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How Pastors Can Keep from Losing Heart, Part 3: Self-Denial

How Pastors Can Keep from Losing Heart, Part 3: Self-Denial

by Fred Malone

Paul did not lose heart or grow weary in well-doing because he had “been mercied” by God’s grace in Christ (4:1) and because he believed in the proclamation of the gospel as God’s ordained method (4:2). He knew from the fact that God had shown the light of the gospel in his Satan-blinded heart that God could do the same in others as well (4:3-6). So, having Christ as Lord and believing in the power of the Spirit to open blinded eyes, he persevered in hardship to fulfill his ministry to preach the Word (4:7-10)! He did not lose heart.

There is yet another reason which kept Paul from losing heart: self-denial. In other words, he had taken up his cross to die that others might live. There are several things in Paul’s attitude of self-denial which we must notice.

1. First, Christ's self-denial compelled Paul to deny himself for others. 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 says, "always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you."

The shadow of the Cross fell across Paul’s soul at all times. “The dying of Jesus” for him was now his worldview. He could not forget it. He was so overwhelmed at the self-denial of God the Son for such a sinner as himself that it transformed his thinking at all times. The crucifixion of Christ for him, and his union with Christ in His death and resurrection (Rom 6:1-10), caused him now to live also as one willing to die that others might live. He now lived “for Jesus’ sake,” no longer for himself, so that others might see both the death and the life of Jesus in his life and ministry. Captured by His Lord’s self-denial for himself, he could live no other way, using up his life for the sake of others.

2. Second, Paul believed in denying himself for others’ needs. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says, "For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God."

In 2 Corinthians, Paul details the sufferings he endured while bringing the good news of mercy to others (4:8-9; 6:4-10; 11:22-28). Now everything in his body and soul was filled with greater concern for others than himself. In such an attitude, there is no room for ego, self-importance, pride, impatience, bitterness, complaining, jealousy of other’s ease, or self-pity. There is only room for the self-denying joy of seeing the grace of God spread to more and more people and for the glory of God to abound from thankful lips for His grace given.

Did it cost him to pour out his life into the souls of others? Yes, it did. His outer man was decaying as he used up his time and energy, as it were, to pour eternal life into the souls of others. But strangely, as he used up his life for others, considering their needs as more important than his own, he was continually renewed in the inner man. All things in his life was for others’ sake now, as was his Lord’s for himself at all times. What mattered to Paul was that God was glorified in the spreading to others of the grace he had received. So, in the life mission of self-denial for others, considering others’ needs as more important than his own, he found the inner renewal that comes from self-denial for others and for Christ.

The irony of self-denial is that the more you give for the sake of others, the more you are renewed in the inner man. Self-denial is necessary not to lose heart in the gospel ministry. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” said our Lord (Acts 20:35).

3. Third, hope of the future enabled Paul to deny himself in the present. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 says, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Self-denial on earth is fueled not by what one sees with his eyes but by what he sees in the future. On earth one may see sermons going unheeded, loving rebukes rewarded with hatred, sincerity rewarded with deception, loyalty returned with betrayal, self-denial rewarded with ungratefulness. Only faith can see beyond earthly trials into the future. Only the future seen by faith can cause the trials of the self-denying ministry to be called “momentary, light affliction.” The future for the pastor holds waiting “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” to the trials of self-denial on earth. Therefore, Paul said: "But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed; therefore, I spoke,' we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you" (2 Cor 4:13-14).

Dear brother pastor, we have many reasons not to lose heart. We have received mercy undeserved. We have been given a heavenly treasure to preach, carrying it in a very earthly vessel. And we also have been given promises in the future which spur us on to self-denial now for the good of others and for the glory and honor of the God who gave His only-begotten Son for sinners such as ourselves. We have every reason not to lose heart, especially in these momentary, light afflictions.

So, if you are growing weary in well-doing, losing heart in this God-given ministry, you are probably asking yourself: “What is wrong with me? What do I not believe?” For it is faith in the gospel we preach, and the Christ who loved us and gave Himself up for us, that renews the inner man while the outer man decays. If we looked unto Jesus for the mercy we first received, we must continue to look to Him for the power not to lose heart. Are you thinking like this while you prepare your sermons, counsel the saints, face opposition, and barely pay the bills? Where else can you go for strength not to lose heart? I know no other place than at the feet of our self-denying Lord.