1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have been a paid pastor for close to thirteen years now, which have been some of the most amazing years of my life. I can’t describe the joy I find in regularly putting my efforts into something God has made me for. Yet at the same time, being paid to do ministry can be a sticky situation. Over the years, there has been a battle in my heart concerning the question: why do I do what I do? I think, due to the expectations on them, pastors can be particularly vulnerable to this question. Am I ministering to allow God to use me in the lives of people or to impress the leadership and make sure the paycheck keeps rolling in? Am I nice to people in the congregation because I am expected to be or because I genuinely love and want to communicate love to them? When I prepare to teach, am I making choices that I know will impress or choices that bring more clarity and accuracy to the text? You see for me, and for all of us, motivations matter. Why you do what you do is just as important as what you do (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Matthew 6:1; Philippians 1:15-17).
What I love about this verse in 1 Thessalonians is that Paul is not commending the Thessalonian church primarily for their work, labor and endurance but for the motivating factors behind those things. Many people work hard. We even have passed judgment on those who work too hard and call them “workaholics”. Some people work motivated by greed and the desire to make their lives and their families lives more comfortable. Some work just to survive. In the church, many work out of obligation and a desire to be pleasing. Yet, the Thessalonians’ work wasn’t born out of a sense of responsibility or their own profit but a product of their trusting and dependent relationship upon Christ. Their consistent and diligent work grew out of the life-giving power that He gives and for His glory.
Their work was even driven to the point of labor. The word “labor” adds the idea of work that was a burden requiring great toil. It is work that is difficult. Sometimes we can put in a hard day’s work and it feels rewarding, but this is the difficult and sometimes unrewarding kind of work. The Thessalonians were diving into this kind of service, not for money or reputation or to be considered a “hard-working, blue collar man,” but only driven by love for those they were serving.
What is even more amazing is that this work of service that they were striving to accomplish was not a short-term push but a consistent, long-term commitment to not stop until the service was accomplished. This is an endurance that can only come from a life whose eyes are fixed on our future hope. It is not for notoriety or a promotion but because they recognized that this world and its difficulties are only temporary. They were working for the life beyond this one.
Do you ever stop to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Are you involved in a ministry at church? Why? What brought you there? What is keeping you there? For me, I have to remember that the financial support I receive from the church is a gift from God and not a motivation to perform. The positive feedback I receive on my accomplishments are spiritual encouragement and not the desired result. Most of all, I must remember that the work I do means nothing unless it grows out of a dependent faith, a fervent love, and a fixed hope.
May we choose to care as much about our motives as we do about our actions.