1 Thessalonians 3:8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.
Once again Paul is displaying the fact that he is a true minister of the Gospel. The best payback a minister can receive is when those to whom they minister receive the Word and act on it, growing and standing firm in their faith. The NIV says, “Now we really live,” but Japanese has an expression that is very fitting here that translates as, “have a reason to live,” or, “have satisfaction in living.” It seems, from this sentence, that Greek must have something similar. I think perhaps a major reason for ministerial burnout is the mistaken feeling that we have to generate such spiritual growth in our flock ourselves. Ministers are to encourage spiritual growth, consistently speaking the truth in love, but they can’t make it happen in their own strength. The flip side of that is that when those under someone’s ministry do grow, sometimes the minister takes personal pride in that growth and feels they did it, when it is all God’s grace. Paul had some real disappointments in those he worked with. One we know by name is Demas, who seemed quite promising and was mentioned as a “fellow worker” in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24, but toward the end of Paul’s life Paul said that he “loved this world and has deserted me.” (2 Timothy 4:10) That had to hurt! However, Paul had Timothy and many others who indeed stood firm in their faith and continued to grow, just as he is commending the Thessalonians for doing here. It has rightly been said that all we can take with us to heaven are souls. That is the reward for which true ministers labor.
This certainly applies to me as a missionary pastor, but at the same time it is a somewhat painful subject, because of the uniquely low “rate of return on investment” in Japan. As I was sharing this past Friday at a meeting of alumni of Seinan University, where my father ministered, he prostrated himself on the floor on one occasion and cried out to God, “God, if I am what is standing in the way of revival in Japan, then take me out of the way!” I have had quite a few converts but few true disciples of Jesus Christ develop from my ministry. The Lord reminds me from time to time that I don’t know the results down the line, and some who seem to have fallen away may indeed return to the Lord and bear much fruit that I don’t know about, and I have to trust Him with that. I am to rejoice in the true disciples, but not think that I generated them personally. Rather, I am to keep tabs on my own discipleship! Various things seem to be stirring in the situation here at this point, and I am to look forward with joy to whatever the Lord brings about. At 70 the temptation is to take stock and think of endings, but the Lord assures me He’s not through with me yet, and I am to take comfort and joy in that.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for those who are true disciples, even though they haven’t remained in this physical location. I pray that all under my ministry may develop into good, “hundred-fold” soil (Matthew 13:3-8) for the salvation of many, even if they seem rocky or weedy at this point, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!