By David Faust
If you think your life is filled with hassles and headaches, imagine how the apostle Paul felt. He wrestled with a health problem he called a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). As an apostle he was frequently the target of harsh criticism and misunderstanding.
On top of it all, Paul listed an additional source of stress: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
The Burden of Leadership
Can you relate to Paul’s comment about the daily pressure that comes with leadership responsibility? Others may drift along, but a true leader remains constantly aware of the work to do, the problems to solve, the people to shepherd, and the mission to advance.
When Paul describes his “concern” for the churches, he uses the Greek word merimna. A form of the same word appears in Philippians 4:6, where he says not to be “anxious” about anything but to pray instead. Since the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, how could Paul tell us not to be anxious, then confess in another letter that he wrestled with anxiety on a daily basis? The answer is found in the reason for his concern. Paul wasn’t worried about himself; his concern focused on others. The churches were gospel outposts, standing for Christ in hostile territory. He earnestly wanted them to thrive and grow.
We shouldn’t worry about our own needs; God will take care of us. (Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 6:25-34.) But when we accept leadership responsibility in the church, we can’t escape feeling burdened for others. Paul’s “concern for all the churches” was unselfish, motivated by love. Sinful worry is the self-destructive fretfulness that refuses to fully trust God, but it’s no sin to care deeply about God’s people. That’s part of the price of church leadership. Someone has said, “You lead, you bleed.”
The Breadth of God’s Family
Paul was concerned about “all the churches.” Not just the ones near his home or where his native Hebrew was spoken. He cared about God’s family in cities like Rome and Athens and in rural areas and small towns scattered around the Israeli countryside. Some of these churches were healthy and vibrant, while others were immature and divided. Paul cared about all of them.
Do we care about “all the churches” or just our own? Do we love the whole “family of believers” (1 Peter 2:17) or just the congregation where everyone knows us by name? Do we “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18) or do we insist on seeing things through the narrow lens of our own experience, culture, and tradition?
Faith expands our circle of concern. When we develop “concern for all the churches,” we will celebrate the victories of other churches and hurt when they suffer. We will sympathize with brothers and sisters who labor in difficult fields. We will care about Christians everywhere who are threatened by persecution or weakened by poverty.
Were the hassles and headaches of leadership worth it? The Lord assured Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul concluded, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).
1. Do you pray regularly for your church’s leaders?
2. Do you love “all the churches,” including those outside your immediate circle of fellowship?
David Faust serves as chancellor of Cincinnati Christian University, but is transitioning into a staff role at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. He will continue to write his weekly column for The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for May 18, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Corinthians 10
1 Samuel 24, 25
2 Corinthians 11:1–15
1 Samuel 26—28
2 Corinthians 11:16–33
1 Samuel 29—31
2 Corinthians 12:1–10
2 Samuel 1, 2
2 Corinthians 12:11–21
2 Samuel 3, 4
2 Corinthians 13
2 Samuel 5—7