(As found on Christianity Today)
The Greek words translated as “ministry” in the New Testament describe some kind of service. In the early church the minister was a servant, not simply an officer. This concept was a novelty to the Greeks and Romans, who considered a servant to be an unimportant nobody who did things for others who were more important. Jesus Christ elevated and dignified service when he said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Today society evaluates a man’s worth by the number of people who work for him. Jesus reversed that: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The big question in ministry then is, “How many people do you work for?”
This does not mean that Christ’s ministers become the chore boys and girls for the lazy members of the congregation. Ministry is not catering. Paul explained the difference when he wrote “…ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (II Cor. 4:5). First of all, we serve the Lord; sometimes that service must run counter to the ideas and desires of men. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” Paul asked the critical Galatian believers. “Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). The person who does not want to work and serve others should not enter the ministry, nor should the person who wants to enjoy center stage attention with all spotlights on him.
As ministers, we must be concerned about individuals and not just congregations, crowds, or nebulous “mankind.” We must not join Linus in the “Peanuts” comic-strip and admit, “I love mankind–it’s people I can’t stand!”
Jesus emptied himself and became a servant. He came to minister, and the nature of ministry is service.
Ministry is too sacred to be motivated by gain and too difficult to be motivated by duty. Only love can sustain us. “You love to preach,” Andrew Bonar said to a guest minister at his church. “Yes, I do,” the man replied. “Do you love the people you preach to?” asked Bonar. I do not know what the visitor replied, and it is not important. What is important is whether or not we love the people we are ministering to.
Only love makes a servant put others first. Only love keeps a servant from exploiting and using his people for his own purposes. Only love prevents a leader from becoming a dictator. Duty becomes delight when it is saturated with love.
But this love must not be manufactured. If it is, then it is not really love; it is shallow sentiment or cheap flattery. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is love.
“God has poured out his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:5). Paul’s own ministry was “compelled” by the love of Christ (II Cor. 5:14), and it was this compassion compulsion that helped to keep him going when things were difficult.
Jonah ministered without love. He went to Nineveh, not because he loved God’s will or the people to whom God and sent him, but because he feared God’s chastening. The Elder Brother (Luke 15:25ff) labored dutifully in the field, but he had no love for either his father or his brother. Both men accomplished their work, but they missed the blessing. They ended up critical and divisive, unable to get along with God or men.
Apart from love, gifts and talents are hindrances to ministry. They become weapons, not tools. They exalt the servant; they do not edify the church. We may know little about the intricacies of communications theory (although we ought to study them), but if we love our people and serve them in love, we will somehow build bridges instead of walls, and our message will get across.
John Henry Jowett stated it perfectly: “Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” I might add that ministry that costs nothing is not really ministry at all. Jesus setts the standard: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). To serve and to give. The connection is clear.
One of the greatest prayer warriers I have met was Jacob Stam, a brother of John Stam who was martyred in China. Jake was an attorney, and he knew how to plead his case with God. I will never forget hearing him pray one night, “Oh, God, all that most of us know about sacrifice is how to spell the word!” Sacrifice–a word in our Christian vocabulary, but not a force in our lives.
A visitor told Samuel Johnson that he regretted not becoming a clergyman because he considered that life an easy, comfortable existence. Johnson knew better. “The life of a conscientious clergyman is not easy,” he told his visitor. “I have always considered a clergyman as a the father of a larger family (his church) than he is able to maintain. No, sir! I do not envy a clergyman’s life as an easy life; nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.”
I once heard a preacher ask a Christian bookseller for a “cheap book of sermon outlines on the deeper Christian life”; my heart immediately went out to his congregation. Here was a man unwilling to pay the price for spiritual reality!
Years ago, A. W. Tozer warned us that a new cross had come into our evangelical circles, a cross that had little to do with suffering, sacrifice and death. “The new cross does not slay the sinner,” Tozer wrote; “it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect.” Unfortuantely, some of God’s servants are carrying this new cross, and their aim in life is not to see what they can give, but what they can get.
Jesus said this: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:25-26).
Ever since Satan declared himself independent of God’s authority, there have been two philosophies of life: submission or assertion. Modern best sellers exhort us to “take care of number one” and even to use intimidation to accomplish this. Among Christians who ought to know better, “Love yourself” has replaced “Deny yourself.” In the name of freedom we are preaching and practicing anarchy.
We are first servants, then rulers. No person who is not under authority has a right to exercise authority. We can never serve by asserting ourselves; it is only by submitting ourselves.
But submission is not subjugation. Subjugation turns a person into a thing, destorys individuality, and removes all liberty. Submission makes a person become more of what God wants him to be; it brings out individuality; it gives him the freedom to accomplish all that God has for his life and ministry. Subjugation is weakness; it is the refuge of those who are afraid of maturity. Submission is strength; it is the first step toward true maturity and ministry.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).