19. Aspects of Ministry

Meditations in Titus: 19:  Aspects of Ministry

Titus 2:15   These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you

We have noted previously Titus has within it a number of succinct passages or verses that powerfully summarise different doctrines. In our verse above we have a number of aspects of Christian leadership, things which we would hope we would find in the ministry of any local church leader. There are five things to note.

First of all there is teaching. That is what Paul has been putting before Titus for so much of this letter so far, things that Titus needs to teach within the church. The truth is that when we come to Christ most of us have very little knowledge of the New Testament teachings so we understand little of what has happened to us and little of what we can expect and little of what we should be working for. Making up these deficiencies is the role of the teacher in the church and, I believe, all leaders are called to be such teachers.

Second there is encouragement. Encouragement is all about building up people’s self esteem ‘in Christ’. Building up self esteem on its own only tends towards building pride and self-centredness. Self-esteem in Christ is knowing who we are in him and realising the wonder of who he has made us to be. Encouragement reminds us that we are loved and accepted by God. It points out to us what He has done for us and in us and it helps us face a meaningful and purposeful future.

Third there is rebuking. For most of us this is an aspect of ministry we would rather ignore but when Paul wrote to Timothy he said, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) I have emphasised three words, Rebuking points out that something is wrong. Wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour need pointing out and identifying as displeasing to God. Correcting shows us what is the alternative that God wants for us, while training is about how to go about changing from one to the other.

Fourth there is authority. The authority that a leader has should come from two sources. First there is his calling. He has been called to be God’s representative. He is not there to do his own bidding but God’s. He is not there to provide for himself but for the flock of God. He’s been called to oversee them, to guard them, protect them and provide for them just as The Good Shepherd does, for they are his representatives. This is not a casual or light thing. Second there is God’s will as revealed in His word. We can say with authority, this is right and this is wrong – because God’s word says so.  When the leader comes to present the word of God to the flock in preaching or teaching, he is not there full of ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ but of a certainty that is there in God’s word.  Next to basic food or drink, the Bible is The most important material thing that we have. It is the revelation of God and when we realise the significance of what that means, we will be leaders who come with an authority that was observed in Jesus (see Mt 7:28,29 and Mk 1:22-27)

Fifth there is good reputation.  This has already come up in Titus in a variety of way, for example, “an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.” (Titus 1:7) in respect of leaders, and, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” (2:5 – women) and, “they have nothing bad to say about us,” (2:8 – Titus himself) and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10 – slaves) about others. Each of these examples are about behaving in such a way as to create a good reputation so that the work of God’s word and Spirit is not hindered in any way by us. It is true of all of us but especially so of leaders.

Thus we find in these five things, things that we should find in all spiritual leaders. These are basics, fundamentals that are essential in the church if we are to be the people of God, expressing Jesus  and demonstrating God’s love and grace. May it be that we can see them wherever we are part of the church.

34. A Growing Body

Ephesians Meditations No.34

Eph  4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In the previous meditation we started thinking about the concept of growth in the Christian life. Our verse today continues that concept but adds a crucial aspect to it. It may be helpful here to recap a little to see where Paul has come from. Back in chapter 3 he spoke how he wanted us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” (3:18) so that the outworking would, “to him be glory in the church.” (3:21). He then went on to exhort them to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:3), also explaining that Christ has given gifts of ministries, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (4:12), so that “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (4:15).

So it is now, that he starts, “From him…” (4:16). This has all been about the ‘body’ which is the church, of which Christ is the head. Now here is the crucial addition to all that he has said so far: growth of the church depends on the relationship with the head. This verse speaks about the church which “grows and builds itself up” i.e. there is addition to the body (grows) and that new, bigger body is then to be strengthened (builds). That is what is supposed to be happening to the church; it is supposed to be getting bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger.

If you are of the mind that only looks for a diminishing church in the last days, remember Jesus parable about the mustard seed: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree.” (Mt 31,32). No, the call is to expect Jesus’ rule in and through his church to grow. But note in all this that there is a responsibility on the church to build itself up! Now that ‘building’ or strengthening will come about as the individual members relate properly to Christ and to each other. When Paul was counseling the Corinthian church he said, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12). To the Thessalonians he said, “encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thess 5:11). Building or strengthening comes through encouragement. Can we ask ourselves do we encourage others in our part of the local church? Do we actively seek to build up the local church by building up individuals? Are people, blessed, encouraged and built up after they have encountered us?

So there are two concepts here: growth (numerically) and strengthening, and both of them come about when we are rightly related to the head and to the other members of the body. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) I quite like the older versions that speak of ‘abiding’ in Christ rather than just ‘remaining’ in him. It speaks of living with, sharing with, being in harmony with, him. If Christ is merely a figure from the past, we will not have this sort of living relationship with him, but it is this sort of relationship that brings this flow of life that produces change and fruit in us.

But let’s now think about rightly relating to one another. Paul’s analogy is not easy: the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” Now whatever else that means it speaks of each member being linked to, joined to all other members. What are the ‘supporting ligaments’? I’m not sure I know. Perhaps it refers to the mutual faith in Christ that we have, the beliefs from the Scriptures that we live by, and certainly the love of Christ that flows between us. These things, surely, bind us together.

But there’s a sting in the tail of this verse today: “as each part does its work.” Wow! Now don’t try and escape from this.  Remember what Paul said, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27). YOU are a part of the body of Christ that is the church if you are a Christian, and the body will grow and be built up if YOU do YOUR part!  So, here’s the crucial question: are you doing your part? It’s no good complaining about the state of the church if you are not doing your part with the gifts and abilities and love that God gives you. Passivity is not an option! Is it any wonder that some churches are in a poor state when the members see ‘the minister’ as the one who is to do all the stuff and they can just sit there in the pews and absorb! No, a thousand times, no! That is not the church that Jesus desires!

I realise we haven’t focused on one word in our verse today – love.the whole body….. grows and builds itself up in love.” It is love that builds the church. If you have anything against a brother or sister in your church may I remind you that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8). There is no room for division, dissension, criticism, gossip or anything that pulls down the others in the church. Jesus command was that we Love each other as I have loved you.(Jn 15:12).

These verses that we have been covering recently speak very strongly to the modern church which is so often so very far from the Biblical model – get it together, obey what God has said, start being what Jesus wants. If you nothing else do what these verses in these two chapters have been saying.

30. Oneness

Ephesians Meditations No.30

Eph  4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

When one looks across the world at the Christian Church, at the divisions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then numerous Protestant denominations, it is hard to take on board this verse in its practical outworking. Yet, as we commented in the previous meditation, if you put aside all those ‘institutional’ divisions, then each town or area would have had its own expression of ‘local church’ as is clearly seen in the New Testament, for it couldn’t have been any other way. Itinerant ministries might have linked them in fellowship and understanding, but they would still, otherwise, have been independent groups all around the world, so perhaps we need to see past the ‘institutional’ divisions and see the reality that Paul is speaking about.

“There is one body and one Spirit.” That is how God sees the church. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands or even millions of local church expressions there may be, they all constitute one body, the body of Christ, the Christian Church, and Jesus is head over all as Paul said earlier in the letter: “the church, which is his body.” (Eph 1:22,23) and will go on to say a number of times later in this letter. In his companion letter, to the Colossians, he says similar things: “And he is the head of the body, the church.” (Col 1:18).  So, as God sees the reality, every local church is a part of the overall body, and Christ is head over it, and he energises and directs it (if it is open to him), by his Spirit. Yes, that is the truth, that Jesus wants to guide, direct and energise the local church by his Spirit, so it does the same things that he did (Jn 14:12) by the power of his Spirit. That may be one of the biggest challenges possible to the church today! But it IS the truth according to Scripture. The key question is will we seek the Lord to bring ourselves into line with the Scripture?

But Paul hasn’t finished: “just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” That is interesting! He reminds them and us that we were called by God and it was the same calling whoever we are and wherever we live in the world. Now we need to understand that when the New Testament uses the word ‘hope’ it is not a vague wish as we so often mean, but it is a specific future thing that will come. The emphasis on the word hope is simply the future aspect. When we have been born again by the Spirit of God, as Paul already indicated, we move into a life that is directed by God and God has plans for us to lead the most fulfilled life possible: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (2:10). But that is only because, “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (1:5) and we, “were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” (1:13,14) and this is all about, “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (1:18,19) and He, “made us alive with Christ.” (2:5) so that “in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,” (2:7). Do you see that all of this that we have previously considered is ‘future language’, about the outworking of what Christ has achieved, and which is to be worked out in our lives?  That is the hope we have which, of course, includes eternal life, although that is not the thrust of the teaching in this little book; it is the outworking of Christ’s work on the Cross in bringing the Church into being.

Paul had started listing the ‘one’ things we all have in common. Now he continues the list: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” We all submit to the same Lord who is ruling on high with one purpose, we all have the same faith (responding to Him), we are all baptised on the basis of Jesus forgiveness brought to us through the Cross and are all immersed into his body by the Spirit, we all worship the same God who is the same Father of all of us. Just to push home the point, he continues about God, “who is over all and through all and in all.” i.e. it’s ALL about God and His Son Jesus Christ and it’s the same for ALL of us who call ourselves Christians.

As sinful human beings we emphasise our differences of procedures, of living out our corporate expressions of church, and some of us are silly enough to over-emphasise particular doctrines, or even rely on the teaching of men, and thus we allow the enemy to create divisions and mistrust in our minds. However the truth is that we ARE all one – because God says so! Therefore the people who worship down the road may do things differently from us but, if they are born again, they ARE part of the body of Christ. Yes, there are difficulties where there are different shades of belief about the Scriptures, or about facets of Christ’s work but, and this is the hard part, we are still one with them if they are born again and we had better be careful if we deny the sonship of other believers. Let’s be careful that we don’t offend God!