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Although the English word “minister” today carries connotations of dignity and authority in both the ecclesiastical and the political spheres, its Greek antecedent typically referred to a household servant who waited on the master, his family, and their guests at meals. The mindset appropriate to a servant’s place was concern for others and their needs, not preoccupation with one’s own personal fulfillment, rights, or recognition. In other cultures and communities, the perks of religious leadership may be wealth, honor, and influence. The power to guide others’ lives, to have others listen to you, respect you, foloow your adivce, and do your bidding is very alluring. In the community ruled by Jesus, however, accepted assumptions about leaders and followers are reversed: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44)

-Dennis E Johnson, His We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2007), 93.

Wednesday morning of Together for the Gospel,  we were encouraged to rely on the transforming power of the gospel by Thabiti Anyabwile. Thabiti laid out, during his message, nine marks by which we can ask if we are confident in the power of the gospel. What follows is what I was able to write down in my notes.

  1. We would position ourselves to be around the worst of sinners so that gospel proclaiming opportunities would arise
    • Because the power of the gospel resides in the God who saves sinners there is no class of “more savible” than others. The gospel can penetrate the most lifeless person we can imagine.
  2. We should share the gospel slowly and clearly.
    • We are not about quick tricks to get people to say a prayer. We are simply called to release the gospel and then trust it will have its effect.
  3. We would redirect our fears from man to God.
    • God is sovereign, not man. God is the one who reigns, not man. He is the one we should aim to please, not man.
  4. We would endeavor to proclaim the gospel every Sunday.
    • The gospel should be made clear in every service on Sunday so that both unbelievers and believers may look upon Christ. God has only one story that is told through the bible—the gospel.
  5. We would be careful with new converts and evangelism by not making a conversions like Paul’s standard.
    • Our trust is not in methods or means but in the gospel.
  6. Study the gospel in deep ways.
  7. Preach to open eyes not just to impart information.
  8. Ask,”Is my confidence  in myself or in the gospel?”
  9. We want people to look to the message and not the messenger (1 Cor. 2:5).

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books, on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?

You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men—especially religious men,to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern—of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it.

In your case there can be no “either—or” here—either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

-Benjamin B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students, 182-183

I love such stories and lessons past on by Brian Croft. It lets me peer into the difficulty and richness of unspectacular, faithful ministry. Faithfulness is not found in the glitter of having a name on a book (though some are called to be faithful in having that). Christ exalting ministry is in the sacrificial service to God’s children where we point them to Christ by word and deed. And this kind of service will mainly go unseen by the watching world. But it is ministry of service which God loves to see.

In this story Brian relates lessons from comforting a 90 year member before he becomes a widower.

 This is why, dear brothers and fellow pastors, these moments are what we as pastors live for.  Not to preach to large crowds or make a name for ourselves, but to look for and seize these precious moments to care for our people in their greatest times of need.

You can read it here.

If the real work of God is people work—the prayerful speaking of his word by one person to another—then the jobs are never all taken. The opportunities for Christians to minister personally to others are limitless. 

-Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine,  p. 27

Ministry is not just setting up a program in or through a local church. One is not a minister because he or she went to school and has an official title. Ministry is speaking God’s truth to another person so to turn their minds and affections to Christ. Ministry is every time you service another person in humility and love out of a heart that seeks to please Christ.

Ministry is not just the big time speaker imparting wise biblical truth at a conference. It is just as much in the unknown book study happening with a newly converted believer at a local coffee shop across town. It is in the person who cleans up after a 1 year old when their is no immediate reward for such an action. It is in the simple quick conversation when one reminds the other about their position in Christ. The list could go on…

These are not spectacular acts of ministry. But our God is in the habit of growing His kingdom through unspectacular ways.

From Ray Ortlund,

“As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. . . . I would have you more than a conqueror and to triumph not only over your adversary but over yourself.  If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded.  To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations . . . .

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.  This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him, and such a disposition will have a good influence on every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: ‘Deal gently with him for my sake.’  The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly.  The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.  In a little while you will meet in heaven.  He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.  Anticipate that period in your thoughts.  And though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.  Alas!  ‘He knows not what he does.’  But if God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now, and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel.  If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we who are called Calvinists are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.”

-John Newton, writing to a young minister, The Works of John Newton(Edinburgh, 1988), I:268-270.

This video of Piper speaking at Southern’s Chapel back in 2007 came to my mind recently. Such a good reminder about the target we are shooting for in all our ministries. Whether it be pastoring, meeting someone for lunch, or hanging out with siblings; we have an aim with our work.

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13:4)

Paul knew the Savior he followed. In human eyes, there was nothing powerful about this Savior. He came to earth and let Himself be executed by the most humiliating way possible. According to human standards, Jesus is weak.

Yet, Paul knew the rest of the story. Divine power reversed the execution of the Beloved Son. The power of God broken the very reign of death which had been sentenced on humans. Christ arose from the dead by a power that was unstoppable yet unnoticed by the wisest men of this world.

And so with ministry,

When our ministry is identified with Christ in its purpose, authority, and methods we enter into the weakness of Christ. “we also are weak in him.” We are not powerful according to worldly standards.  Instead, there is a disarmament  of any human ability and strength. We are striped of any human power and prestige, as the one our ministry testifies too was striped of any dignity and prestige. A crucified ministry should show strength, power, prestige as much as a real crucifixion should.

Yet, when our ministry is at a lost of all human power because of it identity in our crucified savior another power comes into play. A power that ushered in the eschatological age by destroying the bonds of death itself. The power of the resurrected Savior.

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?

He is a brittle crazy glass:

Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford

This glorious and transcendent place,

To be a window, through thy grace.

 

But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,

Making thy life to shine within

The holy Preacher’s; then the light and glory

More rev’rend grows, and more doth win:

Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.

 

Doctrine and life, colours and lights, in one

When they combine and mingle, bring

A strong regard and awe: but speech alone

Doth vanish like a flaring thing,

And in the ear, not conscience ring.

~ George Herbert, The Complete English Works, 64-65

C. J. Mahaney delivers a sermon warning those in theological training and those in ministry about the danger of pride and the need for humility

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