I have been involved in one form or another in the public ministry of God’s word for over 35 years. In those years I have taught or preached nearly 3,000 times. Over the past several years I have noticed a general sense of weariness or fatigue in the ministry. I now believe I have been battling discouragement. This discouragement, for me, has been rooted in what I will term a ‘theologically informed pessimism’. This reality was exposed recently in my own preaching on Paul’s defense before Agrippa and Festus as recorded in Acts 26. Paul had every reason to be discouraged and pessimistic in bringing the gospel to these men. He was seeking to present the truth to men whom he knew were dead int their sins and trespasses. They were furthermore from a group (the rich and powerful) were 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. What struck me and convicted me is not only that Paul preached the truth anyway (always the faithful plodder), but that he did so with such passion. When Festus tells him that his great learning has driven him mad, Paul pleads with him that his message is one rooted in truth and reality. When the King mocks Paul’s attempts to ‘convert’ him, Paul tells him that desires all men to have what he has (with the exception of his chains). How often had Paul faced just this kind unbelief, skepticism, and rejection? 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 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 hope that it would do anything. That it would change people or help people or convert people. Why? Because of what I so often seen and experienced. But 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 which 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 Savastio, Pastor Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville