Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Portrait of an Effective Servant, Day 1

Dannah Gresh: If you're involved in doing the Lord's work, you probably already know that it’s easy to lose sight of what's really important. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgmuth: The goal in ministry is not to get more "likes"; it's not to get more Twitter followers and Facebook friends. The goal is to get His "like," His "well done, good and faithful servant."

Leslie Basham: Today's Monday, November 11,  2019, and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, along with Dannah Gresh.

Dannah: Do you think of yourself as a “ministry leader”? Sometimes we use the word “minister” for someone who teaches or preaches God’s Word on a regular or even a professional basis. But at it’s most basic level, ministering means meeting the needs of someone else in the name of Jesus. That means we’re all ministers, in a sense.

So the message we’re about to hear from Nancy is for all of us. She spoke to a group of women’s ministry leaders about being effective servants. Let's listen.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I want to take some time today for us to look at 1 Thessalonians 2. I'd encourage you to take that challenge and go through both those chapters.

I've been reading the book repeatedly this week and just looking for the characteristics of ministry that God uses, and what are the characteristics of a person that God uses in ministry? Just a little bit of context here: On his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions took the gospel to Thessalonica. That was the capitol of the Roman province of Macedonia—you see that in the Scripture.

Thessalonica had a population of over 100,000 in those days, so it was a good-sized city. A short time after they got there, Paul and his friends were forced to leave because there was severe opposition. They were used to that, you know.

They had to leave. Then Paul went on to Athens, then went to Corinth, but he couldn't get these Thessalonians out of his mind. They were in his heart, even though he hadn't been there for that long. He was concerned about how this little newborn church was doing, so he sent Timothy—his son in the faith, his partner in ministry—back to Thessalonica. He said, "Go see how those people are doing. Check it out. Are they standing strong in faith, are they standing strong in hope, and are they standing strong in love? How are they doing?"

So when Timothy returned to Corinth with his report—which was a good, encouraging report (don't you love those reports about how people are doing?)—Paul in response to that report wrote this letter to the Thessalonians. So that's a little back-drop here.

Throughout this book—but we're going to focus on chapter 2—we get a lot of insights about the messenger, the motives, the methods of the servant of God that I think have great application for our lives. So I'm going to read the text. What characteristics of effective ministry to you see in this chapter? What observations do you see about the life, the labor, and the love of a servant of God? So be looking for those things as I'm reading 1 Thessalonians 2.

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 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. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 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.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:1–20).

This is the Word of the Lord.

As I keep reading this, I keep seeing more things. But let's just walk through it together, and I want to point out some things that stand out to me.

Let's start with verse 1, "For you yourselves know, brothers . . ." Now, there aren't a lot of "brothers" in this room, but that's word that can be translated brothers or sisters; brothers and sisters, so that includes us girls. You find that word "brothers" four times in this chapter; you find it nineteen times in the letter of 1 Thessalonians, and it says to me that Paul viewed these believers, baby Christians though they were, as family. He viewed them as family.

In Christ, they were family. Some were Jews, and some were Gentiles. Some were well-educated, and some had no education at all. They were from different socio-economic backgrounds. Some had responsible positions of authority. Some were slaves and had no authority at all.

Paul was a mature believer; these were brand-new baby believers, but they were all part of the same family, and Paul didn't look down on them. He talked them as if they were peers, brothers in the same family (maybe he was an older brother, but he was a brother). He wasn't intimidated by them either, because they were part of the same family.

Now you see later in this chapter, in addition to his thinking of them as siblings, brothers, he also had a heart toward them as parent. In verse 7: "Like a nursing mother taking care of her own children . . ." Verse 11, "Like a father . . ." Still framing it in the context of family relationships.

That says to me, the women we minister to are family. We have a blood bond with them. They may be very different from us. They may be some of those, you know, odd aunts and uncles in the family, they may be family members that drive you a little crazy, but they're family.

We have a responsibility and a privilege to minister to them, to care for them, and to serve them. They're not just names out there, they're not just people on a list . . . they are family.

Then right up front here at the beginning of the chapter, Paul introduces the concept of suffering. In chapter 1:6 (we didn't read that) he first introduced that concept by saying, "You received the word in much affliction." Then he expands that whole concept of suffering at the first part of chapter 2 (vv. 1, 2):

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 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.

And that same theme continues in chapter 3:3:

That no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. [What's the "this?" Affliction.] For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass.

By the way, the theme of suffering is not just a lesson for advanced Christianity, for graduate degree people. These were baby Christians when Paul started teaching them about affliction. I wonder if some people wouldn't get so thrown by affliction when it comes, if from the beginning we would explain that this is a message about a cross—that there is affliction involved.

So as I read this passage, it says a couple things to me: First, expect suffering. Expect opposition. Don't be surprised by it. Don't expect ministry, or the Christian life for that matter, to be trouble-free, pain-free. Suffering, affliction, hardship, conflict is part and parcel of our calling, this side of heaven. So don't be surprised by it.

Secondly, don't stop what you're doing just because it's hard. That's no reason to quit. We see that Paul said, "We kept proclaiming the gospel to you in the midst of suffering." Now, eventually the Spirit directed them to leave town, and sometimes it's right to leave town, but don't stop what you're doing. Keep proclaiming the gospel!

Don't stop what you're doing just because it's hard.

In, in verses 3 through 6, we see some helpful, challenging, searching words about motives—why we do what we do. That matters to God, not just what we do or how we do it, but why we do it. Paul talks a lot about this in verses 3 through 6. He talks about some motives that are inferior motives, self-centered motives. Look at verse 3, "For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive." He says, "We have no ulterior motives here."

Verse 4, "We speak, not to please man." Paul says, "We're not trying to impress other people, we're not trying to curry favor with them." Verse 5, "We never came with words of flattery, as you know." That says to me, Paul didn't tell people what they wanted to hear, but what they needed to hear. His goal wasn't to make people feel good about themselves or to get people to like him; that was not his motive.

Verse 5, continuing, "nor with a pretext for greed." He wasn't trying to get something from them; he wanted to give something to them—that was the gospel. If you're going to be a taker, you're always going to be hurt in ministry. You're always going to be frustrated, because people are going to want to be taking from you. So you have got to go into ministry saying, "I'm not in this to get something—I'm in this to give something God has given to me. "Freely you have received, freely give." No pretext for greed.

Verse 6, "Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others." The goal in ministry is not to get more "likes." It's not to get more Twitter followers or Facebook friends. The goal is to get His "like," His "well done, good and faithful servant."

Paul says also, "We could have made demands as apostles of Christ." The implication is, "We didn't do that. We didn't abuse our authority." Paul was not controlling, overbearing. He came as a humble servant, to lift them up, not to tell them, "This is who I am, this is who you are; you do this."

You know, there's something about authority and how it can so corrupt us and it can bring out that controlling part we have, particularly as women. I think it's kind of ingrained in us. Paul says, "We didn't do that."

Now, he's going to tell what they did do: Verse 4, Paul says, "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts." Verse 5, "God is witness." What's God witness to? He sees what I do, but He also sees why I do it—what's in my heart.

Paul is saying we minister for an audience of One. We live to please Him. God is the One who chose us to do this; God is the One who set us apart; God is the One who has entrusted us with this holy, sacred calling and message. And He knows our heart motives; He tests our heart motives, and He is our witness . . . the witness of our hearts.

At a conference like this, I just find myself wanting to live in the fear of the Lord, because there are so many people surrounding an event like this who will say, "That was so wonderful. I love what you're doing. I love your radio program. I love your books." Or some who don't quite care for it all (and we hear from a little bit of that, too).

If I'm living not to please the crowd, and people-pleasing is a huge, challenging, difficult root issue in my life that the Holy Spirit has to keep rooting up. I've got to keep confessing it, keep bringing it to the light, keep agreeing with God and keep being reminded that I live to please Him . . . not you, but Him.

"The fear of man brings a snare." It puts us in bondage. If human praise unduly inflates you, then the criticism of others will devastate you. If you're too influenced by the praise of men, then you're going to be wiped out when you get criticized. So live for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

If praise unduly inflates you, then the criticism of others will devastate you.

I can just assure you—some of you are kind of new in women's ministry—that you will not be able to please all the people around you who have ideas about how you should be doing what you're doing. It's good to be humble. It's good to listen, to take counsel. It's good to listen to ideas.

I always tell our team when we get critical letters ("You shouldn't have said this . . . You shouldn't have said that . . . I don't like it when . . ."), "Always write and thank them for coming to us to share their concern." And then, I want to see, "Is there some kernel of truth—maybe some big kernel of truth? Is there something we can learn from this?"

Listen, your critics can become your best friends if you'll listen to criticism with a humble heart, but don't let it run or ruin your life.

That heart motive was reflected in the way that Paul and his companions ministered. In the kind of relationship they had with these young believers and the way they interacted with them. We see this in verse 7: "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." You see here a mother's heart.

Paul says, "It's like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." Being in ministry isn't being a babysitter, it's being a parent. With that sense of having your own children comes this enormous sense of responsibility that you can never get away from.

But these "kids" that we've been called to serve, they don't belong to somebody else. They're your kids, and you can't pawn them off on somebody else if you don't like their personality or you don't like how they're acting. You're the parent. And ultimately, you're responsible.

Now, a parent isn't the only relationship you have with the women in your church, but there's a sense of having that mother's heart. It's a 24/7 responsibility if you're a mom, right? No days off, right? Often it's inconvenient to be a mother. It requires sacrifice and selflessness. And, might I remind us—for those of us who haven't had children in a while—that babies and children are messy?

They make messes! They're helpless when they're little. They're needy, they're demanding—sometimes when they're not so little—and so are the people we serve. And you know what else? So are we. We need a Father, God, who has a parent's heart toward us, and He wants to give us that heart for others—the spirit of gentleness and affection and longing and fondness.

This is something, as I've been studying this again, that I've been asking the Lord to give me. I'm asking for more of that kind of heart where people are very dear to me. I'm not naturally a mercy show-er. I'm not naturally relational. I'm more introverted, and frankly, I find sometimes I wish God would call me to an uninhabited region of the world—mostly because I'm a selfish woman.

But I want to love people, and I think you do, too—that's why you're doing what you're doing. Say, "Lord, give me this heart for people, that they are very dear to me."

And then, give them the gospel, but not only the gospel. From the verses we just read here, we realize that we need to give them ourselves. Give them ourselves, as Christ did for us. Paul says, "We didn't just give you the gospel." That's huge. If you give them yourself and don't give them the gospel, you haven't won anything for eternity.

Give them the gospel. But as you do, give them yourself. It's not enough to give these people we serve good Bible studies, curriculum, teaching, helpful programs, activities. With all of that, we need to give them our lives—self-giving, self-sacrificing, serving others with ourselves. That means we have to spend time with them in the laboratory of life, where they live, where we live.

Listen, standing behind a podium is the easiest thing I do, in a sense, because I don't have to really love people here. Being in my study is easy, because there are no people in my study. But you get out in the laboratory of life, where people are messy, where they have broken relationships, where they have broken lives, where they have complexities they have to deal with, where they have hard things . . .

I've talked already today with some women who are in hard places. To touch them and love them and have compassion and feel with them and carry their burdens with them, that's ministry—giving yourself.

Now, Paul says in verse 9, "You remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." In the previous verses we saw the love of the servant of God. "We were affectionately desirous . . . we loved you so much that we gave you ourselves."

But now you see the labor, the toil, the work of a servant of God. Again, it's not just eight-hour shifts he's doing this. He says, "Night and day we worked so that we might not be a burden to any of you." Paul did not use these believers to make his life easier. He worked hard so that he could lift their burden and not be a burden to them.

He didn't neglect other personal responsibilities. See, Paul was earning a living at the same time he was being the apostle Paul. He was making tents; he was working. He didn't want to be a burden to them. So he didn't neglect his normal daily human responsibilities in order to go be a minister.

I think it's very easy in ministry for us to think, I'm in ministry. I can go do ministry stuff, but I don't want to keep my house clean. I don't want to make meals. That's just normal stuff. No, that's ministry. It's all ministry. I'll tell you, I have a real concern about how many women in ministry—paid staff, volunteer, whatever kind of responsibilities you have—(I'm sure it's not intentional) end up neglecting their home, their family, in order to "minister" to others.

Listen, if your children are not being ministered to, if your husband is not being loved well and blessed, your home isn't in order, then you've got your priorities out of whack. It's all ministry, and it all makes you a more effective servant of the Lord.

These verses point out to us that ministry is hard work. There is hard work about parenting, about teaching, about discipleship—any kind of human life-to-life ministry. It's hard work; you will work long hours. You will be up late planning, studying, preparing, cleaning up, mopping up, putting up when other people are sleeping or playing or having vacations. And I'm not saying you never sleep, you never play, you never have a vacation.

But how many times have you found yourself doing hard work in order to serve others, while they're out there just having fun? Well, you need to learn that what God has called you to do, and you need to redefine fun. This is fun! Keeping up with normal everyday responsibilities, in addition to everything else you're doing, writing, studies, preparing.

It's like fixing a good meal. You spend hours preparing it, you serve it, they eat it in eight minutes, and then they're off doing the next thing, and you've got two hours of clean up left. Does that ever bother you? Yeah! But that's part of our calling. When we're told to serve the Lord with gladness, part of that is working hard behind the scenes, un-thanked, uncredited.

"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen," and I'm not back there grousing, resenting. Now, I have been many times. That's why I can say this so like I know what I'm talking about, because I do. It's all part of serving the Lord with gladness—not resenting. Ministry is hard work. It's part of the price to be paid, to be an ambassador of Christ.

So don't shrink back from hard work. Don't resent it. Let me say to those of us who are middle-aged and older, I find as I get older that it's easier to think, I've paid my dues; let somebody else do the heavy lifting.

Now, there is a transition, there is a passing of the baton, there are seasons to life, so I don't want to overstate this. Let me just say, as we get older, we don't get a free pass to heaven without any affliction or hard work or effort. I love people like Susan Hunt, my friend, who has been such a grandmother to this True Woman movement. I love her young heart, and I love the fact that she keeps laboring and serving the Lord. She keeps pressing on.

I've seen this in some of you older woman, and that's the kind of woman I want to be as I move into that season of life. Hard work—don't shrink back from it! Ministry, someone has said:

  • is giving when you feel like keeping
  • is praying for others when you need to be prayed for
  • is feeding others when your own soul is hungry
  • is living truth before people even when you can't see the results
  • is hurting with other people even when your own hurt can't be spoken
  • is keeping your word even when it's not convenient
  • is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away

That is ministry.

Dannah: Let's adminthis: serving others can sometimes be very costly, but it's also really rewarding. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been reminding us how valuable it is to invest in others and to serve them. 

Nancy, I have seen you live this one out. I know that leading this ministry here at Revive Our Hearts is costly. It cost you your time. I know you were up late last night getting ready for the recording today—which seems to be par for the course. It also costs money to bring this program to listeners every single day.

Nancy: You’re right, Dannah, but as we said in today’s program, there are also huge rewards, as we hear from women around the world who are encountering the truth of God’s Word and sharing how it’s affecting their lives in profound ways. I get such great encouragement from hearing those testimonies. 

Dannah: I actually have here a letter from a woman who started reading your 31-Day Advent Devotional last year. I'd like to ready what she says.

Thank you so very much for The First Songs of Christmas. Using this devotional every day throughout December made this Advent season the most meaningful and Christ-centered that I can recall (and I have been a believer for over forty years). I am sitting here leafing through the pages and seeing all the underlining and notes and responses and hymns that I have written on every available spot. Please release it every year so that many more hearts may be blessed as we focus on the Christ-child every Christmas.

Nancy: I was so encouraged to get that note. I’ve used a number of devotionals in the past to set my heart on Christ during the Advent season. I was so excited we could provide that opportunity to our listeners.

Dannah: So are you going to follow through with her advise? Are you going to re-release that first Advent devotional every year?

Nancy: Not exactly. But I think this listener will be happy with what we are doing. Today we’re excited to tell you about the follow-up to last year's devotional. That's a brand-new 31-day Advent devotional. called Consider Jesus. 

Dannah: Okay, so what can someone expect when they go through this devotional through the month of December?

Nancy: Each day, first, you’ll read some Scripture about Jesus. He's the center of all of this. You’ll read a brief devotional section that I've written. You’ll be reminded of ways to pray and journal, keeping your mind and heart focused on Jesus at a time when it's really easy to get caught up in the busyness of the season.

Dannah: So here's an important question. Do they have to have done the previous Advent study for this one to make sense?

Nancy: No, the two Advent devotionals are completely separate. So you can start with this one even if you didn't do last year's.

Dannah: We would like to send you Nancy’s new 31-day Advent devotional. It’s our way of saying "thank you" when you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any amount. You can do that by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or just call 1–800–569–5959. Be sure to ask for Consider Jesus. Make sure to contact us soon so you’ll be ready to go through this study each day in the month of December.

Nancy: Today we heard about the love and the labor of the servant of God. Tomorrow, we'll be talking about the life of the servant of God, as we continues working our way through this passage in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. I hope you'll join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you become a more effective servant. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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