The Person in Ministry
Once I read a poem that spoke to me about the importance of a personal ministry to others. It went something like this:
I thought I heard the voice of God,
And climbed the highest steeple;
But God declared, “Go down again,
I dwell among the people.”
—John Henry Newman
The ministry of the gospel is done by the people of God. It is the noblest of all callings. God has meant it to be very personal. He could have called upon angels or other heavenly beings to carry out His work on earth. Instead, He chose to use you and me.
A Personal Call
A General Call
The Bible reveals that God has called all men and women to serve Him. Many people in the Old Testament were called of God to fulfill His plan. He called Abraham to be the father of the chosen nation Israel. He gave Moses a divine call to lead his people out of Egypt and into the land of promise. Deborah was called to be one of Israel’s judges (Judges 4). The Old Testament reveals how God called many individuals to fit into His plan for their moment in history.
The same is true of the New Testament. The Lord called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the fishermen, to become His fishers of men. Later, He chose about 70 men to take the gospel message into the villages (Luke 10). Saul of Tarsus was called in a dramatic and unusual way (Acts 9). Saul, who later was known as Paul, did not claim to be the only one called of God. Read his words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27, and 2 Timothy 1:8-9.
The ministry of the church is made possible by persons who believe that God has given a divine call to all believers. The church has a high calling. To believe this is to understand the nature of God’s call and ministry. To believe this is to see the call to the ministry as the highest of callings in life. To accept God’s call involves a total consecration to the carrying out of His redemptive purpose in the world.
In a sense, all Christians are called to proclaim the gospel through their personal witness. It is a divine call even when it is not made in a dramatic fashion as was the call to Saul of Tarsus. The command to evangelize the world, which came to the first disciples from the lips of Jesus, was to be transferred or passed on by them to every person willing to receive it. As their remote followers, we, too, have been divinely called to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15, KJV). The call has been passed through the centuries from one believer to another, until it has reached us.
When Jesus prayed for those who had become his disciples he included this: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message” (John 17:20). We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 12:13 that we have all been baptized into the body of Christ by one Spirit. We are all one in Christ, and we are all to share His love for lost souls and share equally the desire to bring them to Him.
All believers may receive of the Spirit the same authority and power to do the work of God. Signs follow those who believe (Mark 16:17). The promise is as true for us today as it was for the early disciples. The Holy Spirit gives us His anointing so that we can fulfill the divine call to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
A Specific Call
There is also a specific call to preach. God hand-picks some members of the body for a definite service. Although all Christians are called, yet some are called to specific assignments to full-time ministry. They are called in a special sense to preach the gospel.
In Exodus 31 we read that Aholiab and Bezaleel were called by name and filled with the Spirit of God to do the skilled manual labor in building the tabernacle. Paul and Barnabas were ministering in Antioch when they were called out by the Holy Spirit for a specific work (Acts 13).
The minister of the gospel who is called specifically is given a number of names and functions in the Bible. These names give us a picture of the work and responsibility of each.
1. A man of God (1 Timothy 6:11). This title indicates that a minister is God’s representative in a special way. It implies that he is full of God, and sent by God to do His special work.
2. A messenger (Malachi 2:7). The duty of the messenger is to carry God’s message to men. He is to be a witness of the things he has seen or heard of God.
3. A pastor (Ephesians 4:11). The pastor is one who is called to serve. He is compared to a shepherd, who feeds, leads, protects, and assists his sheep. The pastor of a local church has a special call.
4. A bishop or overseer (church leader) (1 Timothy 3:1; Acts 20:28). This is one who supervises the work of others in the church. He may be called a presbyter or superintendent. He has great responsibility over the specific area that God has assigned to him, and the people whom he oversees to do the work.
Other titles are also given, such as elder, evangelist, and teacher. Each title describes a specific type of ministry which may be a full-time responsibility, or a more limited type of involvement. All involve a commitment to the call of God.
Whether you are called in the sense that all Christians are called, or have received a specific call to a special ministry, your calling involves personal dedication and personal qualifications.
Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. Whoever preaches must preach God’s messages; whoever serves must serve with the strength that God gives him, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:10-11).
No matter what we are doing or where we may be, we are in the process of forming our character. A person’s character may very well determine his worth to God for service. A person is worthless to God if he is without the image of Christ in his life. But he who is Christlike in his character is rich in himself, and useful to God.
Character is the measure of a man’s spiritual power. It is possible to be able to control governments, and yet have no power with God, and no power over the souls of men to lift them heavenward. The genuinely Christian man, like Christ, when He walked on earth, has favor and power with both God and man.
In Lesson 6 we talked about the fruit of the Spirit as seen in the life of Christ. We learned that as we allow the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of a Christlike character in our lives we become more like Christ and we mature in Him. We studied the apostle Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Now we will look at another description given to us by the apostle Peter.
Now let’s look at these qualities of character as seen in the life of a believer who wants to be effective in his ministry for the Lord.
1. Faith. Faith is as natural to man as eyesight. It is seen in a child who has complete faith in his parents. This is similar to the faith of a Christian. His faith accepts the revelation of God and is the door to Christ and His salvation. It demonstrates a complete trust in God which is not affected by his circumstances. It is a total reliance on God and on the great truths of the gospel.
2. Goodness. Goodness implies virtue or purity. The person who possesses this quality will stand his ground for Christ in the face of the greatest opposition. This is the element of character that makes men bold to confess their Lord, and stand for His truth. The person who has this quality will be able to resist temptation and live a pure life.
3. Knowledge. Ignorance is the enemy of Christian character. Those who desire to work for God should know God. We know more about Him as we spend time with Him. We learn to know the Scriptures as we read and study them. This will help us to know ourselves, to know life’s true purpose, and see its grand possibilities.
4. Self-control. Self-control (temperance) means mastery of self under all circumstances. Those who are to work for God cannot be slaves to lowly passions. There is no place in a Christian character for greed, gluttony (such as eating more than is needed), or lack of self-discipline. These are masters of men, from which every man should free himself.
5. Endurance. Endurance, or patience, means leaning with quiet trust on God when circumstances would cause us to be discouraged. It means keeping the mouth tightly shut when pain would make us cry out. Endurance leads us to keep on in our work for the salvation of men, when the apparent results would indicate that we should give up. Patience is one of the most godlike qualities, and one of the most necessary elements of the Christian character.
6. Godliness. Godliness implies that a person is full of God, that all of his thoughts, desires, and actions are controlled by the Spirit of God. It is the goal toward which we should all strive.
7. Brotherliness. God intended that the race of man should be a great brotherhood. Sin had hindered God’s purpose. But He is gathering men together into the family of His church, and He shall yet accomplish His original purpose. The conduct of the genuine Christian towards his fellowman is most brotherly. He becomes interested in others and their needs. It is this element of Christian character that makes the fellowship of the church so attractive. We who have been redeemed are truly brothers and sisters in Christ.
8. Love. This is talking about love in its largest meaning. It is seen in the love of the Christian for others, regardless of their nationality, or whether they are different from him. It is seen in his forgiving spirit towards those who injure him. It is the kind of love that took Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. It is a self-sacrificing love. These elements of the genuine Christian character are not separate and distinct from each other, for one element enters into the nature of another element. When these characteristics are fully developed in the life of a Christian, they make him a revelation of God and the highest of His handiworks.
Developing Christian character is a progressive action. A man does not suddenly receive all of these Christlike qualities the moment he becomes a Christian. They become the character of the Christian as he actively participates in allowing the Holy Spirit to develop them in his life. Developing them fully becomes life’s business. The apostle Peter urges us to “try even harder to make God’s call and his choice of you a permanent experience; if you do so, you will never abandon your faith” (2 Peter 1:10).
We are to become more like Christ. The world wants to see Jesus in those who represent Him. Is it possible for a person to fall who is trying hard to become more Christlike? We must put our whole heart into this work, so that our character will truly be Christlike. If we do this, no power on earth can cast us down or mar our glory.
The Christian who allows the Holy Spirit to produce these qualities in His life will gain the confidence and respect of others. This is the person whom people delight to honor. This is the person who will be a true witness of the gospel. He will bring no shame to the gospel by wrong actions. He is the person who makes it easier and more successful to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind” (Mark 16:15).
How does a person prepare himself for service to God? The first step in preparation is discipleship. A disciple is one who follows after Christ. He learns from Christ and accepts Him as his teacher. Christ’s word to him is authority. He hears first what Jesus has to say on any subject, and accepts what others have to say only as it agrees with Christ’s words. He follows Jesus as his example and model. The disciple is prepared to change his own ways for Christ’s ways.
To be a disciple is not an easy thing. Jesus did not make it easy for men to be His disciples. Indeed, it seems at times that He was not as concerned about the number of His followers as he was about their quality. Had he been as anxious as we are to increase our church membership, He would not have made the conditions so difficult.
What are the conditions of discipleship?
1. A disciple denies himself in order to follow Christ.
2. A disciple turns away from sinful ways and pleasures.
3. A disciple controls his own desires and allows himself to be controlled by Christ.
4. A disciple must be willing to bear a cross.
If we deny someone, that person has no influence with us. His voice is not admitted into the management of our affairs. We do not allow him to control our movements or our pleasures. The most important condition of discipleship is to deny yourself. This means that you allow Jesus to direct your affairs, control your desires, give the answers to your questions. A man who will be Christ’s disciple must so ignore himself that Christ will truly be LORD of his life. If Jesus is Lord, it is impossible to say No to Him. The two words cannot go together. When He is Lord, we say No to self; and Yes to Him.
In Matthew 16:24 we read these words of Jesus to His disciples: “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget himself; carry his cross, and follow me.” Cross-bearing may mean painful experiences which we must be prepared to bear for Christ’s sake. It also means to sacrifice for others. The cross is associated with Christ’s sacrifice for our sin. We must also be willing to sacrifice to do away with sin. That means we must hate sin in our own lives and in the lives of others, and be willing to make any sacrifice to get rid of sin. An old hymn says, Must Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone, And there’s a cross for me!
A Right Heart
The second condition for effective service to God is having a right heart. Self-denial alone is not enough—one must also have a heart prepared for service.
The condition of the physical heart is a matter of great importance. The health of the body depends on the heart’s soundness. If the heart is diseased, life becomes uncertain. The spiritual heart of man should concern him far more than his physical heart, because its condition affects him for eternity. Here are some ways to determine if we have a right heart. It should be:
1. A God-loving heart. The hearts of many are fixed on riches, pleasure, position, or fame, but a right heart is fixed on God. This explains the elevated character of a Christian. Christians should rise in the direction of the object of their greatest love. A right heart shows its affection for the Lord by its acts and service. He who has a God-loving heart shows reverence to the Lord, is faithful and trustful.
2. A sin-hating heart. There are many words in the Bible which mean “sin.” Some of them are error, failure, go astray, trespass, miss the mark, offense, and iniquity. In 1 John 3:4 we read that “sin is a breaking of the law.” God’s law is holy, just, and good. He wants us to hate sin and obey His law. Sin ruins man, and separates him from God—it is truly an awful thing.
We must hate sin and have a burning desire for it to be removed from people’s lives. Sin injures people and leads them to eternal death. We must work hard to destroy its influence in the world. This is one strong reason for service and dedication to God.
3. A humble heart. A humble heart has nothing to boast of. It gives God the credit for all good things. It is a rich heart, but its riches have been given by mercy and love. It is a clean heart because the divine Spirit of God cleansed it. It has nothing to be proud of but its relationship to Jesus. It is a truthful heart.
There are those whose sense of humility leads them to speak of themselves in a way that is not true to fact. They speak of themselves as poor, miserable sinners, but they are now the children of God and saints of God. They use the most humble expressions regarding themselves, even though God has given them the most exalted relationship in the universe. The person who has a humble heart has a grateful heart, because he has been adopted into the divine family of God. Through Christ he has been made a king and a priest of the highest order. He counts it a privilege to serve his Lord and Master as a humble servant.
4. A thankful heart. Man is made to be grateful. Ingratitude is not natural for him. The gifts that God has given to man are many and wonderful. They are expressions of His love. They are favors—none of them has been deserved. They should, therefore, call forth our heartfelt thanks—thanks which comes from the heart. This thanks is not only expressed by words, but also by the conduct of our lives.
5. A forgiving heart. A Christian has the forgiving heart of Jesus. His whole mission to the world was to show that God forgives sin and restores man’s relationship with Him. He prayed that God would forgive those who sinned against Him. His last words included the forgiveness of those who killed Him, because “they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is a chief characteristic of Christ’s followers. They are clear examples of God’s forgiving heart to the world.
6. A loving heart. A loving heart has a Christlike love for men. Love made Jesus leave heaven, take up His cross, and die for the sins of the world. He showed the world God’s love. He has chosen us to minister to the world with His love. This means loving God so much that we want to serve Him, and loving the world so much that we want to win it to Christ.
A Life of Prayer
We have already emphasized the importance of prayer in a Christian’s life several times in these lessons. It is a vital part of personal preparation for service. Prayer is powerful in bringing others to Christ. It is necessary for the ministry of the church in the world. It is through prayer that the Christian brings others into the presence of God.
We cannot lead others where we have not walked, and our big task in this world is to lead others to walk with God. We walk with God in prayer and meditation. Man is different from all other creatures because he can know God and talk with Him. Prayer should be a very natural thing for a Christian. It should be as natural to us as opening our mouth to ask a friend for something or to tell him something. It should be as natural as a beloved son talking to his father.
God wants us to pray to Him. We are His children, and He is our Father. He could supply all of our needs without us asking Him, but if He did so, we would forget Him. He wants to keep us always near Him, and He wants us always to feel our need of Him. It is because of His great love for us that He would have us pray often to Him.
Use of God’s Gifts
The last condition which we will mention in preparation for doing God’s work refers to the use of the divine gifts He has given us. He has given these gifts to us so that we will be able to carry out His purpose for the world. He expects us to do three things:
1. Accept the gifts. God’s greatest gift to the world was Christ. Christ continues to give to the world through His church. Through the Holy Spirit He has given spiritual gifts to the church to prepare it for ministry. We must therefore accept what God has given to us so that we in turn can give it to others.
2. Use the gifts. If you gave a hungry man a loaf of bread and he should lay it aside and make no use of it, would you think he was thankful for the gift? God has given us His Word, and He expects us to use it for His glory. He has changed our lives and given us power through His own Spirit. He expects us to use that power to tell others how He can change their lives also.
God has given us great possibilities for service. He has created us in a wonderful way. We have been saved by Christ to a wonderful new life. We should use our new life by sharing it with others in need.
3. Recognize the Giver. People eat and drink, enjoy health and pleasure, boast of liberty and salvation, but sometimes forget to recognize the Giver of all of these things. God wants us to show gratitude to Him as the source of all that we have freely received. The greatest way to show gratitude is to share Him with others who have yet to receive His greatest gift—salvation.