In thinking about ministry and the role of the pastor and the role of the people in relation to 1 Thess. 5:12-24, I came across a story a read a few years ago and a statement about the importance of perseverance in ministry.
The story concerns a pastor, John Newton, and a troubled parishioner in his church, William Cowper. In order to minister to Cowper, a poet, Newton collaborated on a hymnal with him (which is how we came to possess “Amazing Grace” from Newton’s pen and “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” by Cowper, and approximately 250 more hymns). Newton spent much time with Cowper while he was his pastor, counseling, exhorting and encouraging. And that relationship continued even after Newton moved to another church in Olney.
What was the fruit of that relationship? Cowper told a friend about Newton, saying, “A sincerer or more affectionate friend no man ever had.” And he would also write these words to Newton himself:
I knew you; knew you for the same shepherd who was sent to lead me out of the wilderness into the pasture where the Chief Shepherd feeds His flock, and felt my sentiments of affectionate for you the same as ever.
This is not only a high personal compliment, but a testimony to the value of endurance in ministry, which is affirmed by John Piper in When I Don’t Desire God:
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (I Thess. 5:14-16)
Admonishing, encouraging, helping, being patient, not repaying evil for evil, seeking to do good to all – this is a fruitbearing life. [Paul] is telling us to be like trees planted by streams of water that bring forth fruit. This is the effect of delighting in the Word of God in Psalm 1:3. Look at all these needy people draining you. The ‘idle’ are provoking you; the ‘fainthearted’ are leaning on you ‘ the ‘weak’ are depleting you. But you are called to encourage and help and be patient and not return evil for evil. In other words, you are called to have spiritual resources that can be durable and fruitful and nourishing when others are idle and fainthearted and weak and mean-spirited
How? Where do we get the resources to love like that? Verse 16 answers, ‘Rejoice always.’ That corresponds to ‘delight’ in Psalm 1. Presumably, this rejoicing is not primarily based on circumstances, but on God and his promises, because the people around us are idle and fainthearted and weak and antagonistic. This would make an ordinary person angry, sullen, and discouraged. But we are supposed to have our roots planted somewhere other than circumstance. The roots of our lives are supposed to be drawing up the nutrients of joy from a source that cannot be depleted – the river of God and his Word. The one who delights in the Lord is ‘like a tree planted by streams of water.’
What then is the key to this rejoicing, or this delight, which sustains the life of fruit-bearing love? Verse 17 says, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ And verse 18 says, ‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ So the answer seems to be that continual prayer and thanksgiving is a key to joy in God that makes a person durable and fruitful in relation to all kinds of people. Therefore one biblical key to maintaining joy in God and his Word is to pray without ceasing. [pp. 155-6.]