It is common when attending the ordinations or installations of a new minister to hear one of the fellow pastors urge the newly ordained or installed man to, “love your people.” Paul appears to be doing the same thing in 2 Timothy as he tells Timothy to fan into flame the gift of the Spirit, which is further defined as the Spirit of love.
One would expect Paul to spend some space then in the body of this epistle discussing how Timothy is to minister in love. Surprisingly though, the word, “love,” is seldom used. “Love,” is mentioned by name alongside righteousness, faith, and peace as something Timothy is to pursue. Paul’s own, “love,” is noted in a description of his own ministry along with his teaching, conduct, aim in life, faith, patience, steadfastness, persecutions and sufferings. These are hardly extended treatises on love. Three perversions of love are listed in the section on the difficulties of living in the last days. Among the vices of those without faith is that they are, “lovers of self, lovers of money…not loving good…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
But to therefore conclude that love is an unimportant feature for the ministry of Timothy is to commit a word-concept fallacy, supposing that because the word love is not explicitly used that the concept is missing. While Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to, “love his people,” in those exact words, he shows what the minister’s love of the elect people of God consists in.
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 1:10) Paul’s initial exhortation to Timothy to, “share in suffering for the gospel,” is punctuated with this statement of purpose. He is willing to be bound in chains and to face all, even death, for the sake of the elect. That willingness to share in suffering for the sake of the Gospel’s proclamation and the salvation of those who believe is pastoral love in action. Paul returns to this willingness to bear suffering again when he contrasts his own ministry with that of the godlessness of the last days. And what Timothy has learned and seen in Paul he must continue in.
What does it mean for pastors to, “love their people”? It means that they will do all that they can, that they will endure many hardships and sufferings, so that they can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as they can. It means not being ashamed of the Gospel, but putting oneself on the line for that message. Laying down self, financial gain, and pleasure that others may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
This self-giving love is what is needed for the ministry. It is the true form of love as opposed to love of self, money, or pleasure. And this kind of love is that which the Spirit will work in those who have received Him. It is the cruciform love of the Savior, imitated by the apostle Paul, and continued to be displayed in Timothy and those after him. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)