Contentment in the Ministry
There is a disastrous discontentment that permeates the very fabric of our being. This can be seen throughout the many and varied experiences of our lives. Solomon spoke of it in Ecclesiastes 1:8, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. " Paul learned how to be content in all things, but he had to learn it. Contentment is not a natural inclination in our hearts. Jeremiah Burroughs, in his masterpiece The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, explained the nature of learning contentment when he wrote, "Contentment in every condition is a great art, a spiritual mystery; it is to be learned, and so to be learned as a mystery." It is especially necessary for the minister of the Gospel. I have seen how easily and quickly I can become discontent with circumstances. I, on a weekly basis, find myself becoming discontent concerning the numbers of people coming to worship on Sunday, the lack of resources we have for the church plant, the difficulties with which I am regularly confronted, and the physical and spiritual weaknesses with which I am beset everyday. Temptations are frequently entered into almost imperceptibly by the allurement of the "success" model of mega-churches, the "intellectualism" found in Reformed churches, and the drive for "power" in the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. The success syndrome, intellectual pride and an inappropriate hunger for power are all perversions of things we see exemplified in Scripture. We should long to see Christ's Kingdom manifesting itself in a growing multitude of believers; we should be growing in our biblical and theological knowledge so that we might be better equipped to minister; and we certainly ought to be seeking a greater manifestation of the power of God in our souls.
Because these three unbiblical models of ministry are counterfeit perversions of three aspects of a biblical model of ministry they are all the more powerful temptations for ministers of the Gospel. In the book of Acts we see the growing and thriving church. Multitudes were being added to the Lord as the apostles preached the word. One cannot read of Paul's missionary journeys without seeing that conversion growth is a fundamental aspect of the New Covenant church.
In the epistles we find Paul exhorting Timothy to "give heed to reading, exhortation and doctrine, so that your progress might be evident to all." On his death bed Paul asked that Timothy bring him the "books, especially the parchments." Paul wanted to grow more in His knowledge of the mystery of Christ before he died. There is a fundamental need for the minister of the Gospel to be knowledgeable in the things of Christ for the well being of the flock. Jesus himself said that "every scribe instructed in the things of the Kingdom of God is like a householder who brings out of his treasury things old and new." The minister must continue in reading, exhortation and doctrine so that he will be able to bring out the old truths of the faith, as well as new and fresh insights into the truth of Christ.
Finally, the Scriptures explain that the power of the Holy Spirit must always accompany the ministry of the word if the saints are to be built up and established in the faith. Paul prayed for the Ephesians (for those who already knew Christ and were in Him) that they would know "what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory." Jesus told the apostles, prior to His ascension, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me..." (Acts 1:8). The power is a Spirit filled unction for the minister of the Gospel to preach Christ with all boldness, and a Spirit wrought power in the souls of believers unto godliness. In 2 Timothy 3:2-4, Paul explains the nature of false teachers. They are "lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power."
To make matters worse, multitudes of professing Christians place their stamp of approval upon these counterfeit models of biblical ministry. There is a tendency for men to approve sinful practices for the sake of pacifying their own consciences with regard to their sin. They, wrote Paul, "knowing they righteous judgment of God...not only do the same, but approve of those who so do them" (Rom. 1). The minister must guard himself against the powerful temptations that stem from the faulty models of ministry and tfrom he multitudes of people who sing the praises of these faulty models. Being called to minister the pure milk of the word of God means knowing what model of ministry is most pleasing unto the Lord. We must search the Scriptures carefully and diligently to see what He would have us to do.
The apostle Paul is the supreme example of how a servant of Christ is to conduct himself in ministry. It was Paul who said, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christwho strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul did not enter into the temptations that were set before him by false models of ministry. He did not complain about not having as much influence as other men; he did not compare himself, or contrast himself, with those who commended themselves for their knowledge and eloquence; he did not seek after personal power over the minds of the people the Lord had placed him over as an apostle. In fact, when certain ministers started preaching Christ out of a motivation to add affliction to Paul's chains, he rejoiced and said, "just so long as Christ is preached!" Paul understood the nature of Gospel ministry. He was content with food and clothing. He did not do these things out of self-righteousness or pride. They stemmed from a wholehearted commitment to Christ and to the stewardship that was entrusted to him. He learned in all situations to be content. The source of this power of contentment was Christ. The secret to being content is to know and believe that we can "do all things through Christ who strengthens us."
When the man of God depends on Christ for strength and contentment his model of ministry will be biblical--he will, like Paul, learn to be content with the ministry of the word. He will be more outreaching and evangelistic than the market driven, mega church leaders; he will have a better grasp on, and be saturated with, the Scriptures (think John Bunyan) than the ivory tower minister. He will be more dependent on the power of Christ for witness bearing and godly living than the men who seek power over the minds and lives of people in their churches. He will learn that "one man plants, another waters, but God gives the increase." He will constantly cry, "He must increase, but I must decrease." He will be content with the ministry of the word and prayer, and will rest content that the Lord has said:
"For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."