Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Ministers of the gospel do not make much money. Generally speaking, at least this is true in our denomination, ministers do not accumulate a great deal of earthly wealth. Do not misunderstand, our ministers are provided with all they need. They are provided with good houses and a salary and other benefits which are sufficient to “free them from worldly cares and avocations.” But, if one wishes to make a great deal of money and amass to himself earthly riches, he ought not enter the ministry of the Word. The rewards a minister receives are far greater, much more worthwhile, of much more value than mere money. A faithful minister has the assurance that God is well pleased with his labors in the midst of the church. Can anything be more valuable than this? A faithful minister has the joy of seeing the fruit of the preaching of the Word in the hearts and lives of God’s children. How can one measure the joy and satisfaction a minister feels when God uses him with all his human weaknesses and sins to build His church? To bring the encouragement and promises of God’s Word to the sick, to instruct the lambs of the flock, to bring the comfort of the gospel to those who mourn, to baptize the infants of the covenant, to preach the Word and administer the Lord’s Supper, to witness the confession of faith of the youth of the church, all these and more provide rewards for God’s faithful ministers which cannot be measured in mere earthly terms. Not only so but the faithful minister is promised that when the Chief Shepherd appears he shall receive the crown of glory. (Cf. I Peter 5:1-4.)
The apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, a minister of the Word, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And in the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:1, 2). The Apostle is nearing the end of his life. He is concerned that his spiritual son, Timothy, a young minister, remember what he had been taught, the gospel of God’s sovereign grace in Christ Jesus. The truth of the gospel must be preserved by Timothy. And, that truth must be committed or passed on to faithful men. These faithful men are future ministers of the gospel. These must have the ability to teach others the truth of Holy Scripture. This is highly necessary, for only in this way are the elect gathered out of the nations, the church is preserved and defended until Christ returns, and God’s name is praised.
This is what our churches need too. We need faithful men who are able to teach others. These faithful men must come from the generation of the young men in our churches. The future well-being of our churches depends on this. This does not affect merely the young men of the churches, but all of us. The simple fact is that our churches need students for the ministry. Our calling is to pray that god will give us faithful men who are able to teach others.
Faithful men must possess certain spiritual gifts. Among these is the gift of what may be called genuine piety or spirituality. These must be men full of faith. It is true that there are hypocrites in the ministry. These never last. Sooner or later they are exposed. God even uses false prophets like Balaam to bless His people. These, however, are the exception, not the rule. Ministers must be pious, spiritual, godly men. They must be men saved by grace through faith, God’s gift, men in whose hearts is the love of God in Jesus Christ. Men, they must be, who love God, and God’s people and cause.
Humility is another of the spiritual gifts a minister must have. There is no room for pride in the ministry. Self-seeking, pride, selfishness, the seeking of the praise of men, all these are abominable sins among God’s people, especially among ministers. If one wants the praise of men, honor, fame he must not seek the ministry. Faithful men are humble men. As were the Apostles, they are slaves of God and of His church. Faithful men are men of much prayer, for they know that all that they have and are is of God. Faithful men know they cannot preach one sermon or do anything at all apart from God’s grace. Without ceasing they pray for God’s grace to enable them faithfully to teach others.
Sympathetic understanding is a third spiritual gift of faithful men. Jesus, our great, merciful High Priest is touched with the feelings of our infirmities and was tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). The servants of Christ must be as Jesus was. They must know God’s people, know their needs, joys, struggles, sorrows, and afflictions. Faithful men must feel with God’s people, understand them so as to be able to bring God’s Word to their needs. Ministers must weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Faithful men must also be men of spiritual courage. The Apostle admonished the church at Ephesus to pray for all the saints and for him that he might have boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:18, 19). This must be the prayer of every faithful minister. He needs boldness to preach the TRUTH of God’s Word. The Gospel declares that we are sinners who cannot do any good at all, that our salvation is all by the grace of God in Christ. To do this takes boldness or courage. Ministers stand in the front line of the battle of faith. This is why Paul tells Timothy that he must endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ. Again, this takes courage.
In addition, the minister needs certain natural gifts. He needs the ability to study. A faithful man must be able to teach others by means of the preaching of the Word. He needs the ability to read and study the Scriptures and all that goes with this. A broad background in history, philosophy, literature, and the original languages of the Bible are needed by one aspiring to the ministry. A minister must have the ability to explain God’s Word to God’s people. It takes many hours of hard, prayerful work to make an edifying sermon. The bulk of the minister’s time must be spent in his study with the Bible and his books.
The minister also needs the gift of public speaking. His chief task is to preach the Word twice on the Lord’s Day and to teach the children and youth of the church in catechism. The seminary provides courses on how to make a sermon and how to deliver a sermon and how to teach catechism, but a man needs that gift from God. The seminary courses can only help a student develop that gift and use it properly and for the edification of the church.
There is great need in our churches for faithful men who are able to teach others. It is certainly true that all of God’s people are anointed with the anointing of Christ. All are in Christ and by His grace prophets, priests, and kings. The means by which God enables His people to speak His praises, consecrate themselves in His service, and rule over the works of His hands is chiefly the preaching of the Word. God saves His church by means of preaching. Scripture teaches in I Corinthians 1 that it pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.Romans 1 tells us that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Romans 10 says that we cannot believe on Christ, call upon His name, and be saved unless we hear Christ by means of a preacher who is sent.
There is also a practical side to this great need. Among our ministers and professors, two are in their sixties, four in their fifties and the rest are in their forties or younger. Bearing in mind that it takes eight years of education after high school to prepare for the ministry, someone beginning next fall would graduate from the seminary in 1994. By that time two, perhaps five, of the ministers would be retired. All of our retired ministers would be well into their eighties or in heaven. Any of the others could be gone through death, illness, or discipline.
The need is great indeed! Young men in the churches ought to examine themselves to determine whether or not they have the necessary gifts for the ministry of the Word. If they do, they ought prayerfully to consider whether or not the Lord calls them to pursue the ministry of the Word. Parents ought to discuss these matters with their sons. So should teachers in our Christian schools. Pastors ought to hold this need before their congregations and especially before the young men of the congregations. All of us must pray earnestly that God will raise up faithful men from our congregations who are able to teach others in our churches. God hears those prayers and He will provide for His praying people!
Make no mistake about it, the ministry of the Word is hard work. In the light of the last hour in which we are called to live as prophets, priests, and kings in Christ, it will become harder. This ought never be underestimated. The work is hard, very hard. The rewards and joys of the work are greater by far!