11 November 2013

Public Ministry

What is a minister to do?  The average pulpit committee sets forth an elaborate job description that even the most talented man finds difficult to fulfill.  Cultural influences help shape the expectations so that the list includes responsibilities for which Timothy himself would have been utterly ill-equipped.  Thankfully the apostle Paul established a job description of his own.  Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1Tim 4:13).  This is simple, straightforward and to the point.  It is ministry for which Timothy was gifted by the Spirit and to which he was ordained by the church (1Tim 4:14).  Such public ministry may not be imaginative or flashy, but neither are the ordinary meals consumed three times a day.  Yet just as the body is nourished by regular food consumption so the soul is nourished by consistent Word intake.  Neither process is complicated.  Prepare and serve the food!  The minister is to practice these things, indeed, to immerse himself in them (1Tim 4:15).  How many modern ministry profiles would establish that as the primary criteria for candidates?  The Lord Jesus taught that a minister must be a faithful and wise steward who gives them their food at the proper time (Matt 24:45).  To use modern jargon, the Spirit is advocating a “means of grace ministry.”  That is, a ministry devoted to the ordinary means of grace, or those divinely-appointed ordinances by means of which Christians grow in grace and sanctification, such as the reading, preaching and teaching of God’s word.  Perhaps most revealing is how Paul caps off this particular portion of instruction:  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1Tim 4:16).  Notice, steady devotion to this kind of ministry will not necessarily delight or amuse or entertain one’s hearers.  It will SAVE them!  What?!  Did he really say SAVE them?  Many might feel a bit uncomfortable with that language, especially because we know salvation is from the Lord.  But God works through means and appoints His agents.  He will apply the great salvation accomplished by Christ to His people through the faithful, wise and ordinary reading, preaching and teaching of His word.  Only our glorious God could and would accomplish His purpose through cracked jars of clay.  May He raise up men who will feed His sheep at the proper time!

Gospel Efficacy

As Paul advises his young protégé he points to the goal of love (1Tim 1:5).  The problem in Ephesus arose from some who were espousing different doctrines and devoting themselves to speculative myths and intricate genealogies.  Timothy must charge them to desist from such unfruitful endeavors and turn their attention to the stewardship from God that is by faith (1Tim 1:4).  It is a reference to the good news of Christ.  This gospel is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit will cultivate in our hearts the virtue of love.  As Jesus Himself said, we are sanctified in the truth (Jn 17:17).  As the gospel is more clearly understood, more tightly embraced and more consistently followed, the necessary conditions for love will emerge, namely a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  This triad is the fountain from which true charity will flow.  Christian love can only radiate from a heart that is purified by hope in Christ (1Jn 3:3), a conscience cleansed from works that are dead (Heb 9:14) and a faith tested and confirmed by a credible profession (1Cor 11:19).  Since this triumvirate is cultivated by the gospel of Christ, how important is it to give pride of place to the gospel?  How important is it to clearly understand the gospel?  If it is something into which angels long to look (1Pet 1:12), should we not take time to look and look again?  The goal will not be reached by slick gimmicks or novel techniques, but by a steady devotion to the gospel of Christ.  Our mission as a church is to exalt, proclaim and treasure Jesus Christ so that He may have devoted followers throughout the world.  Insofar as we are consistent with that terse mission statement, the threefold fountain from which true love flows will enable us to bring glory to our Redeemer King.