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The Ministry (21)

Pope Shenouda III | 30 May 2010

 "Each one will receive his own reward
According to his own labor" (1 Cor 3: 8)

   By "labor" is not meant the vain labor of the world, but labor for the Kingdom. Vain labor of the world resembles that of Solomon for luxury and wealth, for having attained all that he said, "Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind." (Eccl 2: 11) On the other hand your labor for God's sake is for your own salvation and for the edification of the Kingdom. Now let us focus on labor in the field of ministry:

All your labor for God's sake is kept for you in the Kingdom.

   As much as you labor here on the earth, you will rest in the eternal life. As much as you endure here, you will have bliss there. Job the Righteous says, "There the weary are at rest." (Job 3: 17) As far as you labor for God's sake, your spirituality will improve, and in eternal life your end will be better. Those who labored for the edification of the Kingdom will rest from their labors, "and their works follow them." (Rev 14: 13)

 See what beautiful words St. Paul the Apostle says concerning labor in the ministry:

   "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor 15: 58) It is because, "God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister." (Heb 6: 10)

Yes indeed, for the Lord will receive them with the comforting words, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11: 28) He will give them rest not only on the earth, but also in heaven. On the earth their conscience and hearts will be at rest, and in heaven their souls will rest.

Concerning his labor in the ministry St. Paul the Apostle says, "I planted, Apollos watered … Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor." (1 Cor 3: 6, 8)

Shares in the Kingdom are not the same, for the apostle says, "One star differs from another star in glory." (1 Cor 15: 41)

   Since God will reward each one according to his works (Mt 16: 27), then you ought to exert all effort in God's ministry here on the earth. Stay assured that God watches your work and counts for you all your labor, as He said to the angel of the church of Ephesus, "I know your works, your labor, your patience … and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary." (Rev 2: 2, 3)

Your labor is an evidence of the extent of your love for God and His Kingdom; for a person who loves God will never permit himself some rest, but will struggle to lead everybody to God's heart, as David the Prophet said in his vow to the Mighty God of Jacob: "Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house … or give slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty God of Jacob." (Ps 132: 2- 5) Ask yourself then what the extent of your labor for God is.

Paul the Apostle who labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), explains some of his labors for the ministry. 

   He says, "… in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned … in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness – besides other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches …" (2 Cor 11: 23- 28)

 What about your labor, brother, if compared to all this? You should be aware that whatever labor you have in ministry this will be recorded for you in the Book of Life.

   When the books will be opened on the Day of Judgment, and all works be revealed, you will find whatever you have done recorded for you, even a cup of cold water which you may give for God's sake, you shall by no means lose your reward for it (Mt 10: 42). Every step to the church or for visitation, this will be counted for you to receive its wages in the Kingdom. Every drop of sweat poured, and every comforting word you say will be recorded for you in the Book of Life. Do not say, 'I am tired; nobody is aware of my work!' Nay, for God says to you the same words He repeated to each of the angels of the seven churches: "I know your works" (Rev 2, 3). Even if you receive no appreciation on the earth, you will find all appreciation in heaven. The hidden works will be revealed, and you will receive for them a greater reward. Believe me, even your labors which you have forgotten, these you will find kept with God. He remembers them for you and never forgets, and will say to you on that Day with all your brothers who have labored and ministered like you, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Mt 25: 34)

God never forgets your labor and your ministry, even the apostles never forgot those who labored with them in the ministry. St. Paul, for instance, in his Epistle to the Romans, says, "Greet Mary, who labored much for us … Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis who labored much in the Lord." (Rom 16: 6, 12) Also when he sent to his disciple Timothy, he commanded him to give due honor to those who labor in the ministry, saying, "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." (1 Tim 5: 17)

 If the apostle remembers those who labored, how much rather God remembers!

 Therefore, never think of giving yourself rest in the ministry, but rather exert effort in preparing lessons, in reading, in visitation, and in solving the problems of the people. Be patient and endure whatever resistance you may face throughout your ministry, and never think of forsaking ministry because of that. Do your best for restoring those who deviate from God and who refuse to repent. Do as the apostle says, "Others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire." (Jud 23) Remember the words of the Scripture, "He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (Jas 5: 20)

 Indeed, the precious soul for which Christ died deserves that you exert all effort for its salvation. Therefore struggle and do not lose hope, even if the fruit delays, you should go on. Do not let others labor and you enter into their labors (Jn 4: 38)! Rather take part in labor as far as you can.

Do not stand watching those who labor, for God's Kingdom is not for those who watch from afar. 

   The Kingdom is for those who labor for its edification. Remember how St. Athanasius the Apostolic, for instance, labored to preserve faith and to resist the Arians to the extent of being exiled from his throne four times! Remember also how Paul the Apostle could finally say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (2 Tim 4: 7, 8)! How Nehemiah likewise labored much to build the wall of Jerusalem, and what resistance he faced in patience till he finished his work! You should be aware that in your ministry, God works with you and will not leave you to labor alone.

In the church we pray to the Lord to take part in work with us, His servants, and St. Paul the Apostle says about Apollos and himself, "We are God's fellow workers." (1 Cor 3: 9) God always assists His ministers in their ministry, works with them, within them, and through them. Therefore, in your ministry try to be a mere tool in God's hand by which He works. Pray in your heart the words of the Psalm, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." (Ps 127: 1)

The ministry then needs labor in prayer for it so that God may lead it with His care, and so that one may feel God's hand in the ministry. You should not think that your labor in the ministry is mere human labor, but remember the words of the Lord, "Without Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15: 5) Struggle with prayers, fasting, and metanoia (prostration), that you may have God with you in the ministry!

 Beware seeking easy ministry or entering into the ministry through the wide gate.

    Actually so many of those who like to avoid labor in ministry flee from the fields that require big efforts or imply problems. Those accept only easy ministry and justify themselves with some words of humbleness! Such a person may excuse himself saying, 'I am lesser than doing such ministry! I have not yet attained such level! I have no talents! Yet the Lord refuses such excuses. He said to Jeremiah, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak." (Jer 1: 7)

 In hard ministry God's hand is revealed, as well as the love, sacrifice and labor of the minister. In hard ministry the minister's love for the Kingdom, for people's salvation appears, and also is revealed how far one ignores oneself and one's rest, and is ready to bear the cross of the ministry without grumbling.

 Such ministry has a great reward, and the Lord called His disciples to undertake it, saying to them, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves," (Mt 10: 16) and the disciples did not flee from such ministry!

   It is good indeed that we labor so that people may rest, not that we rest and leave them to weary! 

  Let us continue this talk about the ministry in the coming week, God willing. 

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