tears" (Greek dakry) means tear drop or tears. These are all words descriptive of passionate heartfelt, heart engaged prayers. The picture we have here of Jesus is far more than the passionless prayers of too many of our church meetings (if anyone shows up at all!).
Jesus directed His prayers "to Him who was able to save Him from death." That would be the Father. The Father heard Jesus prayers " and was heard because of His godly fear." "Godly fear" is not trembling fear of uncertainty but (Greek eulabeia) reverence, awe of God, godly fear. Jesus was heard because when He as a Man went to pray He knew He was coming into the presence of His Holy Father in heaven and did so as stepping onto holy ground.
The prayers of Jesus demonstrate what it means to come into and be in the presence of God. The boldness with which we can come to the throne of grace to find grace to help from God when we need it is not a boldness that is brash, boisterous, presumptive, or irreverently self-indulgent. No, it is a boldness that is restful and peacefully confident by faith in the provision of God to enter His presence through Christ (cf. Hebrews 4:16).
We should also add here that if Jesus, our eternal High Priest, God in the flesh, prayed, then we should pray too. And if Jesus prayed with emotion and heart investment then we should too. And if Jesus prayed to the Father as the One who could save Him from death, then we should too. We should direct our prayers to the Father in the name of Jesus or in the same way Jesus did.
8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
Fifth, Jesus the High Priest is our example of obedience. This verse by no means diminishes the deity of Jesus. The verse begins with an allusion to the Sonship of Jesus and that Sonship involves equality with God (e.g. Phil. 2:5-8; John 10:30; 14:9). As God Jesus is omniscient. As incarnated Man He developed physically and mentally and experientially. How that impacts the eternal nature of God us finite limited weak humans aren't able to comprehend fully. One commentator states:
This verse presents an extremely difficult statement. In spite of Jesus Christ's divine messianic sonship, in spite of His being God and the promised blessed Deliverer-King, He was subjected to the humiliation, shame, fear, pain, instruction, and discipline of suffering as a human being. But what does it mean that He "learned... obedience by the things which he suffered"?
As God, the Son was omniscient. When He became flesh, He set aside the independent use of His divine attributes and the independent exercise of His will. Thus Luke could describe Him as growing "in wisdom and stature" (Luke 2:52). He did not increase in knowledge as God, but, as the God-man, He grew physically and mentally. So as the God-man, Jesus learned experientially what it means to obey the Father's will, when He suffered as a human in Gethsemane and at Calvary.
But the end point of what is being said here is that Jesus is fully aware of human suffering and able to empathize with us when we suffer. Jesus understands. He understands us. This capability to empathize is what makes Him an approachable compassionate High Priest; the Greatest High Priest.
9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,
Sixth, Jesus our High Priest, having been perfected, Authors eternal salvation to all who obey Him. Jesus is the fulfillment of the priesthood of God revealed by Him throughout the ages. He is far superior to any human fallen sinful priest. "Having been perfected" (Greek teleiothesis - Aorist/Passive/Participle of teleioo) means having been completed, having been accomplished, having been consummated, having been fulfilled, having been perfected. This verse has to be seen in light of what has been said before, "although the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3). God's foreknowledge is perfect; He knows exactly what is going to happen always. While the works of God, including the works of Jesus, were "finished from the foundation of the world" from His perspective, they are completed in our reality for our benefit when Jesus actually lived them out. God's perspective is eternal and not limited by time. Our perspective is limited and in time. The inspired writer, writing from and in a realm of time, uses words that express to human time strapped beings to describe what Jesus did so that "He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him."
Unlike those children of Israel mentioned in Hebrews 3-4 who did not enter God's rest in the Promised Land because of disobedience (e.g. Heb. 3:12 and 4:6), Jesus did obey and follow through on the redemptive plan of God. "He learned obedience" (5:8). And because of His obedience "He became" (Greek ginomai) or became the cause of "eternal salvation to all who obey Him." Those who obey enter the place of rest and presence of God.
Jesus is our example of obedience. Obedience is used in the New Testament as a synonym for saving faith (e.g. Rom. 10:16; 1 Peter 1:22). But if we fail to obey and sin, Jesus is our Advocate and Savior (e.g. 1 John 1:7 and 9). Jesus connected love to obedience (John 14:15 and 21), then He obediently submitted Himself to the redemptive plan of God demonstrating His love on the cross. This love is powerful and compelling (2 Cor. 5:14-21). And because of Jesus perfection, true salvation is only through Him. The salvation won by Jesus can only be received by faith as a free gift of God's grace; it cannot be earned or worked for by sinful people.
10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,”
Seventh, Jesus our High Priest is the fulfillment of God's revealed priesthood and our example of priestly ways to follow. The purpose of God's implementation of a priesthood is to point fallen humanity to the truth about an aspect of His only begotten Son Jesus as our High Priest. Human priests only illustrate a greater High Priest Jesus and are not an end in themselves. When Jesus was perfected as High Priest, it made human priests outdated as an office. Now we see the mediatorial aspect of a priesthood as something Christlike that all believers are to act on. Peter expressed this when he was inspired to write:
· 1 Peter 2:1–5, 9-10 (NKJV) - Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
These verses speak of the priesthood of all believers. Because Jesus is our High Priest we can go directly to God through Him - "Coming to Him." The fallen sinful High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year. But now through Christ our High Priest, we as high priests, can enter whenever we need to. We have been "called . . . out of darkness into His marvelous light." We can live in God's presence and approach His throne confidently to seek and receive grace to help in time of need. To that we should cry GLORY! Thank You Jesus.
No earthly human mediator should be inserting themselves in between us and Jesus. Religious systems and the religious mentality seeks to control people. Religion seeks authority and power and does so by inserting itself between God and humanity in a way that doesn't usher people into God's presence as much as it uses access to the presence of God as a manipulative tool to control people.
But we don't have to pray to any others in order to get through to Jesus or to God. We go directly to Jesus and His throne to find grace to help in time of need. And the followers of Jesus conform to Jesus' own priestly ways in that we go to people on behalf of God (e.g. 2 Cor. 5:20-21) and go to God on behalf of people (Matthew 5:33; Luke 6:28; Col. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:252 Thess. 3:11 Tim. 2:1ff.; Heb. 13:18). We confess our sins to and pray to one another but our aim is to all come closer to Jesus and never prevent anyone from seeking and finding God in a way that provides them access to God's presence in Christ (James 5:16).
11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
Are you ready to receive the great truths of Jesus' Priesthood? Unfortunately, some don't understand this great truth, "since you have become dull of hearing." "Dull" (Greek nothros) means sluggish, lazy in mind, stupid, slothful. The idea is not that what is being taught is "hard" but that it is "hard to explain" (Greek dysermeneutos) difficult to explain, hard to interpret. The problem is not the material being shared but the recipients are too lazy mentally to understand and appreciate it.
The Holy Spirit is the great Teacher. He inspires and communicates the revelation of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He illuminates the incredible blessings God has planned for those who love Him (1 Cor. 2:9-14). Jesus' promise is that the Holy Spirit would be our Helper to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). The problem arises when either a person has not experienced the second birth, the spiritual regeneration of the Holy Spirit (John 3; Titus 3:4-7) or that person fails for whatever reason to not rely on the Holy Spirit to lead them into God's truth. The Holy Spirit anoints the born again believer to discern truth from falsehood (e.g. 1 John 2:20, 27). Sometimes those who the Spirit wants to teach aren't paying attention. Are you paying attention to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach you?
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
Some are not where they should be in spiritual development. Here Paul points out that these recipients of what he is writing are not novices or newly saved people he is writing too. The people Paul is writing to are stunted in their spiritual growth. They should be praying like Jesus and teaching others like Jesus. But instead they are caught up in doubts and falling prey to temptations to return to the old religious ways. How about you, are you falling prey to the allure of religious system of pomp and ceremony or are you living in and experiencing the holy presence of God in Christ?
This condition may be due to a certain self imposed dullness or negligence (cf. 5:11). These people are still stuck on the basic "first principles of the oracles of God." They need "milk and not solid food." They are spiritually immature. Babies start their feeding with milk, but healthy growth leads to solid food (e.g. 1 Cor. 3:1ff.). These readers appear to be stunted in their development. How about you? Are you growing in the Lord so that you are taking bites of the solid steak of His word? Or are you still trying to live on the milk of the "first principles" of God's truth?
The word "teachers" (Greek didakalos) means, an instructor, a teacher, one who teaches concerning the things of God and duties of man. A priest's responsibility was also to teach the people he served. Jesus, as High Priest, was a teacher. Once we are saved from our sin by God's grace through faith in Jesus, we ought to seek to fulfill and live our this teaching aspect of priesthood. We teach in our families and to whomever God puts in our path to teach about the truth of God and who He is in Christ. When we accept Jesus as Savior we ought to share the gospel and the truths of His word by instructing others.
The things shared thus far in Hebrews are truths the believer should be able to comprehend and grow in. We should know that Jesus is the greatest revelation of God (Heb. 1). We should know our salvation is based on Jesus as our great Savior and nothing else (Heb. 2). We should know that God has promised us rest in life through faith in Christ and rest in Him (Heb. 3-4). And we should know about the High Priesthood of Jesus on our behalf and follow in His steps of the priesthood of believers (Heb. 5). But do we know these basic fundamental principles and truths of God?
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
The person unskilled in God's word is a babe in Christ; stunted in growth. The milk stage of our spiritual walk is that condition where a person only has a very cursory, superficial, sketchy understanding and grasp with God's word. They don't understand for instance God's word and statements about "righteousness." They might still be trying to work their way in to favor with God. They might still see their righteousness as based primarily on what they do instead of what Jesus has already done. They are not at rest in their walk with God. They are constantly looking for the other shoe to drop so to speak.
Are you growing in your understanding of God's word? Are you reading through it? Are you memorizing it? Are you meditating on it? Are you growing in your knowledge of God's word, not to earn favor with Him, but to know Him better and what His promises for you entail?
14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The full aged, mature believer is the one who knows God's word and is able to discern good from evil. There are no shortcuts to immersing yourself in God's word. It is in His living powerful word that our hearts are opened and God is able to do His spiritual surgery on us. It's time for us to live on the solid meat and potatoes of God's word instead of the diluted powdered milk of wordless Christian living. There's just no alternative to getting into God's word. Commentaries, devotionals, Christian books and literature are all good things, in their proper priority and place. If these are relied on first before the word of God, we are only milk and baby food. If we want to grow we need to sit down, say grace for the solid food of scripture we are about to eat, and then dig in for a feast in God's word. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry; hungry for the word!
Join me in a refreshed commitment to reading and studying prayerfully through God's word directly. Personally I read through the Bible (Old Testament once, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs twice each year) each year. You can go at your own Spirit led pace. Generally speaking if you read four chapters a day in the Bible you will read it through in one year. Two chapters a day will lead you through the Bible every two years. One chapter a day will lead you through once every four years. The key though is to get into the word of God, let it get in to you, and grow in your faith. Don't be dull spiritually, be dynamic. God's word is His fuel to fire you up and get you going spiritually. Go for it!
Are You Called To Be A Pastor?
How does a person know if they are called to be a pastor? How does a person know what God is calling them to do? Below are some questions to consider for those who may be in the feeling stage of considering their call. Why is it important to consider carefully and prayerfully one’s call, especially a call to be a pastor? I am convinced that to enter pastoral ministry without God’s call is one of the greatest deceptions of the devil. This is so because the one who is deceived and drawn into pastoral ministry apart from God’s call, will suffer great personal loss if not shipwreck their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But worse, the one who ventures into ministry for the wrong reasons will be powerless to prevent the desecration of God’s holy name. The non-called pastor , the non-called person in any position, is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. (See 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3).
Furthermore, there is another enemy in discerning the call to be a pastor, it is called self. There is something attractive to people about standing in front of a group and speaking. This is often at the root of a person’s interest in pastoral ministry. Because of this the person considering whether or not they are called to be a pastor needs to really reflect and prayerfully consider their motives. Is pride involved? Is this “calling” self-serving or self-crucifying? Really pray about your motives. Is this “call” from inside you or heavenly in origin? Satan will seek to sneak into a person’s life through their self and oftentimes snares them on the hooks of pride. He should know, he’s hooked himself (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19).
Therefore, how does one cut through the fog of impression and feeling to discern in the Spirit whether or not they are called by God into pastoral ministry? Below are a few areas that are particularly important for discerning the one called to pastoral ministry. While I’m sure these questions are not exhaustive or all-inclusive of every individual situation, they are the product of prayer, Bible study, and experience and should be considered seriously and prayerfully. (This tool is focused on discerning the pastoral call, but many of the questions can be applied to various other aspects of ministry to which someone might feel God is calling them to.)
1.) Discerning God’s Will –
What evidence is there that you are called to be a pastor? Do you have a plan to discern God’s will? Do you have a history of feeling called to do something only to leave the work unfinished? If so, what makes this “feeling” or sense of a call different? Have you truly put yourself on God’s altar and opened yourself to His will no matter what that might mean in regards to your own personal desires? (See Romans 12:1-2 as well as Joshua 1:8; Psalm 37:5; 119:168; 143:8; Proverbs 3:6; Hebrews 4:16).
2.) Evidence of Pastoral Call –
- Origin of Call – How was this “call” initiated, by you or someone else? Genuine calls are usually brought to light by others who see it in you before you “feel” it in you. If you had not felt the call and initiated it, would anyone else have seen it in you or brought it to your or someone else’s attention? If someone other than yourself has initiated recognition of your call, what is the basis of their observation? Are they simply confirming something that you have sent a message about in some way and therefore trying to affirm you and please you more than they are observing a work of God in you and through you? Jesus initiated the call in the lives of the disciples; they did not come to Him to initiate it. The call by Jesus is more of a follow Me than it is a let me follow You. (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-4)
- Small Groups – Do you take an active role in small group activity? (e.g. Sunday School class; Home Bible Study) It is here where the fruit of a pastoral call is usually seen first. What fruit or evidence of a pastoral call is present in the small groups ministry? Do small group Bible studies “take off” or grow and bear lasting fruit as a result of God working through you? Or, do you find teaching in and leading a small group difficult, uncomfortable, and unfruitful?
- Interpersonal Evidence - What evidence is there of being able to relate to people in a pastoral way? Do you tend to be frustrated with people or patient with people? Are you able to communicate with people by both listening and speaking to them? Is communication one way, your way? Are you gracious with people? Do you love people? (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4).
- Teaching – Has the Lord opened a door of opportunity for you to teach? If not, why not? Lack of opportunity may indicate this spiritual gift is not present. If the opportunity has presented itself, what fruit of a spiritual gift of teaching was apparent? Pastors need to be able to teach (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 and 2 Timothy). What evidence is there in your life of an ability to teach? Is there evidence that you can effectively communicate God’s word in an edifying manner? If a person cannot excel in Biblical studies, if God’s anointing is not present in this area, are they called to pastoral ministry? (E.g. Calvary Chapel Bible College/ Extension courses or similar studies – Do you revel and thrive in the work and preparation? Or was the work a burden?)
- Godly Counsel – What do others (Christians and Christian leaders) think about you being called to pastoral ministry? Do they see it in your life? Can they clearly see evidence of such a call? If so, why? If not, why not? Are you open to their godly opinion or is your mind made up? The counsel of others is important to decision making (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6)
- Service – Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Have you ever done so? Are you willing to do whatever God wants whenever He wants it done? Even if that means you are not called to pastoral ministry? (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23-26; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11).
- Anointing – Last and most importantly, is there evidence of God’s anointing on you as a pastor? Is it clear or questionable? Can you go through the questions in this Are You Called To Be A Pastor? Study and confidently answer “yes” to these questions? If not, why not? What is the Lord saying to you? Are you rationalizing your responses to bend them in the way you would have them to go? Be honest.
3.) Existing Ministry –
What area of ministry has God gifted you in? Would God have a person begin ministries only to leave them prematurely? Would God open doors to ministry and not have a person walk through them? If God has given you a gift to do a certain ministry, then that is probably where He is calling you to minister. As an unprofitable servant it would be inappropriate to rebel against and wiggle out of the way God wants to use you (Luke 17:10).
It would be best to test the waters in ministry locally to see where God’s gifting is in your life, rather than embark in life altering plans based on insufficient evidence or feeling. If God blesses and his call is sure, then proceed in that call, but if He does not bless, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration by moving on and discovering where God really does want to use you. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17,24)
4.) Gifting –
Some have mistakenly used Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 as justifying the use of anybody, regardless of God’s gifting, to enter ministry. The foolish things God uses are foolish from the world’s perspective, not God’s perspective. The ones God chooses to minister are gifted by the Spirit to do the work He calls them to do (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, if God is calling a person to be a pastor-teacher, they will show evidence of spiritual gifting for such a calling. If God is calling a person to be a pastor then His power working in and through that called person will be evident in such an area. The gifting evidence accompanies the call. A “call” without evidence is suspect. Would God give a person gifts (e.g. Pastor-teaching, evangelism, musically for worship, etc.) that are blessed and spiritually powerful in ministry and then not call that person to that ministry? The calling usually is accompanied by gifts related to the ministry the Lord is calling a person to fulfill. Why would God gift and bless in an area of ministry, seemingly lead a person into an area of ministry, only to have the person “sense” a calling to another area of ministry? Does God give contrary evidence? If you look at the beginnings of the Calvary Chapel movement and the pastors God raised up, (E.g. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike McIntosh, Jon Courson, et.al) they were not initially learned or schooled in seminaries or Bible schools, but they had been discipled under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith and when they took over situations such as small group Bible Studies, the fruit that followed made it very clear of the calling of God in their lives.
5.) Pastoral Perspective –
Do you have a realistic view of pastoral ministry? Ministry is not only teaching, or being in view of a group of people, it is above all serving. It is administrating, shepherding, discipling. It is running to the hospital to be at the beside of the sick and doing so at any time of night or day. It’s uncomfortable situations galore when you are called upon by God to rebuke, exhort, correct and encourage. It’s disciplining those who do not see that ministry is service and not a bully pulpit for their own agenda. It is taking a stand against carnal folly and superficiality when those who indulge in such things often rally the unwitting crowd against you. It is speaking the truth in love, no matter what.
Pastoral ministry is serving the Lord and sacrificing time with your family. Your wife and children will miss you every time you step out to minister and you will constantly be reminded of the cost of such a venture. You will be convicted and torn, but you will continue on because God’s call is on your life and you trust the Lord and His grace to compensate for your failings.
Pastoral ministry is always subordinating your will to the will of God. It is never self-serving and always self-crucifying. It is a life of continual sacrifice. It is living in a fishbowl and being the brunt of accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by people who are really not informed of the entire truth of the pastoral situation. Its receiving comments and criticisms offered in a good-natured way about your ministry and wondering if there is something more substantially meant beneath the surface. Pastoral ministry will drive you to paranoia if you are not called by God. Pastoral ministry is depending upon God to defend you in such situations rather than defending yourself (1 Peter 5:6). It is having people pick at your family, judge you, assess not only your pluses and minuses, but all your families’ as well. It’s not reacting to such “attacks” fueled by the enemy who seeks to get to the pastor through those closest to him.
Pastoral ministry is constantly relying on God and patiently working with people who are often transient, or sitting back, uncommitted, or simply infants in Christ. It is waiting on God in service. In its beginnings it is often working a full time job, heading up a family, and being used by God to serve in a work of His that may require you to remain in such a situation for years, with no guarantee that it will ever end, (a pastor may be bi-vocational for their entire ministry). The pastoral ministry is not a means of “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).
Pastoral ministry is serving in obscurity. It is living in a part of the world that only the pastor and God can fully comprehend, no one else, not a wife, not a friend, not even another pastor at times. It is often a humanly lonely calling solely between the pastor and God.
Even so, pastoral ministry is a joy to the called. It is the only option for the called pastor. If you can find happiness and satisfaction in anything else, you are not called to be a pastor. Pastoral ministry is not an alternative and last resort for someone who has failed in every other area of their life and figures, “Hmm, everything else has failed, why not give pastoring a try?” Beware; pastoral ministry is a frustrating hurricane that will blow down the presumptuous who are not called. Those who enter in with presumptuous perceptions of grandeur, of being golden-tongued orators in front of thousands, will soon learn that the weight of ministry will squash those who enter in by their own strength rather than the grace that comes with the call of God. Pastoral ministry is serving God with no other reward but to know that by relying totally on God, He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We often casually read the description by Paul of his ministry, but as the pastor matures in their ministry they learn and see the truth of this description more and more. Read what Paul said about his ministry and what it means to have a pastor’s heart – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:2,8-11; 5:14-15; 11:16-23; 12:11-21. Truly a pastor’s call is expressed by the following words of Paul who wrote:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” - 2 Timothy 4:6a
If you are called to be a pastor, nothing else will satisfy or do for you, and though the road may be hard, God’s call and grace will sustain you. If you are not called, and you venture out haphazardly in your own strength, you are doomed to a life of frustration and folly and will have missed the work God would have blessed.
The words shared above are not to discourage the one who is called by God. In fact, the one called by God will find assurance of their call if they prayerfully apply these questions to their lives. The purpose of such a study is to spare people the frustration and failure that might come by entering into a holy calling presumptively apart from God’s actual call. It is also meant to spare the church any more scorn and poor witness that has come via those who are self-servingly involved in pastoral ministry. When Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus didn’t throw him on the scrap heap, He restored him. But Jesus restored Peter in a way that confirmed his calling and assured him of God’s will in his life. Jesus did this by asking him a few questions:
- John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Now I do not quote this passage to get a rise of emotion out of the reader; I quote this to hopefully strike to the heart of the situation. Peter was asked repeatedly by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Love of Jesus is the center of our relationship with Him. All decisions should be based on that motivation, our love for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Now the point here is not that those who are actually called by God to be a pastor are more loving of Jesus; not at all. The point here is do you love Jesus enough to do whatever He wants you to do? Even if that means you are not to serve him as a pastor? That’s the point. If you love Jesus, you can serve Him joyfully from the heart whether He calls you to do so as a pastor or not. The answer to that question gets to the heart of the truth and the truth at heart, about your “call” to be a pastor; about your call to be anything God wants you to be. May God guide you and call you according to His will.