Society of Fellows
In his book, Pastoral Grit: the Strength to Stand and to Stay, Craig Brian Larson relates the story of the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10, launched in 1972 by NASA. Pioneer 10 was to photograph Jupiter and its moons and beam significant data to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field. Scientists considered this a bold plan for, at the time, no satellite had ever gone beyond Mars.
Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years. But in 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 had passed Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto and was six billion miles from the sun and continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. It has just kept going and going-accomplishing more than anyone thought possible.1
God accomplishes through his servants more than they ever dreamed possible-if they just keep going and going-and do not quit. But what is the sufficient encouragement when the servant of God faces opposition, difficulties, and trials? The Apostle Paul confides that he was compelled by the love of Christ. The love of Christ is an encouragement that never fails.
I. GOD’S SERVANTS WILL FACE OPPOSITION THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEIR MINISTRY
Can you imagine the apostle being accused of being dishonest and insincere? His motives in serving were being questioned because false teachers had moved into Corinth and were swaying the people against Paul. They were unimpressed with his appearance and speaking ability and accused him of being unqualified as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
We would like to think that when God calls us to serve Him in vocational ministry, His people will receive us, love us, follow us, and support us. While this may occur in some churches and in groups within churches, we must not be so naive as to believe it will be universal. Even though we know theoretically that tough times will come, we often are unprepared to deal with these times when they are a reality.
The reasons for opposition are legion. Certainly, as ministers of the Gospel, we make our share of poor judgments. We miscalculate the temperature of the congregation’s support and err in the timing of a major presentation. It may be that we are not thorough in our homework and preparation for a course of action. We may overlook someone because we are preoccupied with another burden or responsibility. The number of times we visit the patient in the hospital may not be sufficient in the patient’s mind. We also have been guilty of allowing our hearts to grow cold and have failed to feed our people with passion and power.
And then there is opposition because there is a group in the church that has determined they will “run the church” as they have done for years. They were in charge and set the course before you got there and they will be doing the same when your name is painted over on the church sign.
It may be that your preaching causes pain because “change” is not in the vocabulary of the congregational leaders. However it occurs, you can be sure opposition will raise its head in your ministry.
Discouragement is a natural emotion when we face opposition. Discouragement may lead to depression and you may be tempted to quit the ministry. The temptation to run seems to jump up and demand attention. The temptation to become bitter also wants to be recognized. But let us remember the words of concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” The apostle Paul made his choice. What mattered was not comfort, or being well thought of by the world, or being famous, or rich, but rather his only concern was to please the Lord Jesus. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
The opposition that challenges us as ministers of the Gospel will be used by our Lord to refine us and mature us. He will bring us through the fire and will refine us as silver is refined. He will try us as gold is tried. In these days of opposition, we will call upon our Lord, drawing near to Him, and He will declare us to be His people. Our declaration will be as the declaration in Zechariah’s day, “The Lord is my God.” And so He will be! He will not forsake us in the days of struggle.
II. GOD’S SERVANTS WILL BE ENCOURAGED BY THE COMPELLING LOVE OF CHRIST
The apostle’s aim was to please his Lord for he was overwhelmed and mastered by the love that Christ had for him. “For the love of Christ compels us..” (2 Corinthians 5:14). There is no stronger or more compelling influence in our lives once we have come to understand the love of Christ.
Paul judged that if Christ died for all, then all were dead. And that He died for all, “that they which live should not live unto themselves..” (v. 15b).
The text has been interpreted in at least two ways. Some have declared that the reason Christ died for all is because all were spiritually dead and needed the reconciling death of Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is a truth that is clear in Scripture. Ephesians 2:1 reads: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” But the text also has been understood as declaring that the death of Jesus Christ at Calvary was a death to secure our death to sin. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6). Our union with Christ through faith is a union with His death and His resurrection. I find that both understandings are verified in Scripture.
Oh, what love Christ has for us that He died to reconcile us to Holy God and His death has secured our death to a life of bondage. Dr. R.G. Lee wrote,“The love of Christ is an inspiring force within and a protecting environment without.”2 What can we say, but, “ Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! What a foretaste of glory divine! God’s servants are encouraged by the compelling love of Christ.
We must ask ourselves the questions,”Whose are we?” and “Why are we here?” Life will have its perplexities. We will have our questions and be unable to explain many of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In Albert Einstein’s early days physicists had scratched their heads for some 50 years over the unexplainable orbit of the planet Mercury. Newton’s theories of gravity had served well for centuries to understand the orbits of all the other planets, but in Mercury’s elliptical orbit, the point nearest the sun drifted by a very small amount. Astronomers theorized that another small hidden planet, which they named Vulcan, might orbit near the sun and exert gravitational force on Mercury. But Vulcan was never discovered. Then Einstein formulated his general theory of relativity. When he applied this gravitational formula to the eccentric orbit of Mercury, he had one of the breathtaking moments of his scientific life: the numbers fit. Mercury was a mystery no more.
Life, on occasion, will have an orbit like Mercury that for a time simply defies our best efforts to explain it. But just as surely as there is order in the universe, there is a heavenly reason for our circumstances utterly consistent with God’s Word and character. We just cannot yet understand it.3
If we know Whose we are and are convinced that we are here to please and serve Him above all others, the love that Christ has for us will be the compelling factor in our lives. It will be stronger than our hurts. It will be stronger than our fears.
Johann C. Arnold, in his book, Seeking Peace, quotes the late Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The minute you conquer the fear of death, at that moment you are free. I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” These are the words that Cassie Bernall had underlined in her copy of Arnold’s book, Seeking Peace. Cassie, along with other teenagers at Littleton’s West Bowles Community Church was supposed to have discussed the book on the evening of April 20, 1999. The tragic day at Columbine High School interrupted that discussion. What caused Cassie to boldly declare her faith that sealed her death? Could it be that she had found something worth dying for and was convinced and compelled by Christ’s love for her?
The apostle Paul never allowed the criticism and attacks he received to control him. He was compelled by Christ’s love to continue on the path of faithfulness.
Colonel George Washington Goethals, the man responsible for the completion of the Panama Canal, had big problems with the climate and the geography. But his biggest challenge was the growing criticism back home from those who predicted he’d never finish the project. Finally, a colleague asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer these critics?” “In time,” answered Goethals. “When?” his partner asked. “When the canal is finished.”4
We must keep moving forward by the compelling love of Christ and allow a right spirit and faithful service to be the answer to opposition that confronts us.
The November 19, 1990 issue of Newsweek ran an article entitled “Letters in the Sand,” a compilation of letters written by military personnel to family and friends in the States during the Gulf War. One was written my Marine Corporal Preston Coffer. He told a friend, “We are talking about the marines, not the Boy Scouts. We all joined the service knowing full well what might be expected of us.” He signed off with the Marine motto, Semper Fi, Latin for “always faithful.”
We are in a spiritual warfare and we will face opposition. We, too, compelled by His love, must be “always faithful!”
III. GOD’S SERVANTS WILL LIVE UNSELFISHLY BECAUSE THEY LIVE FOR CHRIST
The Apostle, compelled by Christ’s love, declared that the new life provided by Christ is a life that is unselfish. It is a life of grateful service to the One that reconciled us to God and provided for our new life of freedom from the bondage of sin.
Selfishness is the root of most all of our problems. It affects us in our homes, churches, work, and other social relationships. We see selfishness in action in the youngest of children. A little boy and his younger sister were riding a hobbyhorse together. The boy said, “If one of us would just get off this hobbyhorse, there would be more room for me.”
Selfishness is a problem for adults. On April 12, 1912, the Titanic plunged 12,000 feet to the Atlantic floor some two hours, 40 minutes, after an iceberg tore a 300-foot gash in the starboard side. Survivor Eva Hart remembers the horror of its sinking and the more dreadful cries of drowning people. Lifeboat #14 did row back to the scene after the unsinkable ship slipped from sight at 2:20 a.m., but others rowed their half-filled boats away from the cries of those lost in the water for fear of a crush of unknown swimmers clinging to their craft, eventually swamping it.5 Oh, how selfishness will lead us to be so cold-hearted.
How do we get out of ourselves? Our eyes must be upon Christ and His sacrificial love for us. We must experience the death to self that His death has accomplished. Convinced of an undeserved blessing from Him, let us throw ourselves upon His grace and know the overflowing joy of His life flowing through us.
George Matheson, on receiving news of his deteriorating eyesight and impending blindness, was rejected by his fiancée. Crushed, he sat down to reflect upon God’s love that would never reject him. These words flowed from his pen:
Christ’s love limits us to one great end and prohibits us from considering any other. It lifts us up and pushes us on. When we grow weary, and at times when we are faint-hearted and feel like throwing our hands up in despair, we look at Calvary...and keep pushing on.
Dr. R.G. Lee wrote of Henry Drummond, a great scientist and lecturer of Glasgow, Scotland who was dying at age forty-six of a mysterious disease. “He was weary of the Darwinian jungle of philosophy of evolution; tired of rattling dry bones of dead monkeys in an effort to discover the origin of life.” Drummond told Sir William Dawson, a noted scientist and devoted Christian, that “I am going back to the Bible to believe in it as I once did. I can no longer live in uncertainty.” He did find through the Bible a peace and joy and much more, an amazing book of God’s love. Drummond then wrote that wonderful book, or sermon, on “The Greatest Thing in the World-Love.”6
It is His love that keeps us living for Christ. When others won’t come along, when others walk away, when others quit, when the journey is discouraging, there is a compelling force that pushes one along. It is Christ’s love that keeps pulling us back from selfish living and pushing us along in sacrificial service.
We must keep serving Him regardless of how few accompany us or how many oppose us. His love moves us beyond selfish living to sacrificial service to the One who died for us.
I read in Edwin Cole’s book, Strong Men in Tough Times, one of the most moving declarations of faith and commitment that I have ever seen. If the Apostle Paul could have written it as a contemporary explanation of our text, I believe he would have.
“I am part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed. The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I have stepped over the line. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, love with patience, live by prayer and labor with power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, and my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up or slow up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up and spoken up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner is clear: I am a part of the fellowship of the unashamed.”7
The love of Christ is an encouragement that never fails!
by: Dr. Larry Gilmore, Sr. Pastor
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Larry Gilmore has been pastor of College Heights Baptist Church in Gallatin, Tennessee since 1976. Dr. Gilmore is a graduate of Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. He received the master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and the doctor of ministry degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife Linda have two children: Charis and Josh, both students at Union University.