Previous article in this series: September 15, 2009, p. 484.
When I left this subject in September, I had written that Christ’s church needs ministers. Our churches have the pressure of vacancies, and we feel that pressure here at the seminary. Who will present himself to be prepared for the ministry? The ministry is hard work—the toil of a slave, with the hardships of a soldier in battle, and the threats of wild beasts. No exaggerations, even if they are figures of speech—Scripture’s own figures. Then, when the ministry often also is accompanied by sorrows, who would dare train? Sometimes it ends in troubles, without a grand, happy farewell. Who would take up such an occupation?
If one of the churches’ sons pursues this grand and necessary work with right motivation, God has worked that work, for God makes ministers. God calls. God makes a man willing who may have been unwilling. God shapes a man by his upbringing, gives some gifts, withholds others, even ordains embarrassing weaknesses. God makes ministers. No man simply decides to become a pastor. And though we realize that some men do make themselves ministers, that’s a dark and wicked business that eventually must be brought to light, and will, sooner or later.
True ministers are God-made, not self-made. If we professors did not believe that God makes ministers (even though we acknowledge that He uses us), we would quit teaching very quickly. The longer I teach in seminary, and the more I feel the weight of the responsibility, the more I remind myself: God makes ministers.
How does God make ministers?
Step #1: Almighty Power
That’s what it takes to make a minister. Almighty power. Nothing less than that.
Early in his seminary years each seminary student, even the most naturally gifted, will express in his own words what the apostle Paul testifies about himself in Ephesians 3:7. “It will take he effectual working of his power to make me a useful servant in his kingdom. There is so much I must become that I am not now, so much I must do that I cannot do, that it will take a wonder of God.”
The seminarian who does not come to believe that, and to sense that with a profound realization, must not continue. If he supposes that he has the natural powers to be a useful servant in God’s church, he is foolish, and must be told that. Blunt and even offensive, but this is the truth that must protect the office.
God’s mighty power alone carries a man through seminary and beyond synod’s examination. Only miraculous energy strengthens him for the ministry. To do the work faithfully from Monday through Saturday till he’s exhausted, and then continue till he feels like a rung-out dishrag takes divine might. And what else will make him bold to speak when the consequences of speaking will be suffering? What less than wonder-working power enables him to die to self that he might live for the gospel?
The discipline and strength of constitution that a businessman exhibits when he sacrifices his own pleasure for the sake of his business are impressive. But the power that makes ministers—to make the unwilling willing, and not only willing but delighted—is divine!
It is the power of God in the Spirit of His ascended Son. It is the power of Christ Himself in a man.
This truth includes both warning and encouragement. The warning: No man can do the work of the ministry without depending on God. The encouragement: Regardless that the work may appear impossible—intimidating and terrifying—God will enable the minister to carry it out.
Paul’s teaching in the latter part of Ephesians 3 makes this clear. He offers a prayer for the church that makes the most sensible person respond: Paul, you cannot be serious in making such petitions! They are unreasonable! You cannot really believe that I could be filled with all the fullness of God! To which Paul answers: “We have a God who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” This applies to ministers, too.
God makes ministers by almighty power.
Step #2: Power to Humble
The man whom God makes a minister is a humbled man. The humility includes a real sense of his own sin, and a realization that he is less than the people under his care. In his own mind, he is the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:15) and less than the least of all the saints (Eph. 3:8). He esteems others better than himself (Phil. 2:3).
We ministers may not suppose that unless, like Paul, we were “before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,” we need not apply that appellation “chief of sinners” to ourselves. Not to apply it to ourselves is the worst practical denial of total depravity—the present depravity of my own nature.
This humility must be learned. It is not natural. But it is learned by God’s grace. Grace worked it in Paul. Powerful grace will work it in our ministers today, even if gradually. More and more, starting today: “God chose me? He calls me? He qualifies me? I do not even deserve to be a doorkeeper in God’s house, and God is pleased to make me a preacher, a teacher; to stand before the people of God to teach, comfort, warn, even rebuke? Me?”
The members of our churches want that in their ministers, and pray for that. Not to have such a minister is to have a minister who esteems himself higher and better than you and your children. Not to have such a minister is to have a minister who looks down on you…and your children. Not to have such a minister is to have a minister who is surprised at your sins. He supposes that he and his children could not commit such sins.
Not to have such a minister is to have a “big bad minister.” Big in his own mind, he is a bad minister. When God truly makes a minister, he is very little in his own eyes. Little in relation to God, but little in relation to others, too.
Step #3: Sainthood
God also makes ministers saints. Paul was “less than the least of the saints,” but he was a saint. He believed that about himself.
Roman Catholic sainthood that designates as saints only a very few whose works stand out in the world, and leaves the rest of us as non-saints, is not the sainthood of the Scripture. Paul surveyed the congregation of believers, called them all saints, and said: “I am one of you. I am the least of all of you. But I am one of you, a saint.”
Ministers are saints, that is, believers whom God has sanctified: God has separated them from sin and devoted them to Himself.
They are separated from sin. Ministers know themselves as those whom God has washed from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ and freed from slavery to sin by the Spirit of Christ. Faithful ministers pray not to live under the sway of Satan, or allow any sins to take over in their lives. If they do, they quickly admit it and get help, lest they destroy God’s church.
Saints also confess their sins. Part of sainthood is the ability to admit fault, be sorry, express that sorrow, and live humbly. The church wants ministers who are saints in that sense.
And if it takes nothing less than the power of God to make a man willing to become a minister, it certainly takes divine power to make a man confess his faults and ask for forgiveness. But God’s grace is amazing grace, and does mighty works.
Grace also consecrates men to God. Separated from sin, consecrated to God.
Step #4: Highest Esteem for the Gospel
Therefore, this man—strong, humbled, holy—has the highest esteem for the gospel of Christ. To him the gospel is “unsearchable riches” (Eph. 3:8). Its wealth, in his mind, is unfathomable: “God loves us! His own Son gave Himself for us! He will not judge us for our sins, for He spared not His own Son! In His covenant love He will be faithful to us! For all eternity He will be our friend! Unfathomable!” If all Fort Knox’s gold were piled in his front yard as a gift, he would not be in awe as much as he is as he stands before this gospel—great good news!—of God. He esteems Christ’s riches so highly that he would have his limbs cut off and his eyes plucked out if that’s what it took to retain them. For him, God’s gospel is the pearl of greatest price.
This esteem is not first of all for the preaching of the gospel, but for the gospel that is preached. A minister will have a very unhealthy esteem for the act of preaching if he does not properly esteem the gospel he preaches. It would be like an artist having more esteem for his brush and palette than for the portrait of his wife that he has painted, or like a carpenter esteeming his hammer and nails more highly than the house he builds with them.
But God has one final work to perform in the God-made-minister. With His own hand, as it were, God places in the heart of the minister some of His own heart. God loves His people; the minister loves them. God is jealous over His people; the minister has some of that jealousy for them (II Cor. 11:1). That’s why the minister can say that he “travails in birth (he’s in the pains of childbirth) until Christ is formed (takes shape) in them” (Gal. 4:19). A wonder of grace has taken place in the God-made minister. He truly wants the people under his care to know God as he knows God, to esteem God’s gospel as highly as he esteems it, to treasure it as he does nothing else. His heart yearns as a mother’s for her precious children. He asks, with sincere desires, that God:
would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God,
God makes ministers.
Only God can.
Please join with us here at seminary in praying that God will make such ministers. Join us in praying for the formation of the current students into such ministers. And join us in supplications for all our ministers that, more and more, Christ will be “formed in us,” as we pray He is formed in you.