Is pastoral ministry a haven for people who want to avoid hard work? It can certainly appear that way to the casual observer, who only ever sees his pastor in action for two hours every Sunday. But that perception couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to faithful shepherds and servant leaders of God’s people.
The ministry may be a heavenly pursuit, but it is also an earthly task—it’s hard work. That’s why the apostle Paul described his daily pastoral activities by saying “we labor and strive” (1 Timothy 4:10).
In 2 Corinthians 5:9 Paul says, “We also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” Then Paul gives two reasons for working hard. First, in verse 10 he says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” We will stand before Christ and He will eternally reward us. The reward we receive will be commensurate with the service we have rendered the Lord, whether good or useless (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11–15).
Then Paul says, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Here the apostle is looking beyond himself to unregenerate people. Unless they repent, they won’t experience a time of future reward; they’ll face judgment. And since we know that, we should persuade them with the truths of the gospel in hopes that through salvation they might avoid judgment.
Paul worked hard because he knew his effort had eternal consequences. That is the perspective that propels the servant of God. There is an eternal heaven and an eternal hell.
In 1 Timothy 4:10, “labor” (Gk., kopiaō) means “to work to the point of weariness.” “Strive” (Gk. agōnizomai) means “to agonize in a struggle.” We work to the point of weariness and exhaustion, often in pain, because we understand our eternal objectives.
J. Oswald Sanders writes that if a man “is unwilling to pay the price of fatigue for his leadership, it will always be mediocre”  J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, revised ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1980), 175. He also says, “True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man, and the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid”  Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 169. Because we understand the urgency of our ministry, we will not shrink back from paying that price. Weariness, loneliness, struggle, rising early, staying up late, and forgoing pleasures all accompany excellence.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says, “For I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. . . . Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave” (1 Corinthians 9:16, 26–27). That describes Paul’s tremendous effort in and commitment to a ministry with eternal consequences. In 2 Corinthians 11:24–27 Paul tells of the many times his foes beat him with rods and whipped him, and how often he endured endured weariness, suffering, pain, agony, and shipwreck. He endured all those perils because he was totally committed to the ministry at hand. Why? Because he had eternity in view. He realized that the destiny of souls hung in the balance.
“Because we have fixed our hope on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10) was the basis of Paul’s confidence in ministry. Missionaries who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ through the years deprive themselves of almost every earthly pleasure because their hope is set instead on the living God. They believe He will provide life for them beyond this life. None of us should try to amass a fortune here so we can indulge ourselves before we leave (cf. Matthew 6:19–21). Our hope is set on the future.
Paul’s argument is this: We labor and strive in the ministry because we believe that the consequences are eternal. We have set our hope on a living God, and we know He will save the souls of those who believe because we have seen His sustaining power at work in the world. That’s why we work so hard.
I once read about Thomas Cochrane, a man interviewed for the mission field. His interviewers asked, “What portion of the field do you feel yourself specially called to?” He answered, “I only know I wish it to be the hardest you could offer me.” The Lord’s work is not for people who are looking for ease and comfort. Yet it is eternally rewarding for those who set their hope on eternity.
Our whole work is a labor, but not a human labor. Paul said his goal was to “present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Then he said, “For this purpose also I labor [Gk., kopiaō, “agonize”], striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (Colossians 1:29). We do not work effectively for the Lord through the power of our flesh. Rather, through the Holy Spirit the Lord energizes those who truly serve Him.
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