Looking For Self-Help?
Just one trip to a bookstore will tell you that there are a lot of “self-improvement” and “pop psychology” books out there. Most large bookstores carry a least a whole section of books devoted to this area.
Some will help you if you are in ministry, but not as much as some advice that I have treasured for years from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Many of those “self-improvement” books will have thoughts gleaned from Cognitive Psychology. This stream of thought has been around for a long time. You can find pieces of it in the works of Marcus Aurelius, for example. St. Paul understood this well and his Counselor was the Holy Spirit.
Paul knew how important self-talk is. He knew how important it is for servants of God, whether ordained, commissioned or lay, to “get it right” when it comes to “people pleasing.” Jesus made it clear that “people pleasing” cannot be our #1 priority, for that would land us squarely in the camp of the false prophets. He said in Luke 6:26,
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how
their fathers treated the false prophets.” (KJV)
If your agenda is to proclaim the truth of God, you cannot be a people pleaser. Paul developed a system of self-talk that helped him keep his sanity. That’s why I call 1 Cor. 4:1-5…
Dr. Paul’s Prescription
for a Servant’s Sanity
1) Remember whom you are serving.
Since a Pastor’s paycheck comes strictly from the offering plate, it’s hard not to please people. Paul was often a “free agent” when it came to finances, but he still tried to be “all things to all people” wherever possible, so that he “might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
2) Our allegiance must first be to the God who called us into ministry.
Paul wrote: So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ…. He doesn’t sign our paycheck, but we’re working for Him. Jesus enjoyed popularity as much as we do, but had to reject Satan’s temptation to make popularity #1 in his life by jumping off of the Temple pinnacle.
3) Not only are we servants of Christ, but we are also those “entrusted with the secret things of God.”
An advertising executive must create a campaign that satisfies his client, sometimes without much regard for the truth, but those in ministry can’t do that. They are entrusted with the secret things (the mysteries) of God. They are not at liberty to change the message when it goes against the grain of the audience. In recognizing this, Paul teaches us that we also can’t control how the audience reacts to the message. Thus, it is futile to seek popularity when you are in this position.
4) Popularity wasn’t Paul’s chief objective. Faithfulness to Christ was.
He tell us in v. 2 of I Cor. 4: Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. Pleasing the Lord is the most important thing. Faithfulness was the criterion for judgment; nothing else.
5) Get the self-talk right.
He shows us in 1 Cor. 4:3-4 that he was a master at good Christian self-talk when it came to preserving his sanity. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Many of us in ministry are quite good at “beating ourselves up” over some mistake or failure. Paul will have no part in this. He could have spent the rest of his life berating himself for sending Christians to their deaths before he saw the light in Christ. But he didn’t. We need to follow his enlightened example. (cf. also Galatians 1:10, et al).
What Paul’s Example Teaches Us
Paul shows us by his example that “being all things to all people” and disregarding human judgment can exist side by side. This isn’t an “I don’t care what you think” attitude. No, he was much too good of a Christian servant to be that cavalier with people’s feelings. He simply did not let “public opinion” form his opinion of himself.
He applied the Doctrine of Justification to himself with marvelous ministerial health benefits. The Bible tells us that when God looks at a child of God, he looks at him/her in Christ. He tells us that those sins of which we may be ashamed have been buried in the depths of the sea.
We have been declared “not guilty” of sin. Even when people condemn you for some failing, God finds you not guilty! You don’t have to condemn yourself just because someone else does. That’s why Paul could write as he does: “My conscience is clear but that doesn’t make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
Thank You, God!
Thank God, you and I are not to be our own judges. There is freedom here from the performance trap, freedom from the popularity trap.
What marvelous Christian psychology this is! Paul continues: Therefore, judge nothing until the appointed time. Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
There are times in ministry when you can’t reveal why you chose a certain course of action or inaction. To do so would be to break a confidence. You ache to correct what people are saying about you, but you can’t. Dr. Paul tells you to take your medicine for this heart-ache: Judge nothing until the appointed time. Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.
He will explain on the Last Day that your actions were proper and pleasing to Him when you couldn’t make you own explanations at the time. He will also bring to light the hidden agendas that some folks may have for saying what they said about you or doing what they did to you. One can only hope that some of God’s people have repented and have had their sins covered by Christ’s blood for the harm that they have done to the Kingdom and to the King’s servants.
A Reward Is Waiting!
Paul concludes: At that time (Judgment Day) each will receive his praise from God. Not only will your sins be forgotten, but you will be rewarded for your faithfulness as a steward of God’s secret truths. There will be vindication on that day and you will have forever the peace that you may be longing for right now. You can have a measure of this peace right now by following Dr. Paul’s Prescription for a Servant’s Sanity.
I have served the Lord in the ministry for almost 24 years. This text is one of the most comforting and useful soul-soothers I have ever read in God’s holy book. If you’re in ministry, whether ordained, commissioned or lay, my advice to you comes straight from the Holy Spirit and Dr. Paul: Read this text and take your medicine!
Rev. Wayne Dobratz