Who Defines the Ministry?
Grace is a common theme running through both the Old and New Testaments. The glory of God is revealed in the gracious way He deals with His people. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the light. No man comes unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). This is true for people in both testaments. Thus Jesus Notes, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Everyone who enters heaven—— past, present and future——does so because of the grace of God manifested in the vicarious death of Jesus Christ.
The theme of grace forms a thread of continuity between the Old and New Testament. It is mentioned here as balance for the subject of this article, for although there are differences between the two testaments, there are also similarities.
CONTRAST BEFWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT
In the Old Testament Israel is a people gathered; in the New Testament the Church is a people scattered. In the Old Testament God singled out Abraham as the object of His affection (not necessarily to the exclusion of others) and through his descendants demonstrated to a watching world what it meant for a people to be ruled by God. The nations were invited to look upon the theocracy of Israel and be instructed.
In the New Testament the Gentiles are the object of His affection (again not to the exclusion of the Jews). They are, as Peter points out, aliens, foreigners and strangers in a hostile environment (I Peter 2:9—12). Jesus warned His disciples:
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:19)
The people of God are called to be salt and light in the midst of persecution and rejection. They were not to gather themselves together to form a unique nation under the rulership of God, but were to “go into the uttermost parts of the earth,” preaching the good news of the Gospel. They were called upon, not to change government, but to submit to it (Romans 13:1—5, I Peter 2:13-15.
In the Old Testament the call was to compliance with the commandments of God rather than to individual salvation. This is not to suggest that there was no individual salvation in the Old Testament. Quite the contrary. The preoccupation of Moses and the prophets, however, was with a society living in obedience to the laws of God. In the New Testament the call is to individual salvation rather than to corporate change. There are no references in the New Testament to the changing of society, only the changing of individuals. The New Testament is disturbingly silent regarding issues such as slavery.
In the Old Testament most of the promises were temporal in focus. They dealt with such things as secure borders, the absence of famine, pestilence and want, the promise of long life, health and prosperity. In the New Testament the promises are predominantly eternal in their focus. They deal with eternal life, the rewards of heaven and the promise of God’s presence in the life of the believer. The New Testament believer living in the world is promised tribulation, hardship, persecution and rejection as the product of godliness (II Timothy 3:12). Jeremiah received similar treatment for his faithfulness to God, but this was abnormal and not what an obedient Jew was led to expect.
In the Old Testament Israel is an organization. In the New Testament the Church is an organism. In the Old Testament mission is corporate; in the New Testament it is individual. In the Old Testament the priesthood belongs to a select few from the tribe of Levi; in the New Testament every believer is a priest having the right to “come boldly to the Throne of Grace” to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
In the Old Testament the perpetuity of a man’s offspring is important (Jeremiah 29:32). In the New Testament not getting married is important (I Corinthians 7:7—9). In the Old Testament wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. In the New Testament wealth is neutral. It is not necessarily a sign of blessing nor of its opposite. God sovereignly distributes it to accomplish His purposes.
These are merely illustrative of the many ways the Old and New Testaments differ. Because of these differences, the believer does not look to the Old Testament for a proper definition of ministry. Ministry must be defined in terms of participating with God in what He is doing. God’s gracious salvation through Jesus Christ unites both testaments, but the program of God in the demonstration of this grace is obviously different in the two testaments. To look to the Old Testament for a proper model for ministry is to engage in activities not found in the New Testament. For example, the bringing of society corporately into compliance with the commandments of God is an Old Testament, not a New Testament concept.
PLANNING IN LIGHT OF GOD’S PROGRAM
The first of the year is when many do their planning, setting goals and objectives for the next twelve months. Planning is profoundly affected by a person’s perception of God’s program for this age.
As noted above, the promises of God in the Old Testament, and consequently the focus of Israel, were temporal. It dealt with the nation and God’s rulership over that nation. If planning is done from an Old Testament perspective, it is easy to conclude that the destiny of the world is in the hands of the believer. The Christian is responsible to effect change in society and bring it into compliance with God’s law.
When planning is done from a New Testament perspective, the believer sees himself as an alien in a hostile world. As an alien he is in the process of being prepared for an eternity with God. The focus of his hope is eternal rather than temporal. He sees God not changing society but redeeming individuals, and he participates in the program of God accordingly. The ministry is defined in terms of this participation.
Those with an Old Testament mind—set tend to be product rather than process oriented. Results are what they are looking for. In their planning their thinking is in terms of what they can build, contribute or produce. Thus they see themselves as most productive in the years between their 30’s and 60’s when they are sharp of mind and in good health. When these “productive” years have passed, they retire, seeking to make the closing years as comfortable as possible.
Those with a New Testament mind—set do not establish temporal goals. They see their vocation as an environment (although not the only environment) in which to participate in what God is doing. Wealth is not only neutral; it is also a gift of God. Therefore, the accumulation of wealth is not a goal in their planning. Because they see themselves as being in a process with God, they do not consider themselves more productive in the “prime” of life than during other times. Each day is as important and strategic as any other because they are not trying to create or produce anything. They approach their resources, country and world as a stewardship from God rather than as an opportunity to change or build something. They serve their “generation by the will of God” (Acts 13:36) with the mind—set of a sojourner participating with God as the Lord prepares them for an eternity with Him.
These differing approaches to planning are purposely contrasted in stark form to draw attention to the direction a person’s thinking will drift depending on his perception of God’s plan for this age. Embracing one or the other perception does not ‘guarantee the stated results, but the tendency will be to move in that direction.
The nature of man is such that he is attracted to an Old Testament concept of planning and ministry. Therefore, you are more apt to find people who have never thought of the issue before, or may have even embraced a New Testament mind—set, drifting toward the Old Testament model. We will explore this phenomenon in a later issue.
Grateful for your co-laborship,