Sunday, July 1, 2018

WEARINESS

The Apostle Paul wrote in one of his letters, “Do not grow weary of doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 NAS).

When one is facing extreme difficulties and is already weary of the effort, these are words that seem almost too easy to say.

It seems it is a bit like saying to a sad person, “Be happy.”

We cannot simply generate happiness, just as we cannot simply deny that we are weary. There must be reasons for a person to feel happy. In much the same way, for one to not be weary when he feels fatigued, something also has to be done. 

Weariness of a Different Color

Certainly in happiness, it is sometimes a matter of outlook. We become unhappy when we allow ourselves to focus on what is not going right and ignore or diminish the blessings that we have.

Can such a positive outlook in the same way enable us to overcome weariness?


There are, of course, different kinds of weariness. There is pure bodily weariness that comes after difficult physical labor. This is the kind of weariness that is actually accompanied by a sense of contentment. The worker settles down into his favorite chair after a hard day at work and a good meal and repeats the clichéd phrase that has also been well used, “I’m tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.”

This is not the type of weariness that Paul is talking about. Paul is not speaking of a good kind of tired. He is speaking of a weariness that comes from putting forth constant effort and wondering if there will be any lasting results from the labor. This type of weariness sometimes comes to those who are involved in social work or those who work within the church community to improve the lives of people in some ways that go beyond mere physical improvements. These are workers who deal with the emotional or the spiritual lives of others to help them to overcome difficulties.

People in this type of work often do not have the same satisfaction as the tired but content worker who can see progress in his efforts and can put his work behind him every evening when he returns home. Instead, this is the kind of work that follows a person home.

There are often few tangible evidences of success or progress to which one can point. No buildings going up. No increase in revenues. No measurement of any kind of success, at least as success is usually recognized by the world.

The Apostle Paul invested his life in people, and people are the most insecure of all commodities (if I can be so crude in speaking). They can be progressing and growing in their lives one moment and be completely failing in the next. They can disappoint you.

He wrote to Timothy about a former colleague and helper of his, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” he said, “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10 NAS). 

The Weariness of Ministry

I think it is safe to say that anyone involved with ministry of any kind sometimes experiences this weariness. This is not a good kind of tired. This kind of weariness is accompanied by discouragement. How is it then that Paul could also write as if a command, “Do not grow weary of doing good,” as if one can simply decide not to be weary?

Paul said much the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:1: “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

The church in the city of Corinth, to whom Paul had written these words, had pushed his patience to the limit with the problems that had risen among the believers in that city. Paul had to deal with mistakes and failures in this church on a number of levels, sometimes with what appears to have been painfully limited success. What was it that gave Paul the strength to say in the midst of it all, “We do not lose heart?”

Preceding this statement, Paul makes reference to something in the life of Moses which may not seem that it has anything at all to do with this same subject. He speaks about an event that has that always seemed astounding and even incredulous to me. Nevertheless, it was this experience of Moses illustrated what it was that gave Paul the ability to say, “Because of this we do not lose heart.”  

The Face of Moses

In the book of Exodus we read this about Moses: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29 NIV).

I have wondered about how this must have appeared, but it seems that it must have been more than a healthy glow. His face in some way seemed to even emit a shining of some kind. However his face actually appeared, when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw the glowing face of Moses, they were afraid to come near him. Indeed, it must have appeared a little strange.

Even though it was difficult for the Israelites to look too intently upon his shining face, Moses compelled them to come near so that he could speak to them. Then, when Moses had finished telling them what God had said, he put a veil over his face until he again went up to speak to God (Exodus 34:29-35).

In interpreting this event and applying it to not growing weary, the Apostle Paul compares it to two covenants. There was first the covenant of the Law, which Moses represented and which depended upon the works of man, and then there is the covenant of grace. This covenant of grace does not depend upon man, but upon which Paul calls the ministry of the Spirit and the ministry of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:8-9).

The Law, Paul said, can only represent death because man must conform to it only through his own efforts. And, since no one is able to obey completely every detail of the Law, it can only bring about condemnation. 

The Fading Radiance of the Face of the Law

Even so, the Law did represent the standards of God. Because of this, when Moses was receiving the instructions from God, his very meeting with God caused his face to shine. Presumably, his face appeared as it did as a reflection of the glory of God.

The Israelites could not bear to look intently at the shining face of Moses, because it represented a righteousness to which they could never attain. After Moses had finished speaking to the people, he veiled his face to keep the sons of Israel from seeing this glory, because it was a glory that was to fade away. Even in the face of Moses, the longer that it had been since he had last talked to God, the more faded his face became.

“However,” Paul says, “if this old covenant, which was imperfect and destined to fade away—if this could cause such glory as to make the face of Moses shine, would not the new covenant, which is complete and permanent, not bring about even more glory?” 

The Lasting Radiance of the Face of the Spirit

To the Israelites of Moses’s day, seeing a reflection of the glory of God only reminded them of their own inadequacy and their bondage to the Law. However, Paul says that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

The face of Moses had only reminded the people of their bondage to the Law. But here Paul is talking about liberty. It is this the freedom in the Spirit that surpasses any glory that was reflected on the face of Moses.

What is more, the glory that appeared on the face of Moses diminished over time. That is why he used to veil his face so that the people would not see that this glory was fading. Even Moses could not maintain the righteousness of God by his own efforts. In effect, Moses used this veil to hide his own inadequacy of maintaining the brilliance of God and of the Law.

What was more, when the people later saw the veiled face of Moses, in prevented them from looking intently at the glory of God. It is that same way with the Law, Paul says, “For until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted.” 

Removing the Veil

It may be a bit of a stretch to see the connection in what Paul is saying here, but the point is that the Law indeed represents the glory of God. Nevertheless, because we are not able to follow it fully—at least not by our own efforts, we cannot see the full glory of God.

“To this day,” Paul says, “whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.”

The veil is only removed in Christ.

“Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18 NAS).

That is why in Christ we are able to see the full glory of God. It is as if the veil has been taken away. It is not because we have become better than the people of those days, but because Jesus has removed the veil by giving us grace.

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAS). 

The Face of God in Ministry

So then, what does all this have to do with weariness in ministry? We become weary in ministry when we put forth great effort by our own strength and yet get no results. It is the same as trying to fulfill the Law by our own strength—we cannot do it. It will only lead to frustration and slavery.

But Paul says this: “This is the confidence that we have…not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God. It is God who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

Then, after Paul said all that he did concerning the Law of Moses and the liberty of the Spirit, he adds this: “Therefore, since we have this ministry [speaking of the ministry of teaching and leading people into the liberty of the Spirit], as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1 NAS).

After all, the ministry persists not upon what we can do, but what Christ has done. It is not that we are competent to achieve anything that is lasting. The competency comes from Jesus. 

Earthen Vessels

Or, as Paul so picturesquely puts it, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Treasures in jars of clay. The jar is nothing. It is an earthen vessel. It is clay. It is easily broken. If we were to depend upon this, we also would be broken.

But as it is, we understand that we ourselves are nothing. We are jars of clay. What is important is the contents of the jar. It is the ministry of Christ.

It is because of this understanding that Paul continues: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NAS). 

The Grace of God in Ministry

What all of this has to do with ministry is this: Weariness comes about by putting forth effort and wondering if there will be any lasting results to one’s labor. However, Paul says that even in ministry we have received mercy. Just as our own righteousness is not based upon effort but upon grace, even so is our labor of ministry.

If we think that we can attain success of lasting fruit in ministry by simply putting forth more effort, we are like the Israelites who measured their own righteousness based upon their own efforts.

Ministry, it turns out, is also a work of grace.

In Galatians 6:9 Paul says this: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.”

We labor, certainly, but we do so without weariness, because we realize that success does not depend upon our own ability, but upon the grace of him whom we serve.

            “You did not choose Me,” Jesus told His disciples, “but I chose you and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain” (John 15:16 NAS).

            The fruit remains, because the tree has been planted and tended by the Lord.

 

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