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 like it is a bit like saying to a person who is struggling with depression, “Just 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 with 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 enable us in the same way 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 especially 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 who 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.
But one need not be a social worker or a pastor to experience this type of weariness. Anyone who is trying to help someone can suffer from this same weariness. We might invest much of ourselves, be it our time, our finances, as well as our own emotional energy into someone, only to have them fail in their lives. There may be nothing in these situations that we can point to that can give us a feeling of satisfaction.
When the apostle Paul wrote the words about not growing weary in well doing, he spoke from experience. Paul invested his life in people, and people are the most insecure of all commodities (if I can be so crude in speaking). People can be progressing and growing in their lives one moment, and then turn around 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, 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 who has invested his or her life into other people 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 wrote 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 always seemed astounding and even incredulous to me. Nevertheless, it was this experience of Moses that illustrated for Paul how one was to face weariness and gave him the ability to say, “Because of this we do not lose heart,” and to “not grow weary.”
The Face of Moses
In the book of Exodus we read about this event in the life of Moses. Here it is:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face had become radiant from speaking with the LORD. Aaron and all the Israelites looked at Moses, and behold, his face was radiant. And they were afraid to approach him. (Exodus 34:29-30 BSB)
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 emit a shining or a luminescence of some kind. In whatever way 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 with God (Exodus 34:29-35).
In interpreting this event and applying it to not growing weary, the Apostle Paul compares it to two covenants that we learn about in the Bible. The first of these was the covenant of the Law. This was the covenant which Moses represented and which depended upon the works of man.
Later with the coming of Jesus Christ, we learn of the covenant of Grace, a covenant that only became possible with the work that Jesus did on our behalf by his death and resurrection. This covenant of grace does not depend upon man’s efforts, but upon, that 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. In this covenant, there can never be satisfaction or fulfillment.
The Fading Radiance of the Face of the Law
Even so, the Law did actually represent the standards and the righteousness 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. This veiling was not so much because he didn’t want to offend them, but was actually because the glory on his face was beginning 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.
Nevertheless, the glory on the face of Moses was one of great honor, just as the Covenant of Law was one that was holy. This was true even though the Covenant of the Law was one that was only temporary—only one that was intended to be in effect only until the Covenant of Grace appeared. The Law had its own glory, but the greater glory was reserved for the grace that was introduced to us by Jesus Christ.
“However,” Paul says, “if this old covenant, which was imperfect and destined to fade away—if even 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’ day, seeing a reflection of the glory of God on the face of Moses only reminded them of their bondage to the Law. It could only show them their own inadequacies and failures.
But Paul here is talking instead about liberty. It is this freedom in the Spirit that surpasses any glory that was reflected on the face of Moses.
Paul wrote, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
What is more, we have seen that the glory that appeared on the face of Moses diminished over time. That is why he would veil his face. 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.
The people may have been unable to look at the unveiled face of Moses when it was glowing because it represented the holiness of God, but this inability to see the glory of God became even greater when Moses put the veil on. When his face was veiled, it even further 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.”
We can read about the holiness of God, but it is a holiness that is unavailable to us because we cannot attain to it by our own efforts. It is only when we read the Covenant of the Law through the lenses of the Covenant of Grace that we receive the freedom given to us by Jesus.
Removing the Veil
It may be a bit of a stretch for us to see and to understand the connection in what Paul is saying here, but the point is that although the Law indeed represents the glory of God, it is a glory to which we cannot attain—at least not by our mere efforts. Actually, God’s holiness is so overwhelming glorious and intense, we cannot even bare to look upon it.
That is why Paul writes, “To this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.”
In our natural state before we have experienced the Covenant of Grace in our lives, the veil remains in place and the glory of God remains unavailable to us. The veil can only be removed in Christ.
“Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away,” Paul writes. “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.
Paul writes, “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 or with our efforts in helping other people?
We become weary in ministry and in the other tasks we are involved with 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 emphasis added).
By this Paul means that if we depend upon our own strength to produce positive results that we can measure, we will only fail. It is only those efforts that are done through the Spirit of God that will yields results of eternity.
It is only after all of this, after Paul said all he did concerning the Law of Moses and the liberty of the Spirit, that he adds: “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 perseveres not upon what we can do, but what Christ has done. It is not that we are competent to achieve anything that is lasting. Our competency comes only from Jesus.
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.
In much the same way, we understand that we ourselves are nothing. We are jars of clay. What is important is not the jar, but the contents of the jar. If the jar is filled with the Covenant of Grace, in contains the Spirit and 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 or in helping others by simply putting forth more effort, we are like the Israelites who measured their own righteousness based upon their own efforts.
So it turns out that whatever we can accomplish in our lives 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 is tended by the grace of the Lord.