March 9, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Steve Suh, Gracepoint Berkeley

2 Corinthians 6:8-10

8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Reflect on the real difficulties, the actual pain and struggle which must lie behind the contrasting pairs of words listed here that describe the life of ministry.  Reflect also on the fact that all believers are called to be ministers.

All believers are called to be ministers.  (1 Peter 2:9, 2 Cor5:18, Matt 28:19, etc)  The contrasting pairs of words listed in this passage by Apostle Paul describe the difficulty and the reality of ministry.  When I read this passage in 2 Cor 6 during my college years, before I was active in ministering to others, it was really difficult to grasp what Ap. Paul meant in these verses – though it sounded pretty cool and deep.  Now as I look back at the past 16+ years of ministry, I can testify to both the extreme joys and pains of trying to minister to people.  I can recount moments when I was thrilled to see how God was working in my life and using someone like me to be an instrument for his Kingdom work.  I had the privilege to witness so many precious friends being transformed by the gospel and cross the line of faith.  For the past handful of years, as a church, we have witnessed 80-180 people per year making salvation decisions in our ministry and have been able to celebrate together what God is doing in our midst.  This reality each year is not simply a “good report” (v8)… I would claim that this is amazing-miraculous-thrilling-incredible news of what God is doing right here – and it’s spine chilling – it’s hands-down to our God.

Though all this remains true, I have also experienced the difficulties and pains of ministry, which I am ashamed to share in light of Ap. Paul’s sufferings.  Though there are many thrills and joys in ministry, there have also been many deep pains and difficulty in ministering to people.  It’s no mystery why this is the case.  We’re all broken and sinful people (Rom3:23).  As a minister, I’m called to love, guide, pray and struggle with those entrusted under my care, and helping them bring to Jesus their sins and brokenness.  This is not as easy as I thought it was when I first started ministering to people many years ago.  I have learned that it is the role of the leader to help my friends reconcile to God (2Cor5) and to struggle with them in their addictions and sins.  Seeing the damages of sin is sorrowful, painful and a huge burden and responsibility before God.  I pray for God’s wisdom and persevering love in trying to love those he’s placed in my life.

Also, Apostle Paul throughout the NT, (throughout his letters to the churches) did not hold back in speaking the “truth in love” (Eph4) to those he loved.  This is another aspect of ministry that is difficult and painful at times.  It should be no mystery to anyone why this is so.  I simply have to look at my own heart and see the way I had responded to those who spoke the “truth in love” to me in the past that would make it difficult for anyone to minister to someone like me: my parents during my youth, my close friends in college, my wife (now), and my spiritual mentors who admonished me for things that were revealed.  I was often proud and rebellious, and had a hard time accepting certain truths about myself (though they were true).  At times, I would become bitter at those who did take the risk of speaking words of truth to me – although they were there to help me see myself and grow.  I would try to find any excuse and accuse them for not really knowing me or understanding me.  Though there were moments of misunderstanding, most of the things that were said were true and undeniable – and an opportunity for me to see myself, repent and be shaped by God.  The reasons why ministry can be painful at times is so clear as I look at my own history and as I minister to many people who are just like me: proud and un-teachable.  The Bible is clear about man’s condition: simply that we’re all sinners… proud & not wanting anyone to touch the sensitive ego in our lives.  I have come to realize through God’s word that spiritual mentors are not called to be cheerleaders for sinners, but responsible for “speaking the truth in love” (Eph4) to prepare God’s people for His good works… to help them mature in Christ-like character… and to present everyone perfect in Christ (Col1:28).  I’ve learned over the years that God uses His words, circumstances in life, and people he’s placed in my life to do his chiseling holy work in me.  I am once again, deeply appreciative and indebted to those who had the courage, perseverance and love to shape and guide someone as rebellious as me.  I pray that God will grant me the same kind of wisdom and persevering love to minister to those under my care today.

When this process of “speaking the truth is love” happens, there’s always a good chance for people to get offended, hurt, angry, feel misunderstood, and become defensive – just like I did in the past, and many others in the days of the prophets and Apostle Paul.  There were times in the past, and even recently, when the students I was ministering to… who I cared for and were praying for, did not take my words of instruction well.  Instead, their ego was hurt and they accused me for “how” I said certain things while ignoring my heart for them and any content or truths that could help them.  These moments are deeply hurtful and painful, as I become vulnerable to rejection from people that are dear to me.  I want to say to them like Gandalf to Bilbo (Lord of the Rings): I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m trying to help you!

Through painful experiences like these, I have come to see how I have become more and more guarded in ministry, and at times I see myself “withholding my affection” (v11) to those under my care.  I am deeply encouraged and challenged by Apostle Paul – that though he experienced such difficulties and pains in an exponential way, he remained faithful to God’s people and loved them with all his heart – not withholding his affection from them:

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.

This is the kind of ministry and life Jesus portrayed.  Jesus opened wide his heart to me – and didn’t withhold his affection one bit – and showed it clearly through the cross. This is the picture of a spiritual father and shepherd, who out of love… opens wide his heart and not withhold his affection to those under his care – being vulnerable to rejection, but also able to witness God’s miraculous transformation in people’s lives for those who receive that love.  With love, there is great joy when it’s received and reciprocated… and great pains when rejected.  Even with all of Ap Paul’s difficulties and circumstances, Ap Paul did not lose heart.  He was clear about his identity as God’s servant (v4) – and no matter the outcome, he obeyed God’s calling to love – to speak truth in love – to prepare His people for God’s good work – and to present them perfect in Christ.  Lord, grant me the wisdom, the courage, the persevering love that I lack to follow the footsteps of all those who have gone before me: my leaders and my cloud of witnesses – and to love those under my care with a wide opened heart – and not withholding my affection…

 

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