[Note: The following article first appeared as a paper presented by Rev. Lubbers at the Officebearers’ Conference held on March 4, 1975.]
In this paper we attempt to set forth the Biblical teaching concerning the practical service of thankfulness of a living faith. (James 1:26) Faith without works is dead! We do not intend to come with a great number of practical suggestions as to how we can minister to the saints in our day and age. We will try to study the Bible and elicit from it some basic teachings and principles, both from the Old and New Testaments. The principles of the Scriptures are the rule of all ministering to the saints, and these principles are eternal and unchangeable. They span the ages of the church of God in this world.
Rather than speaking of the office of the deaconate, we chose to speak of the Ministering to the Saints. This is the general term, which is employed by Paul, and is very significant. It is significant, in the first place, because it shows that the objects of the diaconate-ministration are saints. This is a ministry of Christ in His church, who are saints in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the second place, the term ministry (diakonias) shows that the care which is shown to the poor and needy is a ministry, that is, it is performed by one who receives commands from another. This signals the truth that this ministry is not a matter merely of human invention and ordinances, but that it is an ordinance of God in Christ for His people. Not to minister to the saints makes one guilty of not performing the Lord’s work, be that the church as a whole or individual members. And, therefore, we speak of the “Ministry” to the saints in this paper.
TERMS IN THE SCRIPTURES:
The term “ministry” in the Greek is diakonis. It is translated in the KJV with the following terms: administration, ministering, ministration, ministry, office, relief, serving, do service. (See Young’s Concordance) The term ministering is a verbal intransitive, referring to the functioning and functions of a minister of religion, in one form or the other. In II Corinthians 9:1 it refers to the actual giving of help to the poor by the churches of Macedonia and Achaia, for the poor saints in Jerusalem, believers out of the Jews. The poorer churches in Macedonia desired to share in this ministering to the saints in Jerusalem. (II Cor. 8:4) All the other terms by which the Greekdiakonia is translated are some facet of this ministry. Some emphasize the relief given, others the actual service, the real administration. Each passage will need to be considered in its context. This is not the place to make such a detailed word-study.
It is, however, of interest to notice something of the’ etymology of the Greek verb diakoo and dieekoo, one who executes the commands of another, especially of a master: a servant, attendant, minister, This meaning is borne out by the usage in such passages as Matthew 22:13, where we read, “Then said the king unto his servants, (tois diakonois) bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The same thought is expressed concerning a minister in Matthew 20:26, where we read “but it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister” (diakonos).
In connection with the latter, Jesus teaches us the profound mystery of His sacrificial work on the Cross. Says He, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered to (eelthen diakoneetheenai) but to minister (alla diakoneesai) and give His life a ransom for many”. (Matt. 20:28) We learn from this that Jesus connects our ministering with His self-sacrifice on the Cross through the eternal Spirit. Without His giving of His life for many there is not ministry nor administration of love and love-gifts for the altar among men. This ministry and self-sacrifice is the divine pattern of ours. We must do “even as the Son of man” did. He that is great in the church is the least. That is the great difference between the sons of God and the princes of the Gentiles, who exercise authority over the people. This is not an exercising of brutal authority of would-be benefactors, (Luke 22:25) but it is the tender mercy of Christ which is manifested in our tender mercy to the saints. This places the term diakonia on a very high and lofty plane; it is basic in the kingdom of heaven as manifested here among the saints.
THE DEEP BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF MINISTERING
The truth of the Gospel that Christ is among us as one that serveth stands out so strongly in all the Scriptures, This is really something new and different under the sun in this sin-cursed world of men. Jesus asks the penetrating and disclosing question of His disciples, “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? (ho diaknoon) is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” (Luke 22:27) It should not escape our attention that this is too the profound teaching of Paul inPhilippians 2:7, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness (habit) of men.” He took upon himself the very essential form and nature of a servant. He did not simply appear like a servant; he was wholly servant in his very human nature, although he was in the form of God, that ‘is, in the very essential nature of God.¹ He did not need to make being like God something which he aspired after, something which did not belong to him, which he would need to rob in order to have. THIS ONE became a servant, humbling himself unto death even to death on the Cross. Unless we can connect our ministry with this Christ, and have the same mind in us of a servant which was in Him, all our ministry will miss the mark. Such is the basic and profound teaching of Scripture concerning ministering to the saints.
This is the mind, the basic thoughts and intents of our aspirations, which must be in us in ministering to the saints, We must have the bowels of Christ in us yearning for the saints.
There is a very close relationship between the sufferings of Christ and of the church in the world. When Paul persecuted the church, even unto death, he is met by the glorified Christ on the way to Damascus. The manner of Christ’s address to Paul is “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Now Christ was in heaven as the head of the church. But the church, which is His body, was on earth. And Paul in persecuting the body of Christ railed against Christ Himself. This is a truth which too must be remembered in ministering to the saints; it must be remembered that any thing evil or good done againstor 80 the church is done in that form against Christ orto Christ Himself. The question: what think ye of the saints is at bottom the question: what think ye of the Son of God Who came into the flesh to minister for the saints. It is of this that Jesus speaks in Matthew 25:36, 43, “Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.” Again, “I was a stranger and ye took me not in: naked and ye clothed me not, sick and in prison and ye visited me not.” The truth here is that what we do unto the least of these who are Christ’s brethren we have done unto Him, and what we have not done to them we have not done to Christ Himself.
We cannot omit that awesomely majestic passage from Colossians 1:24-26, where Paul speaks of the ministry which was given Him. The diakonia here spoken of is not the distribution of monies to the saints, but rather the ministrations of treasures of the glorious gospel of Christ, the mysteries hid from the ages in God, but now manifested to His saints. However, there is here a facet of this ministry of Christ by Paul which sheds a great deal of light on the close relation of Christ to His church in the world, as she is bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, ruled by one Spirit.. Paul has a great deal of sufferings to endure. He suffers for the sake of the Gospel and for Christ. He feels that his sufferings have their source in his diakonia, his ministry of Christ. He therefore glories in them. Affliction for Christ is given us out of grace. There was still something lacking in these afflictions of Christ in the world before the full measure had been suffered. His suffering is viewed as a filling up of what was still lacking in this suffering of Christ. In effect he says, “Now when I see this full extent of God’s mercy, now when I ponder over His mighty work of reconciliation, I cannot choose but rejoice in my afflictions. Yes, I Paul the persecutor, I Paul the feeble and sinful, am permitted to supplement the afflictions of Christ.”² From this inner relationship of Christ and the church we also see the truth underscored that the Son in His ministration of mercy can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
Such is the deep Biblical concept of this ministering of Christ in His church. It is I in them and thou in me that we be perfect in one. (John 17:23)
FULFILLING THE LAW OF CHRIST
The ministering to the saints is not according to the law written upon tables of stone, but is the expression of the law written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. (II Cor. 3:3) Such is the law of the Spirit in Christ. Just as Paul filled up the measure of the suffering of Christ, we are to fill up the law of Christ in our ministering, so that every jot and tittle of the law is fulfilled. (Matt. 5:17-20)
In I John 3:14 we read, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren.” This love for the brethren must be more than lip service. Our ministering to the saints must be first of all, a giving of our life for the saints. Why? Because Christ gave His life for us. (I John 3:16) That was the inexpressible gift of God. (II Cor. 9:15) And when this love of Christ dwells in our hearts we will minister to the saints. When we see our brother having need, and we have this world’s good, we will give to him. Otherwise the love of God does not dwell in our hearts. Giving to our neighbor, ministering to the saints, is an infallible proof that we have passed from death into life. It is an infallible proof of a living faith, which is merited for us on the Cross, as the fruit of elective love of God.
The very heart and marrow of this law of Christ we find in Matthew 7:12, where we read, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Now Jesus did not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. (Matt. 5:17-20) All the law is fulfilled in one word, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Rom. 13:8-10; Leviticus 19:18; Matt. 22:39;Mark 12:31; Gal. 5:12; James 2:8) Such is the basic law of Christ. This is not a new commandment; it is the Old Testament Scriptures. It is the fulfilment of them. All the law and the prophets depend on it. Thus spoke He who interpreted the Scriptures to us. Did He not write these Scriptures by His Spirit? (I Peter 1:11) It was His Spirit in the Prophets. And, therefore, the “Golden Rule” is basic, central, all-pervasively up-to-date. It is, in one word, relevant to our times in the church!
This touches on the very heart of ministering to the saints. We all love to be done good to, to be loved and respected and helped. No one ever hated his own flesh. Well, that is the measuring-rod of our conduct toward our neighbor—to others.
Such is the law of Christ in us and for us!
¹ Compare: Lightfoot’s Commentary, p.110. Writes he “. . .Though morphee is not the same as phusis (nature) and ousia (being), yet possession of the morphee (form) involves participation in the essence. For the form implies not external accidents but essential attributes”
² Lightfoot on Colossians, page 230