“By love serve one another.”—Gal. 5:13.
My brethren, having been requested on this solemn occasion to address a word of exhortation to both pastor and people, I have chosen a subject equally suitable for both.
I. I shall begin by addressing a few words to you, my brother, the pastor of this church.
The text expresses your duty—to “serve” the church; and the manner in which it is to be performed—“in love.” Do not imagine there is any thing degrading in the idea of being a servant. Though you are to serve them, and they you, yet neither of you are to be masters of the other. You are fellow servants, and have each “one Master, even Christ.” It is a service, not of constraint, but of love; like that which your Lord and Master himself yielded. “I have been among you as one that serveth.” Let the common name of minister remind you of this.… The authority you exercise must be invariably directed to the spiritual advantage of the church. You are invested with authority; you are to have the rule over them, in the Lord; but not as a “lord over God’s heritage.” Nor are you invested with this authority to confer dignity on you, or that you may value yourself as a person of consequence; but for the good of the church. This is the end of office: “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” … But, more particularly,
1. You must serve the church of God, by feeding them with the word of life.—This is the leading duty of a minister. “Preach the word; be instant in season, and out of season.” This will be serving them, as it will promote their best interests. For this end you must be familiar with the word. “Meditate on these things: give thyself wholly to them.” It is considered a fine thing with some to have a black coat, to loiter about all the week, and to stand up to be looked at and admired on the sabbath. But truly this is not to serve the church of God. Be concerned to be “a scribe well instructed in the things of the kingdom.” Be concerned to have treasures, and to bring them forth. I would advise that one service of every sabbath consist of a well-digested exposition, that your hearers may become Bible Christians. Be concerned to understand and to teach the doctrine of Christianity—“the truth as it is in Jesus.” Be careful, particularly, to be conversant with the doctrine of the cross; if you be right there, you can scarcely be essentially wrong any where. Cut off the reproach of dry doctrine, by preaching it feelingly; and of its being inimical to good works, by preaching it practically.
And do all this in love.—Your love must be, first, to Christ, or you will not be fitted for your work of feeding the church, John 21:15–17. Also to the truth, or your services will be mischievous, rather than useful. And to Christians, for Christ’s sake, Acts 20:28. And to the souls of men, as fellow men and fellow sinners. If love be wanting, preaching will be in vain.
2. You must feed the church of God, by watching over them.—“Be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” Watch over them, not as a vulture, to destroy them: but as a good shepherd, who careth for the sheep. If you are compelled to reprove, beware that your reproof be conveyed, not in ill temper, but in love; not to gratify self, but to do your brother good.
3. You must serve them, by leading them on in all spiritual and holy exercises.—Lead them by your example. “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Visit them. You have as much need to pray with them and for them in private, as to preach to them in public. And you must do all this in love. An affectionate example and deportment will draw them on.
II. Let me now address myself to the church.—You also must serve your pastor, as well as he you, and this in love. You must seek his good, as well as he yours.
1. Be assiduous to make him happy in his mind.—If he discharge his work with grief, it will be unprofitable for you. If you be touchy, and soon offended, or cold and distant, it will destroy his happiness. Do not be content with a merely negative respect. Be free, open, kind, inviting to friendly and Christian intercourse and conversation; and be early and constant in your attendance on public worship.
2. Be concerned to render him as easy in his circumstances as possible.—If he serve you in spiritual things, is it such a great thing that he partake of your carnal things? I hope he does not covet a haughty independence of you; but neither let him sink into an abject dependence. Worship not with—offer not to God—that which costs you nothing. It is the glory of Dissenting churches, if they voluntarily make sacrifices for the maintenance of the true religion among them.
3. If there be any thing apparently wrong in his conduct or his preaching, do not spread it abroad, but tell him of it alone.—You may have mistaken him, and this will give him an opportunity of explaining, or, if he be in fault, this will give him an opportunity of correcting himself.
And do every thing in love.—Love will dictate what is proper on most occasions. It will do more than a thousand rules; and all rules without it are nothing.
To the deacons let me say, Be you helpers in every thing—whether agreeable or disagreeable.
To the congregation generally, I would say, You also have an interest in the proceedings of this day. My brother considers you as part of his charge. His appointment by the church is with your approbation. He will seek the good of you and your children. Then teach them to respect and love him …
Excerpt from: An ordination sermon, “Ministers and churches exhorted to serve one another in love,” in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 544–545). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.