How do we view ourselves as ministers of the Word? Why are we in the ministry? What does our work consist of?
“An apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God” (1:1)
As an apostle, Paul was called to serve Jesus Christ as His authorized representative or “ambassador” (2 Cor. 5:20) to unbelievers. He was sent in the name of Christ and given the authority of Christ to do the work of Christ. He was called to lay the foundation of the Christian church by preaching the gospel, gathering churches, and building them on the foundation of Christ Jesus. The work of an apostle was God-centered and Christ-centered. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
Ministers of the Word are not apostles and should not claim to be so. Even so, we are to follow the example of the apostles who gave themselves “continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The apostles laid the foundation of the ministry of the Word, and then they entrusted the work to others. These others are described as “they who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17), “pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11), “ministers of God” (1 Thess. 3:2), and “ministers of Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 4:6). Their charge is to “preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 3:4).
Do we, as ministers of the Word, take this view of our office? Is our view of the ministry rooted in what Christ has ordained through the ministry and writings of His apostles? Paul goes on to say that he holds his office “through the will of God,” that is, as a calling and commission from God. God sent Christ into the world to redeem and reconcile man to God. God raised Christ from the dead and received Him into heaven. God gave Christ gifts that He then gave to His church — first to apostles, prophets, and evangelists of the New Testament period, and subsequently, to the ministers of the Word, ruling elders, and deacons who followed them. These leaders were appointed according to a principle as old as the Old Testament: that “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God” (Heb. 5:4).
In addition to a saving knowledge of Christ and personal experience of the truth of the gospel, the first requirement for ordination to the ministry of the Word is a clearly perceived, well-articulated, and well-attested call from God to preach, so that we can say with Paul, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Indeed, the difficulties, heartaches, and frustrations of the ministry are so great that only a person who is convicted that he is a minister through the will of God will have the fortitude to persevere to the end in the work of the ministry.
So fellow ministers of the Word, I urge you to go back to first things. How did you come to hold this office? Have you been ordained by the laying on of unseen hands? How were you called to this work? What does that imply for the way you go about doing it? And to whom are you accountable for the faithfulness with which you do it?
To keep God central to our theology as preachers of the Word, we must not only have a sense of our God-ordained calling as ministers of the Word, but we must also have a right understanding of our hearers.
Puritan Reformed Journal
January 2009 | Volume 1 • Number 1
By Joel R. Beeke