Many enter the ministry to get something out of it, not to be accountable stewards of God’s Word. Some enter to get encouragement, to feel importance, to feel useful to God, to solve problems, others enter for prestige or power. Good or bad, none of these are adequate reasons. None will last over time and trial.
There are so many possible discouragements in the Gospel ministry. It is not that one’s people are so bad. For frankly they are all alike, sinners saved by grace who still sin. To think that one will ever get his people past that point, or find a church free of problems, he only needs to read Paul more closely. Nor is it that Satan is undefeatable, for he is even now in his death-throes as he lashes out at all who love Christ and preach Him.
The greatest discouragement for this minister, and many, is within himself. Especially when under stress of trials. For as one walks in Christ after many years, he finds with Paul that he too is the chief of sinners. He finds that if he had no sinful sheep at all, still he would have a full-time job keeping his own heart.
Therefore, I would like to encourage ministers in trial by applying the encouragements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our own hearts, for it is in the keeping of the minister’s heart that the keeping of our people’s hearts begins. That is why Paul told Timothy: “Take heed to yourself and to your doctrine, persevere in these things; for in so doing, you will insure your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16).
There are some unique discouragements which may attend the ministry of the Gospel, but there are four encouragements to Gospel ministers which have helped many in times of trial.
I. First, you are going to endure trials and suffer to some degree. That may not be very encouraging to you, but it is to me. Our Lord tells us at the entry way so that we will not be discouraged when it comes. Matt. 10:5-39 is our Lord’s manual of evangelism. We do not see this in such manuals today. He tells disciples that He did not come to bring peace but a sword. That they will be hated by all on account of His name. That a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. That they must overcome the fear of men who kill the body by a greater fear of God who can destroy both soul and body in hell. That this Father can protect them from men. The whole fabric of the New Testament, from our Lord’s teachings to 1 Peter to Revelation, explains that the Christian will suffer; especially, God’s ministers.
There is something wrong with someone who enjoys suffering and martyrdom. Some may even precipitate crises because it makes them feel important and faithful and manly. This is self-centered and immature. However, 2 Tim. 2:3, 8-10, and 3:10-12, make it clear. God’s faithful ministers will suffer to some degree. There will be trials. No matter how much you count the cost beforehand, there is no way you can fully understand the cost of the ministry until you experience it.
Therefore, do not be surprised by trials to some degree. This work excludes much expectation of temporal ease and comfort, so we need to accept this probability and be content in having Jesus Christ, if nothing else.
Charles Bridges (The Christian Ministry) list four trials of the ministry. They come from (1) the professing church, (2) the world, (3) the power of Satan, and (4) from ourselves.
A. Consider the trials of the professing church. Cotton Mather reported John Eliot’s great trial (Bridges, Christian Ministry, p. 12):
He looked upon the conduct of a church as a thing attended with so many difficulties, temptations, and humiliations as that nothing but a call from the Son of God could have encouraged him unto the susception of it. He saw that flesh and blood would find it no very pleasant thing to be obliged unto the oversight of a number that by a solemn covenant should be listed among the volunteers of the Lord Jesus Christ; that it was no easy thing to feed the souls of such a people, and of the children and of the neighbors, which were to be brought into the same sheepfold with them; to bear their manners with all patience, not being by any of their infirmities discouraged from teaching of them; and from watching and praying over them; to value them highly, as the flock which God purchased with His own blood; notwithstanding all their miscarriages; and in all to examine the rule of Scripture for the warrant of whatever shall be done; and to remember the day of judgment wherein an account must be given of all that has been done. It was herewithal his opinion (as the great Owen expresses it) that notwithstanding all the countenance that is given to any church by the public magistracy, yet whilst we are in this world, those who will faithfully discharge their duty as ministers of the Gospel shall have need to be prepared for sufferings; as it was in a sense of these things that he gave himself up to the Sacred Ministry.
Bridges response to Eliot’s opinion was: “Except we realize a high estimation of the Church, the constraining influence of the Savior’s love, and the upholding prop of Almighty grace, what is there to preserve us from sinking into despondency?”
The worst of Paul’s sufferings for the Gospel was “the daily pressure upon me [of] concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (2 Cor. 11:27-29).
Bridges’ chief burden was that ministers are set for the falling and rising on many in Israel (Isa. 6:9-10; Luke 2:34): “For if it be joyous to convert, how afflicting to harden, by our ministry!–specially in the fear, that the more lively is its energy for conversion, in the same proportion is its influence for judicial condemnation.” The sad burden of the ministry is that to some we are a savor of life unto life, to others of death unto death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Who is sufficient for these things? Godly John Brown said:
Since I was ordained, I know not how often it hath been heavy to my heart to think how much this Scripture hath been fulfilled in my ministry. Frequently I have had an anxious desire to be removed by death from becoming a plaque to my poor congregation. Often, however, I have tasked myself, and have considered this wish as my folly, and begged of the Lord, that, if it was not for his glory to remove me by death, he would make me successful in my work. (Bridges, p.13)
The trials of the minister are sometimes personal but more often ministerial. The wide shoulders of our Lord are soon appreciated.
B. Second, there are difficulties with the world. This includes not only the opposition and ridicule of the world, but also the outward courtesy of the world, which is worse. According to 1 Corinthians 1, the world normally looks upon us as fools and foolish. Yet it is more difficult to see and to confront the smiles of the world, risking opposition. Should I make waves or not when things are running so smoothly? Yet our Lord said that his disciples are not greater than their suffering master.
C. Third, there are difficulties resulting from the restless and subtle activity of the tempter. He attacks the church always but especially the minister’s mind and character. Calvin said that the ministry “is not an easy and indulgent exercise, but a hard and severe warfare, where Satan is exerting all his power against us, and moving every stone for our disturbance.” We must not forget that Satan’s first strategy was to attack the Good Shepherd in the wilderness before He went after His lost sheep. Surely his strategy is to attack and to discourage the Lord’s undershepherds at their weakest points and strongest temptations. Have we not seen the fall of many? Watch and pray!
D. But, fourth, perhaps the greatest difficulties derive their origin and power from ourselves. The natural love of ease, the lack of self-denial, false tenderness when we flinch at declaring unpalatable truths, all interfere. We must labor when our hearts are in a cold state. Opposition may reveal a selfish, prideful, angry, unhumbled spirit which is often worse than anything our opposition does. Popularity tends to puff up and encourage vain self-confidence, while lack of popularity fosters impatience or despondency. The minister will suffer to some degree.
How can we deal with such trials? This is how. These discouragements become sources of encouragement because we are cast upon our weaknesses until faith finds help in the bosom of the Son of God. We must quit expecting people to respond properly, making them our tin gods of life and death. This is idolatry, to live and die upon our people’s behavior. Paul said, “Having received mercy, we faint not.” The comfort of God’s mercy received is the only lasting motivation I have ever found to labor on in trial.
I am often asked by pastors: “Where can I get the strength to go on in the face of all these difficulties?” The answer is found in three great truths:
(1) Remember Jesus Christ and what He did for you. When you have given that much, you can stop. (2) You do not deserve any better, even if you are theologically correct. (3) If you have Christ, it is more than enough. Paul understood the role of suffering in the ministry in 2 Cor 4:7-12:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.”
To know beforehand that we willsuffer to some degree is encouraging.
II. The second encouragement to the ministry is this: It is worth it. It is worth it, not so much for successes we see, but because Luke 10:20 tells us that grace is better. After the disciples reported glowing successes in their evangelism and healing ministries, our Lord said: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the demons are subject to you, but that your names are recorded in heaven.” Grace received, from first to last, is our continual hope and stay. However, there are other subsidiary encouragements which make it worth it as well.
A. First, it is worth it because of the spiritual and permanent fruits of our ministry, even just one. Cotton Mather described the attitude of Archbishop Williams (Bridges, Christian Ministry, p. 19):
“I will remind you, says Cotton Mather, that one of the greatest personages (an Archbishop and a Lord-keeper) in the English nation (Archbishop Williams) once uttered this memorable speech: ‘I have passed through many places of honor and trust both in church and state, more than any of my order in England, for 70 years before; but were I assured, that by my preaching I had converted but one soul unto God, I should herein take more comfort, than in all the honors and offices that have ever been bestowed upon me.’ You are entering upon a work, that will keep you continually in the way of this incomparable satisfaction; and I hope…That the saving or enlightening or edifying, of one soul at any time, will be a matter of more joy unto you, than if all the wealth of Ophir should flow in upon you.”
Luke 15:10 records the Shepherd’s joy over one sinner who repents. We labor for the one until He gives it. We count the preciousness of one soul of more value than all our comforts of life. Our Lord on earth went after the one and still does…one by one. So should we. If we live our whole life, spending and being spent for one soul, it will have been worth it. That is a great encouragement in seasons of small harvests.
B. It is worth it because of the affectionate sympathies of a beloved people. This is also a subordinate source of comfort and encouragement. They know we are of like passions and they pray for us. What a blessing it is to see kindness flow to you, not because of you, but because you were a simple instrument in the hands of our Great Physician. God’s people, born again, are great lovers of His ministers. Not every Christian tastes of this privilege.
C. It is worth it because of its special advantages for the cultivation of personal religion. It is good for our soul to be given to study and things of heaven and Christ. Prayer, Scripture, meditation, teaching, all these things draw us to God instead of away from Him like so many earthly employments. We are not to give ourselves over to sterile professionalism but to Christ Himself and His Word. John Bunyan said, “I did preach what I smartingly did feel.” But you have to feel it first. And God has given His ministers the high privilege of staying in the Word for others that they may reap the benefit for themselves.
D. Finally, it is worth it because of the promises of our dear Lord. Who can value the worth of the promise to those who would fulfill the Great Commission: “Lo, I am with you all the days, even to the end of the age.” This is a great comfort to the Gospel minister.
It is worth it to serve a risen Christ. In spite of the difficulties and discouraging times, this great truth most times enables me to say with Thomas Scott (Bridges, Christian Ministry, p.23):
“With all my discouragements and sinful despondency; in my better moments, I can think of no work worth doing compared with this. Had I a thousand lives, I would willingly spend them in it: and had I as many sons, I should gladly devote them to it.”
III. The third great encouragement to ministers is this: One day it will be over. One day rest will come. I do not mean “over” in a negative sense; at least not today. I mean “over” in the most positive sense; “rest” in its most glorious sense. Peter comforts all believers that the sufferings and difficulties of living as a Christian in this life will be over in the best sense one day:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation…and after you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Pet. 4:12-13, 5:10).”
What is the rest of the Christian? It is the truth that God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
There is an old hymn which has sometimes bothered me. One of the lines go: “Christ shall gird Himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.” That line bothers me. I often think of being on the edge of heaven’s great multitude gaining precious glimpses of the Lamb upon His throne. That would be enough. But for Him to step down from His throne, gird His glorious waist with a towel, and serve me again as at the last supper is just too much for me to bear. Surely, I thought, the hymn is wrong. Yet, Luke 12:37 stares me in the face:
“Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself [to serve], and have them recline [at table], and will come up and wait on them. “
I know that this is a parable. But there it is. Somehow, some way, the King of Kings will humble Himself one more time and wash our feet as He welcomes us into His heavenly home at His own marriage supper. I want to say, “No! No! That is too much grace! I cannot take It!” He simply replies, “You must, or else you can have no part of me.” When Paul said, “For I am convinced that the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed in us,” he had already tasted of His Master’s personal presence in a way we only hope for one day. But one thing we tired, weary, sin-sick, people-burdened ministers need to remember; Paul knew what he was talking about. One day rest will come. One day it will be over. That encourages me to go on and labor amidst the sadness and darkness of a sin-ravaged world and a sin-weakened church. It will be worth it as we recline upon the soft pillow of our Master’s breast and feel His warm embrace.
IV. The fourth encouragement to ministers is this: a faithful ministry will always be successful and will always glorify God. Our churches today tend to measure success in the ministry by statistics of baptisms and budget reports. And we want to see the Gospel effective in other’s lives as well. But our Lord said to those will varying degrees of fruit and success: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of thy Lord.” Every faithful ministry is always successful in our Lord’s eyes.
There are at least two ways that our ministry always successfully glorifies God. First, by the revelation of Himself to men in the Gospel. And, second in the salvation and damnation of men.
A. First, God is glorified in the proclamation of the Gospel. We are called to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light . . .” Dr. 1. 1. Packer says (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p.75):
“We glorify God by evangelizing, not only because evangelizing is an act of obedience, but also because in evangelism we tell the world what great things God has done for the salvation of sinners. God IS glorified when His mighty works of grace are made known. The psalmist exhorts us to shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people. For a Christian to talk to the unconverted about the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving power is in itself honouring and glorifying to God.”
Brothers, is this on your mind as you preach the Gospel? Or dreams of success? To exalt the Glory of God, His Holiness, His Sovereignty, His Justice, His Mercy, in the face of Jesus Christ is success! We must never think that we have failed in a faithful ministry when sinners turn away from Christ proclaimed. For God’s Glory has been declared among the nations. Faithful ministers always glorify God. That is a great encouragement.
B. Second, God is glorified in a faithful ministry, whether sinners are saved or further condemned. Paul put it this way:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; To the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the work, of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (2 Cor. 2:14-17).”
Whether men respond to or reject the Gospel, a faithful ministry is accepted by God as a sweet-smelling aroma to Him (see Matt. 11:16-30). A faithful ministry is always successful because it always glorifies God. That is a great encouragement.
C. What are some implications to the truth that God will be glorified in a faithful ministry?
1. It should encourage us to humility. God did not have to save any of us here to glorify Himself. He could have glorified Himself in our just condemnation. That should silence grumbling and complaining against God’s will in our lives and haughtiness toward others who are ignorant and believe not. Such a view humbles God’s ministers toward others and fuels grateful worship of our God of Grace and Glory.
2. It should encourage us to self-denial and contentment. Glorifying God is what we live for, not our own reputation and will. Is that the goal? “For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” When we believe this we will learn how to deny ourselves in our relations to our wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. We will quit complaining about working so hard and getting so little respect. We will quit giving ourselves over to anger and bitterness. We will quit caring about our reputation and limited opportunities and unjust sufferings. Instead, we will rejoice contentedly because our names are written in heaven, fueling our self-denial for God and man. Seeking God’s Glory will stop self-pity and discontentment with our situation, as well as envy and jealousy at the gifts and opportunities of others.
There is One who suffered greatly in ministry. His reputation suffered, he was physically mistreated, he was repulsed at the shame involved. Yet with a heart of loving contentment for His Father’s Glory and will, even in suffering, He bowed His self-denying heart in the garden and said, “Thy will be done.” The Glory of God in our ministry brings self-denial and great contentment.
3. It should encourage us to patience with others. If opposition and rejection comes, the only difference between them and us is the kindness of God to us. God receives the glory for whatever we know of his grace. “And what do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” When God’s Glory is at work in your heart, you have great patience with others and great reliance on God’s power to work in their hearts.
4. It should encourage us to be bold. God will be glorified one way or the other in every effort we exert to bring men to Christ, even in their rejection of what we offer to them in God’s name. Paul came to Corinth in weakness and fear and in much trembling, but not with cleverness of speech to get better results. He did not resort to unbiblical gimmicks and gadgets and man-made methods. Yet he preached in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. How did this happen? Where did the boldness come from? Paul knew that “The work of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1:18).” He understood that God glorifies Himself through the foolishness of weak men preaching Christ and Him crucified, “because the foolishness of God is wiser then men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. . .that no man should boast before God.”
We do not have to fear our ineptitude, our weakness, our inabilities and insecurities as we bring the Gospel to men. We do not have to resort to desperate and unbiblical methods to increase our results or to quiet opposition. We can be bold in declaring “Christ and Him crucified” because God has chosen to glorify Himself even in our weakness through the foolishness of preaching to save His people from their sins.
God is glorified in a faithful ministry. That is the true goal and encouragement which must burn its way into our hearts and our minds. That is why our Lord prayed, “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given me to do.”
There are many encouragements to ministers of the Gospel. You will suffer in trial to some degree. It will be worth it. It will be over. And God will be glorified in a faithful ministry.
In the heat of trial, keeping of the minister’s heart in the Grace of God which is the greatest necessity for encouragement. For Paul said, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart . . .” It is in understanding that mercy received empowers the minister’s heart to faithfulness that our Lord’s words are fulfilled by ministers each day: “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.”