This fall I began teaching another Bible study at my church, something I have done for many years. As I addressed the women in the room, I rejoiced at how many had been faithful to study God’s Word over the years and how they had grown in their faith as they applied truth to the hardships of their lives. As I looked out at their faces, I also felt a huge responsibility: How would I invest in these women over the next year?
In writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul states, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8). As I studied these verses, as well as the surrounding context, I was struck by Paul’s affection for God’s people. Even amid conflict, Paul displayed godly conduct and gave thanks in all circumstances.
In our service to others, you and I are called to do the same.
Conflict in Serving
Paul served the Thessalonians in the midst of his own conflict, or suffering. Think about the last time you experienced conflict or suffering in ministry. Maybe the suffering came from chronic physical pain or maybe a fellow believer discouraged you in your role. Whatever the cause, doing ministry while in conflict is hard. We’re tempted to throw in the towel and call it quits until we feel better, or until the other person stops discouraging us. We might think of taking some time off to recoup and refresh before heading back into ministry work. But conflict, by God’s grace, often becomes the catalyst for declaring Christ. God uses our service in the midst of suffering to spread His gospel.
I have experienced this in my own life. In fact, the first day of teaching this fall I was in tremendous physical pain from a chronic GI complication I have had since 2006. But I have learned over the years the truth of the Lord’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Ministering to others in our suffering is an opportunity to magnify the Lord’s strength.
Conduct in Serving
Paul also displayed godly conduct as he served. God entrusted us with a message and His Spirit empowers us to proclaim it. The Lord refines us as we serve, oftentimes uprooting sinful motives in our hearts, such as gaining man’s approval, and replacing them with gentleness, love, and a heart that seeks God’s glory.
Paul compares his gentleness in ministry with a nursing mother. I remember well nursing each one of my four children. With each child, the Lord taught me more about gentleness and love, as I cared for the little ones He gave me. At great sacrifice, I nurtured them when they could not care for themselves. Such is the gentle care we are to express to those with whom we minister. As I looked into each one of my children’s eyes, my affection grew for them. I desired to share myself with them because they were a gift from God entrusted to my care. I loved to impart the truths of the gospel to them from the earliest age. As we share ourselves with those we minister to, our affection and love for them, by God’s grace, will grow.
Like conflict, conduct often becomes a catalyst for declaring Christ. When we are holy, righteous, and blameless toward those with whom we minister, and when our exhortations and encouragement go forth as if it was from a loving mother leading a child in the right way, we hold out what it means to walk in a way worthy of God before them.
How easy it is to have wrong motives in ministry! How often we are filled with greed, or seek glory from people, or make demands on others as if we’re entitled to do so. How tempting it is to be unholy and unrighteous even while we are doing the work of the Lord. But this is not a worthy walk for those who have been called into His kingdom and glory. Our greatest witness is our worship and our work. Who or what we work for reveals who or what we worship.
Constant Thanks in Serving
Paul not only served with godly conduct amid conflict in his life, he also gave thanks to God for the spiritual fruit he saw in the Thessalonian believers. We also should give thanks to God when those we minister to grow in their faith. This is the power of God at work in their hearts.
One of my greatest joys in teaching Bible study is praying for the women in my class. At the beginning of the year, I ask them to send me their prayer requests so I can join them in thanking God for their blessings and petitioning Him for their needs. As I receive their requests, I’m often reminded of their growth in the faith. They are learning to let go of things they can’t control and entrust them to the Lord. They lean on Him during times of incredible suffering. My heart swells with thanksgiving for how the Lord sanctifies them in their trials.
Does your heart overflow with thanksgiving as you witness others believe God’s Word and apply it to their lives? In the midst of conflict do you seek out opportunities to share the gospel with those around you? God often uses our conflict, and our conduct in the midst of it, to reveal Christ to others. With gentle affection let us share our lives with the believers around us. May God use our faithful witness to call others into His own kingdom and glory.
About the Author:
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina and is a member of Christ Covenant Church. She is the author ofHebrews: His Hope, An Anchor for Our Souls; Revelation: Let the One Who Is Thirsty Come; Judges & Ruth: There Is A Redeemer; 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith; and The Covenantal Life: Appreciating the Beauty of Theology and Community . You can learn more about Sarah at www.sarahivill.com.