Competitiveness is the companion of quality, right? After all, that seems to be true of the role of competition in health care, technology, transportation, sports, restaurants, design and construction. In all forms of production, men constantly seek to surpass their neighbor’s productivity in quality and quantity. Solomon once declared, “I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccl. 4:4). Sadly, this is often just as true of those laboring in Christian ministry as it is of those engaged in secular professions. The same sinful motives that reside in the heart of the entrepreneur reside in the heart of the minister. There is a fine line between learning from others and competing with others. Learning from other churches and ministries is one of the wisest practices for church leaders. Comparing your ministry to that of another is one of the most foolish practices (2 Cor. 10:12). When our work is driven by envy of our neighbor, greed, arrogance, discouragement and bitterness will inevitably take the driver’s seat of our hearts. So what should motivate the minister of the Gospel as he seeks to in the midst of a world in which envy drives most things around him? The Scriptures are full of instruction on this matter. Consider the following:
1. Gospel Faithfulness. A desire to be found faithful by the God who has called men into service in His church is that which should drive men forward in Gospel ministry. The Apostle Paul wrote, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Likewise, he charged Timothy to “entrust to faithful men” all that he had taught him (1 Tim. 2:2). When our hearts are set on being faithful to God and the proclamation of the Gospel, we will we driven forward in ministry with right motives.
Jesus was perfectly faithful to the calling of His Father. He never wavered from fulfilling that for which he was sent into the world. While his faithfulness resulted in the accomplishment of salvation, the faithfulness of His servants results in the propagation and advancement of that salvation that He has procured by His death and resurrection.
2. Gospel Contentment. The Apostle had to train his own heart to this end. In Phil. 4:11-12, he wrote: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Contentment never happens spontaneously or automatically. It takes concerted effort to weigh our situations in light of the divinely revealed purposes of God in Scripture. Learning contentment means learning to embrace the eternal perspective. Jesus had this perspective. He was content to live homeless and impoverished for the redemption of His people. He was content to let multitudes walk away from Him when they were offended by the truth about him (John 6:66). Christ learned contentment in every situation in which He found Himself, though He was not comfortable in every situation. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His righteous soul was weighed down with agony. But, he learned to be content with what awaited Him by resigning His will to the will of His Father.
3. Gospel Humility. Realizing that we have nothing and that we are nothing apart from the grace of God in Christ is paramount to our becoming the kind of ministers that God wants us to be. The chief personal attributes to which Jesus appealed during His earthly ministry were humility and gentleness (Matt. 11:29). William Blaikie captured so well the correlation that should exist between the humility of Jesus and the humility of His servants when he wrote:
“He had come to this world as a servant, and He had deliberately resolved to make Himself of no reputation…He would do His work quietly and steadily, avoiding all display, and neither seeking nor desiring the applause of men. In this noble humility our Lord set the example to that pure-minded band of followers whose hearts have been so fixed on the quality of their service as to allow no thought for the applause of their fellows. Disregarding fame and shrinking from public notice, they have judged themselves at best unprofitable servants, who have done that which it was their duty to do. Content that others should bear the praise and the reward, they have meekly endured the toil, the privation, and the reproach. What mattered it that they should never be heard of, if only the interests of their Master were promoted ? What mattered it that they should be counted the offscourings of the earth, if the seed of truth should be planted in some fresh soil ; if rills of the water of life should go forth into the wilderness ; if the Name which is above every name should spread its fragrance in regions hitherto unknown?”1
4. Gospel Diligence. There is always the danger that a man can begin to foster complacency and laziness in the name of contentment. The Apostle Paul charged fearful-hearted and timid Timothy to be “be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” The minister is not to worry about the ministries of others in such a way that it takes his eyes off of diligently entering in on the calling to which he has been called by God. The Lord has entrusted particular ministries to particular men. The Apostle Paul insisted that, by the grace of God that was with him, he had labored more abundantly than all (1 Cor. 15:10). He of course learned this principle from Christ, of whom it is written, “He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem.” Nothing stood in the way of Jesus entering in diligently on the work entrusted to him. Likewise, nothing should stand in the way of His servants entering in on the work to which God has called them.
5. Gospel Love. Of course, love to God and men is the greatest motive that should animate the hearts and labors of Gospel ministers. Learning to minister out of love, as Christ did, is paramount to keeping us from envying other ministers and ministries. Jesus always had a heart full of love for His Father and for those for whom the Father had given Him. The Apostle John drew attention to this vital aspect of Jesus’ unique redemptive work when he wrote, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” If we are not ministering out of love, we have nothing and are nothing. Spectacular giftedness, knowledge, zeal and passion will profit nothing if we do not have love. This love should especially manifest itself in how we view other ministers of the Gospel. There should be a deep and abiding love of one true Gospel minister for another. When love is in play, territorial ambition and ministerial greed will fade away.
May God give us the grace to examine our motives in ministry so that we, like the Savior and the Apostles may be found by Him to be faithful, content, humble, diligent and loving servants of God.
1. William Garden Blaikie Glimpses of the Inner Life of Our Lord (pp. 90-91).