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We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
What sobering lines! It's almost as if he was singing a hymn of Christian ministry in four stanzas:
Stanza One: The External Circumstances. In
"troubles, hardships, and distresses"
"beatings, imprisonments, and riots"
"hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger"
Stanza Two: The Inward Marks of Character. In
First, the means: "with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left." Paul was so dedicated to living a life that pleased God that both his right hand and his left hand were filled up with righteousness. In his left, his righteousness acted as shield to ward off attacks that people would make on his character. In his right hand, his upstanding life was like a sword to go on the offensive for ministry.
Second, the circumstances: "through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report." Sometimes Paul received honor and approving recognition for his labors, and sometimes slander and false gossip undercut his ministry. But regardless of the circumstances, he pressed on.
Stanza Four: The Ironies. You know what an irony is: It's when something achieves the opposite of the result that was intended. In
The first two ironies are somewhat sad:
"genuine, yet regarded as impostors." Though he was sincere, some people looked on him as an impostor with impure motives behind the things he did.
"known, yet regarded as unknown." Though he was known by God and cared for, many people did not respect his work or his lessons.
The last five ironies are sweeter:
"dying, and yet we live on." As he put it in 2 Corinthians 4, though he was outwardly "wasting away" in hardship and persecution, inwardly he was being renewed day by day.
"beaten, and yet not killed."
"sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." There was no circumstance severe enough, no setback devastating enough to make Paul lose confidence that God causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28).
"poor, yet making many rich." His material possessions were meager, but his message of salvation made many spiritually rich.
"having nothing, and yet possessing everything." He had everything he needed through the gracious provision of a watchful God.
I'm humbled when I examine this list of the things Paul went through. To many of us, the work of God is little more than a hobby, something we do if we can squeeze it in between all our other projects. To Paul, expanding the kingdom of God was his very life; it consumed him to the point of fanaticism. The reality of coming judgment and the good news of Christ's cross gave him an impetus that could not be snuffed out by any hardship that life or people could throw at him.
So, don't be surprised when you face some tough times in church leadership. Until you and I endure the kind of things that Paul endured, we have no room for complaining!
LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.