Founders Journal 80 · Spring 2010 · pp. 4-16
The Joy of Paul’s Ministry
The following article is taken from Chapter One of the forthcoming book, A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), and is printed here with permission from the publisher. The book is due out in the fall. All Scripture quotations are from the KJV. For more information, see www.heritagebooks.org
Who now rejoice in my sufferings (Colossians 1:24).
“Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity” (Charles Spurgeon).
For most of us, most of the time, sufferings are assumed to be a time of misery and grief. There are few who can testify in truth, “I now rejoice in my sufferings.” And yet that is the sincere declaration of the Apostle Paul. Joy, even in suffering, is a distinguishing mark of his character and ministry.
The nature of Paul’s suffering
What are the sufferings to which Paul refers? They plainly include the sufferings connected with his imprisonment in Rome for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Twice Paul mentions his confinement in this letter: in Colossians 4:10 he refers to “Aristarchus my fellowprisoner” and later he calls upon the Colossians to remember his chains (4:18).
Paul is sitting bound in jail. Things are not looking good for him. No doubt he is uncertain about his future. And what does he say? He declares that even while experiencing this difficult trial, he now rejoices. His language tells us that his rejoicing was a present and ongoing experience, not in spite of his sufferings but rather in them. The caged bird is singing! It would be one thing if Paul managed to rejoice at the onset of his troubles, but then gradually sank into discouragement after having been in them for some time. That makes sense to us, and all too often reflects our own experience. But these are sufferings that are associated with Paul as a minister of Jesus Christ. It is not masochism (“I rejoice because I am suffering”) nor asceticism (“I rejoice in my self-imposed suffering”) nor stoicism (“I rejoice despite my sufferings”). It is a distinctively Christian response to what are, in this instance, distinctively Christian trials and tribulations: it is the joy of a gospel minister in the midst of the sufferings associated with his gospel ministry.
The life of a faithful minister involves suffering, even if not necessarily physical imprisonment and pain. False prophets often win the affection of men; truth speakers will incite evil speech from many. Our Lord warned his disciples, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26). Paul’s own call to ministry involved a declaration that he would suffer: “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Again, before he died Christ urged the disciples to “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20). Paul himself warns Timothy that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Many of Paul’s sufferings were in his body. Paul asked the Corinthians about the empty “super-apostles” afflicting that church:
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
At the same time, those Corinthian super-apostles spent much of their time insinuating and declaring all manner of falsehoods against the apostle, and those lies were being believed by Paul’s own spiritual children (1 Corinthians 4:15). His good was declared to be evil; his sacrifices were called expressions of his worthlessness; his gentleness was called weakness; his humility was called emptiness. He declared himself ready “very gladly [to] spend and be spent for you” and in the same breath delivered this sad testimony: “though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). The Corinthians flung Paul’s love and labors back in his face. There are few things that cause more agony for a minister of Christ than to pour out his soul on behalf of Christ’s people, only to have his motives misinterpreted, all kinds of sin imputed to him, and his earnest entreaties and heartfelt efforts ignored, rejected, and even sometimes angrily despised and hurled back against him.
The apostle wrote to the Philippians of certain men who preached Christ from envy and strife as well as those who did so from good will. “The one,” said Paul, “preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds” (Philippians 1:15-16). While Paul’s example of imprisonment for the sake of Jesus had encouraged some to boldness in their witness, some–and we are not sure of their exact identity–preached Christ from flawed motives, intending to undermine Paul’s authority, trouble the church, unsettle Paul’s soul, and generally aggravate his imprisonment in whatever ways they could. A spirit of faction dominates some who are preaching the Lord Jesus! And yet, Paul rejoices and will rejoice that Christ is preached (Philippians 1:18).
Paul is not untroubled by the condition of the lost: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3). This is the language of an abiding trial of soul in which he is constantly distressed by the spiritual condition of the great mass of his own nation. Even when Paul is necessarily opposed to foes of the gospel, he–like his Lord weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 13:34-35)–does so with tears: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). The lostness of the lost, including the present and future distresses of those who set themselves against the Lord and against His Anointed (Psalm 2), cause the apostle genuine grief of soul.
In addition to the physical sufferings he endures, over and above the opposition he faces, loaded on top of the lies told about him, and added to his groaning over the lost, Paul writes of “that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11.28). We must recognize here an underpinning reality. As an apostle, Paul had a right to be responsibly concerned for all the churches. This is not a right that extends to ministers today. To be certain, every Christian ought to have an abiding concern for the advance of Christ’s kingdom in every place, but while there may be a similar duty of concern and prayer, there is no identical responsibility of leadership. A faithful pastor ought to have his heart engaged on behalf of the people over whom God has placed him, and will know the burden of concern that weighs down his soul over the struggles, sins, trials and difficulties that afflict the flock. Sitting under his ministry is a man wrestling with arrogance, lust, pride, anger or bitterness. Also there is a woman who is grieving, or proud, or aggressive, or gossiping, or sometimes absent. This family is profoundly dysfunctional; these members are drifting away; those friends have not been seen for some time; that brother is sick; that sister is afflicted in soul; this falsehood has found a toehold in the congregation; this misunderstanding is dividing the brothers. How much care and prayer do these sorrows draw out of his soul? And yet, this is only his flock. He may and should be concerned at the rise of error on the broader scale. There may be brother ministers whose sorrows he shares and who share his sorrows. He may invest in the work of the kingdom on a broader scale through fraternals, conferences, preaching in other congregations and the like. He may have a reputation for wisdom, and find himself sought by others for counsel. And yet, for all that, he has no apostolic authority over multiple churches. He is answerable primarily for the health of the flock over which he has been appointed.
Now imagine that concern legitimately multiplied a hundred times. Imagine the tension between the profound joys and the profound distresses of a man answerable for so many congregations, the weariness of soul and the darkness of mind that sometimes would sweep across him. He is aware of packs of wolves circling many different flocks; he has responsibility to exhort and encourage other under-shepherds; he receives letters and emissaries from various congregations bringing questions, bearing news and seeking counsel. These things constantly demand his attention and lie upon his heart. Daily he feels the distracting anxiety of how things go in the churches for which he bears some responsibility, under God.
We might pause to ponder for a moment the heart of Christ. Here is One whose absolute concern is matched by absolute wisdom and power, who is never overburdened by the concern for all His redeemed that lies constantly upon His heart. He never ceases to pray for us with perfect insight and perfect awareness, offering up to His heavenly Father perfectly framed petitions for just those things which we need. Here is the great Shepherd of the sheep. While He is the confidence of every under-shepherd, and they labor confident of His ability to bring all His sheep safely home (John 10:28-30), they–like Him–feel deeply the needs and concerns of the sheep.
Whether internal or external, whether on his own behalf or on behalf of others, the suffering of a servant of Christ is real and often brutal. However, the joy associated with such suffering is just as real and unusually sweet. When the apostles had been beaten and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). Peter also urged the saints that they “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13). It is the distinctive character and circumstances of this suffering that enable Paul, the other apostles, and those who follow them to rejoice in those sufferings.
Paul’s own response is grounded in a grasp of the truth, for doubtless the thought of Christ’s glory and supremacy sustained him, together with a sense of his own gospel privileges and the honor of his ministry. It is grounded in humility, for there can be no rejoicing in the heart of a man who thinks he deserves far better than what he receives. It is grounded in a right recognition of the value of our sufferings, in the minister’s identification with Christ Himself and in the purpose of the suffering that Christ has undergone and that he is experiencing.
Neither is this statement from the apostle isolated. As we survey other Scriptures describing Paul’s trials, we find that his rejoicing in the midst of difficulties was characteristic of his ministry.
The nature of Paul’s joy
Consider what is recorded in Acts 16. It is midnight. Paul and his fellow laborer Silas are in a dark jail cell, their feet fastened in stocks. Earlier that day, they had been falsely accused of being great troublemakers and of teaching unlawful customs. They had been profoundly distressed by the activity and plight of a demon-possessed slave girl, and had cast a spirit of divination out of her, thus depriving her masters of the profits which they made through her fortune telling. Stirring up the crowd, the girl’s wicked taskmasters incited the magistrates to convict and imprison the apostle and his companion. The judgment included a severe beating with rods: many stripes were laid on them before they were cast into the prison (16:23).
Paul and Silas sit unjustly condemned, their bodies bruised and bleeding. They are unable to move or to discover a position that will lessen the agony. They are locked in a foul prison alongside others who no doubt deserved to be there. If ever a man had reason to resent such unjust treatment, Paul did. But as we peer through the bars on that night, what do we find? “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (16:25).
Paul did not succumb to the temptations presented by this trial. He did not doubt God nor, worse, indict Him. He did not grumble. He was not planning a lawsuit against those who wronged him. Rather, we hear continual prayer being offered up to God. We hear hymns sung to their most worthy Lord penetrating the cells of their fellow prisoners. Are these not expressions of true joy in the midst of brutal affliction? Says G. Campbell Morgan, “Any man can sing when the prison doors are open, and he is set free. The Christian’s soul sings in prison.” The church father Tertullian is even blunter, asserting that “nothing the limb feels in the stocks when the mind is in heaven.”
Paul’s response under these rigors tells us volumes about this man and bids us follow him as he also followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Or consider Paul’s experience recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Here we find Paul’s disclosure of the thorn in his flesh:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
He described this particular grievance as “a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Portraying his trial in such terms, Paul was certainly not depicting some trifling inconvenience that was merely a nuisance to him, but rather a source of profound distress. It is no wonder that the apostle pleaded with the Lord repeatedly that this thorn might depart from him. Using words found elsewhere in the context, Paul’s various trials are further described as involving weakness, infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses suffered for Christ’s sake. Note also that Paul did not enjoy the suffering itself. Instead, he pleaded earnestly and repeatedly that the Lord would remove it from him.
But we ask again: What was Paul’s disposition in the midst of this pummeling? We find a wholehearted trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace and the manifestation of Christ’s strength in Paul’s weakness. In Spurgeon’s quaint language, we find Paul confident that Christ’s ocean of grace is sufficient to fill the teaspoon of his human need (2 Corinthians 12:9). We find Paul not mourning his lack of native strength, but rather gladly boasting in his weakness because he knew that Christ would overrule that frailty with omnipotent power, that the apostle’s weakness would provide a platform on which Jesus Christ would display His divine strength. We find Paul taking pleasure in his infirmities, not in the removing of them. The knowledge that when he is weak he is strong in Christ gives him great joy.
One might react strongly to the apostle: “Paul, have you lost your mind? You boast in your infirmities! You take pleasure in your needs! When you are weak, you are strong? What kind of nonsense is this?”
Yet, to use Paul’s own words, he certainly is not mad but speaks words of truth and soberness (Acts 26:25). Is not the acknowledgement of weakness a prelude to seeking help? Is not the recognition of God’s power, goodness, and faithfulness in Christ to His servants sufficient grounds to appeal for His mighty assistance in every good endeavor? Most assuredly, Paul is eminently sane!
Scripture gives us another example of this characteristic rejoicing in difficulty. The letter to the Philippians was also written from prison, and there we read these words: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17-18).
Paul has been pleading for true unity in the context of church life, a unity which will manifest itself in a biblical like-mindedness, self-sacrificing love, and a lowliness of mind which esteems others better than oneself. Our Lord Jesus Christ supremely exemplified such a mind. Though He is fully God, He is also fully man, yet without sin. If such a glorious Person could take on the form of a bondservant and humble Himself, being obedient even to the extent of suffering His horrific death on the cross, how much more ought His creatures to walk in humble and universal obedience? With this standard, Paul implores his readers to obey God, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. And he gives them reason to expect success, because God would be working in the believers both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). As an effective teacher, Paul then provides concrete examples. Complaining and disputing are not to be heard in any of their activities (Philippians 2:14). Rather, they are to sustain a tenacious hold on God’s word, which is to be the touchstone of all that they do (Philippians 2:16).
Such ongoing faithfulness to the Scriptures would be proof positive that his labors among them were in fact successful. They would demonstrate that the sufferings he was enduring were not in vain, but were being honored by God and used by Him to establish maturing believers who were healthy, functioning members of a local church.
How did Paul regard these trials which he endured as a true servant of Christ? Did they cause him to lose heart? Did his unrelenting difficulties and the prospect of execution pound him down to the point of hopeless discouragement? Did they squeeze bitter complaints or resentment from his lips? No. For, as we see in Philippians 2:17, though the apostle was, as it were, being poured out as a drink offering on behalf of those to whom he ministered, he was glad and rejoiced. He rejoiced in the midst of extremities that would have broken many a man.
We see from these examples that Paul’s rejoicing in suffering was no unusual thing for him. Because Paul knew that God is sovereign, that He ordains each of his trials, and works all things together for his good, Paul was joyful under duress (Romans 8:28). This was a notable characteristic of his ministry.
We must ask again how Paul approached these trials. His rejoicing was neither a product of irrational optimism nor humanistic psychology. He did not play mind games with himself or others in some delusional denial of reality. He underwent his trials–pain and all–with his eyes wide open. In each situation, he sought Christ’s aid, pouring out his heart in prayer. He kept in view the truths of God’s greatness and His sufficiency to overrule seemingly bleak circumstances to His ultimate glory. He had confidence that Christ’s grace and strength would carry him through and above his weakness and, therefore, he was able to rejoice. The examples we have considered bear this out. It is not mere positive thinking (i.e. “This is not as bad as I think; I can get through this on my own”) that Paul exhibits and that the Scriptures set before us for emulation. It is biblical thinking (i.e. “I am weak. God is almighty and faithful, always true to His Word; I will therefore appeal to Him through Christ, my all sufficient Mediator, for help”).
Paul’s abiding joy was not contingent upon his circumstances. Rather, it was bound up in the God of all grace who saved him (Philippians 4:10-14; Romans 15:13). Paul’s joy was supernatural, produced in him by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
What kind of man do you want as an under-shepherd? The apostle was a man whose thoughts and emotions were anchored in Christ and His truth. He knew himself–who and what he was–and he knew his God. This provided the foundation for a stable joy in the face of even profoundly painful circumstances of body and soul.
When you consider a man to minister God’s Word to you, look for one who embraces Paul’s attitude toward suffering for Christ’s sake, even if he does not measure up to Paul either in the degree of his suffering or in the excellence of his response. Let him not be a man whose mission in life is the avoidance of suffering. He cannot be a faithful minister if he will sacrifice anything and everything to avoid pains and persecutions from within and without the professing church, from burdens and griefs in his own soul.
Neither let him be a man devoid of stable joy rooted in the person and work of his Savior. By this, of course we do not mean a man with a forced grin fixed on his face, as if persuaded that the number of teeth he shows is a register of his happiness. We do not mean a pulpit clown, or a man with a talent for one-liners, or even possessed of a rich and ripe sense of humor (though we hope he has that). This is not about the constitution of a man, but the conviction of a man. A man may have a constitutional inclination to mirth and happiness, and still demonstrate an aversion to or an absence of Christian joy. The faithful minister must be one whose joy is the joy of serving Christ and his church in fair weather or foul.
As you reflect on his character and qualifications, ask whether the object of your interest glories in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). Does he rejoice in his sufferings, knowing that God always has his best in view, trusting that God will sustain him (1 Corinthians 10:13)? Does he trust in God at all times, pouring out his heart before Him, confident that God is his refuge (Psalm 68:2)?
Ask him how he responds to trials and distresses. Observe those responses, if you can. Is he a whiner and complainer? When the going gets tough, a minister like Paul looks to the Lord, from whom comes his help, saying with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Psalm 119:71). He does not whine with Cain that “my punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13).
What of your present pastor? Is he trying to be such a man? If he is seeking to be faithful to Christ and his flock, you might not be able to pray him out of suffering, but you can certainly ask God to give him a humble spirit and an uplifted heart in that suffering. You should ask whether or not you may be the cause of some of his griefs and trials. Do not make it your job in life to provide scope for his greater sanctification: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13.17). If he finds pain elsewhere, let your conduct and attitude be the ground of joy, that–even should there be legitimate difference between you–you respond in a thoroughly Christian spirit.
Are you ready to suffer? We do not ask you to invite or even pursue suffering, but to remember that everyone who desires to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). If we are faithful, suffering will come.
If you set out to be, and increasingly become, a man who lives godly in Christ Jesus, then persecution will be yours. Like Paul, you may face false accusations, rejections and resistance from within and without the church. You may face opposition from civil and religious authorities. You may even find yourself threatened physically, and those threats at time carried into actions.
In addition, there will be profound burdens of soul that you will undergo. The more you love your people, the more their pains and griefs will become yours. The more you love them, the more their sins and struggles will trouble you. The more you love them, the more you will pray for them and visit them. The more you love them, the more constrained you will be to address those sins and struggles graciously and tenderly though firmly and plainly. You will see men and women who hear the gospel over and over again and who seem to grow more careless, whose soul-damning indifference will cause you agonies in your own spirit.
The more you love Christ, the more zealous you will be for His glory, the more concerned you will be for His honor. You will be grieved when false teaching besmirches Him, and grieved when true saints wander from Him. You will be distressed when He is unloved and disregarded; you will be moved to tears and to holy indignation when His truth is denied, His worship tainted, His church assaulted, and His person dishonored.
You will, if you love Christ and His people, feel and pray and respond and act for the glory of the Savior’s name and the health of His body, the church. And you may well have it all flung back in your face.
There will be those who love to have the preeminence who will not receive you, and who will find a hundred seeming reasons to hang upon the hook of their resistance to you. There will be those who will despise your youth, whether or not you give them reason to do so. For others, the problem may be that you are too old, and therefore behind the times. There will be men who think that they deserve greater prominence, and wives who think the same of their husbands, irrespective of their graces and gifts, and perhaps even as an avenue for their own domineering spirit. There will be those persuaded that they are called to lead who show no inclination to serve. There will be those who are angered by every attempt to call them individually, or the church corporately, to repentance and reformation, who will resist every charge to consider their ways, and turn their feet back to God’s testimonies (Psalm 119:59).
You will find hurting sheep so maddened by pain and worry and grief that they barely know themselves, sheep who will buck and kick the moment you press your fingers into their wool. Your probing shepherd’s fingers may find old wounds that were never washed and cleaned, old breaks that never properly set, diseases and afflictions and infections that have been allowed to fester over years by neglectful even if well-intentioned pastors. Others will bear the scars of false teaching and cruelty. You will determine to deal with those things, and you may be surprised and even horrified to hear a sheep snarl and even bite.
You will seek by all means to advance the cause of truth, and call the church of Christ back to the old paths, the good way where there is rest for the soul (Jeremiah 6:16). You will find good men and women so entrenched in tradition or so molded by worldly principles that they will resist you with all their might. For such, all change is to be shunned, and they have no intention of being stirred from their slumber, even if the body grows cold and the mind numb and the soul careless and the world is being lost.
Do not say, “It will never happen to me.” Remember the sad experience of Jonathan Edwards, that great preacher and theologian. Under God he had been blessed with laboring at the forefront of genuine revivals of religion. The church to which he ministered had been faithfully and lovingly served by him for twenty-three years, and God had used him as the means of great blessing to many (three quarters of the membership had been admitted by Edwards). There came a point when Edwards took a stand on a matter of principle. The fundamental issue was Edwards’ refusal to allow to the Lord’s table professing Christians whose lives fell short of their profession. The eventual outcome was the separation of Edwards and the church that he had served, and the removal of the pastor and his family to the remote outpost of Stockbridge. There Edwards put his talents to use in what was, by the standards of the time, a far meaner and less worthy sphere of service in which he faced intense opposition.
Are you ready for such a life, brother? By all means, it is not all or always like this, but this–in part or in whole–will be the portion of every man who seeks to shepherd a church with faithfulness and love. Again, we read the testimonies of the past and sometimes we imagine that men greatly used by God sailed serenely through life, without, above or unaware of the abuses flung against them. That is an utterly false perspective. There is a Christ-like pattern, a through-suffering-to-glory trajectory, which every faithful child of God undergoes. There is no crown without a cross and–far from being exempt from such a principle–the minister of Christ is often called to show these things in himself first.
That is the reality of the suffering a faithful elder must be prepared to face. But the joy is equally real and overwhelmingly excellent.
How much joy do we find in the midst of difficulty? Are there periods when, though sorrowful, we are always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10)? Can we say–if not now perfectly, at least with increasing understanding and conviction–with Paul in Romans 8:18 that we “reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”? Paul could say to the believers in Thessalonica, “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Can you?
These are matters which do and should search our hearts. We must face these questions before the Lord, asking him to try us and know our ways (Psalm 139:23-24). Paul knew that his best life was not now, but is rather the life to come. Thus he could confidently say, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Paul knew that “if we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12); suffering with Him leads to our being glorified together with Him (Romans 8:17). With this expectation he could say in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”
The joy of the faithful pastor is centered in Christ. If the Master is preached, exalted, known and glorified, then the servant is more than content–he rejoices. If your joy is grounded in your own reputation, then it will rise and–mainly!–fall with your honor in the world, which honor will never amount to much if you are faithful to your Lord. If it is tied to the apparent prosperity of your ministry, it may prove changeable as the sea and can even be snatched away entirely in an instant. If it has its roots in circumstance, it will crumble when you most need to manifest that joy for Christ’s glory.
We will suffer, but when we do we must turn to Christ Jesus, and make our complaints known to Him. Our sovereign God is possessed of enough wisdom and power to turn our most desperate needs and our direst straits into occasions for our sanctification and the church’s blessing and–above all–Christ’s glory. Is Christ weaker now than He was in the days of the apostles? Is He less loving or less gracious?
We do not need then to whip ourselves up, or even to be always gazing for the silver linings to the darkest clouds. We are not promised that we shall see those things, but we know that they must be there, even when hidden from our eyes. We are weak, but Christ is strong and faithful to the end. We can rejoice in knowing Him and doing His will even when all things seem against us, to drive us to despair. His ear is open to our cry; His eye is set upon His people; His heart is entirely for us; His own hand will bring Him the victory.
May the Lord give those of us who are ministers of Christ much grace to embrace this perspective from the heart.
1Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” in Lectures To My Students (Edinburgh, UK/Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2008), 191.
2 Quoted in William MacDonald, The Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1980), 1636.
3 Quoted in R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Hendrickson Publishers, 2001), 672.
4 See chapters 16 through 21 of Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh/Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987) for more detail on this period of Edwards’ life.