Editor’s Note: You can read our previous articles in the series “Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Minister” below!
Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Leader
Quality #1: A Godly Leader’s Ministry is Confirmed by the Church
The second quality of a godly leader is found in Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 2:2: “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” We learn in this text that a godly leader perseveres through suffering for the gospel’s sake.
In the previous article in this series, we considered the possibility that Paul was writing to defend his reputation against some unbelieving citizens in Thessalonica who had accused him of leaving the church when persecution arose. “He’s only in it for money,” they could have said to the new believers. “That’s why he left when things got tough.” We can’t know for sure, but this is a probable scenario given Paul’s statement in verse 2 about his willingness to preach the gospel after suffering in Philippi and meeting with opposition the moment he arrived in Thessalonica. There was a good reason why Paul was compelled to remind them of his unflagging willingness to preach the gospel even when circumstances made it difficult, and it makes sense that he would defend his sincerity for the spiritual stability of a group of new believers.
But even if we can’t be certain why Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians of his willingness to suffer for the gospel, we are still able to glean an important principle about the character of a true gospel minister from his words in 1 Thessalonians 2:2. Unlike false teachers who live for pleasure and ease (2 Pet 2:13), a godly minister not only faces suffering, but he also endures suffering for Christ’s sake and the furtherance of the gospel. Paul had already endured persecution and conflict in Philippi, but that didn’t derail him from preaching the gospel. Paul had beheld the glory of Christ (2 Cor 3:18, 4:4-6), resolved to please Christ above all (Gal 1:10), and he was certain of his heavenly reward (2 Cor 4:16-18; Phil 3:14; 2 Tim 4:8). Paul also walked in a good conscience, knowing that his motives for ministry were pure (1 Thess 2:3; we will address this quality in the next article).
Suffering as a result of one’s ministry will reveal the genuineness of that ministry. Just like the quality of gold is revealed by fire, so is the quality of a man’s ministry discovered when he is confronted with persecution and opposition. If a man is in ministry for any other reason than the glory of Christ and the good of Christ’s church, he will inevitably fold when he realizes that his ministry has endangered the objects of his ulterior motives.
If a man is in the ministry for money, he will give up that ministry if his money is endangered by his commitment to the Word of God. If a man is in the ministry for fame and earthly glory, he will find a new crowd when his popularity diminishes or when he meets serious antagonism toward his message. If a man is in the ministry because he enjoys a leisurely religious life, he will flee his post when Scripture’s demands for the gospel minister are pressed upon him (see 2 Tim 2:1-7). Only a man who is in ministry because he wants to exalt the Lord Jesus and humbly serve his church through preaching, teaching, leadership, and discipleship will persevere through the trials that are a direct result of his ministry. In other words, a godly leader is rooted in Christ and the good promises of his Word, so he remains steadfast even when confronted with trials that are caused by the Word (cf. Matt 13:21).
These are challenging words for all of us who serve as pastors and gospel ministers. They are hard words, and I confess that I often feel as Charles Bridges described himself in the introduction of his book on pastoral ministry: “He [Bridges] has not described what he is, but what he ought to be, and what he trusts he desires to be” (The Christian Ministry, x). The pastoral role is a high and heavy calling. The New Testament’s expectations for ministers should intimidate us and cause of to run to Christ for grace and say along with the apostle Paul, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor 2:16; also Heb 4:14-16)?
We also need the Lord to search our hearts and unearth any unsavory motives so that we might repent and re-orient our hearts (Ps 139:23-24). We need to set Paul’s example before our eyes so that we might follow in the footsteps of a man who maintained a steady course of faithfulness, despite the many waves of opposition he endured. In the end, Paul’s example is simply the example of Christ who, out of love for his Father and love for his people, remained unswervingly committed to the truth and to the mission, even to death (Phil 2:1-11).
Let us pray, therefore, for Christ’s Spirit to equip us with right motives for ministry and to enable us to repent from pursuing ministry for wrong reasons. Let us also pray for God to raise up more genuine men of God whose hearts are fixed on Christ and the good of his church, even through suffering.