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Rev. Dennis Lee, pastor of Kalamazoo PRC in Kalamazoo, Michigan

 

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.  Ephesians 3:7, 8

 

One of the great needs of the hour is the need for ministers and preachers. But what is the nature of the ministry? What are its challenges? And is it really a desirable work, something to which we wish our very own sons would aspire?

What makes a minister a minister? And what makes him personally convicted of his work, and therefore persevere, in the midst of earthly troubles, just as the holy apostle Paul, when he was in prison at the time he wrote Ephesians?

These verses contain insight and answers to such questions by setting forth the most basic foundation for the ministry and the minister’s mentality and attitude toward his labors: the call of God to the ministry.

The call of God to the ministry

Called to the ministry! What a solemn and weighty calling from God! Though the word “called” is not used here, the inspired apostle speaks of the idea of this calling when he writes, “Whereof I was made a minister.The passive voice powerfully indicates that it was God who called him to the ministry. For when Scripture adopts the passive voice in relation to holy objects, events, or persons, it is telling us that it is God who is active in causing something to happen. It was God who made Paul a minister. It was not ultimately man, or even the church, but God who called him to the ministry!

This calling is basic to a person’s ministry, which is why the apostle, as a norm, begins his epistles declar­ing the fact of his calling (cf. Rom. 1:1; I Cor. 1:1). In a word, the calling of God is his “credentials” from God Himself that he belongs to the office of minister. It is, therefore, the one key factor that is crucial to a man’s conviction of his labor in the ministry. Without it, one has no right to the office, and therefore, also has no right from God to the work of the office. But with it, one not only has the right to the office, but will also have the ability to perform the work, and grow in those abilities according to the gift of the grace of God.

Since this calling to the ministry is so basic and im­portant, we do well to consider its various aspects.

First and foremost, one who is called to the minis­try needs to have gifts for the ministry. This is simply essential for a man who would serve in the ministry. There are two categories of gifts: natural and spiritual. Natural gifts include gifts such as public speaking, intel­ligence, linguistic abilities, a logical mind and, yes, the gift of leadership. To be sure, one does not have to be top-notch. For example, one may not be the very best public speaker, and the most intelligent student of his class in high school or college. But he does have to have a sufficient amount of these gifts so that he speaks well publicly and is able to craft good, intelligent speeches and writings.

But more important than natural gifts, there must also be spiritual gifts for the ministry. The apostle calls attention to one crucial spiritual gift when he calls him­self “less than the least of all saints”: the gift of humil­ity. How crucial humility is for a weak and frail sinner who would be used as an instrument of God to care for His people! Besides humility, other spiritual gifts a man needs for the ministry include gentleness, holiness, and the greatest of them all: love! Great love for God! Great love for the people! Great love for the Word!

Second, he who would be called to the ministry must meet the qualifications of Scripture. And here, the qual­ifications of an elder found in I Timothy 3:1-7 certainly apply to him:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Third, there needs to be a growing verification of the call—within himself, as he is guided and moved by the Holy Spirit within him from self-understanding of his own gifts—but also a growing verification that is shared by others around him: by his wife, by his elders, by his fellow church members and also by his seminary professors over the course of his preparation for the ministry.

Last, but not least, there needs to be a real call from a real church “to come over and help us.” This final aspect of the call to the ministry is absolutely necessary. For without it, a man may have all the gifts, qualifi­cations, and verification of the ministry from himself and people around him, but does not have a real charge from God to serve in and no real place of labor.

Dear reader, in relation to the great need for men for the ministry in our churches, are you looking out for gifts for the ministry among our young men? Are you teaching your children to love and pray for our church­es? Are you encouraging those who might have these gifts to consider the ministry? Are you yourself one who might have these gifts, and if so, are you prayerful­ly considering the ministry?

The work of the ministry

The main work of the ministry is preaching. While this is implicit in these verses, it is explicitly stated by the apostle in I Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” And while preaching is the main work, it is not the only work. The minister, being one who is called to a word-centered ministry (cf. Eph. 4:11-16), is therefore also called, more broadly, unto the teaching and application of the Word in all of its various forms in the life of the members of the congregation. This includes the administration of the sacraments, catechetical instruction of the youth and children, leading Bible studies, comforting the sick and the grieving with the Word, and going house to house in the exercise of family visitation. These pastoral labors tell us that the main work of preaching must be done in the context of shepherding the flock. A preacher must therefore know and understand the sheep he is called to care for—their needs, their challenges, their gifts, their strengths, and their weaknesses. In light of this knowledge, the minister applies his word-centered ministry to the flock accordingly, especially in his preaching.

And what is preaching? Preaching is the official proc­lamation of the gospel in the service of Christ and on behalf of His church. The meaning of the original is “to herald.” This means that he is to deliver God’s mes­sage. It is just as an angel bringing the official message of God, and it refers to the King’s messenger delivering the King’s official word and decree to the citizens of the kingdom.

In these verses, that word and message to be pro­claimed is described as “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This means that Christ must be at the very heart and center of the message being proclaimed: His person, His works, and all of what He teaches: in the form of commands, instructions, exhortations, warn­ings, admonitions, promises, and encouragements in the body of sacred Scripture. And because Christ is the infinite divine Word incarnate, what is to be proclaimed is infinitely deep wisdom for life and living! How fitting therefore, that it is described as “unsearchable riches”!

This all implies that the message of the preacher must be given by the King Himself. Knowledge of and insight into the Word needs to be given through much prayer and study and by the Spirit of King Jesus. There is simply no other way! For these are unfathomably deep riches that are being spoken of here. No man, of himself, can uncover these riches. A proper insight into and understanding of the infinite wealth of the wisdom of Christ in Scripture is needed and is to be proclaimed and applied to all who hear the preaching. Preachers are called to bring the infinitely rich, deep, and wonderful teachings of Christ to bear upon the lives of God’s peo­ple from the pulpit. What an awesome task and privi­lege this is! This is the ministry of preaching unsearch­able riches to which ministers are called. Only the Spirit of Christ, who searches the deep things of God (I Cor. 2:10), can give such knowledge and insight to him. The work of the ministry is, therefore, a difficult work.

There is nothing easy about the work of the ministry. The minister faces long hours of labor. He is on call 24/7. He often finds himself alone in the ministry. He and his family live in a glass house. He is a public fig­ure: everyone knows him, and he is expected to know everyone. He must be all things to all men. And he must be prepared for anything and everything in the ministry.

The power that fuels the ministry

So the minister needs a power that will sufficiently fuel his ministry. Thanks be to God that He is faithful and supplies it! This power is set forth by the apostle in verse 7: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.” It is none other than the power of God’s grace flowing forth from the cross of Christ. It was the gift of God’s grace given to him that made Paul a minister. And it is that same grace that continually needs to be given to him in order that he “should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” It is only fitting that the preacher of grace be himself dependent on and fueled by grace!

He who is called to the ministry, being conscious of his total dependence upon the God of all grace, there­fore recognizes the importance of prayer and is found regularly and frequently on his knees before God’s throne of grace. For it is in the way of prayer that he receives the fuel he needs daily to empower his ministry.

Dear reader, will you therefore not join him on your knees and pray for your minister and his colleagues? Will you not beseech God to raise up many more young men who will be led to pursue training for the ministry? “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).