Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Essentials of a Gospel Ministry

This is a repost from January 2008.

In Colossians 1:24 -2:5 Paul bares his heart with the Colossians concerning the ministry given to him by God. And in the middle of this section, in verses 1:28-29, he distills the gospel ministry down to its essential elements.

"We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom , so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me."

So in these two verses we see the five essential elements of a gospel ministry. They are passion, preaching, purpose, perspiration, and power. If you look at Acts and the other Pauline epistles you will see these elements in the life and ministry of Paul. Let us look a little closer at these essentials.

Passion

In these verses we see Paul's passion for the person of Christ and for the people of God. We see his passion for Christ in that it is Christ, and Christ alone, that he is proclaiming, and it is Christ likeness that is his goal for every Christian. We also see his passion for Christ in this section of Scripture dealing with his ministry as Christ is the mystery which he seeks to manifest in his fully carrying out the preaching of the Word; and that his desire is for all to have the full assurance that comes from the true knowledge of Christ, Himself. This certainly fits in with what we see in I Corinthians 2:1-2 where he speaks of proclaiming the testimony of God and that he was determined to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. We also see how this fits with his own personal spiritual goal as revealed in Philippians 3:7-12 as he counts all things to be loss, to be rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord; and he presses on to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, so that He may lay hold of that for which he was laid hold of by Christ.

Here we also see his passion for the people of God, individually, as he uses the phrase every man three times in verse 28. Paul's main concern was not for the church universal, the corporate body, but for the individuals that make up that corporate body. His passion was to present every man, not the church, but, every man, before God as complete (fully mature) in Christ. It is not the church as an institution that Paul cares about, but the church comprised of individual members. We also see this laid out more fully in I Corinthians chapter 12 as Paul talks about the corporate body being made up of the individual members, which he gives particular emphasis to in verses 14 and 27. There is an old adage among us as pastors that if we pay attention to the depth of our ministry that God will take care of the breadth of our ministry. I believe that you can apply that same principle here. If we will take care of the individuals in our own flocks, having a passion for presenting each and every person under our charge as spiritually mature before God, then God will work through them to take care of, shape, and build the church corporately. We see this principle presented more fully in Ephesians 4:11-16.

So we see that the pastor must have a personal passion for Christ, must seek to have Christ at the center of his preaching, and must have conformity to Christ as the goal of his preaching. His concern must be focused on the individuals of the church rather than the church corporately. And we see that Paul's spiritual goal was the same for those he was ministering to as his personal spiritual goal. Shouldn't it be the same for those of us who are pastoring today?

One of the things that has bothered me about the Church Growth movement has been the emphasis on the church as an institution. Church Growth conferences and seminars deal with the strategies, techniques, and methods to grow the church corporately, but that is never the emphasis given in the Scriptures. The emphasis in the Scriptures is always on the spiritual growth, the growth in salvation of the individual, his Christ likeness, his conformity to Christ, his growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his understanding of the will of God for his life. When the emphasis is put on the growth of the church rather than the growth of the individual, then the individual becomes a replaceable cog in the wheel, part of the means to the end, and his only value is related to his ability to help the church reach its goal; and when he is no longer deemed useful he is discarded and someone else is plugged in to take his place; and when this takes place spiritual growth grinds to a standstill.

Preaching

Everywhere that Paul went he followed much the same pattern in his preaching, which was proclaiming Christ, admonishing, and teaching. The word proclaim means to declare or to announce aloud, to make known publicly. Paul always publicly declared the truth, the facts about the person of Christ and the work of Christ in order to make Christ known. We see this in Acts 17 as Paul was in Thessalonica and was saying "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." Later in Acts 17 as he was preaching to the Athenians he spoke of Christ and His resurrection. In Acts 13 :14-41 Paul preached the story of Jesus and proclaimed forgiveness of sins in His name. In I Corinthians 15:1-8 Paul makes known the gospel which he preached to them and this gospel centers around the person of Christ. In the epistles Paul talks about our position in Christ, our identity in Christ, our conformity to Christ, our reconciliation in Christ, our inheritance with Christ, our walk in Christ, our baptism into Christ, our freedom in Christ, our salvation in Christ, our righteousness in Christ, our redemption in Christ, our justification in Christ, our peace in Christ, our sanctification in Christ, our obligation to Christ, our relationship to Christ, our strength in Christ, our growth in Christ, our marriage to Christ, our hope in Christ, our faith in Christ, the love of Christ, the work of Christ, the person of Christ, the power of Christ, Christ our wisdom, Christ the living Word, the glory of Christ, the beauty of Christ, the headship of Christ, God's purpose in Christ, and we could go on, but in all of this we see the power of God unto salvation, in all its fullness, in the preaching of Christ. Paul determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified, so that He alone would be the focus of our faith, not only for salvation, but for daily living as well.

Along with his proclaiming Christ Paul also admonished and taught. These two terms are really the two sides of the same coin. To admonish means to put into the head, to warn by instructing. It is to say don't do this because this is what will happen if you do. We see an example of this in I Corinthians 10:1-13 as Paul uses the example of God's dealing with the Israelites and the consequences of their sin as a warning to the Corinthians, and to us as well. In I Thessalonians 4:2-8 we see another admonishment, this concerning sexual immorality. In Paul's presentation of the gospel to the Athenians in Acts 17 he warns them of the day of judgement to come. In Ephesians 5:15-17 Paul admonishes the Ephesians by telling them to be careful about how they walk and to not be foolish, but to understand what the will of the Lord is. Admonishment puts sense into the head where it is needed.


The word for teaching means to instruct or to explain. It is telling someone what to do, how to do it, when to do it, why it should be done, and the basis or foundation for doing it. We see Paul instructing and explaining in the verses immediately following this section in Colossians where he bares his heart. We see his instruction in I Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. In Romans 12 he tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, giving our bodies as a living sacrifice so that we may prove what the will of God is; that which is good, acceptable, and perfect. The pattern in all of Paul's letters was to lay the doctrinal foundation first, then move to application, with both being instructional, which follows the pattern given in this section of Colossians....proclaiming Christ, admonishing, and teaching. Should we not follow the same pattern in our preaching as well?

Purpose

As I mentioned earlier Paul had the same spiritual goal for those he ministered to as he had for himself and this was his purpose, his chief aim, in his ministry, to present every man before God complete (fully mature) in Christ. Notice, it was not to build a big church, to have a certain number of baptisms, to get them plugged into the life of the church, or merely about getting them saved, but it was about them becoming complete (fully mature) in Christ, and for them to stand before God in that mature state. This was the chief aim of the greatest evangelist/missionary of the New Testament. This is the fullness of the making of a disciple.

Why is this important to Paul? Why is it the purpose in his ministry? Because this is God's plan and purpose for each and every person! We see this purpose in Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son. We have this promise in Philippians 1:6 ...that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. And we see a picture of its fulfillment in I John 3:2-3 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Paul knew and understood the heart of God and the purpose of God for us as His children, and he did not waver and was not deterred from this purpose in his own ministry. Look at what he told the Galatians in 4:19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.

You see, when we are presented to God, and stand before God, how will God measure us, what will be the standard He will use? It will be Christ, the God-man, the perfect man, the man who fulfilled all righteous, the man who was absolute in His obedience, the One who was heard in the time of His tears because of His piety, the One who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. He is the One who is holy, undefiled, separated from sinners, exalted in the heavens, and is sitting at the right hand of the One before whom we must appear.

If this is God's purpose and, as such, Paul's purpose, should it not be our purpose as shepherds of God's flock and caretakers of His purchase? Are we given another purpose in Scripture? Is this not fulfilling His command to make disciples? Think about it! What could give more glory to God than for all of His children, all of us who have been purchased out of the slave market of sin, to be like Him? And the more we are like Him the more glory we bring Him. So, what is the focus of your ministry? What is the purpose in your preaching, in your vision-casting, in your day to day activities? Is this what drives you, and is it the spiritual completeness of your flock when they stand before God for which you are laboring and striving? Is it for you or for them that you labor and strive?

Perspiration

Speaking of laboring and striving, that is exactly what Paul was doing to accomplish the purpose of God. The word for labor is kopiao, which means to weary one's self with labor or toil. It pictures the bone deep fatigue that comes from relentless hard labor. The word for striving is agonizomai, which means to strain to the uttermost, and we see a picture of this in an athlete straining with every muscle to win a race. The word here is in the present tense, so we see that this working and striving is a continued state in which Paul lives. We see that the working toward presenting every man complete in Christ is an endeavor in which Paul is continually active and a goal for which he is relentless. Let's not kid ourselves, being involved in a gospel ministry is hard work, should be hard work, and we should not only expect to work hard, but endeavor to work hard. In
I Corinthians 15:10 Paul talks again about his own hard work. We see his expectation of this same hard work in others in I Thessalonians 5:12-13 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor (kopiao) among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. In his first letter to Timothy, in 4:10, he uses the words labor and strive to describe the effort they were to make in their ministry. This labor and striving was not confined to the physical demands and hours involved in the gospel ministry, but as we see in I Timothy 5:17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard (kopiao) at preaching and teaching. It takes continuous labor and striving, it is hard work and agonizing, to preach the word in season and out.

Preaching and teaching is meant to be hard work, and coupled with the other demands and concerns that go along with a gospel ministry along with the demands of being a husband and father, and you can see how it can be wearisome and taxing. If a pastor is working to the point of weariness and fatigue then where does His strength to accomplish all of this come from? Which leads to the last, but most essential of the essentials of a gospel ministry.

Power

Paul does not continuously labor and strive in his own strength and ability. Because if he did he would have collapsed under the load and or would have been burned out (see II Corinthians 11:23-29). His own labor was in accordance with the power, the strength of God. The word for power is dunamis, which means mighty power, strength, or ability. It is the word from which we get our word dynamite. Paul's power was in accordance with God's power, and his ability was in accordance with God's ability, and this power or ability was working within Paul himself. It was Christ in Him, working in him and through him that gave Paul the power to do that which God had given him to do. Paul's obedience to the will of God lit the fuse that unleashed the power of God in his life and ministry. There is a distinct correlation between our obedience to His will, our effort to accomplish His will, and his empowering us to perform His will. Paul speaks to this in I Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

We see a parallel to this regarding our own sanctification in Philippians 2:12-13 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. As preachers and ministers of the gospel, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God, God unleashes His power within us to accomplish His will through us as we work and strive to do our part in accomplishing His purpose of Christ likeness in those whom He has put under our care and our charge. When His purpose becomes our purpose then we are empowered by His power through His Holy Spirit who indwells us.

We are never spiritually self-sufficient. Christ tells us so in John 15 when He says apart from Me you can do nothing. We are told in Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Paul understood this and understood this well as he asks the question in II Corinthians 2:16 And who is adequate for these things? Then he goes on to answer his own question in 3:4-6 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. His power will empower us as we seek to perform His purpose in our ministry, which is the perfecting of the saints who will appear before Him.

Yes, these are the five essentials of a gospel ministry. We see them in the life and work of Paul, and because of them we see the spiritual effectiveness of his ministry not only then, but as it continues now through his letters. Let us who have been called into the gospel ministry, and have been made stewards of the grace of God, seek to have these essentials be such a part of us that they automatically flow out of our life and ministry; and may we, like Paul, be spiritually effective, eternally effective, in our gospel ministry.


No comments: