A little thanks would be nice?

If you’re a pastor, you probably wish that every once in a while, you’d get just a little gratitude.

It had to be galling — or at least, it would have been galling for me! — for Paul to be treated the way he was by the Corinthians, given all that he endured on their behalf. And I suspect that a sincere word of thanks every now and again would have been a salve to his soul.

But Paul never makes it about what he wants or deserves.

As suggested in a previous post, Paul viewed his apostolic vocation as embodying a story similar to that of Jesus, the Suffering Servant: what he suffered, he suffered for the benefit of the church. To the very people who were questioning his apostleship, he wrote this:

Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Cor 4:15, NRSV)

You may doubt my calling because of everything I have to suffer, Paul seems to say, but ironically, it’s all for you, for your benefit. Paul wants nothing more than to see the gospel succeed and spread. There are problems in Corinth, of course — difficult and maddening ones. But there is also evidence of the Spirit, and Paul takes the long view: God’s grace is moving out through his ministry; more and more people are turning to God in thanksgiving; and ultimately, this is all to God’s glory.

In the previous post, we saw how Paul had Psalm 116 in mind as he wrote, and quoted the first part of the poem in reference to Paul’s own experience. Here’s the rest of the psalm, in which the theme of thankful praise predominates:

What can I give back to the Lord
    for all the good things he has done for me?
I’ll lift up the cup of salvation.
    I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
    in the presence of all God’s people.
The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes.
Oh yes, Lord, I am definitely your servant!
    I am your servant and the son of your female servant—
    you’ve freed me from my chains.
So I’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to you,
    and I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
    in the presence of all God’s people,
    in the courtyards of the Lord’s house,
        which is in the center of Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
(Ps 116:12-19, CEB)

The psalmist suffered, cried out to God, and experienced deliverance. In unending gratitude, he dedicates himself to faithful service — a promise he will keep no matter what.

This is the trajectory of Paul’s life as an apostle, too. No doubt there were some in Corinth, even amidst the naysayers, who appreciated his sacrifices. But Paul wasn’t one to count friends and enemies; what mattered was the praise that went to God’s glory.

We should appreciate those who serve us in ministry. But not for their glory, for God’s. Let the first be a consistent expression of the second, and let those who serve understand it as such.