There is no easy way to say it. Ministry is difficult. You are dealing with people. Not just people at a 30,000 foot marketplace exchange. You are on the ground, in the fight with them, dealing with the core of who they are. You are working to shape their worldview. You are helping them fight sin. You are comforting them in times of trouble and loss.
Ministry is a blessing
But for all its difficulties, ministry is a blessing. It is a privilege to be used by God as His instrument to bring about lasting change in others.
The apostle Paul was an exceptional leader and intellectual. He was gifted by the Lord in many different ways. For all his gifting, he experienced trouble in his ministry. He was rejected, beaten, and jailed. Most likely he was eventually killed for preaching the gospel.
Ministry is joyful
Even though he experienced hardship as the sinful world pressed in on him, he found ministry to be joyful. Recounting his time in Thessalonica, he recognizes it was not spent in vain (1 Thess 2:1). Some in Thessalonica were changed.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
(1 Thess 2:13)
The word Paul preached had an effect on the Thessalonians. It took root and changed them from the inside out. Paul was one of the ones God used to bring about this change.
Ministry is a calling
It is a privilege to be used by God to do the work of ministry. Ministry is not a job, though it does provide income for those who do it vocationally. It is not necessarily a career, even though many minister vocationally for all their working years. Ministry is a way of life. It is a privilege. It is a calling.
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”
(1 Thess 2:19-20)
Ministry is difficult
Yes pastor, your ministry is difficult. There are seasons in ministry that are hard. I know the difficulties of ministry myself. I believe we need to acknowledge them. We need help and encouragement as we walk through them.
But we also need to remember that ministry is a blessing, a joy, a calling, and a privilege. The God of the universe has gifted and called us, of all people, to preach His Word, to exhort, encourage, charge, and rebuke His people. He has called us to come alongside others to help them walk in a manner worthy of God and the Kingdom into which we have been called for God’s glory (1 Thess 2:11).
What a privilege it is and what joy it should bring, when we see the Lord at work in others through us!
According to Open Doors, a non-profit committed to helping the persecuted church, in just the last year, there have been:
Over 340 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
4,761 Christians killed for their faith.
4,488 churches and other Christian buildings attacked.
4,277 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned.
Reading these statistics should give you pause. It should also spring you into action, praying for our brother’s and sister’s in other countries living out their faith and experiencing persecution for it. Prayer should be your first reaction.
We are human. We often associate oppression with a lack of power and care. Thinking about the persecuted church might cause you to wonder and ask:
Does God care?
If He cares, does persecution mean God is not powerful enough to do something about it?
Or is persecution a means of God’s punishment?
I am sure the Thessalonians were asking similar questions. After all, they were the one’s experiencing persecution. In an effort to encourage the Thessalonians and help future Christians who experience persecution, Paul reminds us of several truths.
(1) God’s love causes us to live for Christ
Paul is encouraged by the Thessalonians. He gives thanks for them as he prays to the Lord.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess 1:2-3)
Paul is encouraged by their faithfulness. He sees them loving one another. As well as he is aware of their steadfastness even in the face of persecution.
Faithful Christians live for Christ no matter the circumstances they find themselves in. It might be dealing with a difficult brother or sister in Christ. It might be caring for others by sacrificing time, resources, and emotional capacity. It might be the choice between freedom and imprisonment. Faithful Christians seek to live for Christ in every situation in which they find themselves.
Christians are able to live faithful lives because God’s love permeates their lives. Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians. Specifically, he thanks God for the life they live. He thanks God because it is God who causes them to live for Christ.
(2) God’s election evidences His love
Paul assures the Thessalonians of God’s love starting in verse 4 when he writes:
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5a)
God’s love is evident by His choice of them. God elected, He chose the Thessalonians because He loved them. God’s choice is irrespective of their actions. It is not based on anything they did or did not do. God chooses us simple because He wants to. There is no other reason.
How do we know we are chosen. Paul tells us we know because the gospel affects our life.
The good news of Jesus comes “in power” and changes us, raising dead men to life.
The “Holy Spirit” sanctifies us, causing us to put away sin and walk in the freedom of Christ.
We are convicted, we repent, and we believe in Jesus “in full conviction” even in the face of persecution.
These are not the actions of quasi follower of Jesus. We don’t naturally change our entire way of life and remain steadfast even when persecuted. Man naturally moves away from pain not towards it. What has happened to us and the life we now live is evident of God’s gracious and loving election, which provides assurance that God has not abandoned us.
(3) God’s love led to Jesus’ affliction
“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Th 1:6–7)
Jesus was afflicted. His suffering didn’t occur because He was powerless. Instead it occurred according to plan. God’s electing love is lavished upon us because Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering made a way for us to become a part of God’s family. Believing in Jesus connects us to His death, burial, and resurrection, so that His death becomes our death and His new life becomes our new life.
Affliction and persecution doesn’t mean God is not in control. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us. It’s not His punishment for our sin. It is the opposite. In God’s upside down kingdom, affliction and persecution are markers of strength, a plan, and His eternal pursuit of His elect.
In my last post, I argued that we should work for the good of our cities. Our work is important and we should be motivated to work for the good of our cities since our welfare is tied up with the welfare of the city. In other words, as the city prospers, we will prosper. Not only will we prosper, but the gospel will have a more peaceful platform from which to launch. If we want to see our cities reached with the gospel and changed for good, we should work for the good of our cities. (Learn more from my last post here .)
You may be “amening” me at this point. You’re ready to jump on board. But you might be wondering, “how do I work for the good of the city? What are some practical actions I can take?” I’m glad you asked.
At the outset, let me say that we aren’t to work to bring about good with violence. Violence never accomplishes that which we believe it will accomplish. Instead, we are to work for the good of our cities in other ways. Here are three ways you can work for the good of your city.
(1) Participating in Politics and Law making.
Before you completely write this option off, hear me out. I’ll start with a quote because I believe it sets up the idea well.
“True justice exists only in the society of God, and this will be truly fulfilled only after the Judgment. Nevertheless, while no society on earth can fully express this justice, the one that is more influenced by Christians and Christian teaching will more perfectly reflect a just society. For this reason, Christians have a duty toward government.”
Robert E. Webber in Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s, City of Man, 27.
I like what this guy has to say. It is reasonable and balanced. He knows politics aren’t going to solve all our problems. But he also knows that societies that are influenced by Christians are those that operate better than those that aren’t.
That’s because, as this same author goes on to argue:
“Laws express moral beliefs and judgments…They tells citizens what our society ought to value and condemn, what is worthy of our respect and what we should disapprove of.”
Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man, 31.
Think about the state of Colorado: Marijuana is now legal. That is a big deal. Not only because its citizens readily have access to drugs, but also because it influences Coloradans morality. Right now, some citizens may see the use of Marijuana as being morally wrong, but think about how people will see it in fifty years. As a generation comes and goes the view that it is wrong to use marijuana is going to fade into the background. Laws express moral beliefs and judgments, they tell us what we should and shouldn’t approve of.
While politics and law is not for everyone, Christians can’t neglect its importance. It’s one way we can work for the good of the city as we live in the in-between.
(2) Truly Living as Disciples of Jesus
A friend of mine asked me in the past:
“What if the world actually saw Christians living out their calling?”
The reason he asked that is because a lot of people who claim to be Christian don’t live out their calling. While they might attend church on Sunday, the rest of the week they go about their business as usual. They don’t operate out of a Christian worldview, allowing it to drive and influence their everyday lives.
But imagine if we did? Imagine the impact we could have if we truly lived out our Christian convictions in every area of life? One author presses into this idea saying,
“It is therefore the church’s duty to display in an evil age of self-seeking, pride, and animosity the life and fellowship of the Kingdom of God and of the Age to Come.”
George Eldon Ladd, A theology of the New Testament, 113.
In other words, we are to live in a way that shows what it will be like to live in the new kingdom. We are to be witnesses to the change Jesus can bring about as we live in the every day. If we do, we will have considerable influence in the community.
Another way we can bring about change is actually living distinctly Christian lives.
(3) Preaching the Gospel
I left this one for last because I believe it’s the most important and that which we should ultimately be working towards. While changing laws and policies can bring about positive change in a society, they don’t deal with the core problem, which is the heart. When the Bible refers to the heart, it refers to our inner-self — our will, wants, and desires. It is what drives us. Naturally, we are sinful people. While laws and policies can restrain sin, it can’t cure it. Only the gospel can cure a sin sick heart.
When someone believes Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they experience a change in heart. Their desires, will, and wants should change. Instead of desiring sin, they should desire God. That desire should continually grow.
It is that desire that led David in Psalm 51:10 to pray,
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)
Without his heart first being changed to desire the things of God, he would not have ever prayed that prayer. Nor would he have ever seen any life change.
If we truly want to make an impact on the cities in which we live, we need to preach the gospel. Telling others of the hope of Jesus. As they believe, their hearts will change, which should ultimately have an impact on the community as they live out their daily lives as disciples of Jesus.
Watch the sermon from which this post is developed.
As Christians, we should work for the good of cities. The idea appears sound. It appears that working for the good of the city is something we should definitely do.
But some Christians struggle with the idea. They would rather retreat from the city than work towards its good.
There are many objections we could explore but the one I want to tackle today is that this world is not our home. We belong to Jesus’ kingdom. As citizens of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we should work for its good but not the good of an earthly kingdom. Instead, we should distance ourselves from the world so that we are not tainted by the evil found therein.
While some make the above argument, it is not biblical. Instead, the biblical view is that we should do all we can to work to bring about change in our cities now.
Why should we work to bring about change in our cities?
For the same reason Judah was supposed to work to bring about change in Babylon. As you read through the history of Israel, one thing becomes apparent — they were a rebellious people. Instead of worshipping the Lord, they worshipped other gods and relied on other nations to fight their battles instead of the Lord. As punishment for their unfaithfulness, God allowed His people to be conquered and exiled from the Promised Land. Israel was taken first by the Assyrians, then later Judah was taken by the Babylonians.
Right before the Babylonian exile, a number of false prophets told the people that they would come back to Jerusalem in just two short years, but that wasn’t God’s plan. In fact, Judah wasn’t coming back anytime soon. Instead they were going to stay in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 29:10).
While they would ultimately come back to the Promised Land, God didn’t want Judah to live as exiles. Instead he wanted them to take root. Jeremiah tells them in chapter 29 starting in verse 5:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf…” (Jer. 29:5-7a).
They were to take root — to have sons and daughters, to give them in marriage, and even to work for the good of the city. That might seem odd, but look at the rest of verse 7. It says,
“for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7b).
In other words, as the city prospers, they will prosper. As the city flourishes, they will flourish. That same idea applies to us. While our home is the kingdom to come, we live here now.
Instead of living as strangers, as exiles, we are to take root. We aren’t to live on the fringes, we aren’t to pull back. Instead, we are to work for the good of our country, city, and community. We are to work for good because as the city prospers, we prosper. As the city flourishes, we flourish.
While we are here, we are to work to make things better. We are to show the world a sliver of the kingdom to come. As we do so, we will not only enjoy a better life, but we will act as witnesses of the kingdom for which we find our hope. Hopefully, others will find their hope in the kingdom to come too.
Watch the sermon from which this post was developed.
Reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, and as a follow up to my last post, I am struck by Paul’s care and desire for the Thessalonians. Certainly, his care extends to their physical needs, but his focus is on the spiritual in the latter verses of chapter 2 into chapter 3. His own boasting before the Lord is wrapped up in their spiritual steadfastness and growth (1 Thess 2:19). His desire to know how they are doing spiritually causes him to send Timothy ahead of himself and leaving him without his trusted associate (1 Thess 3:1-2). Upon Timothy’s return, his good report causes him joy (1 Thess 3:9).
Paul as Model
Paul is a model in many ways. His boldness to proclaim the gospel and plant churches is inspiring. His willingness to put his life on the line for the sake of Christ time and time again is convicting. But his boldness and bravado are balanced by tenderness. As Christian leaders, we must not only be bold and brave, but we must also be tender with those whom the Lord has placed under our care.
Tenderness is not a sign of weakness.
Rather it is evidence that the gospel has affected your heart. Our Lord is tender. He cares for those who are His like a nursing mother cares for her child.
There are no pictures of Paul. Photography didn’t exist in Paul’s day. But I can’t help but think of Paul as a big, burly guy. I could be wrong. But that is the image that comes to mind when I think of Paul. If a big burly guy like Paul can be tender and caring so can we. Men, Pastor, allow Paul to be your example.
While it might be the case that many of you work and live among non-believers, it is also true that Christians often look for ways to retreat into their holy huddle.
Instead of gathering together in a holy huddle, I believe we are supposed to interact with and engage non-believers. If we don’t, we can’t accomplish the Great Commission — to make disciples because we don’t know any non-believers. If we want to win non-believers to Christ, we have to know some non-believers.
The reason I bring this up is because I know it is easy for us as Christians to gather together in our holy huddle. That is fine for a time, but at some point we have to break the huddle and engage those around us with the gospel, especially knowing that Jesus could return at any point.
Imagine throwing down a couple of hundred dollars for a ticket to a Cowboys game, fighting traffic all the way over to Arlington, and spending even more time finding a parking spot and even more money at the concession stand, only to see the Cowboys never break the huddle after fielding the first kickoff and having to turn the ball over to the other team because of delay of game penalties. Imagine that? Imagine seeing that?
That is exactly what we do if we remain in our holy huddle. Sure it is safe in there, but if we never engage anyone with the gospel, all we are doing is turning things over to the other team. That’s not good because the other team isn’t just going to score a touchdown. The other team is scoring someone’s soul. Instead of remaining in a holy huddle, we need to engage those around us with the gospel.
In order to do that we have to know people who are non-believers. When I say know, I don’t mean know of, but actually know them — as in you have a relationship with them. If we are going to accomplish the Great Commission, we have to know non-believers. We have to interact with them on a regular basis.
We have to be like the world, engaging them in relationship with the gospel, while at the same time we must be unlike the world, so that they can see what it would look like for them to live as a Christian.
Use the relationships you have. Engage the people you know on a regular basis. Get to know non-believers and engage them with the gospel.