When a person responds to God’s call to salvation, usually great enthusiasm and vigour accompany this radical change. However, often we observe that the initial fervour tends to lose its intensity over time. The same thing often occurs as individuals accept a ministry assignment. Considerable energy bursts out at the beginning, but soon the pace slows and the engagement in the responsibility loses its initial glow. Maintaining the pace and stoking our motivation to follow Jesus become significant issues for all believers, whatever their experience or role might be. Paul recognized this challenge in Galatians 6:9 when he wrote: “In doing good let us not lose heart/be negligent (egkakwmen), for at the right time we shall reap if we do not become exhausted (ekluomenoi).”
The first verb Paul uses in this text (egkakwmen) is rare. In the Greek historian Polybius it implies acting negligently and thus being at fault. However, another referential meaning is to become slack or weary or to lose heart. In 2 Clement 2:2  the verb describes the weariness of a woman in process of childbirth. In the contexts where Paul uses it, however, he seeks to encourage believers to persist in doing good and serving God.
2 Thess. 3:13 “But you, brothers, do not become weary or do not become lax (egkakesete) in doing good.”
2 Cor. 4:1 “But since we have this ministry according to the mercy shown to us, we do not lose heart or become lax (egkakoumen).”
2 Cor. 4:16 “Wherefore we do not lose heart or become lax (egkakoumen).”
In these cases, as in Galatians 6:9, Paul emphasizes the danger of becoming negligent and weakening in our resolve to do what is good or to carry forward the service to which God has summoned us. The obstacles may be significant (just as childbirth is for a woman), but in the midst of such challenges, we are not to let the weariness tempt us to slacken our efforts. Rather with dogged, Spirit-empowered perservance we must stay focused, ardent, and on target.
In Ephesians 3:13 we discern a slightly different tack. Paul is concerned lest his imprisonment become a source of discouragement to these believers;
I ask that you do not lose heart (egkakein) at my afflictions for you, which is your glory.
These Christians might be tempted to give up on the Gospel cause because they see their leader incarcerated and mistreated in such a fashion. It might suggest to them that his mission and his message are not as powerful and significant as once they perceived. Instead of seeing his imprisonment as weakness or defeat, they should see it as something that brings them glory and honour. How this works exactly is disputed, but perhaps his imprisonment provides an opportunity for the power of God and His Gospel to be more clearly discerned, confirming their faith. What is clear is that Paul does not want his circumstances in any way to be a cause for them to abandon their work for Christ.
Galatians 6:9 is interesting in that Paul defines “sowing to the Spirit for eternal reward” in verse 8 as “doing good” in verse 9. “We shall reap at the right time”, Paul asserts. After our conversion we might be tempted to lose heart and get tired of “keeping in step with the Spirit”. False teaching, sin, suffering, the accusations from other Christians – all of these, plus many other events, de-motivate and discourage believers. But Paul urges us to keep the endpoint in view – the day of harvest and the promise of life eternal. We wait for deliverance, but during this period we must not let up, or let down, or let go.
In this same verse Paul uses the verb “worn out, exhausted” (ekluomenoi). Mark uses this verb to describe the danger the crowds face at the end of a day, having listened to Jesus’ teaching. If they are not fed, their weakness caused by hunger (ekluthesontai 8:3)) may harm them as they return home. In 2 Samuel 21:15 the word refers to the weakness of soldiers who are worn out because of their long march across a wilderness. It reflects physical tiredness and exhaustion. When applied to the moral realm, it describes a weakness of the heart and loss of spiritual vigour, leading people to give up the struggle to be and do good.
If we desire to reap eternal life, then we must be aware of at least two dangers. One is the temptation to grow lax and discouraged in our walk with the Spirit and involvement in ministry. The second is the tendency to let the exhaustion that comes from the spiritual wrestling and engagement with evil, the fight for spiritual freedom, hinder our sowing to the Spirit. Paul previously compared the Christian experience to a race (Galatians 5:7). People get completely exhausted during marathons. Let us take care to keep running well, to produce the right harvest, and not give up.
Application: as you reflect upon God’s word today:
- what are the challenges you face today that breed discouragement with you and tempt you to become
- lax in your ministry responsibility? Perhaps it is time to confess them before God and seek His help;
- are you exhausted in ministry to others? Ask God to help you find rest and recovery;
- what are your motives in ministry? Are they the right ones (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).
- 1. Apart from Luke 18:1 that encourages people to persist in praying and not to slacken, all occurrences in the New Testament are found in Paul’s correspondence (2 Cor. 4:1,16; Eph. 3:13; 2 Thess. 3:13)
- 2. A Christian homily dated to the mid-second century AD and generally associated with the church at Corinth.
- 3. It is interesting that Paul in Galatians 4:19 has compared his labour for the conversion of the believers in these churches to that of birth pains. It is also found in Paul’s quote from Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27.