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
Quality #2: A Godly Leader Perseveres through Suffering for the Gospel’s Sake
Quality #3: A Godly Leader Preaches the Truth from Right Motives
While laying out reminders to the Thessalonians about his ministry, Paul follows a statement about his motives with a strong assertion about God’s validation of his ministry: “…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel…” (v. 4a). This declaration of God’s endorsement of Paul’s ministry may sound a bit presumptuous to our ears. How did Paul know that his ministry was approved by God? Well, we must remember that Christ himself had chosen Paul for ministry and personally equipped him with special revelation that would serve as the content of his ministry (Acts 9:1-19; Gal 1:11-12). Throughout his Christian life, Paul maintained a clear conscience because he remained obedient to Christ’s call and never deviated from what he had been told to do (Acts 26:19; 1 Cor 4:4a). Paul was aware that God continually tested his heart and motives for ministry (v. 4b; “…God who tests our hearts”). As his conscience approved of the way he had conducted his ministry, Paul enjoyed subjective sense through the Holy Spirit that his ministry was approved by God.
God’s Approval: Public and Private
Of course, Paul’s statement may be difficult for us to hear because we’ve seen what happens when a man claims approval from God who clearly doesn’t have it. One may think of various cult leaders throughout history or even men within evangelical churches who have vaunted themselves above all human scrutiny, claiming that their approval is from God alone. Things rarely go well when such blatant presumption is a man’s starting point for ministry.
But we must remember that these claims of divine approval I just mentioned are usually—if not always—made without the corroborating affirmation of other saints (see this previous article in the series). That is, men who make this claim usually make it against or without outside evidence that would confirm his claim of God’s approval. But Paul’s confidence in God’s approval wasn’t merely a private conclusion. His ministry had also been confirmed by other godly ministers (see Gal 2:7-9) and by the men and women God saved through his ministry (see 2 Cor 3:1-3). God’s approval of Paul was both public and private.
God’s Approval: Required for All Christian Leaders
While God’s approval of Paul was unique because he was an apostle, chosen and trained by the Lord Jesus himself, pastors and Christian leaders cannot conclude that a sense of God’s approval over our ministries is something we can live without. Paul exhorts Timothy in his second letter to the young pastor to “present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The word translated “approved” here is the noun form of the verb translated “approved” in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It is the same word used to described Apelles, Paul’s acquaintance in Rome, whom Paul said was, “approved in Christ” (Rom 16:10). The word “test” in Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to “test themselves” (2 Cor 13:5) is the verb for “approve” in 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
A godly leader, therefore, should seek to have a sense of God’s approval over his ministry. This sense of God’s approval will come in two ways, both of which are essential. First, the Holy Spirit will work together with our conscience to give us a well-grounded sense of God’s commendation of our ministry. As we labor according to God’s Word and seek to carry out our ministry with excellence and biblical fidelity, our conscience will bear witness that we are fulfilling God’s call for ministry. The Holy Spirit will then give us a spiritual sense of God’s approval together with our conscience, not apart from it (see Rom 9:1; 2 Tim 1:3).
Secondly, God will approve our ministry through the affirmation of the saints. This corporate approval is vital for making sure a man is fit for ministry, which is why he uses the word “approved” in his requirements for deacons: “And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves [i.e., been approved] blameless” (1 Tim 3:10). While Paul doesn’t use the word “approved” in his list of qualifications for elders, we can assume that he requires such corporate approval because he requires elders to be above reproach and to have some longevity in the faith, both qualifications of which necessitate the scrutiny of the church’s membership and leadership. Furthermore, an elder needs to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim 3:7), which involves character confirmation by others.
God’s Approval: Necessary for Perseverance in the Ministry
Possessing an assurance of God’s approval of our ministry is vital for perseverance in the ministry. Although Paul’s labors were confirmed by the saints who benefitted from his evangelism and preaching, there were times when Paul faced serious ministry difficulty, even with folks in the church. But the apostle was able to maintain his course because he knew he had God’s stamp of approval over his ministry.
If we are unsure of God’s approval of our ministry, we will be ever tossed to and fro when we meet with challenges in our pastoral work. Keeping a good conscience that is in-line with Scripture’s character and content requirements for gospel ministry is necessary to maintain a constant sense of God’s approval over our labors. Serving for wrong reasons or neglecting to bring our ministries into submission to God’s Word will disable us from experiencing God’s approval over our work. Failing to keep a good conscience will even eventually lead us to make a shipwreck of our faith (1 Tim 1:19).
But when we do possess a firm assurance of God’s commendation, we will be able to serve diligently, effectively, and consistently. Troubles and difficulties will arise (2 Tim 2:3), but an approved minister will be able to persevere through those challenges and keep his hand to the plow. The call of Scripture, then, is for pastors and other Christian leaders to seek diligently after a genuine sense of God’s approval of their ministries. This sense of God’s commendation is not an optional accessory to ministry—it is essential for our longevity and fruitfulness.