Caring for the Man of God
My childhood home had a front door. It was only ever used by one man. Every other person who has visited our house used the more convenient back door. Our front door received its proper, formal name on the day this one man walked through it. Bishop Francis Reh of the Diocese of Saginaw came to our house for dinner once. He walked through our front door, and it was called, “The Bishop’s Door,” thereafter.
Biblical leadership profiles allow us to learn from men of faith, who carry the title, “man of God.” The term was foreign in my formative Christian years because Christians in the West typically do not use the term to describe their pastor. “Man of God,” however, was the phrase used to describe me when I set foot on the continent of Africa.
When I realized my African brothers were not making fun of me, by calling me such, I experienced two emotions: humility and gravity. At the same time, I never felt as if it was used to exalt me. “Man of God” was a term of endearment. It has an expectant solemnity, “Welcome, man of God;” “We were blessed by your teaching, today, man of God;” “Come back to us, man of God,” became familiar expressions.
If one were to survey the treatment of how men of God are received in the Bible, and again, how they are treated in various denominational and cultural settings, there are some lessons for us. Do we have an understanding of how we should care for the called man of God in our midst?
First, “man of God” is a phrase used seventy-three times in the Bible. Seventy-one of those times, we are reading in the Old Testament. Twice, we read it in the New Testament. This is significant because both times in the New Testament, the phrase is employed by Paul while addressing the young pastor, Timothy. Both references are clear allusions to “pastor.”
“Man of God” in the Hebrew Scriptures speaks of a prophet. Again, we learn something from the distribution of usage in the Old Testament. The writer of 1 Kings uses it seventeen times, and in 2 Kings we find it written thirty-four times. So, fifty-one out of the seventy-one uses are found in First or Second Kings. The reference to “man of God” is a reference to describe a prophet of God. Moses, Shemaiah, Elijah, Elisha, David, Igdaliah all have their names attached to the phrase, man of God. There are many others who were unnamed, but they were given the title, too.
Second, we must grasp the idea of a prophet of God. Three key offices appeared in Old Testament Israel: prophet, priest, and king. Typically, one man held one of the three offices. Occasionally, one man might be identified with two offices. Only our Lord Jesus Christ occupied the three offices to full effect. The men and the offices were types of the Christ to come. These men were imperfect, but this exalts Jesus Christ, the righteous, all the more.
Prophets were men of the Word of God. They received a Word from God and communicated it to others. Sometimes it was a personal word to a king, or sometimes it was a word for the whole nation, or even all nations. Prophets told forth the Word from God, and sometimes God’s Word was a foretelling of future events. Thus, prophets, in theory, were highly revered because of their relationship to Yahweh.
The man of God was tested by the truthfulness of his words. Many false prophets operated in Israel, and throughout church history. We are laden with them, today. The Word of God in the mouth of the man of God, filled with the Spirit of God, is a fearsome event. This is a Word from on High. The messenger has been sent to declare the will of God. The will of God can be blessing or curse upon a people.
Third, the man of God provokes a response by the very nature of his calling. “Thus says the Lord,” was often met by a hostile response, even when the truth was understood on the spot or after the fact. Reverence for the Word of God brought by the pastor, the man of God, should invite our humble submission. Nothing has changed in this regard. It was the prophets and apostles who were given the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, and they were carried along to write the Word of God we hold in our hands (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20–21).
Pastors bring to us the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, clear, necessary, and sufficient Word of God. It is like a double-edged sword in their hands (Heb 4:12), being the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). Pastors tell forth what the Spirit burdens them to speak from the Bible. As men of God in Israel brought words of blessing and cursing, so pastors do the same in churches around the world, today. People must deal with Almighty God through the Word preached to them, by called men of God, anointed with the Spirit of God (Acts 20:28), to bear witness of the truth of God.
Fourth, the man of God is flesh and spirit in one person. This is true of all men, but I use this point for the purpose of teaching the balance of a man of God. A man of God gets his seminary degree in “divinity,” and he becomes one of the “divines.” There is something supernatural about a man who has spent time on the mountain in the presence of God. Moses’ face shown so bright to the people of Israel, he covered his face. Elijah called down fire from heaven. Elisha called a bear out of the woods to have its way with some disrespectful teenagers.
At the same time, the man of God is more fragile than most people could imagine. Elijah was spent following his ordeal at Mount Carmel. David could defeat Goliath, the giant, and fail in the flesh with Bathsheba. The man of God sent to Jeroboam could deliver the Word to the numpty king, and then could not discern when he was lied to about eating and drinking and resting in the northern kingdom. He was shredded by a lion for his disobedience (1 Kgs 13).
The spiritual power and authority of a pastor is matched by his being a fleshly creature. John the Baptist, who Jesus called the greatest prophet, demonstrated the solitary life of one entrusted with the Word. Men gravitate to groups for approval and alliance. Prophets gravitate to the mountain top alone to be with God, and they descend in a modified form of transfigured glory that fades through pouring out their ministry to people. They must ascend the mountain again for strength and wisdom.
As a student of the Bible and of church history, I have observed how prophets and pastors, men of God, have been treated. The treatment of the prophets was noted by Jesus, “Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets.” The man of God is strangely needed but unwanted.
Can’t we just read our Bibles? What do we need a preacher for? The reason is God’s design for the communication of His will through His Word. Because men are sinners, even when they are saints, there must be a third-party communication of God’s Word. In other words, I can read my Bible, but I might be deluding myself about what I am reading. Everyone needs to hear the Word of God preached by other men of God, even if one is a man of God.
This brings us to the subject of caring for the man of God in our midst. If Jerusalem was prone to killing the prophets, let alone the Messiah, then we must realize the temptation local churches have for destroying their pastors. Reverence for the pastor, the man of God, can be too exalted. Popes and bishops are too high for our tastes. At the same time, the treatment of pastors in low churches is scandalous. One thousand five hundred pastors will quit the ministry in America by the end of April. It was the same number last month and the month before that one.
Too much respect and too little respect are problems on a spectrum. Caring for pastors means we treat them with appropriate respect. It is not just about their office. It is about them as people who serve God. I once served with an elder in Southern California. He told me once, “Pastor, when you and I eat our meals together, I will be the one paying every time. It will never be otherwise.” It never was any other way. This church elder demonstrated, in a very small way, respect for his pastor.
Elders in churches need to be qualified, but they are rarely men of the Word of God, in the same way as their pastor. Elders remain in their locales, and they remain in their careers. A man of God goes wherever God leads him and his family. His days are spent immersed in the Word of God and ministering that Word to the people of God. Most elders do not have the will, the calling, or the luxury to do the same. If they did, they would become pastors. There is a difference between them. It is not a bad difference; it is simply what God would have each of them to do. Not every man of faith is called to be a man of God.
It is very costly to be a man of God. You must leave your business in the world and give yourself fully to the service of the Lord. Moses left sheep in Midian. Paul left a judicial/administrative post in Jerusalem. Peter, James, and John left their nets at Tiberias. Matthew left the tax office. Livingstone was a spinner in a Scottish cotton mill. My closest comrades from my seminary days are in Lebanon, South Dakota, Ghana, Japan, and elsewhere in the world, today. “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” is how one hymn describes the separation from this world, while we are still in it. Who will go for us? The man of God.
The cost is not just material and separation from family. It is frontline warfare. The burdens of men are laid on the back of the man of God. While Moses raised his hands, Israel prevailed over Amalek. He grew weary and his hands fell from lofty service in war. Wise men brought a stone for Moses to sit on. Aaron and Hur stood beside the man of God and supported his arms in order for his hands to be lifted toward heaven, and over the battlefield of triumph (Ex 17:8–16).
Here is the image of caring for your pastor, while he fights for you. The woman of Zarephath provided food and drink for Elijah, even as the ravens had done for him before her act of service (1 Kgs 17). If we claim to be wiser than these lowly creatures, should we not do the same for our pastors. God may use them to raise our children from spiritual deadness to life in Christ.
Underestimating the wisdom and power entrusted to our pastors is why we mistreat them. When we mistreat them, God uses our dirty deeds to sanctify the man of God even more. The more harm we intended for the man we despised, the more good has come to him. The Israelites were ready to stone Moses, and he was humbled by their treachery. The disobedient non-exiles to Babylon, left in ruined Jerusalem, had Jeremiah as their pastor. They hated him and threw him in the cistern. Are we any better than our fathers?
If we mistreat our pastors, they may leave us. What will God send us to repay us for treating His servants in such a manner? Was God not trying to gather us as a hen does her chicks? How goes it in Bethsaida and Chorazin, today? They did not want to listen to their pastor. His name was Jesus. Sodom probably regrets the way it treated Pastor Lot.
This makes our point. Caring for our pastors in a manner worthy of their calling is a crucial exercise for local churches. Yes, they are mere men, but they have an anointing from God which will bless or curse us. What is the history of your local church, my dear reader? Have you loved and cared for the man of God sent to you? He does not need his pride enhanced, nor does he need a Cadillac Escalade. He needs to eat at your dining room table. He needs you to speak kindly, with a pinch of reverence, when you talk about him in his absence. It is God who is listening to you.
We have considered a number of ideas here. We have seen some examples of how a man of God was cared for by the people he ministered to in the Bible. We have church history to help us consider even more. Athanasius was exiled five times by his church in Egypt. It was a badge of honor for him, as it is for every pastor cast out of the synagogue, he served in. Let us resolve to not be that synagogue and let us pray for the care of our pastor, who God sent to care for us.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 2, 2021