Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 1

I <3 U
It's times like these when cancelled appointments suddenly leave you gloriously free that you can skip eagerly home in the evening rain, grab a steak, have a hot shower, then put on mister maroon's late night jazz mix v. 21032006 (one day, we must do a Christian jazz mix so we won't have to keep filtering out the lyrics and the cat won't write cheesy words in the window mist), sit at the computer snug in a bathrobe, sip some port and digest the wonderful weekend just past.

Project Timothy
's Ministry Matters weekend was made up of 2 main strands of talks by David Jackman:
The Heart of Christian Ministry 1: The Servant's Calling (2 Corinthians 2:12-3:18)

2 Corinthians has been called the hottest letter in the New Testament. I chose this particular passage because I think it will get us to the heart of what Christian ministry is about. The Corinthian church had many spiritual gifts. They had people from all sorts of backgrounds, from the very rich to the very poor. There was one church in Corinth but many different congregations.

The Battle for the Heart of the Church
Now God had promised Paul that he had many people in Corinth. And so Paul stayed there for 18 months - a very long time for Paul who was travelling all around, and he had a very settled ministry (Acts 18). Paul loved the church but there were difficulties: there were factions forming around certain teachers. So Paul sets out the terms of ministry and he later relates this to the pseudo-apostles and false teachers who were turning the people away from the true gospel.

Therefore, this is a restatement of what biblical ministry is about. False teachers demonstrate lordliness (they act like lords) and wealth (because there was money to be made from teaching in those days).

Paul didn't measure up to the criteria of people in Corinth. Ministry is about service and serving. The message has to be lived out in the life of the messenger. What you are shouts so loud that people don't hear what you say. Over the years, I have been interviewing students for admission to Cornhill with Dick Lucas. Once there was a student who said he wanted to be a pastor because he just loved the Bible so much. Then Dick Lucas looked at him and said,"Ah, but do you love people as much?". A very good question. Full-time ministry is not invisible for 6 days and appear on the 7th day incomprehensible. You must love pople, some of whom you wouldn't choose. Which is why it is about serving.

Text In Context
Remember a text that is not in context is a pretext. Here Paul was under attack. They were saying to him: if he was an apostle, why was his oratory so substandard? Why didn't he charge for his ministry? Why was he always ill? They compared him with the false teachers who were always healthy wealthy and wise. And Paul says that to follow the triumphalism of the false teachers is the wrong route. The big heart of the struggle is whether lordship is more important than servanthood.

1. Competent Ministry (2:12-3:6)
The big question is in 2:16 "And who is equal to such a task?"

(a) its priority (2:12-14)
The Corinthian view of the Christian minister is of someone who is cool and calm. But this is not the New Testament view. New Testament ministry is not about competence. Its priority is the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Through us, he spreads everywhere the fragrance of Jesus.

Here we get a bit of biographical data. He was waiting for Titus to show up and tell him what was happening with the Corinthians. But he waited and waited and when Titus didn't show up, he was worried. He was so worried that he went to Macaedonia to find out what happened to the Corinthian church. He says he was even prepared to leave the open door behind to find out about them. This isn't emotional blackmail so they'd feel bad. This told them that they were so precious to him that he was willing to leave the open door behind.

"...thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him" (2:14). This is the picture of a triumphant procession. The triumphant conquerors have returned and there are trumpets sounding, and the captives are running behind the chariots and there is the fragrance of incense in the air. We ourselves are not lords but Christ is lord. He has triumphed over all the hostile forces of evil. Jesus has carried us in his chariot and the evil forces are behind the chariots.

(b) its perspective (2:15-17)
The priority in ministry is all about spreading the fragrance of God's gospel. We are to God the aroma of Christ and in verse 17, we are to do our ministry to God.

Ministry is not playing to the crowds. Ministry is not playing to the gallery. There is only an audience of one. What God thinks is what matters. We must play to win.

Some young wives want their husbands to be in a ministry and what you find out is that they actually want their husbands upfront, to be seen by everyone. That is not what ministry is about. Ministry is about servanthood: doing the hard work on the text and the hard work in prayer.

To the people who have conquered, the incense is one of fragrance. To others, to those who have been defeated, it is the stench of death.

Who is equal to such a task? That must be what some of you are thinking. Surely you must be thinking that, with all your weaknesses. But speak with sincerity. Do not "peddle the gospel", do not make it into a personality cult. "Peddle" is what people in Oxford Street do, selling counterfeit goods, or what fell off the back of a lorry. Peddling is winesellers who dilute their wine to make a profit. It is shaping the message to whatever is most likely to please the audience so that they will reward the speaker. Ministry is not about boosting our egos or making something of ourselves.

And ministry matters because eternity is in view.

(c) its proof (3:1-3)
The proof is not in self-commendation or the glowing testimonies of people who have been deluded by us. John Gibson, an Irishman, wrote a bible overview for Chinese students. It was published and at the back of it he put "Probably the best overview of the Bible in the English language - John Calvin". People are always commending the work of other people so who better to have on the back of his book than John Calvin (even though he'd been dead for some time).

Jim Packer said that when you get into the ministry, people are always putting you on the pedestal. But remember that when you are on a pedestal, you will always fall off at some point.

(d) its power (3:4-6)
It's not that we are competent in ourselves but God has made us competent. The question remains: who is equal to this task? It is not meant to scare us or unnerve us but to take us back to the source of our competence. In Christian ministry, our confidence does not lie in the messenger but in the message. (Of course we need some training.) We are unimpressive but we have a very impressive Lord. Only God gives life, only God makes things work. It's all about God. We are those who through God, proclaim the word of God, in sincerity.

2. Covenant Miracle (3:7-18)
"Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?" (3:8)

(a) its distinctiveness
We need an established view of the Holy Spirit. The two words "service" and "glory" run together in a unique way. When we think of "glory" we think "Glory glory hallelujah" or as we say in England "Glory glory Manchester United". People are interested in glory now. But God says service now, glory in heaven. And God is the one who takes the initiative, comes to us and saves us.

Now the law of Moses was the ministry of death (3:7) because it couldn't give life, it showed that you couldn't do it. Most people think that the law is the ministry of doingreasonablywell. In university exams, they used to patronise us. They used to say "Attempt any 4 questions". Some people think that if they can do 4 commandments reasonably well, they can get into heaven. But the 10 commandments are like a windscreen. One stone comes up and it shatters it; one infringement and you're done for.

Christianity is actually a ministry of grace. But too many churches get legalistic. They are all about the law rather than grace. Then it's no longer a covenant ministry. And you won't see anyone being changed. Remember what Jesus said about the man from whom demons were driven out? The house was empty and many more went in. There will be a vacuum in people's lives and they will fill it with all sorts of rubbish: works, miracles, music, "worship". God does command us to live holy lives, but on the basis of grace.

Moses's face was veiled (3:7b) because the Israelites were afraid of it. Sinful people cannot see the glory of God and they cannot even look that the glory that was reflected on Moses' face as he came down the mountain. So the veil reminds people of their sinfulness. Later on, there was the veil in the temple, to separate sinful people from the glory of God lest they be killed.

The reaction to glory in the Old Testament is one of fear. There were shepherds tending to their flock in the field and they were scared stiff by the glory of God. Glory is the goodness of God, the godness of God.

There is still a veil today where the Old Testment is read. Unbelief prevents them from seeing the glory of God. The same Lord whose glory Moses saw and was reflected on his face, was later on transfigured on the hill and his disciples beheld his glory and he later said,"Father glorify me in your presence".

The glory of God was in the face of Jesus Christ. And the new covenant is open to everyone who will believe. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn into two. There is no longer a veil, a barrier that separates us from God, only the veil in our hearts.

(b) its design
We are ministers of this glory, we are being transformed into his likeness. Have you grasped this with your whole being? God is restoring the image of God in us progressively. Isn't it great that we are becoming more and more like God? Even though we fail, God is changing us, transforming lives.

"Reflection" is from the same root word that gives us the noun "mirror". We are like mirrors that reflect Jesus. And then, not just mirrors, because the mirrors are being changed to be more and more like Jesus, they are being shaped into the likeness of Christ.

Moses merely reflected the glory that faded. But we are being transformed/metamorphised into increasing glory!

The design of ministry is to become more and more like Jesus. If we look to Jesus, we can't be cold and hard and bitter because his countenance burns all this up.

(c) its dynamic
The question is not how are we going to do this but how are we cooperating with Jesus in this. How are we tuning in to the Holy Spirit who lives within us to help us? While the stone couldn't save me, the Spirit writes God's laws on my heart to change me. This is the freedom of the Christian life. This is the goal of Christian ministry. The message and the messenger are one.

We don't need more salesmen of the gospel, we need more free samples. We are the free samples of Christ. There are people who have converted to Christianity who have said of people they knew to be Christian that they knew they had something they wanted. They didn't know what it was these Christians had, but they wanted it.

Competent ministry: how can anyone do it? That's correct. We can't do it but God can. God enables some with skills to do it. Those people must not serve themselves but others, and the covenant miracle will happen.

We are never more effective in ministry than when we are most dependent on the Lord. The secret to more effective ministry is more dependence on God. The less you depend on God, the less effective you will be. Don't be surprised if God knocks away your props to make you more effective.

Project Timothy: Ministry Matters 2006
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 1 (The Servant's Calling)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 2 (The Servant's Confidence)
Ministry Matters 2006: The Heart of Christian Ministry 3 (The Servant's Convictions)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 1 (The Necessity of Proclamation)
Ministry Matters 2006: Preaching and Christian Ministry 2 (Giving and Listening to Talks)


At July 06, 2006 2:23 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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“All my music is free.”


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