This program aired on KIUN 1400 AM in Pecos, TX on May 14, 2018.
Someone once said that the work of preachers is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. While this is almost certainly an over-simplification of the work of ministry, it does capture, at least in part, the spirit of this work. We absolutely see this principle in the work of the Old Testament prophets. The messages they brought to the people of God sometimes comforted and encouraged them. On other occasions they scolded and chastised to try to bring the people back into faithful service to God. The work of the apostles and other preachers, as it is recorded in the book of Acts, suggests that this work did not change in the transition from the old covenant to the new covenant. It was then, and still is, hard work that takes a toll on the one who undertakes it. Even so, there have always been, and Lord willing there always will be, men who are willing to take on this challenging work.
One of the greatest challenges preachers and churches face is properly defining what that work should be. When left to our own devices, we may expect far too much or far too little from preachers. Fortunately the scriptures give us the direction we need in this regard, if we are willing to let them set the bounds of this good work. Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have long been used to set the parameters of the work of ministry and their contents should guide us still today. However, we find an excellent summary of the work of ministry in Paul’s farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus.
In Acts 20:17-35 Luke recorded this final meeting between the great apostle and these shepherds. He had worked with them longer than with any other church of which we have record. At the time of this meeting Paul was hurrying to Jerusalem where he would undergo great hardship. He knew he would never see these men again, so he spoke with them one last time. His words to them show us what the work of ministry should be.
First, Paul reminded them that he had persevered through all kinds of trials as he worked with them (Acts 20:18-19). Too many men are unwilling to work through the rough spots with a congregation. Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to persevere through all such things.
Second, he reminded them that he had taught them everything they needed to know from God’s word (Acts 20:20-21, 27). Too many men lose sight of the big picture and focus instead on their pet themes, or on what the congregation wants. Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to proclaim the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27).
Third, he warned them to be prepared to meet every spiritual challenge that would arise in the future (Acts 20:28-31). Too many men are so focused on being a spiritual fireman that they fail to teach the church how to meet these challenges themselves. Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to equip the saints for every good work and to discern right from wrong.
Finally, when all was said and done, Paul commended the elders of Ephesus to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32). Paul knew he would never see these men again on this side of life. They could fulfill their responsibility as shepherds only if they depended on God’s word. Too many preachers assume that they are indispensable. Paul shows us that the work of ministry is to point God’s people to the implanted word which is able to save their souls (cf. Jas. 1:21).
May all who preach commit themselves to the work of ministry, as the scriptures define it. If they do so, they will be the kind of ministers the Lord intends them to be. May all God’s people commit themselves to expect ministers to do the work of ministry as the scriptures define it, nothing more and nothing less. If they do so, our churches will be what the Lord intends them to be.
One of the most famous advertising slogans of all time is Nike’s “Just Do It!” Next to its “swoosh” symbol, these words are Nike’s most recognizable trademark. As a slogan it perfectly fits the bill. It is concise and memorable, and it encapsulates the culture of the company it represents. Nike wants its customers to believe that their products will enable them to reach any goal, and “Just Do It!” unquestionably conveys that idea.
In the sporting world, which is Nike’s chosen niche, “Just Do It!” zeroes in on the heart of competition. Many people talk a good game, but precious few can actually back up their words with their performance on the field. This is generally the difference between champions and also-rans. The champions get it done, while the also-rans make excuses as to why they didn’t.
“Just Do It!” is more than a sporting motto, however. It is a fundamental character principle that applies in every aspect of life. Children learn this truth when their parents deflect their excuses for not doing their chores, or their homework, or some other task that has been given to them. Students learn it from teachers, who are not impressed with, “The dog ate my homework”. Employees also learn it from supervisors and bosses, who are concerned only with results. The truth is, no one appreciates an excuse maker. We reserve our esteem for those who do what they say they will do.
There is no area in which the “Just Do It!” philosophy is more apropos than in spiritual matters. The inescapable conclusion of scripture is that only those who “do” are going to be rewarded by the Lord. When the Lord concluded the Sermon on the Mount He said that the one who does the will of the Father in heaven will enter heaven (Mt. 7:21). In Mt. 7:24-27 He went on to say that the one who hears His word and does it is like the wise man who built his house on a rock. His house will stand all the onslaughts of life. He also said that the one who hears His word and does not do it is like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. His house will fall, and he with it.
During the ministry of Elijah the prophet laid this principle before the people of Israel. In 1 Kgs. 18:21 he asked them, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Their silence in response to this question indicated their lack of commitment at that moment. In essence, the prophet was telling them to “Just Do It!”, whatever their choice might be. One cannot waver in response to God.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, the Lord said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). Later, on the night of His betrayal, the Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). This is what loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind is. This is what the Lord requires, and there are no excuses for failing to do so. We either do it, or we don’t. It’s just that simple.
Our Lord did all the hard work of salvation, the things that we were incapable of doing. He went to the cross and shed His blood to pay the penalty for our sins. He didn’t make excuses, He just did it. What remains to be done so we can enter heaven is well within our ability to do. Our Father in heaven wishes for all of us to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Therefore, let’s stop making excused. Let’s “Just Do It!”
Many commentators refer to Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Letters. This is because these letters are viewed as instructions for preachers. This designation has been assigned to these letters for so long that it is virtually impossible to speak of them in other terms. Nevertheless, even a cursory reading of them reveals that most of Paul’s instructions apply equally to all members of the body of christ, not just to preachers. Among his admonitions that apply to all Christians is the command to study God’s word, so we will be approved by Him and will handle His word accurately. In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
The clear implication of this command is that Christians are expected to become proficient in the use of the scriptures. Such proficiency cannot be achieved without diligent effort. The KJV rendition of this verse uses the word “study” in the place of “be diligent”, and this certainly captures the idea of the form that our diligent effort must take. We cannot be proficient with the scriptures if we do not spend time in them, both reading them and meditating upon their message.
One aspect of this command that might easily be overlooked is the connection between our diligence with God’s word and our approval by Him. Paul said we are to be workers who are approved by God. This approval is given only if we accurately handle His word. We cannot accurately handle God’s word, however, unless we devote the time and energy necessary to equip us to do so.
The imagery of an approved worker is significant. We recognize it in all aspects of life. One cannot be confident in a repairman who seems unacquainted with the tools of his trade. A workman who lacks rudimentary knowledge of his craft will not be approved of by his employer, and he will not long remain employed. We, as consumers, do not tolerate a workman who doesn’t know how to use the tools necessary to do his job.
This being true, we should be just as dissatisfied with ourselves about our skill in using God’s word. Too many of us are so unfamiliar with the scriptures that we have no idea how to accurately handle the word of truth. Too often we depend primarily on the preacher to guide us through the difficult waters of life. When a spiritual question arises, we ask the man whose business, we believe, it is to know God’s word. Unfortunately, this is not what Paul had in mind.
To be approved workers before God, each of us must be diligent with God’s word. The writer of Hebrews told his readers that they would become mature only through practice with God’s word, by which they would train themselves to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Thus, in order to be approved workers, we must study God’s word consistently and systematically. We must study God’s word contextually; that is, seeing what it meant in its original setting and then applying that lesson to today. We must also study God’s word reverently. We cannot cherry-pick our way through the scriptures. All scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The contents of scripture are exactly what God has revealed so we may be approved of by Him.
Therefore, let us, like Job, treasure the words of His mouth more than our necessary food (Job 23:12). Let us learn and become proficient with “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). If we do so, then we will be workers who do not need to be ashamed, and we will be approved by God.
On January 5, 1970 a single pane cartoon strip entitled, Love Is . . ., appeared for the first time in the Los Angeles Times. The strip was inspired by the artist’s feelings for her future husband, and featured a male figure and a female figure in various situations that depicted her vision of love. It was an immediate success and very soon was syndicated worldwide through Tribune Media Services. Most young couples of the 1970s were enthralled by the Love Is . . . comic because it perfectly captured the very feelings they shared. The original artist passed away in 1997, but the strip continues in syndication under the direction of her son.
In many ways the Love Is . . . comic speaks to the practicalities of human love. It correctly identifies the little things that one might do to keep the spark of love alive. It also often addresses the kinds of things that can squash human affection. In this respect it has no doubt helped multiple generations give deeper thought to this most important of human relationships. As heartwarming and inspiring as this comic strip is, however, it doesn’t tell the whole story of what love is. For that we must turn to the pages of scripture, because only there can we discover the most perfect and most complete explanation of what love actually is.
John is often called the apostle of love because he spoke of it so often, especially in the three short letters he wrote near the end of the first century A.D. His most well-known statement of love, though, is Jn. 3:16, where he wrote, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” When taken with a statement made by Paul, we begin to see what love truly is. In Rom. 5:8 Paul said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Love, as the scriptures define it, is choosing to do what is best and right for everyone in every situation. This is what God the Father did when He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 3:11). We had not done anything to warrant this sacrifice. God did it, because He chose to do so. He did it, because it was what was best for us. He did it without regard to our response to it. This is what love is and this is why John said, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:7-8).
Love is an act of the will. It is a decision to do what is best and right for the object of one’s love. It is something more, though, and John also reveals this to us. In 1 Jn. 5:2-3 John wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.” In very simple terms, then, love is obeying God’s will.
Some balk at the idea that love and obedience are one and the same, but the Lord Himself affirmed this truth. In Jn. 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This was not the only time He made this point. In Lk. 6:46 He exclaimed, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” It cannot be more plainly stated. As defined by the Lord and by His apostles, love is obeying God’s will. If we obey God, we will not fail to do what is best and right for each other every day. This, after all, is what love is.
In 1972 a Motown group known as The Temptations released a song entitled, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, that went to number one on the U.S. charts. The song is a mournful conversation between a young man and his mother as the young man sought to learn more about his father, who had gone to an early grave. The refrain after each series of questions from the young man was the mother’s reply, “Papa was a rollin’ stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home. And when he died, all he left us was alone.”
The last words of this refrain capture what is perhaps the most awful circumstance of human life. Most of us are social creatures. That is, we need the companionship of others in various forms. While all of us enjoy periods of solitude and quietness, very few of us are emotionally equipped to stand isolation. We desire and need interaction with other people. This is why God created Eve for Adam, because it was not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).
Our human companionships, from friends and family members, to our spouses, are an essential part of our existence. These relationships provide the means by which we are able to cope with the many ups and downs of life. They make our lives more enjoyable and full, and they enhance our ability to be productive members of society. Conversely, it is well-accepted by most that the absence of such relationships is often a contributor to disturbed and sometimes criminal behavior.
As important as these human relationships are, there is another relationship that is even more important. It is our relationship with our Father in heaven. Someone once said that we are all made with a God-shaped void in our hearts. If that void is left unfilled, or is filled with something other than God, the results are predictably bad. We see this played out before us daily in the lives of those who ignore the overtures of God’s word.
Sometimes, though, even Christians may feel that they are all alone in the world. The great prophet Elijah experienced this in the aftermath of his victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kgs. 18. When Jezebel threatened him, Elijah fled to Horeb, the mountain of God. When God spoke to him there, Elijah expressed his feeling of isolation (1 Kgs. 19:9-10). Elijah felt that he was the only faithful man in Israel, but God assured him that this was not the case. He thought he was all alone, but in addition to God being with him, there were still 7,000 in Israel who had not yet bowed to Baal (1 Kgs. 19:18).
Before our Lord left the earth, He made a significant promise to His disciples. In Mt. 28:18-20 He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
When we become Christians by obedience to the gospel, we are added to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13-14). We are thus added to the body of Christ, and as long as we are faithful to Him, we are never again truly alone. This is because our Lord abides in us and we in Him. Paul understood this when he stood before evil kings and all his friends deserted him (2 Tim. 4:16-17). Even there, the Lord was with him and sustained him. The Lord promised to be with us always, until He takes us home to heaven. Therefore, we can take courage and not fear the uncertainties of life. We take courage because our Lord will never leave us alone.