Session 1 – Tuesday PM
“The Antidote to Discouragement”
GRANTHAM, PA — The 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference began with a message directed towards discouragement in the pastorate. Ben Short is a seasoned pastor who recently retired from 40 years of pastoring and is most certainly qualified to minister to those who are discouraged.
His text was built from Philippians 1, and especially verse 21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Ministry is filled with struggles that tend towards discouragement. The minister battles with the influences of worldliness, individualism, extreme subjectivism, anti-authoritarianism and postmodernism. And the church is not immune to this society around us. Ministers preach, but often the hearers quickly forget the sermons, we see backsliding, and people fall into the sins of the culture. Discouragement in the life of the pastor is a powerful tool of Satan.
Often when the rubber of theological idealism (in the mind of the pastor) hits the road of reality there is great discouragement. This discouragement can lead a pastor into depression and this leads to a heartless labor, professionalism of pastoral ministry, neglected prayer, jealousy of the successes of other, cynicism, anger towards congregation, etc.
When it comes to discouragement, pastors are not alone. Paul knew about hardships, Satanic attacks, animosity between him and the Gentile/Jewish communities, stonings, jailing, flogging, suffering at the hands of the enemies of the Gospel, shipwrecks, robbery, and the dangers from false brethren and false teachers. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) because he lived each day in the possibility of death.
Because Christ is Preached
So why did Paul endure the heartache? Because whatever happened to him, Paul knew that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (v. 20). “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (vv. 15-18). Paul’s endurance and joyful spirit are explained in these words.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). Paul understood this. Christ is first, last and everything between. Paul met Christ on the Damascus road and everything changed! Paul had a new life, a new understanding, and a new heart. Nothing was the same. When a man sees the risen Christ everything changes. This is a life-revolutionizing encounter and Galatians 6:14 — “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” — becomes more than a mere slogan.
To Live is Christ
The Christian calling is to live in self-denial in the service of Christ. Can you imagine the response of your congregation if you told them this? Would they believe you because you show them it to be true, or would they simply have to believe you based upon your words?
Christ gave Himself to do the will of God (John 17:4, 12:49). Christ was Paul’s example. Paul became a bondslave of Jesus Christ and he breathed Christ-centeredness. Should this not be our example?
What this means is that we are unconcerned with self. We live for Christ’s glory, His Name, His Gospel and His Church. My life is at His disposal. I don’t belong to me, I belong to Him as a living sacrifice, an abandonment to Him! This is Paul’s example. Paul’s own comforts were poured out for the glory of Christ.
Paul also shows us that there is nothing – no pain and no trials — that happens in our lives without purpose. It’s all endured for the glory of Christ. This truth will keep us from despair. But nothing less is demanded from us. We will be tested and we will suffer as Christ’s name spreads.
The proof of how well we boast in the Cross is to see how we respond to suffering. What evidence do we show then? Are we willing to give up our own desires and our own will to live for His will and glory? This is part of the tough demands of Christ. Nothing of our lives is left out here.
This living for Christ focuses our struggles in the ministry. When we endure slander, or close friends turn away from us, we become jealous of others, our hearers quickly forget the content of the sermons, or we become victims of church politics. The antidote is that I am not doing this for me, my own advancement or my own fame. Rather, I do this because of Christ. I live for Christ.
We are not motivated by mere duty. Duty will wane over time. We are motivated by love! Christ loves you! Can you give any reason why? Knowing this love and growing in the knowledge of this love keeps us going. That is what causes us to rejoice. “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18). “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). They endured because they loved Christ.
Keep your sights upon Christ and let Him be the motivation for all your ministry labors. If this is not what you have, what do you have? Nothing.
To Die is Gain
Paul could see past the temporal and beyond circumstances. He had a vision of eternity. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14).
If Paul were to live that would mean fruitful labor (v. 22). So what would cause Paul to desire to depart? Because Paul is a Christ-obsessed man. Paul knew that one day he would see Christ and be transformed like Him (1 John 3:2). What we see dimly in Scripture, Paul would see face-to-face. Do you personally ponder this promise? Does this give you a desire and longing to behold Him as He is? This is the same Jesus who lived on earth and died to bear the punishment of our sin’s guilt.
But it’s more than physical sight because Paul knew he would see the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Paul would behold the grace, righteousness, purity, compassion of Christ. He would have a pure mind to see Christ in all His splendor! It’s no wonder that Paul considered death to be gain. This encourages the discouraged heart.
But also, to see Him will cause us to be like Him (1 John 3:2). I cannot even conceive of what this must look like. The great purpose of God will be completed in the restoration of the sinner into the image of God. This soul that is sinful and polluted by sin will be restored completely. Presently we see as in a mirror but then face-to-face. There will be full fellowship with God without sin or darkness.
We shall be holy. This is what He chose us to be (Eph. 1:4). Now we know of so little holiness. We struggle with sin. Sin is so much a part of us. We have sinful words, sinful responses to situations, we struggle with the temptations of the world, and we battle sin to our own weariness. But then we shall be holy! No unholy thoughts, desires, speech, no more remorse, shame or guilt. We will have a Christ-like mind and heart. Sin will be impossible. We will no longer love sin. Our whole being will only move in love towards God. We will labor joyfully without sin and glorify God with a sinless love! To die is gain!
Death is not the end but the entrance into full life, a glorious life. The reality of hardships, temptations, disappointments will come, we will be tempted to despair. But Paul’s antidote was this “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). Live, labor, pastor and preach for Christ not for yourselves or for self-glory. Do all for Christ, the One who gave Himself for you. This will keep you from despair.
Related: For more posts and pictures from the 2007 Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference check out the complete TSS conference index.