I have been involved, in one form or another, in the public ministry of God’s word for nearly 45 years. In those years I have taught or preached to saints and sinners over 3,000 times. Some years ago, I noticed a general sense of fatigue in the ministry. I realized that I had been battling discouragement for an extended period of time. This discouragement, for me, was rooted in what I will term a ‘theologically informed pessimism’.
This heart condition was exposed some years ago when I was preaching through the book of Acts. In chapter 26 Luke tells us of Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus. Paul had every reason to be discouraged and pessimistic in bringing the gospel to these men. After all, he was seeking to present the truth to men whom he knew to be dead in their sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). They were furthermore from a group (the rich and powerful) where conversions are rare (see 1 Cor. 1:26-29). He also knew that the core message he brought (Christ and Him crucified) was offensive and foolish to the very men he sought to reach (one a Gentile and the other a ruler over the Jews). What struck and convicted me was not only that Paul preached the truth anyway (always the faithful plodder), but that he did so with such passion and hope. When Festus tells him that his great learning has driven him mad, Paul pleads with him. He asserts that his message was one rooted in truth and reality. When the King mocks Paul’s attempts to ‘convert’ him, Paul tells him that he desires all men to have what he has (with the exception of his chains). How often had Paul faced just this kind of unbelief, skepticism, and rejection? What possible reason did he have to believe that this hour would be any different? And yet, he carried on. And, he did so in hope.
In this light, I have been meditating upon Paul’s word to the Corinthians as found in chapter 9. He is dealing with the subject of teachers and preachers receiving a financial reward for their labor. In that context he says, 1 Corinthians 9:10…[it] is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Paul makes his argument based upon a certain ‘truism’. Those who plow and sow and thresh do so in hope. They do not do it merely to be faithful to their task. They are thinking of all the lunches and dinners down the road that make the labor and toil worth it all. I have labored all my ministerial life to be faithful. In the midst of this, I have at times lost hope. I have taught with a desire to please God but, at times, with little expectation that it would do anything. I have labored many times with little hope that the Word given would change people, help people, or convert people. Why? Because of what I so often saw and experienced. Past discouragement ought not to crush future expectations and hope. God’s word is powerful. It does sanctify and it does save. It is a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces and a sword that cuts into the inner being of saints and sinners. I am repenting of my pessimism. I am taking up God’s Word with fresh hope. I do so as one who plows and one who sows anticipating the fruits of my labors.
Jim has been with RBC since 1990. He was set aside by the church for full time ministry in November of 1991. Jim was brought to faith as a teenager and soon began to experience a desire to preach God’s Word. He trained for the ministry at Columbia Bible College in Columbia, SC (now Columbia International University) and at the Trinity Ministerial Academy in Montville, NJ. He married his wife, Becky in 1989 and they have been blessed with three daughters and one son.