Who Defines the Ministry?
Each believer is endowed by God with certain resources. They can be broadly categorized into two main groups: those that are eternal and those that are temporal. Temporal resources include such things as time, gifts and abilities, opportunities, one’s country, money, and health. Eternal resources include such things as the Word of God, people, and the Holy Spirit. The use of these resources, both temporal and eternal, is a question of stewardship.
In stewarding temporal resources, the believer lives in perpetual tension as he seeks to live life in balance, avoiding extremes. For example, take the resource of money: how much should he spend on himself and how much should he give away? Determining the balance is no easy task.
Again this tension can be seen in the stewarding of one’s health. The believer should not live for the care of his body, nor should he neglect its care. Proper diet, exercise and rest all come into play as he seeks balance.
The apostle Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2). In the final analysis stewardship is an issue of faithfulness. In seeking to discharge his responsibility the believer must remember two things:
1. He cannot contribute to the work of God. The Psalmist says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:lh). It is the Lord, not man, who does the building. Mordecai reminds Esther regarding the fiendish plot of Haman,
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall deliverance rise to the Jews from another place” (Esther 4:14a).
The believer can participate in the work of God and is invited to do so, but the success of God’s work is not dependent upon the faithfulness of man.
2. All that man produces, God will burn. This is God’s assurance spoken through his servant Peter:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall he burned up. (II Peter 3:10)
In light of these two verities, stewardship is not an issue of fruitfulness but faithfulness. Jesus in John 15 promises fruit if the believer is faithful in abiding in Christ. It comes from God and is the result of the believer’s abiding in Christ.
As noted in an earlier “Dear Co-Laborer” letter, apart from the family the only institution to which God has a special commitment is the nation of Israel. He brought Israel into existence at Mt. Sinai, and at that time gave her laws and ordinances by which she was to be governed. Paul reminds the Romans that government is ordained by God, but it is abundantly obvious in the Scriptures that the commitment which God has to the nation of Israel is qualitatively different than that which He had to Egypt, Babylon, the Roman Empire or currently to countries such as China, England, the USSR, and the United States.
Without institutions there would he chaos and anarchy, and yet their presence reveals that which is the vilest in men. For example, all of the great civilizations of the world have been brought into existence by the exploitation of man. Whether it is the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or the Roman Empire, they came into existence through the incredible inhumanity of man to man. Some argue that the United States is not exempt with the abolition of slavery only a little more than one hundred years old. God uses institutions to maintain order, but they also serve as a vivid illustration of man’s dependence upon God. History is merely an illustration of man’s inability to govern his own affairs.
Institutions are one of the resources given to the believer by God. They are temporal in nature and are to be related to from a perspective of stewardship. Each Christian approaches them with the same tension that is present in the stewarding of any other temporal resource. For example, most people reading this are citizens of the United States. We were born into a democracy with considerable affluence, the apostle Paul was born under the tyranny of Rome, and still others are born in deep poverty. The difference is Providence. As we seek to discharge our responsibility in caring for this resource, how much time and energy should be given to the preservation of our country? On one hand, we cannot neglect it; on the other hand, we cannot make its preservation the focus our life anymore than we can make the preservation or our health the focus of our life. It is a temporal resource, which will pass with the consummation of our age. Each, then, wrestles with the level of involvement. Do we vote, get involved in politics, campaign for our favorite candidate, write to our elected officials expressing our views, get involved in issues such as pro-life, prayer in the public schools and nuclear freeze? There are no easy answers to the question of the Christian’s involvement as he stewards this resource.
The same is true for the believer’s involvement in the visible church, which as an institution is as temporal as state or national governments. We cannot ignore institutional Christianity, but how do we discharge our responsibility toward it. What should he our level of involvement?
God is at work in the world. His work is eternal rather than temporal. We cannot contribute to it (e.g. Ecclesiastes 3:14), but we are invited to participate. In Matthew 6, Jesus warns not to seek temporal commodities but rather to invest our resources in the eternal. In John 6:27, He cautions,
“Labor not for the things that perish but for those things which endure unto everlasting life.”
Our God-given resources, both temporal and eternal, are properly stewarded when invested in the work of God with an eternal rather than a temporal focus. Simply stated, the ministry is participating in the work of God. It is not a question of vocation but rather a question of focus. The man working on the lathe in the machine shop, the doctor operating in the hospital, the evangelist preaching to the masses, all are or can he equally in the ministry. It is not an issue of that which each produces, for that which is eternal God must produce. Rather, it is a question of being faithful stewards with the resources God has given as we maintain an eternal focus. The secular is spiritual when the focus of one’s life is the eternal. Conversely, the spiritual is secular when the focus of one’s life is the temporal.
In the New Testament, God is not in the business of redeeming institutions, but individuals. Institutions are temporal individuals are eternal. The ministry is how believers become involved with God in what He is doing. Thus the ministry can be summarized by the Great Commission which includes preaching the Gospel to the lost, discipling and teaching people to “observe all things whatsoever I have said unto you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
If as the Christian stewards his resources with the eternal focus of participating with God in the Great Commission, then he is in the ministry. A temporal activity can be the ministry as long as it has an eternal Focus. A temporal goal, however, irrespective of how noble it may be is not the ministry.
For example, seeking legislation that brings the government into compliance with Biblical expectations, being involved in the pro-life movement, drilling wells to alleviate the drought in Africa, or rebuilding those parts of Mexico City devastated by recent earthquakes as goals in and of themselves is not the ministry. They are ministry only to the degree that through these activities the individual is seeking eternal ends with the objective of participating with God in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Rejoicing in Christ,