The Act of Ministry
There is a story about an emperor who wanted to find out what language Adam and Eve spoke. To make an experiment, he set apart several newborn babies. He gave strict orders that no one was to speak a word in the presence of these babies. He thought that by doing this the babies would learn to speak a language of their own. That language, the emperor thought, would be the language of Adam and Eve. Of course the experiment failed, because the babies died from lack of communication.
Man is born to communicate. He was made to communicate with his fellowman and with God. The people of God have a responsibility to communicate the gospel of Christ. The life of the church is to share Christ. The life of the world depends on its hearing the good news. Without this communication, the world will die.
Christ Our Model
Effective communication of the gospel is what ministry is all about. Only as the believer begins to communicate the gospel does the act of ministry begin.
As the scripture says, “Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved. But how can they call to him for help if they have not believed? And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?” (Romans l0:13-l4).
Communicating the gospel is not simply passing on information. For communication to be effective, the gospel must speak to the hearts of people-it must be applied to their lives.
Jesus spoke to the hearts of people. We have already learned the words of his first public address. Read again Luke 4:18. These words, based on Isaiah 61:1-2, show us what Jesus considered His ministry to be:
1. Preach the gospel to the poor. Jesus’ message was for the welfare of the soul—the poor in spirit—as well as for those who were poor in body and mind. He was concerned about the whole man.
2. Proclaim liberty to the captives. Man is a captive of sin. He is also a captive of his own condition resulting from a life of sin. Captives need freedom. Christ came to set men free, so that they could be all that God intended for them to be. He makes possible a full and rich life. Jesus said, “I am come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10).
3. Heal the brokenhearted. Jesus is concerned with man’s suffering and his needs. Redemption offers the solution for everything that keeps a man from having a full life, whether it be an emotional problem, conflicts with others, sorrow, or pain.
4. Recovery of sight to the blind. This may refer to spiritual healing as well as physical healing. The gospel can be applied to all areas of a man’s life.
Jesus wanted to redeem the total person. He was concerned for man’s physical and emotional well-being as well as his spiritual needs.
Christ’s goal in communicating the gospel was to make people whole or complete in Him. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus said, “You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” A better word for perfect in this instance is the word complete. This same word is used by Jesus when He talked with a rich young man. He said, “If you want to be perfect [complete], go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
To be complete is to do the right things. It also means to reach maturity and fullness. (See Colossians 1:28). This is the goal of the gospel-that all men might come to maturity in Christ. Christ came to destroy the works of sin so that we might obtain our completeness in Him. Through His words, by His example of a holy life, and in His actions of servant ministry, He sought to free men from sin and its effects. His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead were the final signs of victory over sin. He communicated the good news by His very life. This is the good news which the church now communicates to the world!
Proclaiming The Message
The Spoken Word
Men who set out to conquer nations usually do so with great armies and powerful weapons of war. Christ’s goal was to conquer the world and bring every nation under His feet. But He sends men not with the glittering sword or the thundering cannon, but with the power of speech.
We are sent as heralds of the gospel. A herald is one who proclaims a message. He may speak to one person or to a group of persons, in public or in private, but always he brings a message from his master and lord.
One outstanding characteristic of the herald is his authority. He does not speak in his own name, but in the name of the one who has sent him. His authority is not only in his words, but in his ability to act in behalf of the one who sent him.
The men Christ sent out were faithful and spoke with the authority He had given them. They returned with joy, and said: “Lord . . . even the demons obeyed us when we gave them a command in your name!” (Luke 10:17).
Today Christ is still calling men and women to become heralds of God’s truth. The power of the New Testament believers depended upon the importance of the truth they spoke.
What was this truth?
1. God’s love has been made known to man.
2. There is salvation from sin for man.
3. Salvation from sin is only possible through the death of Jesus.
Let’s look at some ways the gospel is communicated through the spoken word.
Preaching and Teaching. The Great Commission is a command to preach and teach. There are many other Scriptures concerning the importance of heralding the good news in these two ways. The following Scriptures emphasize the value of preaching and teaching:
1. Faithfulness is required from those who are instructed to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).
2. The Lord has chosen that by the foolishness of preaching men should be saved (1 Corinthians 1:21).
3. It is through preaching that God’s Word has been revealed (Titus 1:3).
4. There is tremendous power in the Word of God as it is proclaimed, whether from a pulpit or elsewhere. The Word is able to save (James 1:21).
5. The Word helps newborn Christians to grow (1 Peter 2:2).
6. The disciples followed the example of Christ in preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42).
7. The apostle Paul’s ministry included both preaching and teaching (Colossians 1:28).
By preaching, men and women are brought into the kingdom of God, and by teaching, they are held and confirmed. It is our responsibility not only to preach and teach, but to receive preaching and teaching, so that we too might be edified and strengthened by God’s Word.
Peter and John were warned not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Their answer was, “We cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). If we have been redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice and have experienced His love in our hearts, how can we help but speak that which we have experienced ourselves!
Personal Testimony. Real communication involves a two-way process. It is a sharing of ideas, attitudes, and experiences. An example is given in Acts 8, when Philip shared the gospel with an Ethiopian. Although God had instructed him to approach this man, Philip did not immediately begin to speak of the gospel. Rather, he began with a question which served to ask, “May I get involved with your life?” Philip began to talk to the man about Christ in response to a direct question from the man himself (Acts 8:31). Then Philip’s testimony was effective because it answered a specific need that this man had.
Even though we may never be called to preach, we can all communicate the gospel by our personal spoken testimony. We can find many opportunities, in talking with others, to tell them how the gospel can answer a specific need in their lives.
The apostle Paul reminded us that our communication of the gospel by the spoken word is only effective when we also have a two-way communication with the Spirit through prayer. In 1 Corinthians 2:4 he said, “My teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit.” Without the power of the Spirit we can accomplish nothing of any lasting value.
Today the gospel is being preached in large city churches and small village chapels, in prisons, on street corners, over the radio, on television-in almost every country of the world. The Word is being taught in neighborhood Bible studies, in Sunday schools, at youth gatherings, in college classrooms, in prayer groups, in hospitals—everywhere that Christians gather together. And the sharing of the good news in one-to-one personal evangelism is still a wonderful, effective way of bringing men and women to Christ. Believers cannot stop telling the world what they have discovered about Christ!
Sharing By Example
Throughout history, the good example of Christians has had a powerful impact upon unbelievers. This type of sharing, or communion, has led many people to know Christ. Actions speak louder than words for the kingdom of God. We communicate the gospel through our contact, our fellowship with people.
Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing!” A contact with someone whose life is consecrated to the Lord is a message with tremendous power! A good example has twice the value of good advice.
A friend once asked Henry Ward Beecher (a famous preacher in the 1800s), “Who influenced you most toward Christ? Was it some college professor, some great preacher, or a faithful Sunday school teacher?” Beecher replied, “I doubt if the man knew at the time what an influence he was. He used to lie on his cot and read the New Testament, hardly aware that I was in the room. Then he’d talk to himself about what he read. Sometimes he would smile as he read. I never saw the Bible enjoyed like that. It challenged me more than any other thing.” “But,” his friend said, “you didn’t tell me who this great man was.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” responded Beecher, “that man was Charles Smith, a hired man on my father’s farm.”
Like the moon that has no light of its own, but reflects the rays of the sun, so it is that the Christian who lives in close communion with God can reflect Christ when he shares his life with others. What is a normal and natural life to a sincere Christian can be a moving message to the unbeliever. No one can give what he does not have. Peter had something to offer to the lame man at the gate of the temple: “I give you what I have” (Acts 3:6).
As we share our lives with others, and as they see the beauty of Jesus in us, they will want to have what we have. We have a great responsibility to be Christlike at all times—in our home, on the street, at our jobs, in the shops—wherever we may be. Our conduct may influence someone for or against Christ. As we share by communion with others, the Holy Spirit will give us opportunities to tell them the good news of salvation.
Someone once said, “Power with men proceeds from power with God.” We have already talked about the importance of a prayer life. Prayer is our communion with the Lord. It is easier to plan an evangelistic campaign, organize the promotion, visit homes, and invite people to church than it is to pray earnestly for their salvation. A genuine love for those to be reached is born out of a life of prayer. It is through love that our communion with the world will bring the unbeliever to Christ.
Serving With Love
The Bible gives us some definite instructions concerning our service ministry through the church. Read 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The first seven verses describe the church leader. Verses 8 through 13 describe the church helpers. In many Bible translations the word for church helpers is deacon. The Greek word from which the word deacon comes means “one who serves, one who ministers.” The Bible text suggests three ways of serving:
1. The first way is in the sense of serving at tables, providing for the physical needs of persons, attending to visitors or guests, or in a more general sense, it describes the actions of a hospitable person.
2. Another way of serving is to give a service of love to a neighbor, particularly the poor and needy, such as food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, clothes for the naked. (Read Matthew 25:42-45; Acts 11:29.)
3. In a broader sense, serving means performing any activity that contributes to the good of the community.
Love Your Neighbor. The concept that Christ taught concerning service was closely related to the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:31). This, together with the commandment to love God (Mark 12:30), is the basis for Christian conduct. Service for others involves an active Christian love for one’s neighbors. This is the characteristic of a true follower of Christ.
Christian service is an effective way to communicate the gospel in today’s world. When the church is moved with the compassion of Christ to serve the lost and needy, even when it means self-sacrifice, it can reach the world with the gospel through its service. To minister in service without proclaiming the gospel is to fail to meet man’s deepest need. To preach the gospel and at the same time ignore the physical needs of the poor is not an expression of Christ’s love. He wants us to minister to the whole man.
Respond to the World’s Needs. The problems of the world are multiplying. The only solution for the evils of the world is the gospel of Christ. When we see the needs of the world, our hearts are moved to respond to those needs.
We must continue to preach the truths of the gospel. But we must also join those who oppose injustice and hatred. The two go hand-in-hand.
Jesus said that He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life (Matthew 20:28). This is not easily understood in today’s world. Today when a man reaches a high position he expects to be waited on. Jesus recognized that this is a characteristic of the human heart. He told the disciples that they were to be different from the Gentiles, who liked to rule over one another. He told them that the one who wanted to be the greatest among them should be the servant of all (Matthew 20:27). This is a basic quality of a true believer in action-one who serves or ministers.