Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The duty and calling of ministers - part 2

2.  The Points for Reflection.

a) The Treasure committed to their Charge.

Have always, therefore, printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge.
      For they are the sheep of Christ,
                  which He bought with His death, and for whom He shed His blood.
      The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is His spouse and His body.
                 And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any member of it,
    takes any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence,
    you know the greatness of the fault,
          and also the horrible punishment that will ensue.

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." Acts 20.28
"Let us be glad, rejoice, and give Him glory,
because the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and His wife has prepared herself
."  Revelation 19.7
“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Revelation 21.9
All of the teaching on marriage in Ephesians which of Paul says "This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church." Ephesians 5.32
"For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ."  2 Corinthians 11.12
" In the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another."  Romans 12.5
Paul extensively teaches on the church being the 'body of Christ' in 1 Corinthians 12
"The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."  Ephesians 3.6
"He is also the head of the body, the church" Colossians 1.18
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church."  Colossians 1.24
"Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment,"  James 3.1
Ezekiel 33 and the judgement on the watchmen who fail to do their duty is also relevant (see previous section).
 "And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten."  Luke 12.47
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you."  Hebrews 12.17
"But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me--it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea"   Mark 9.42
"My sons, don’t be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in His presence, to serve Him, and to be His ministers and burners of incense.” 2 Chronicles 29.11
Many of the prophetic books, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah speak of the punishment of shepherds of God's people who fail to do their duty and are negligent.

Whilst the ministry is most certainly a solemn, dignified, and heavy office, it is also a joy and a treasure of unimaginable value.  Anyone who has been in ministry will likely testify that almost everything in ministry is both, paradoxically, a joy and a difficulty, a privilege and yet a pain, life giving yet energy draining or even soul destroying.  At the heart of this paradox is that we have been chosen and authorised to shepherd the most valuable of things — so expensive it could only be purchased in the currency of great drops of God's blood. 

As ministers we should treat our congregation as if they were our own spouse, with amazing and never ending love through good and bad, health and illness, wealth and poverty.  We should also love and care for them as we would our own body, not allowing it to be poisoned or at greater risk of disease but rather training it for its greatest health and longevity.  We are not just to be professional and dedicated in the way a top lawyer will do all he can to protect and argue and case of their most important client but we are to go beyond even this, we are to take our 'case' to a whole new level of dedication and care.  Being in ministry is like being as lawyer or who is given a case which is not only the most valuable and profitable in the history of the world but also a case upon which winning means the eternal life or death of hundreds of claimants — the stakes really are that high.

Ministers should always have in remembrance the warning of James that not many should desire to be ministers because they will face greater judgement.  Whilst the exact meaning of this phrase is debated among godly scholars it is clear that our reformers believed that ministers would be greatly punished for being negligent and doing anything which could cause hurt or hindrance in other's walk of faith.  This encompasses not only our teaching and preaching but our very lives and manners.  Paul calls on Christians to live in such a way as not to cause those who are weaker to stumble of struggle — for example if someone is alcoholic we should not drink alcohol near them, or if they struggle with certain matters of holiness their conscience convicts them of we, in a freedom given by Christ, should not cause unnecessary offence. 

This is a difficult and careful balancing act, sometimes people need to be confronted by the power of grace or their deeply held but misguided piety needs to be challenged.  In most cases though it would be fair to say that ministers should simply live in such a way that the only offensive and hurtful thing about them is their pure and unadulterated Gospel preaching and not their living, their witty comebacks, or their love of crude language.  We will touch on this more in a few moments. 

Do I grasp and repeatedly remind myself of what an amazing privilege and treasure it is to be entrusted with ministry?  Does this truth lead me to resolutely and joyfully be about my work?

When I am leading services, meeting people, or even praying for them, does the enormity of the fact that they are Christ's sheep, children, bride, and body fill me with an appropriate awe over my calling and commitment concerning my duty?

How have I caused hurt or hindrance to those I care for?   Are there aspects of my personality or life, times or places, which are more likely to lead me to cause such hurt and stumbling?

Am I negligent in any aspect of my ministry and life and has this led to issues among my congregation? How can I ensure I stop neglecting this? 

Do I appropriately hold the seriousness and consequences of my actions as a minister in the forefront of my mind as I prepare myself each day and go about my ministry?

b) The Consequent Call to Diligence.
Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of your ministry
       towards the children of God, towards the spouse and body of Christ;
and see that you never cease your labour, your care and diligence,
        until you have done all that lies in you, according to your bounden duty,
                      to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge,
                                  into that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God,
                                     and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ,
                                                        that there is no place left among you,
                                                        either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life.

"You are to labour six days and do all your work," Exodus 20.9
"The labourers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other."  Nehemiah 4.17
"In every way I’ve shown you that by labouring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Acts 20.35
"Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labour."  1 Corinthians 3.8
"Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labour in the Lord is not in vain."  1 Corinthians 15.58
"I labour for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me."  Colossians 1.29
"Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labour among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you," 1 Thessalonians 5.12
"if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness." Romans 12.8
"Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord." 12.11
"Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope,"  Hebrews 6.11
"In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’”  Luke 17.10
"Who then is a faithful and sensible slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give them food at the proper time?"  Matthew 24.45
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’" Matthew 25.21
"But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”  Matthew 1.23
"But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place."  2 Corinthians 2.14
"Since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.  And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience has been confirmed."  2 Corinthians 10.4-6
"I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him."  Ephesians 1.17
"for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.  Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit." Ephesians 4.12-14
"so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God."  Colossians 1.10
"I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ." Colossians 2.2
"Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to build up the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness"  Titus 1.1
"let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins."  James 5.20
"Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stability." 2 Peter 3.17
"Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them," Romans 16.17
"remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith."  1 Timothy 1.3-4
"Teach and encourage these things. If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarrelling, slander, evil suspicions," 1 Timothy 6.2-4

The enormity of the treasure entrusted to us means that we must be ever so diligent in our life and ministry.  We must each day think about the very purpose of our ministry, why we were called, to what end we go about our joyful and weighty work.  Ministers must not get so stuck in the ministry trees they face each day that they lose sight of the grand picture of the forest-garden we are called to steward.   Again we are reminded that the church we are to care for are the children of God, the bride and body of Christ.  That these images are used yet again so soon after their first use should doubly imprint the importance of them in our minds — we should wear them as lenses in our glasses as we minister to those entrusted to us.  Without keeping in mind who we minister to and for we risk pride on the one hand and laziness on the other. 

As God's ministers we are peculiarly called to labour without ceasing, to do all the work before us that we have the strength to fulfil and to even at the end of that remark that we are still "good for nothing slaves who have only done our duty."  When the enormity of this task falls upon us and breaks our backs we must recall the words of Paul who insisted that humans cannot fulfil such a calling in human effort alone but rather the strength through which we are to minister is God's own strength graciously given to us when we pray fervently with diligence each day. 

This call to do all that lies within us is arguably a higher call than any other profession.  Each day we must ask if we have done all we could, all that lies within our God given power and energy.  This makes the task of finding rest and Sabbath time difficult; but no-one said that ministry would be easy.  Ultimately, ministers must recognise the simple truth that if we rest well and steward our time well between ministry work and personal time with friends, family, the things we enjoy, we will be better equipped to give more out, have larger resources of energy, and a greater bulwark built up against burnout and depression — things which impale the heart of ministers with a poison dagger and destroy all the Lord has been doing.

The basic undercurrent of what we pour out our life into and which we minister with the dedicated duty of a royal guardsman is the building up of the saints and the securing of the church against error.  We are to bring people to the fullest knowledge of God we can, to true faith without error which is fully in agreement with the revealed truths of Scripture and our creeds which exemplify such faith.  We are to not only give out head knowledge but minister in such a way that people grow, that they bear abundantly the fruit of the Spirit at all times, that they grow in maturity and stature as children of Christ and representations of Him to the world around.   

The dual ministry of doctrine and morals — of 'banishing error of religion' and 'viciousness of life' is a 'both and' kind of ministry.  We cannot neglect teaching doctrinal truth and rebuking error whilst we focus on exhortation to a holy life, nor can we neglect exhorting people to live in holiness and peace when we teach on the truths of Gospel and dangerous errors of the enemy.  The reality is that grasping true doctrine should lead to good and holy living, and holy living should encourage a dedication to true doctrine.  Bad teaching poisons morals, and bad morals taints the teaching of good doctrine.

Do I often get lost in the minutiae of ministry and lose sight of the grand vista we are called to witness?

Do I labour without ceasing and would people think my work is embodies virtues such as diligence, care, and bounden duty?

How do I steward my time that is may be most effective for ministry?  What could I change in my day or week to allow for the most fruitful ministry?

How do I steward my body and soul, do I feed myself well enough — both in terms of physical nutrition and spiritual nourishment — and do I train the body as well as the spirit?  What practical changes could I make in my life to ensure I have the most healthy ministry possible?

When I awaken each day and I think of why I am here, how would I describe my duty?

Who has been committed to my charge?  Have I been neglecting any of them?

In my life and teaching do I present a Biblical balance between good doctrine and good morals or do I tend to be lopsided in my focus?

Am I willing to cause controversy and contention in my proclaiming of Biblical truths both theological and moral?

There is to be 'no place among you' for error in religion or wickedness in living, how can I work towards such an outcome each day, week, month, year?

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