Are you the man in Jesus’ parable who tries to get the best seat at a banquet? Or do you try to honor others rather than seek it for yourself? Do you preach against this world while still coveting what’s in it? Does your heart lust after praise and recognition, wealth and riches, or any other form of glory or praise from men? Beware, for the love of the world will leave you groveling at the feet of the devil. Rather, “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5)—that is, the true humility, or lowliness of mind, of one who is the slave of God.
The Tears of the Slave of the Lord
It may seem strange to hear Paul talking about tears in ministry as an essential component of serving the Lord. Aren’t we supposed to be serving the Lord in the strength of His might? God call us to be men of valor, not crybabies, right? First Corinthians 16:13 commands us to “stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” So, what does biblical masculinity look like?
There are times when life’s pain wrenches tears from our eyes and groans from our souls. Christ Himself “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (Heb. 5:7). What’s more, the Holy Spirit groans within us as we await our redemption from all evil (Rom. 8:23, 26).
However, the Bible does not condone pity parties or self-centered whining for sympathy. Paul was far from saying: “Poor me. I’m going to Jerusalem. Isn’t it horrible?” In Acts 20:24, Paul says, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul ran his race in life with the elevated joy of a runner headed for the finish line and the victor’s crown (1 Cor. 9:24–25). Like Eric Liddell (1902–45), the missionary to China and Olympic champion, Paul ran with his head back, feeling God’s pleasure in sacrificial obedience.
So then, why should we run with tears? Acts 20:31 tells us, “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Paul did not shed tears for himself; he wept for the precious souls whom he called to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Charles Simeon (1759–1836) said, “With this humility of mind he had blended compassion for their souls; so that . . . he had wept much on their account, both in his addresses to them, and in his supplications in their behalf.”
In this, Paul was an authentic representative of his Lord. When Jesus carried His cross to Calvary in weariness, pain, and misery and shed His blood, He did not pity Himself; nor did He ask pity of others. He said to the women around Him, “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves,” knowing that God’s severe judgment would fall on Jerusalem (Luke 23:28). Yet when His friend Lazarus died, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Christ was not a stoic; He was ruled by love.
When Paul speaks about tears in ministry, we see that ministers of Christ must be people of heartfelt compassion for God’s people and for those not yet saved. Let us look at how that works in more detail.
1. We weep for God’s people. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:4, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” Paul had to confront some difficult problems in the Corinthian church. He did so boldly, but not coldly. Many of his epistles were stained with tears. We are not talking about a mere rhetorical device here; we are talking about a heartfelt love for the flock of God. We are one body in Christ. When one member suffers, all suffer, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 26 says. The Holy Spirit commands us in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” He does not say, “Have a measure of sympathy.” He says, “Weep.”
We may feel that such emotion is not appropriate for a minister, but Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:11, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.” A minister’s heart must be open so the church may see the affections of Christ moving us to action. We are not making a display of ourselves; we are displaying the humanity and compassion of Christ to His people, His sense of our great need and His sorrow for our sins. Because of our union with Christ, Christ’s sufferings and death abound in us, so that His life is manifested in us and brings comfort to others in their sufferings (1:3–6; 4:8–12). The display of Christ’s suffering in us as ministers is a profound mystery, but it is also powerfully real. Is it possible that what hinders us from weeping is not our dignity as men but our lack of conformity to Christ?