Being a part of God’s work in this world is a glorious honor. Some years ago a woman in Africa became a Christian and being filled with gratitude and joy she decided to do something for God. She was at a bit of a disadvantage, however, because she was blind, uneducated, and seventy-years of age when she came to know Jesus. She came to a missionary, with her French Bible, and asked her to underline John 3:16 in red ink. Mystified, the missionary watched her as she took her Bible and sat in front of a boy’s school in the afternoon. When the school dismissed, she would call a boy or two over to her and she would say to them and ask them, “Do you know French?” The boys would proudly say, “Yes, I know French!” She would ask, “Would somebody read the passage which is underlined in this Book for me?” They would read, in French, John 3:16. When they had did, she would ask, “Do you know what this means?” and they would answer, “No, we do not know what this means.” She would tell them of Jesus. The missionary said over twenty-four young men became pastors through the work which she did, that blind, uneducated, seventy-year old woman sitting outside that school house.
The wonder and honor of ministry is not just for pastors, missionaries, the deeply spiritual, or the greatly gifted, but the gladness and glory of ministry is given to every follower of Jesus Christ. God has an earth-moving, eternity-changing, God-exalting work set aside especially for you. Do you believe this? Are you engaged in this work God has set aside especially for you to accomplish?
In 1 Corinthians 12, we read,
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
Three truths emerge from this passage. First, God gives each Christian unique gifts to do His work. Second, God gives each Christian a unique kind of service. Third, God gives each Christian a unique working, or result, from that service.
So, we will look at our study passage and we will observe what God has for us and we will consider our part in the ministry of the local church. We will focus upon seven characteristics of ministry in the local as ministry connects our lives with devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. We have to ask the question: what is authentic ministry to God? What is the kind of service which draws us into God and into the weight of His glory?
The first characteristic we will study is authentic ministry chases after us, as we read what Paul wrote,
24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness…
The Apostle Paul says, “I have become its’ servant by the commission God has given me.” He goes on to say, “I have become its’ servant,” which is interesting, because the antecedent to that word is “the church, the body of Christ,” which means he has become the servant of the church.
This prompts the question: whose servant is Paul? In other letters, he would say, “The apostle Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,” but here he is saying, “I am a servant of the church.” The Apostle Paul knows Jesus and His church are inseparably joined; they are connected together. To serve Jesus is to serve the church and to serve the church is to serve Jesus. There is no severing of the union between the head and the body in Paul’s thinking and such should not be in ours.
Then there is the phrase, in Verse 25, “by the commission God has given me”. The New King James Version, and other versions, will say something like this, “according to the stewardship from God which is given me.” The New Century Version translates that phrase this way, “because God gave me a special work to do.” The point to be made by Paul is he didn’t plan to be in ministry. He didn’t sit down and say, “Let me think what I would like for my life to entail,” and then he planned out a ministry.
Paul didn’t even volunteer for ministry and decide one day to minister for Jesus and then go out to get his credentials in order to do that. No, that is not how ministry happens, not to Paul and not to us. God in His grace chased Paul down one day as he was traveling on the road to Damascus, as we read the story in Acts 9,
3 …suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”… 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Paul was not interested in looking for a ministry to volunteer to, but in ministry, God chased after him. Verse 10 tells us, in Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias and the Lord called to Ananias in a vision. Ananias was not looking for a ministry, but ministry chased after him, also, and God said, “Ananias, I want you to talk to this guy by the name of Saul.” Ananias replied, “Saul! Don’t you know he kills Christians and he imprisons Christians? What do you mean you want me to talk to Saul?” God said, “That is my work and that is the ministry I am calling you to,” and ministry chased after Ananias. We read further,
18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach…
Ministry chased after Paul. Paul did not chase after ministry and so it is with us. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul would say,
16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
Jeremiah reminds of us a similar testimony in Jeremiah 20, when Jeremiah said,
9 But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
Does that sound like a man who is interested in volunteering for ministry? No, not at all, but rather it sounds like a man who is being chased down and being hunted after and being overcome by this burden and passion for ministry.
I asked myself this question recently, “Ritch, why are you committed to Christian ministry?” and I thought back at the story of my life and of God’s revealing His joy of life to me and I realized I am a minister and I am involved in ministry because I have no choice in the matter; ministry chased after me. I was in high school when the life of God began growing stronger in my heart and in my life. It was there God said, “Ritch, I have a work for you to do,” and He used some friends who asked, “Ritch, can you teach us the Bible? We don’t know the Bible.” I said, “I don’t know anything about teaching the Bible, but I will do the best I can.” It wasn’t as though these friends twisted my arm to call me to do something I really did not want to do, but there was this fire which began burning in my heart to do something for God and I had to find a way to express that. So, I began to teach and I became involved in vacation Bible school even as a high schooler. Ministry chased me down and chased after me.
The call to ministry is a part of the new life we have inside of us. That is the teaching of Scripture. In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches,
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ministry always chases after us. Why am I committed to ministry? It is because God has placed His life in my heart and this life has to have expression.
I have a friend from college who asked a similar question to these kinds of ideas as to the nature of things. He would ask, “Why do birds fly? Why do fish swim? Why am I so handsome?” The answer to those questions is because it is the nature of birds to fly and it is the nature of fish to swim and it is the nature of a person to be handsome. Why am I involved in ministry? It is the same answer – it is the nature of a Christian to be a part of the work. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and if you are a follower of God through Jesus Christ you have a new life in you and you cannot help but express it. Ministry is a part of our nature now that we are alive in Him.
Why is it, then, we have a ministry fair? Should not people be running and chasing after ministry because ministry is chasing after us? I would say this is partly true, but the point of our ministry fair is not to get you to do something you do not want to do. The point of the ministry fair is not to get you to do something out of a burdened obligation because “the church needs me to do this!” The point of the ministry fair is to help you to understand all of the great things you tap into as this desire in your heart is running after in the first place. It helps you to understand where you can find great delight and great joy.
The second characteristic in which ministry in the local church, or in Christian ministry, is ministry expresses our love for the church. The call in Verse 24 is, “I rejoice in this ministry which is for the sake of his body which is the church.” Paul goes on to point out, in Verse 25, he has become “the church’s servant.”
There is a basic principle in life and it tells us we invest in what we love. Genuine love remains passive, but love by nature always remains active. Passive love is no love at all.
Recently I reconnected with a love for tennis and when I have a free evening I will go to one of my sons or to my wife and ask if they want to play some tennis. Why do I do that? It is because of this reconnection to a love for tennis and I want to invest some energy and time. In fact, I went out and I bought a new racket; I wanted to invest some money in this new love I connected to. It is natural we invest in that which we love.
Men, remember this as you think about the wife God has given you. If, on your wedding day, you vowed to God to love, honor, and cherish this woman from that day forward; and from that day you said, “Honey, I love you”; and from that day you wrote little cards and notes expressing your affection and your joy in her; and, if from that day, you sent flowers for no occasion whatsoever; and, if from that day, you spent time listening to her and talking to her telling stories of your life, expressing your dreams, and listening to hers; and, if from that time, you opened the Word of God with her and said, “Let’s find out what God has to say to us”; and, if from that time, you held her hands in yours and looked into her eyes and asked, “How can I pray for you? I want to pray for you today. I want to be an interceptor for you today.” If you have done these things, congratulations, you have fulfilled your marriage vow to love, honor, and cherish because the basic principle is love is always active and always invests. When there is no investment there is no love no matter how much we try to claim there is love, but when there is an investment it gives evidence of the fruit of love which is in our hearts.
If you love the body of Jesus, if you love the church, you will commit yourself in an extreme way, not giving the spare change of your life here and there, in ministry in the local church. I confess I love this church and I am so thankful and delighted God has placed me here. I confess I love “the church”. I knew from the beginning of my life in Jesus wherever God had me to be located I would be involved in ministry. Whatever vocation, before God called me into Christian vocation, I knew God would have me deeply rooted in the local church and I learned that by example from my mom and dad, by precepts through the Scripture, and by life through the Spirit of God energizing me.
Someone may protest, “What is wrong with not loving the church?” The church has many warts, scars, and things which are not pretty and beautiful. There is much which is wrong with the church. I am making the point there is much which is wrong with the local church, so what is wrong with not loving her?
There is a trend for Christians to love the church less and less in our culture and in our day. So many today testify they are moving closer to God but further and further away from the church. That is their testimony, what they say, and what is true with their lives. I have to ask, is there really anything wrong with that and is it a bad thing for people to move closer to God and yet further and further away from the church? The Apostle Paul would say, “Ah, yeah! There is much wrong with that and in fact it is impossible to move closer to God and further away from the church.” Jesus is as connected to the church as the head is connected to the body; as the foundation is connected to the building; as the groom is connected to the bride.
Try this out as you attend the next wedding: come up to the groom and say, “Hey, man, I want to be in a deep relationship with you, but your bride, I don’t want to spend any time with her ever.” See what the response of the groom is going to be to your offer of friendship. If he is any kind of groom at all on that day, he will say, “That is tough, because if you do not want to spend any time with my bride, you don’t want to spend any time with me. We are interconnected and we are joined as one. It is impossible to be in right-relationship with me and have that attitude toward my bride,” and so it is with the church.
A love for the church, which is a natural element of those who have been born again, is because of Jesus’ connection to the church, but also it is in our desire to imitate Jesus in everything, because Scripture says, “Jesus loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” As we imitate Jesus we will become more like Jesus and we will love what He loves.
The third characteristic of Christian ministry is ministry floods us with joy. In this section, in Verse 24, Paul tells us “now I rejoice”. Ministry is not to be a drudgery and it is not to be a mere obligation. True ministry is often painful and leads to sufferings of various kinds and we see that in the last part of Verse 24, where Paul talks about the afflictions he endures for the sake of the church.
Why is there such joy in ministry? I believe the answer is because ministry connects us to something which is bigger than ourselves. Ministry connects us to something which is even bigger than our human dreams and our human imaginations. Ministry connects us with the transcendent glory of God and it connects us with eternity itself. I believe every man and every woman and every child here is born with a desire to do something with our lives which will be extremely significant. We want to make something of the life God has given us. We want to leave behind a footprint which does not disappear, after we step out of it, with the water of the ocean washing over it and wiping it completely away. We want to leave a footprint hardened in some concrete so long after we are gone people will look back and say, “There is a footprint. This life made a big difference in this world.” All of us, whether we are a believer or an unbeliever, have this sense of wanting to connect to the significant.
Recently I considered the impact of the life of Bill Gates upon this world. As I went through airports and saw people with their laptops, I considered the dream and vision he had of a computer in every home. At the time he started, that was absolutely unthinkable and almost laughable, that every home could afford a computer, let alone every home could afford three or four computers, as the case is today. I thought how satisfying it must be for a man to walk through the airport knowing he and a few others made such an impact so as to affect almost everyone’s life.
Let me tell you something which is more impressive than that. It is the Sunday school teacher who weekly and faithfully opens up the Word of God to boys and girls in such a way so as to empower the spirit in that young boy or that young girl to say, “I believe in Jesus and I want to give my life to Him.” Long after the ocean of time washes over the life of Bill Gates and that footprint is completely faded away, there will be the impression of a godly man and a godly woman who set aside the time and energy in an extreme way to serve God.
Isn’t it a joyful thing to connect to something which really matters? Why wouldn’t we be a part of pursuing our joy in connecting our lives to something which matters, not just for a time, but for an eternity and which connects us to the transcendence of God’s glory? Ministry is joyful because it points us to that greater reward of God Himself. This is what carried Jesus Himself through ministry. Hebrews 2 tells us,
2 …Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…
If it is true ministry floods us with joy, why is it so often many servants of Jesus Christ do not experience this joy? Why is it their heart is laden and burdened almost to the point of sorrow? It is true, many Christians have lost their joy in ministry.
There are many “joy-stealers” which lurk around the corner of the church. There are critics who are not engaged in the work but they are willing to express their opinions about those who are doing the work, particularly their negative opinions. They are always pointing out the smudge on the window which was left after someone cleaned it. They are always pointing out the part of the carpet which did not get vacuumed after someone had just labored. They are always willing and ready to point out the blade of grass which did not get cut on that lawn. Critics become joy-stealers.
Others are “task-masters” putting the whip to the backs of the workers and demanding and demanding and demanding. Other joy-stealers are belittlers who make light of us and light of the work we are doing. Then there are the “cold-ducks” never moving to join in but rather sitting on the water. They are discouraging because we want and need other people to get involved and when we see others sitting there, cold-ducks on the water, we ask, “Why isn’t anybody doing the work!”
These are joy-stealers, but let me tell you something, first, I would encourage you to consider, “Am I a joy-stealer?” because that means, if you are a joy-stealer not only not involved in the active pursuit of God’s ministry but you are actually a detriment to the work of God.
The second way I would encourage you is if you have a joy-stealer know this, no one can steal your joy from you by force. You have to yield it over to them. This is where many Christians have lost the joy of ministry. They have not done this subconsciously, but that is what has happened. Someone comes along in their life and they loose their joy. Interestingly, Jesus did not let Judas in his betrayal, Peter in his denial, Thomas in his doubting, and Titus in his frustrating questions steal His joy because He kept His eyes upon the greater reward. If we are to maintain our joy in ministry, understand no one can take our joy from us as long as we keep our eyes upon the reward God has for us. Paul says, “I rejoice,” and I say, “Here, here, Paul, I rejoice with you.”
The fourth characteristic is ministry tests our character. In Verse 24 Paul talks about suffering when he says,
24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you…
I do not think that is a good translation and no other translation translates it that way. It could cause us to think Paul might be speaking of the suffering of Jesus. That is not what Paul is saying at all. The New King James Version I believe is clearer,
24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you…
Almost every other translation reflects this. Suffering is a part of the ministry picture God gives to us. The Epistle of 1 Peter makes that clear in Chapter 4,
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…
Sometimes when you put yourself in ministry, you put yourself in the path of greater pain. This is a test of our character. What will we do then? Will we quit and not take the pain anymore, or will we push forward in faith? Every minister of the Gospel and every servant in the church has to learn the lesson that ministry involves suffering and pain of various kinds.
When we look at Verse 24, we find some interesting phrases. I want to touch on them because they cause people to ask the question, “What is Paul talking about?” Paul says, in Verse 24,
24 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body…
This is a very difficult verse and if you read twenty commentaries you will get twenty interpretations as to what this means. Let me first say what it does not mean. The Roman Catholic Church, supposing this is a reference to something lacking in the atoning sufferings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, claims this is a reference to Christians suffering for their own sin and this is how the Doctrine of Purgatory was developed. In Purgatory people suffer for their own sin so as to purge themselves of their sin. The idea would be Jesus Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross needed something added in order to take away sin completely from the Christian.
There are two points I will make as to why this is not true. First, Paul is talking about the sufferings in this life and not about the sufferings of the life to come. He says he “is suffering”. In order to maintain this is a reference to purgatory, we would have purgatory in Paul’s life in the present as opposed to the future. Furthermore, this word “suffering” is a reference to troubles in life. Whenever the word suffering is used in connection to Jesus’ suffering upon the cross in atonement for sin, this word is never used in that connection. It is only used in connection to people’s difficulties and hardship in this present life.
The second point I would make is look at what Paul just finished teaching with regard to the work of Jesus. Did Paul just finish teaching the work of Jesus Christ is somehow insufficient? No, not at all and it is just the opposite. In Verse 13 and 14, Paul writes,
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross… 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…
That is the accomplished work of Jesus. When Jesus hung on the cross He said, “It is finished! It is completed! It is paid up in full, all the debt which God requires for our sin.” In Hebrews 10, the writer of Holy Scripture would say,
10 …we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…
This is true of us in this life and of our position before God. The work of Jesus upon the cross is absolutely completed and it is sufficient. We do not have to pay for our own sin in any way. All glory belongs to Jesus Christ for what He has done on our behalf in regards to the forgiveness of our sin in its completion.
What does it mean and what is lacking? Paul is referencing, I believe, the world’s hatred for Jesus Christ is not yet completed, and the world has an ongoing hatred for the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is in Heaven and He is out of reach of the world’s hostile hand, so the only thing the world can touch in its’ hatred of Jesus is Jesus’ people, the followers of Jesus. The world has not yet filled up the measure of their hostilities against Jesus and the Apostle Paul is saying, “I am filling up in my body the world’s hostility against Jesus and I do so thankfully, because in my suffering I am connected to the Lord Jesus Christ in a very special way.”
The fifth trait of Christian ministry is ministry presents God’s Word in its fullness. In ministry, there is no part of God’s Word which is neglected, ignored, or avoided. All ministry centers itself upon communicating the full counsel of the Word of God. Whether you are working as a servant in the mission field, as a servant in the Sunday school, as a servant in the kitchen, or as a servant as an usher, you understand in order for your ministry to take upon this eternal aspect, all of us are called to minister on the fullness of God’s Word, whether or not it is sitting outside of the school house and asking, “Can you read French?”
If you are an usher in the doorway, I encourage you to have a verse so that when you greet people you can say, “This is the word God gave me today.” Somehow incorporate the Word of God in all of it fullness in your ministry. This takes on a powerful impact of the eternal presence and work of God through us.
This is particularly true, I believe, of the ministry which occurs here on Sunday morning. If a person desires to taught the Word of God they should love being in church on Sunday. If a person does not desire to be taught the Word of God, there are many things which happen on Sunday morning which they should not enjoy, because this is the ministry God has given to us: to proclaim the Word of God in its fullness. Why is that? It is because the Word of God reveals Jesus, as we see in Verses 26 and 27,
26 …the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Here is the good news friends, you and I can have hope, that is to say an eager expectation of our future, of connecting to the glory of God Himself. How can we do this? It is through Jesus Christ as we believe in Him for our life and for our salvation.
The sixth characteristic is ministry aims at spiritual maturity, as we read in Verse 28,
28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
False teachers had this perfection which was only reserved for a few, elite people. In Colosse, they would say, “If you want to be a part of the perfect elite have these experiences, follow these particular regulations and rules, and follow this philosophy of life.” Paul was saying, in combat, “Maturity is for everyone. The aim of the church is not just to woo people to Jesus Christ, but it is to bring everyone into completion in maturity in Jesus Christ.”
How is that accomplished? It is accomplished through being admonished. How many of you enjoy being admonished? Admonishing means you are being corrected for sin in your life. How many of us need to be admonished? Can you say with me, “I need to be admonished.” Furthermore, not only do we need to understand that is true of us, but we also need to be taught everyone is involved in being admonished and being taught, but also everyone is involved in doing the admonishing. You cannot look at every Christian who comes up to you and admonishes you and say, “You are not my Sunday school teacher or my pastor. What right do you have to talk to me this way?” All of us are involved in this work because we are working hand-in-hand for the goal of maturity in Jesus.
The seventh characteristic is ministry exhausts us. In Verse 29, Paul says,
29 To this end I labor…
The word “labor” literally means to work to the point of exhaustion. Someone may say, “Being involved in ministry takes so much time and energy and work. I am exhausted from it.” Praise God that is so! God has given us energies to be exhausted in His work and in His Kingdom, yet notice, in the midst of all of this hard work, and we should expect it to be hard work, Paul says,
29 …I labor, struggling with all his energy…
We will never know the energy of God until we get involved deeply and severely in the work of God. It is then we understand, “I have a lot more strength to do more things than I ever possibly could imagine.”
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, know God has an earth-moving, eternity-changing, God-exalting work set aside especially for you. Are you engaged in it?
The last thing I will say to you is this, if you are not a follower of Jesus Christ know Jesus is the hope of glory for you. There is no hope of glory outside of Jesus and I urge you, this day, to respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ, repent of your sin, believe in Him as Savior and Lord, and you will be connected in your life to the very life of God. You will have Christ in you who is the hope of glory.