This morning, life can be much like the songwriter declared a "tangle of toil and care, doubts and dark fears so hard to bear." Satan's devices today are the same as they were at the beginning. Oftentimes, adversaries and opposing forces have to change tactics, but Satan has had little reason to change his, for they remain – regrettably so – as successful as ever. The more anxious, fearful, discouraged, and confused he can encourage someone to feel, the closer they are led to defeat. Satan delights and takes great pride when confusion abounds in the life of God's children, for that confusion will deter their fellowship with God and lead them into paths of destruction instead of righteousness. Truly, it would be a great comfort to know that Satan is prevented from the courts and house of God. However, he lingers around and comes through the gates on the minds and doubts of the congregants. If he is successful at taking up abode, he will find the pinnacle of his success here in the earth when a local church dries up and eventually dies.
Paul, in the context of our study verse, lays out a list of things that he endured for the sake of the gospel and the Lord's people. The list basically has two categories that he briefly outlines in our verse. Everything he has mentioned to this point is a thing "without." The rest of the verse deals with things "within." Those things that were without that Paul so heartily endured were vicious and frightening to the flesh. No one welcomes a stoning or a really effective beating. No one wishes for perils from all those that he is around. Yet, Paul laboured faithfully in the face of all these things and gloried in the Lord in the midst of all his tribulations. (Romans 5:3) And yet, as discouraging as all those things must have been for him at times, they do not equal or compare to the endurance it takes to deal with the things that are within.
While I – nor any minister that I am personally acquainted with – has ever endured these outward tortures of the flesh, all ministers to a man freely confess that they feel a kinship with Paul about the labours and enduring that come with the care of the churches. We pray that the day never comes that outward torture becomes a reality in our lives (though it might), but make no mistake, there will never be a day when the care of the churches is not evident and manifest. Something just always seems to be going on. As a dear elder once said, "Preaching and pastoring might be easy if there were not people involved, but it sure would be a lonely affair." Perfect churches do not exist. People without problems do not walk this earth. Emotions spring up at all times in all seasons. Therefore, churches will always need care.
Since we have noticed above that this care is never out of season – it happens daily – what does it mean to have "care?" The word here for care comes from a word that bears connotations of thoughtfulness, being memorable, and accompanied by anxiety. So, Paul's care of the churches required a great deal of thoughtfulness that came with remembering them. However, it was not without some anxiety involved as he contemplated and meditated about what the best course of action was in certain situations and prayed about how to approach different things. So, the care of churches is not always a pleasant thing, but the effort is worthwhile when considering the glory that accompanies it. (Verses 30-31)
One of the things that I never understood – even as a boy – is how people thought that being a minister somehow was a glamorous life. Being the son of a minister, I saw firsthand how painful being a minister could be at times. Many days I watched my father and saw him give his very heart in situations only to discover that certain people simply did not appreciate the effort (at least not at the time). I watched him labour faithfully to teach and preach those things which are most surely believed among us only to end up broken in spirit on occasion when people just seemed "to not get it." Furthermore, I experienced the sacrifice that he made when time he planned for us had to be forgone to help people with marriage problems, talk people out of suicide, try to mediate between offended brethren, and many other things that one would desire never be found in the church kingdom.
As a minister now myself, I have not experienced the level of care to which I witnessed my father endure, but I do now share a feeling of kinship with him that I previously did not. Reading passages like this from Paul give a feeling of brotherly labour with the apostle. What pains he must have endured knowing that not one but many "churches" looked to him in that fashion! Whether churches that he visited or helped constitute, he had thoughts, feelings, meditations, and some anxiety over them when he considered their state. In his farewell to Ephesus in Acts 20, he mentions his warning to them about wolves coming in after his departure. Yet, his warning was not just a sermon coupled with the attitude of "here it is and hope you get it." Rather, Paul's warning was both night and day accompanied by tears. Paul told the Thessalonians that they were dear unto him, and his attitude toward them was like a nurse cherishing children. (I Thessalonians 2:7-9)
Any minister worth his salt cares for the people that he serves. Even when the anxiety mounts as he has doubts about whether they understand the preaching, heed the instruction, or whether certain matters of confusion will ever resolve in peace, he cares. As I have told younger ministers before, the man sometimes experiences sleepless nights coupled with a heavy heart and burdened soul. When the minister sees Satan at work in the lives of the church folks (including himself), he earnestly desires that all such influences be removed and trouble not the flock. One of the greatest heartaches a minister can have is to see Satan's influence rob some sheep of the joy of the gospel, particularly when he feels that the Lord blessed him to preach. A greater heartache though stems from looking out at hungry faces, only to know deep down that Satan has had the advantage over him, thereby impeding the gospel food to go forth in power.
Moving into some of the more pleasant fields of labour in the care of the churches, consider why Paul willingly and joyfully endured for the glory of God in the churches. One of our hymns has a borrowed line from Scripture "one day in His courts is better than a thousand beside." When a minister labours and endures these hardships and anxious moments in the church, it is all worth it when he sees the glory of the Lord coming forth in the lives of the sheep within the courts of Zion. Sleepless nights disappear from view when they come forth brilliantly and vivaciously as mature plants in the church of the living God. Burdened souls can be lightened in short order when it seems that folks finally "get it" and see the beauty of the kingdom a little clearer and let loose of the worldly things a little more.
The Bible teaches us that the church is much like a family. Sometimes it is compared to a single body, while at other times, we see familial connections being made – such as calling one another "brethren." The church is described in Scriptures much like a mother-figure to us (Galatians 4:26), and the Bible also teaches that mothers forget about labour pains when children come forth. (John 16:21) Putting all of this together, we see that all the labours of the minister for the family's sake can be quickly forgotten when the man child comes forth. While the child was already alive long before the hour of travail, so the sheep are born again long before all the travail and pains of labour in the kingdom. However, when the tender plants go through those growing processes, all the pain, care, and anxiety is well worth the effort to see them standing as sturdy trees to the glory of Almighty God.
Friends, the church is worth the effort. Like the man who bought an entire field for the treasure within it (Matthew 13:44), we have to buy a lot of things (field) for the joy of God's house and service (treasure). No matter how bleak things appear at times, there is great joy and hidden treasure to be found. As I have told people across the country, "The worst drought in the house of God beats the best plenty out in the world." If you are a minister, may these thoughts serve to encourage you in your care of the portion of the Lord's vineyard that you are in. If you are not a minister but going through a rough season in the house of God, may these thoughts encourage you to keep seeking the joy and blessing to be enjoyed in the Lord's church. May all of us be renewed in our mind to seek to advance the Lord's name and see the beauty of His holiness with all of its associated glory.