Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. Hebrews 5, verses 1-3.
In discussing these verses, let’s explore the meaning of a few words contained in them.
“Selected:” every high priest is selected. If you’re a pastor, you’ve become a pastor because you heard God calling your heart into that vocation. God selected you to become a pastor or priest because He sees your talents as uniquely useful to His Kingdom. You are just like other men, but your personal talents are suited to working as God’s representatives here. Some guys drive trucks; some give speeches; some work in gymnasiums; some work in colleges or farms or in fundraising. Some guys do all those things AND serve as pastors. They do these things to do their part as God’s servants. Here’s a kicker about it: you don’t need the collar or the degree to minister. If you’re faithful to Jesus and sharing that in some way, you’re ministering. God works through you, too. It’s undeniable that some folks receive pastoral calling that others don’t. They’re selected by God Himself.
Appointed: we choose, appoint, install, ordain, and otherwise publicly embrace priests and pastors as our spiritual leaders. It matters to us, as a people, that we have good men and women in spiritual leadership positions. Most ministers are highly educated, completing years of study and academic rigor in order to carry out the simple task of loving God’s people. We put stringent requirements on serving the Kingdom and then we go through complicated processes to make sure we select the best candidates. We appoint those God has already appointed.
“Deal gently:” we go through these machinations because we want our selected and appointed ministers to deal gently with us sinners. In a time when I had personally compromised many things that mattered most, two of my pastor friends dealt firmly and gently with me. One said that he loved me like a brother while despising what I had done. Another listened uncomfortably and reminded me that, no matter how rough my sins had made things, Jesus was in the thick of it with me. Another pastor friend of mine sometimes reminds me when my words go off the straight and narrow by pointing out his own shortcomings. And one reason I so firmly believe in Jesus as my Lord is thanks to the visit a pastor made to my home the night my father died. He reminded me that, even in death, we are more than conquerors thanks to Him who fought for us. We want our pastors to deal gently with us so we select and appoint them carefully.
Why? Because we’re “ignorant people.” We’re sinners, from the white lying pre-schooler to the dictators oppressing Cuba, we are all sinners. Ignorant people sin. People who ignore God’s commands, God’s promises, God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy routinely commit reckless sins. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re blameless and you’ll prove this very point. We’re uneducated about the depth of Jesus’ commitment to us; we’re callously stupid in how we misuse His precious gifts of life. We need ministers to deal gently with us because sometimes we’re as ignorant and dumb as a bag of hammers.
“He is subject to weakness:” don’t go thinking that your pastor has all the answers. She or he doesn’t. Earning a theological degree doesn’t necessarily impart wisdom or even character. And just because he or she is educated in the Bible doesn’t mean they have special talents in living it out. I know pastors who made grievous mistakes and lost their ministries because of them. I know pastors who are so damn self-righteous and holier-than-thou that I’d really like to sock them in the eye. I know pastors who are struggling with deep issues that would have long ago crushed even strong-willed me. Pastors and priests are sinners too. They make mistakes like anyone else. They need our support and prayers and our one-on-one friendship. Pastors need the Jesus they proclaim as much as do their congregants.
Today is the start of December. This month will see Christmas and the end of the year. It will see birth and death, sorrow and happiness. This month, in the middle of all the festivities, the reflection, and the hoped-for happiness, take time to thank a priest or a pastor. Shake their hand and say “thanks for all you do.” Pastors and priests aren’t better than anyone else, but they do live out a blessed calling unfamiliar to the rest of us. That deserves occasional recognition and reverence because they are our upright generals on the front lines in a very real spiritual war.
For more reading: Hebrews 7:19, Ephesians 3:12, Romans 8: 31-39.
Lord Jesus, thank You for calling men and women to serve as your pastoral representatives here. Thank You for their talents, their service, their friendship and teaching, and their leadership.