Ministry of the Word
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
We shall consider (i) the gift of public ministry; (ii) the brethren who minister; and (iii) the ministry which they present.
The Gift of Ministry is:
Appointed by God, Eph. 4. 7-16. This truth, which applies to all gifts among the Lord’s people, cannot be over emphasized. Organized Christendom overlooks the exercise of divinely appointed talents; we must beware lest we should copy ecclesiastical systems about us. The Risen Saviour’s triumph was celebrated by His giving gifts to His body., the Church. His purpose in doing this was that we “may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ”, Eph. 4. 15. Any resort to carnal endeavour, Acts 8. 18-22, or human organisation is to be deplored.
Some gifts have been of a temporary nature. The work of the apostles established the early stages in the building of the Church upon its one Foundation; and prophets, forth-telling the revelations of God, were necessary prior to the completion of the Holy Scriptures, Eph. 2. 20. But as essential today as at the inception of the Church are the studying evangelists like Timothy, 2 Tim. 2. 15, who rightly divide the word of truth as they seek the salvation of sinners; the suffering teachers like Paul, 2 Tim. 1. 11-12, who in truth and verity seek the sanctification of the sheep within their pastoral care; and the sincere elders like John, 3 John 4, who are able to teach as they seek the spiritual welfare of the saints.
Administered by God, Col. 1. 25-29. Our Lord not only bestows gifts, sometimes by transforming inert ability by the power of the Holy Spirit, but He administers the use of these gifts. We are to use, not abuse, this privilege. Individually and collectively we need to wait upon God, earnestly desirous of the best gifts.
The New Testament does not countenance one-man-ministry. But it equally condemns any-man-ministry! James exhorts: “Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgement”, James 3. 1 R.V. Not all are preachers or teachers, gifts requiring much discipline and involving great responsibility. Let us not envy another’s talent. For every one has a gift and every gift is valuable. How vital to Paul were the beloved physician Luke, Phoebe, Epaphras who laboured fervently in prayer, Priscilla and Aquila. “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee”, 1 Cor. 12. 21. In any case, “platform” ministry cannot provide all the instruction needed by the various sections of the church community. Sisters, though exempt from public teaching, 1 Tim. 2. 12, act as guides to the young women, Titus 2. 3-4, and each saint can manifest “a pattern of good works”. Thus it is that the Holy Spirit, knowing the circumstances and necessities of every assembly, is always willing to supply that which is required. In this way, as the Lord walks in the midst of the lampstands, administering to them, He will be silhouetted in their light.
Ministering Brethren are:
Accountable to Christ, 1 Pet. 4. 11. Teachers “having itching ears” and those propounding error by life or lip must be restrained from Bible teaching and constrained to understand the way of God more perfectly. Nevertheless every servant is accountable only to his Master. Realisation of this would prevent idle criticism and promote instructive counsel. Galatians 6. 6 refers to the support God-given teachers deserve.
When your preacher is doing the best that he can,
Pray for him, help him - He’s only a man!
To judge my brother cruelly is to grieve the Spirit and gratify self. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?”
Teaching God’s Word is a sacred occupation. The true Bible teacher is an influential instrument of the Holy Spirit, and he will appreciate the solemnity of his work. Within his ministry there can be no place for iniquitous words or foolish novelties. His task is to edify, not to entertain, and this he will do “as of the ability which God giveth”. He will be above petty quarrels and factions, 1 Cor. 1. 11, contending earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.
“It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful”, 1 Cor. 4. 2, and he who honestly expounds the written Word will realise to whom he has to give account.
Acknowledged by the Church, 2 Cor. 4. 2. One of the duties of an assembly is to provide nutritious ministry for its members, Acts 2. 42, utilizing the godly teachers available. Paul pleaded with the Corinthians: “Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man”, 2 Cor. 7. 2. John was plainly not wanted at the church where the malicious Diotrephes was pre-eminent. These facts imply that every preaching brother who neither corrupts nor defrauds should be received. But Scripture warns against any speaker who has an eye to monetary gain, 1 Pet. 5. 2; cf. Acts 20. 33, or who rests upon a measure of popular esteem, 3 John 9, or who relies mainly upon persuasive eloquence, 1 Cor. 2. 1-4, or intellectual wisdom, 1 Cor. 2. 13. Jude 16 mentions that there are some with “men’s persons in admiration because of advantage”. Christians recognize the true teacher, for God speaks to them through him. Such recognition is commendation indeed.
Ministry must be:
Accurate in Content, 1 Cor. 4. 1. Ministry is not the propagation of what a man thinks; it is the proclamation of what God has declared, “that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus”. A good example of teaching ministry is found in Neh. 8. 8. We can pass on profitably only that which has already profited our own souls. Consequently the more one studies the Holy Scriptures and responds to the Lord’s leading in one’s own life, the greater will be one’s ability to speak as with the oracles of God. One’s ministry will become increasingly authentic and authoritative, 2 Tim. 4. 1-4, educating the listeners in the doctrines of Christ.
Approached with Care, Col. 1. 25-29. Many scriptures advise us to avoid false leaders, e.g., Eph. 4. 14; 1 Tim. 4. 1; Heb. 13. 9; 1 John 4. 1. The Ephesian elders in Acts 20. 30 were warned that some of their own number would arise “speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them”. At Corinth certain teachers had apparently formed cliques around themselves. Those competent to proclaim God’s Word are bound to be the object of Satan’s wily attacks. The minister of the grace of God must be careful to make sure that he directs his congregation away from himself and towards his Saviour. Nothing has more power to bring saints together within the unity of the Spirit than the exaltation of Christ.
Congregations and their needs differ; so that every occasion for ministry is unique. Seven churches are addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 but no two received the same message. There are times when similar circumstances prompt similar teaching (see Col. 4. 16), but it is obvious that the Bible teacher must seek the Spirit’s leading concerning every address. A mother considers her child more than her cooking. So also will the teacher think more of the believers’ needs than of his preaching niceties; more of his Saviour than of his sermon.
Again teaching shepherds must be careful to minister to, that is “to serve”, the Lord’s people. If a church is to be built up in its most holy faith then the work must be undertaken “with all humility of mind, and many tears”. Paul writes: “we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her own children”, 1 Thess. 2. 7. The condition of the saints should be considered before delivering an address, e.g., a milk menu will not satisfy a congregation anxious for meat, while dry profundities could be burdensome to believers weary at the end of a hard week’s work.
God has raised up His spokesmen in every age. One thinks of Enoch who prophesied, Noah who preached, Jeremiah chosen before his birth, Amos called from the fields, Isaiah challenged by a vision. Still today God is choosing, calling and challenging men to teach His Word. Such brethren will fearlessly denounce sin and faithfully encourage sanctification wherever their Master sends them.