Our church is in the midst of a season of transition. The team of leaders who committed to starting the church are leading the church through a process of recognizing its long-term leadership as we move forward into the future. Inevitably potential change creates opportunity for uncertainty.
Who should the pastoral leadership be? One fact holds us steady. The chief shepherd of the church is Christ. And he wants to be our shepherd today.
Yet how easily we can view the work of Christ only in past and future terms. In his days on earth we saw the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10). In the future we know that the chief shepherd will appear (1Peter 5). But is Jesus our shepherd today?
The shepherd’s work is to lead the sheep to food, to care for them and protect them from harm. This forms the start of a strong list for church leadership job descriptions – we are to lead, to feed, to care and to protect. Perhaps we should add in “to equip” and we have a good grasp of the roles of church leadership in the New Testament, most of which are shepherding roles.
Jesus is our great shepherd today. He is in charge of building his church. He is the one most concerned to care for the sheep, including you and I. It is a thrilling thought that Jesus desires to feed me, lead me, care for me, protect me, and even equip me, right now!
I was speaking with a friend about a tough time of loss he experienced last year. He looked back on that time and his realization that only Jesus could really shepherd his soul through an intense season of grief and loss.
Perhaps we too easily look elsewhere and don’t spend time leaning into his loving care of our souls. Perhaps some of us are too busy leading others to stop and be quiet long enough to hear his tender care of our hearts.
The Lord is my shepherd, today.
There are other biblical images we could consider in the same way. My wife is expecting a baby and that means in a few months we will have another season of interrupted nights as the little one needs the care that only a mother can give.
In Ephesians 5, addressing the subject of marriage, Paul uses a pair of descriptive words. After telling husbands to love their wives with a self-sacrificial love, and with a washing in the Word kind of love, then he adds the need for a “as you care for your own bodies” kind of love.
At this point he uses two words – nourishing and cherishing.
Cherishing is a term Paul only uses twice. It speaks of a tender, warming kind of care. It’s a bit like the way we put on a sweater when our bodies feel cold. We cherish our bodies. He also uses it in 1Thessalonians 2:7 of how a mother takes care of her little child. There is a gentleness, an inclination to hold carefully and to protect. (And in the Old Testament, the term is used twice to translate references to mother birds warming their eggs!)
Paul also tells husbands to nourish their wives as they naturally do their own bodies. Again, the term is used twice. It speaks of providing for and helping the growth of the other. Husbands need to remember not only to put food on the table, but also to provide spiritual nutrition for their marriage. Paul uses the term in Ephesians 6:4, in reference to bringing up children.
He also uses the shorter form of the term in the same phrase in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. It is the nursing mother who takes care of her child. This is a vivid picture, the giving of yourself that only a mother can do for an infant.
So Paul urges husbands to nourish and cherish their wives, just as they naturally do their own bodies. And in his other use of the pair of ideas, as mothers nurse and care for their infants. All very poignant images for the darkness we experience in the middle of the night.
But there is one more critical link to notice here. What is he really speaking of in Ephesians 5? Even after making the connection throughout the passage, we are still surprised at the end to discover he is actually speaking of Christ and the church. Husbands, love your wives just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church – what a thought!
I wonder if we more easily think back to the self-sacrificial love of Christ, which stands historically behind the launch of the church. We look back to Calvary and rightly so. But here Paul ties Christ’s loving of the church not to a past event, but rather to a present ongoing reality. Maybe we don’t ponder that enough. The present care of Christ for his own is such a glorious truth.
Not only did he give himself in self-sacrifice at the cross, but now he continues to tenderly give of himself to the church he loves so dearly, seeking to warm us and help us to grow.
Jesus is our bridegroom, nourishing and cherishing his bride, today.
It is no mistake that the Bible uses such relational imagery for the reality of our relationship with God. We have a devoted bridegroom, a loving Father, a faithful friend, a good shepherd. And we have them all right now.
Perhaps we need to pause for a moment in our leadership and our care for others, and thank Christ for his present care for us. Let us ask God to tune our hearts to discern what he may be doing very quietly in our lives each and every day.
Jesus is our shepherd, and our bridegroom, today – exactly when we need him.