Excellence in ministry begins by serving others in the same way Christ served us. "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)." (Ephesians 2:4-5) Eternal Salvation is God's Service to His children. He saved us "because" of His Love and "by" His Grace.
God teaches us that our ministry should have its purpose and cause in Love. "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." (1 Corinthians12:31 - 13:3) Love is the foundation for all true service to God and to others. It is "a more excellent way."
I have quoted and taught and preached and counseled those verses during almost 40 years of ministry, but has it been a real part of "my" life and ministry? That's a tough question. It's important we ministers of the Gospel look deep into our hearts and motives to be sure something other than love hasn't slipped in as our purpose and cause. It can happen.
Other things can take over in our hearts and minds. One is when ministry stops being a service and becomes a "position." That's when what we are in ministry becomes more important than Who we serve and what we do for the One we serve. Pride can destroy us and our ministry. Christ's excellent example is of a Servant Who humbled Himself to death, even death on the Cross. Paul warned the Corinthians not to take pride in one minister over against another. All ministers are precious in God's sight. Each of us has a special place and purpose in God's Plan. That's one of the reasons I love each of you so much. You are part of God's Precious Plan to take His Grace to the world!
Jealousy led to the first murder. It can lead to the destruction of our lives, our families and our ministries. Paul warned the Corinthians about jealousy. He told them they were still worldly: "or ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3) Paul also warned the Galatians about jealousy. He told them to love each other even as they loved themselves: "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." (Galatians 5:15) Any movement of God has the potential of self-destructing if the people within that movement become jealous of each other. Paul reminded the Galatians that the acts of the sinful nature included "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like." (Galatians 5:19-21) Ministers should be an excellent example of love for the brethren. We should demonstrate the principle of putting others first. The Philippians had a problem with jealousy and envy among some of their people. Paul wrote them a letter to remind them of the importance of considering others first: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."(Philippians 2:1-4)
Public ministry places ministers in a position to become popular with people. Christians love to talk about their pastor, their Bible teacher, or the evangelist or missionary visiting their church. Even unsaved people take pleasure and pride in a popular minister in their neighborhood or community. Leaders lead and followers follow. Followers want to believe they are following the best leader. They take personal pride in who they follow. That leads to popularity. Ministers are written about and talked about. Many ministers write books, appear on television and radio and speak at civic organizations and social functions. Some have national prominence because of their activities or who they know.
What should public ministers do with that popularity? Understand it and be wise about it. Popularity can be a good thing as ministers promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It gives them a public stage to proclaim the Good News of God's Love and Grace. Popularity can also be a bad thing if they believe what people say about them and let it go to their heads. I'm sure we can all think of public ministers who had problems because of the way they handled their popularity.
Paul dealt with the popularity issue at Corinth.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
Christians in Corinth had their favorite preacher. I'm sure it was for different reasons; much like it is today. Some people like the way one minister looks better than another. Some like the way one talks better than another. Some like the way one minister acts better than another. Some like the way one teaches and preaches better than another. And so on. Everyone has a personal reason why they have a "favorite" public minister.
Paul did not go into the reasons why the Corinthians thought the way they did about leaders. That doesn't even matter. What does matter is Unity in the Body of Christ. "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. " That's what matters to God: Unity in His Body.
Paul quoted from Jeremiah 9:24 when he wrote the Corinthians: "That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." We follow Christ. We glory (boast) in Him. Christ should have the glory, the popularity, with all Christians. Paul reminded the Corinthians how he was when he came to them: "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:3-5) Paul did not want the Corinthians' praise. He did not want to be popular with them. He wanted Christians to love and follow Christ. He wanted them to praise and glorify the Lord. He wanted them to depend on God's power, not on the wisdom of men.
Popularity can lead to pride, which can lead to the downfall of even the best public ministers. We know the stories. We've seen the results of pride. I thank God for the reminders. It's not a place any of us wants to go in our ministries.
Another subtle peril public ministers face is the belief they are always right. We are not always right. None of us are infallible. Public ministers make mistakes and the sooner Christians understand that the better. We all study the Bible with the desire to get it right, to understand it perfectly, to be correct in every observation and interpretation. I've ministered long enough to have made many mistakes in my ministry. I'm not the same person today I was 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago or even ten years ago. I am reminded often of my fallibility. That's not too hard to accept "if" we minister to people with our eyes and their eyes wide open. We are imperfect. We work hard, we study hard, we pray hard and we try hard, but we are human. We make mistakes. We err in our judgments. We stumble and fall. Each of us, when we are alone facing God and only God, know our limitations. God knows them. He knows them better than anyone. Does that make God love us less? Does that make God use us less? Does that make God turn from us to others who are perfect? Of course not. The only One Who is perfect is Christ Jesus our Lord! We take comfort in the fact that God knows us and we don't have to play games with Him. We are honest with Him and He is honest with us. That's such a wonderful, freeing relationship.
We can have a similar relationship with our wives, our children, the Christians we lead and the communities we serve. We don't have to pretend anything. We can be honest with everyone because we are FREE in Christ. Jesus gave us eternal life and made us free. That freedom flows from the Truth of God. We experience freedom as we are honest with God, our families, our congregations and our communities. I love being free. I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not. I can be what I am in Christ.
As public ministers, Christian leaders, we demonstrate how a child of God should live. If we are dishonest about our relationship with God, so will the people who follow us. If anyone could have hidden behind his piety, it was Paul. Paul stood before the world as God's Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul spoke face to face with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit of God inspired Paul to write the very Words of God. Paul came from a deeply religious background. He came from one of the best family backgrounds. He was a college graduate and had been a member of a very important religious group. He had been zealous for religious things. He had led the persecution against what he thought was a false religion. As for legalistic righteousness, he had been faultless.
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus."
Paul understood who he was. He knew Christ was everything. He knew what was important. He didn't think too highly of himself. He knew he was fallible, but he also knew the One Who had called him was infallible. The desire of his heart was to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him.
Christianity will see the power of Christ's resurrection reflected in the faces of public ministers who want only what God wants. Christians will burn with a passion for Truth as they follow public ministers who burn for the Truth; who are honest with themselves, with God, their families and their people.
I want you to know that I love you and pray for you. I believe in what you're doing. You are on the front lines of spiritual warfare every day of your life. You are the warriors of God in this Age of Grace. I ask God to help us fight the pride, and the jealousy, and the popularity and the belief of infallibility that can so easily beset any of us. I pray for Unity in Christ's Body. He deserves nothing less.
I'll finish these thoughts about excellence in ministry with what Paul wrote Timothy in his first letter. Paul told Timothy to be a "good minister of Jesus Christ." (1 Timothy 4:6) The word "good" is kalos . It means "to do well, to do rightly." "... nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained." Paul wanted Timothy to do the right things in his ministry to God's people. God wants us to do the right things as we minister. What are they? Paul was specific and the details of his letter to Timothy guide us toward Excellence in our ministries.
"... that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do." (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12)
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
" I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (1 Timothy 2:8)
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works." (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." (1 Timothy 3:1)
Paul then lists what it takes to be a excellent minister.
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
"But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness." (1 Timothy 4:7)
" For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach." (1 Timothy 4:10-11)
"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12)
"Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." (1 Timothy 4:13)
"Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all." (1 Timothy 4:15)
"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." (1 Timothy 4:16)
"I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality." (1 Timothy 5:21)
"I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality." (1 Timothy 5:22)
"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." (1 Timothy 6:11)
"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." (1 Timothy 6:12)
"That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Timothy 6:14)
"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy." (1 Timothy 6:17)
"O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called."
Think about what God has entrusted to our care. He has given us His Children of Grace to love, to teach, to protect. The Great Shepherd has given us the care of His sheep. We have no greater calling in life than to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and care for those who believe it.
Taking God's Grace to the World!
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