Dead Works vs. an Active Ministry

Hebrews 6 vs 1 speaks of ‘dead works’; that is work done by sincere people, often in the name of Christ, but without the Spirit of Christ. Put simply,  an enthusiastic human effort to do things in a misguided attempt to appease God, aka religion. One of the great wonders of the Gospel of God’s Grace is the we can do nothing to earn our salvation! No amount of effort can improve your standing with God. Trying to do good things will not help. In fact, Isaiah tells us that our very best efforts are as ‘filthy rags’ before God (Isaiah 64:6). Our salvation is a free gift that we receive by faith, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”  (Ephesians 2:8). However, as James reminds us, the evidence that our faith is real is seen in our desire to serve God, not out of compulsion, but out of the love for Him that we now have in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Real love is not doing something for someone you love to get something in return, but doing simply because you love them and it is a joy to do so! Jesus spoke of following Him as not being a list of burdensome rules, but as being an effortlessly simple, peaceful and restful life (Matthew 11:28-30).     

But this then opens the question as to how we are to serve God in a way that is pleasing to Him? These study notes are therefore designed to be a guide for those who have been called to follow Christ, and how ‘Christian ministry’ should look, whether it be washing up cups after the church service or travelling to China to preach the gospel! Much of the following will also be valuable for those already ‘in ministry’, especially those who have become run-down or weary by the pressures that are often experienced and that can sometimes make us feel like we are just going through the motions!

Whilst on the surface, we may think that the subject of ‘ministry’ affects those who have a particular ‘calling’, it will be seen that this is an area that affects (or should affect!) all those who would profess to serve and follow Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Ministry’?

Christians are particularly good at speaking in ‘Christianese’! We use words that no one in the world has a clue about in our attempts to successfully communicate the gospel. So before we look any further, it would be helpful to explain what we mean by the term ‘ministry’.

The dictionary defines ‘Minister’ as ‘someone who attends to people’s needs’, so therefore it follows that a ministry is the carrying-out of jobs that we do in order to attend to those needs. More specifically, ‘Christian ministry’ is the jobs that we do in, or for, the church in order to meet the needs of both those inside, and those outside the church.

What is the purpose of ministry?

The main purpose of all Christian ministries is to bring those ‘outside the church’ into a relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Then, once this is achieved, the objective is to teach and equip these people to build and live their lives based on God’s Word – The Bible. As a result, we then nurture these people so that they too may get involved in ministry; and so it continues until the time when Jesus returns for His church.

This is summarised in the famous passage found at the end of Matthew’s gospel that has become known as the ‘great commission’. Jesus says: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  (Matt 28:18-20)

We are to: 1) make disciples, 2) baptise them into the faith, and 3) teach them.

Who is eligible for ministry?

The following passage, also from Matthew, makes it clear that anyone who professes to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, should be involved in some form of ministry. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it”. (Matt 10:37-39)

The apostle Paul explained this yet further in his letter to the Ephesian church: “And He Himself (Jesus) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, FOR THE… equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,  but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love”. (Eph 4:11-16)  Emphasis added!

So it is clear, every part of the body of Christ, the church, should ‘do its share’.

At this point the objections start rolling in: ‘but I’m not able to stand up and preach, that’s not my gift!’ – ‘but I’m not musical, I can’t help with the worship!’ – ‘I don’t know enough yet, I’m not ready to lead others’, – ‘I’m not good with young people’, – ‘I can’t stay and help after the service because we’ve got friends coming to lunch’ etc, etc, etc! Again, Jesus said: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me”.

A rich man once went up to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Jesus answered him by saying that he should go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. The man walked away. Jesus let him go. The point that Jesus made is that there is a sacrifice required when someone wants to become His disciple. It will cost us everything. You cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13).

The rich young man had become entangled in the things of this life and was unwilling to lay them down for the sake of the kingdom of God. He did not want a ministry, just the reward that comes from it (see Matt 10:42 / 1 Cor 3:8 / 1 Cor 3:14 / Col 3:23-24 / 2 John 8).

Paul said to Timothy: “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Tim 2:4-5)

Commenting on this verse the respected Bible scholar J Vernon McGee said:

Imagine a soldier in the midst of battle going to his sergeant or his lieutenant and saying, “Sir, I’m sorry to have to leave, but I have to go over into the city to see about some business; and then I have a date with a local girl, and I just won’t be able to be here for the battle tonight!” A great many Christians are trying to fight like that today! 1

Jesus said there would be a cost if we want to be His disciples; we will not be able to carry on our ‘old lives’ alongside.

The good news is that when it comes to ministry there are many different ‘jobs’ to be done within the church, not everyone needs to preach or play an instrument.

The Apostle Paul elaborates in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:4 “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all”.

In the Bible, the church is represented as a body with Christ as our ‘head’. Each individual Christian makes up a part of the body and is therefore necessary if the body is to function properly. You will no doubt agree that if your arm chose not to work because it was too busy doing other things, you would not be very impressed!

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”  (1 Cor 12:26-28)

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor 12:12)

So, in answer to the question, all Christians are not only eligible, but according to the Bible, are also expected to be involved in some form of ministry. Regardless of how mundane or glamorous a job may appear on the surface, all are vital and depend on each other in order to have a fully functional church.

It has been said many times that Christianity is not a spectator sport, and why should it be? The Bible tells us that we were bought at a price, we now belong to God, we owe Him everything. We are supposed to have died to our old lives, counting all the things that we once thought important as rubbish (see Phil 3:7-11). Let’s face it, in return we have not only been given a second chance, but eternal life as well – something that we could never have earned!  (See 1 Cor 6:19-20 / Eph 2:8)

Having now dealt with the basic questions, let us consider what ministry entails, what our attitudes should be, how we should approach our ministries, and what the dangers and pitfalls are.

God First

Jesus said that the first and most important commandment is ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matt 22:37-38). This cannot be over emphasised. So many ministries fall down because people take their eyes of God. He must be first in our thoughts, in our affections and in our entire life. Make sure that your ministry, the work you do, is a distant second. God must be number one on a list of one. Never let what you are doing for God come before your own personal relationship with Him; if you do, both will suffer.

Jesus Himself understood the necessity of relying on God in regard to His earthly ministry when He said: “I can of Myself do nothing.” (John 5:30), and again,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself,” (John 5:19)

“I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.” (John 13:16)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

“Seek First the kingdom of God and His righteousness”. (Matt 6:33)

So the foundation of all ministry is to continually abide in Jesus. Once again, following Christ should be the most beautifully simple thing in the world! (see again Matthew 11:28-30)

“ You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, “ (Isaiah 26:3)

Walk humbly with your God

Secondly, you must be humble. Far too many Christians adopt a worldly ‘muscle their way to the top’ approach. Jesus told the parable about the wedding guest who came in and sat at the top of the table. He was shamed and told to take the lowest place. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

Pride is the oldest sin in the Book! The attitude that ‘I’m better than this’ – ‘No one appreciates me’ – ‘I’ll show them’ – ‘Why do I always get the bad jobs’ – is straight from the Devil.

Pride has a tendency to make people want to have, what is in their eyes, the ‘best jobs’ and the most recognition. This has created no end of friction and problems throughout the history of the church. However, Paul’s teaching on this point is again very clear:

“If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary”  (1 Cor 12:15-22).

Acts chapter 6:1-4 shows a practical example of how each part of the body is important. The apostles arranged for seven people to be appointed who would be able to take care of the daily distribution of food, so that the apostles could concentrate on preaching the Word of God. As a result, we read in verse 7: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly”.  Without the willingness of the seven to take on, what we would call ‘menial tasks’ – waiting on tables etc, the apostles would not have been able to preach without hindrance, and the word of God would not have been able to spread, and hence the number of disciples would not have increased.

One objection that people sometimes have in regard to taking on so called ‘menial tasks’ is that they feel they will not be able to be as effective for the Lord. On this point just look at the impact that Stephen, one of the seven ‘table waiters’ had! (See Acts 6:8 – 7:60)

Without question, you will be most effective if you are where God wants you to be! Understand that your ways are not God’s ways and God’s ways are above your ways (see Isaiah 55:8-9).

The Psalmist, King David said that: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness”. (Psalm 84:10) Unfortunately, so many Christians want to be seen and rewarded; doing what they do to impress men, and not in loving service to a God for whom we could never do enough.

“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”  (Matt 6:2-4)

If God chooses you to clean the toilets at church, then you have been given a position far higher than you deserve. We deserve God’s wrath and judgement, we deserve to go to hell for eternity. The last thing we should ask for is what we deserve! However, we have been given eternal life and blessings beyond compare! “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor 6:20)

Many times people have earnestly prayed ‘Oh Lord, please use me in any way You choose!’ – only to then find themselves putting the chairs out before the service and complain that they are just being used! If you feel that God has something more for you than your present ministry, follow the example of Joseph and keep serving God where He has placed you, until He chooses to exalt you. Be patient and allow God to engineer the circumstances for you. Better that, than to find yourself at the bottom of the table!

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Oswald Chambers said: “If we learn to worship God in the trying circumstances, He will alter them in two seconds when He chooses”.2

We must learn from the King of kings who humbled Himself and became a servant, washed the feet of men He had created (John 13:5) – why? Because His heart’s desire was to do the will of His Father and bring glory to Him.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” (Phil 2:5-9)

A servant is not greater than His master (John 13:16).

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you; but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

A servant’s heart

The third attribute that is a must, is a ‘servant’s heart’. By this we mean the humility and willingness to serve others, following Christ’s example. Time and time again Christians ‘leave it for someone else to do’!  Galatians 6 verse 2 & 3 says: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself”

Jesus said: “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt 23:11).

And again: “And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves”. (Luke 22:25-27)

Jesus said that a servant is not greater than his master, and yet so often in church environments we see people usurp authority and stamp their feet if they don’t get their own way – rather than submit to one another in the fear of the Lord (Eph 5:21)

You may be familiar with the TV science fiction programme ‘Star Trek’. On the feature film ‘First Contact’ there is a wonderful example of the way we should be: The captain makes a decision and then leaves the ‘bridge’. Although most of the crew disagree with the decision, when a by-stander asks the question “So what do we do now”, the reply from the crew is unanimous. “Once the Captain makes a decision it’s final!”

This is the way it should be for us. We should support, encourage and pray for our leaders, not criticise and undermine them! Most ministries in a church involve working under someone’s leadership; sometimes the Pastor or maybe a group leader etc. If we believe that God has anointed leaders and given them the ministries and positions they have, we must learn to be good servants and support them, even if at times we don’t agree.

Before your alarm bells start ringing and you say ‘I’m not sure that I like that idea’, take a look at the examples in Exodus (ch32 & ch33) and Numbers (ch12 & ch16) where the people disputed with Moses because they didn’t like his leadership or the decisions he made. Observe the way that God dealt with those who went against Moses’ God-given authority!

Incidentally, this doesn’t give those in authority a blank cheque to do what they want, they are still accountable to God, and James has this warning for them: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement” (James 3:1). And remember that in God’s Kingdom, he who rules should be as he who serves! Leadership in God’s book simply provides more opportunities to serve. (See also 1Peter 5:1-3).

Paul said in Philippians 2 verse 14, “Do all things without complaining and disputing”. James says: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren” (James 4:11); and again: “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned” (James 5:9). But ultimately, all of this can be summed up in the words of Paul found in Ephesians chapter 5:15-21: “Therefore do not be unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is………submitting to one another in the fear of the Lord”. Sub-mitting means to get under one another’s missions or ministries and support each other.

“So continuing daily with one accord ………….. praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:46-47)

Be the head and not the tail

Much of what Christians do today is sub-standard. We have become the ‘tail’ looking to the world as the ‘head’; rather than leading the way we usually follow at a distance – usually a big distance.

In the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon wrote: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might;”  (Eccl 9:10).

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:12, when talking about various ministries and gifts: “Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel”.

However, Christians often organise and arrange ‘evangelistic’ events that are quite frankly an embarrassment. In 1 Corinthians 4:10, Paul classed himself as a ‘fool for Christ’, but so often this has been used as justification for doing things badly and being laughed at by the world. Paul also said that: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor 9:22-24).

What we do, we should do to our absolute best – we should aim to win. Not in the worldly sense of putting others down in order to get to the top ourselves, but out of a desire to give God the best.  The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God, and we know from His word that when He had finished creating, He looked at what He had made “And God saw that is was good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25,  & 31). This was not just ‘OK’ or ‘the best I had time for’, but the very best that it could possibly be.

In the book of Deuteronomy God said the following to Israel “And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the LORD your God” (Deut 28:13).

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus turned water into wine, not just average wine but the best! So much so that the master of the feast made a point of calling the bridegroom to say to him: “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2:10-11)

When Jesus fed the five thousand, He didn’t provide just enough to go around, but so much that 12 baskets full were collected at the end. Read Exodus Chapter 25 to chapter 30 and see the detailed instructions that God gave Moses for the building of the Tabernacle and for making the priestly garments and various utensils that were to be used for sacrifice and worship.  God is, without any doubt, a God of perfection and doesn’t do things by halves. We have been created in the image of God, is it wrong therefore for His people to adopt the same standard?

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:17).

“A grave defect in much work of today is that men do not follow Solomon’s admonition, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.’ The tendency is to argue, ‘It’s only for so short a time, why trouble?’ If it is only for five minutes, let it be well done.”3  Oswald Chambers

Making an enthusiastic start

At the start of something, we are very often full of enthusiasm and energy, ready to take on the world! This is very often the case with ministries; once we have become a Christian, the excitement and knowledge of our salvation often ‘propels’ us into ministry out of a desire to do something for God.

There are various examples of this in the Bible, but one of the most notable is recorded in the book of Matthew chapter 26:33-35, “Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.”

Simon Peter and the disciples had immense enthusiasm, so much so that he stated that he was prepared to die defending Jesus. As we know, Simon Peter’s natural enthusiasm and courage came to an abrupt end in a courtyard when challenged by a young girl! The rest of the disciples? They ran away scared.

History records that almost all the disciples did end up dying for their faith and commitment to Jesus, so what produced this change?  After Jesus had risen from the dead He told the disciples, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.‘ (Luke 24:49)

And again: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Quite simply, they received the power of the Holy Spirit, no longer were they relying on their natural human abilities.

The reality is that many of us will go through the ‘Simon Peter experience’ where we will make bold statements of our intentions and commitment; we will start well, only to later ‘deny’ Jesus as we realise that we are just not able to make-good our promises. We will find out first hand that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41)

Moses had a heart to set the people of Israel free from their Egyptian slavery. He started with all the enthusiasm that could be asked for when he killed the Egyptian. However, God made Moses wait for 40 years until he had learnt to rely on God’s strength alone. In fact, by the time God called Moses at the burning bush, Moses’ own enthusiasm and belief in his own abilities had all gone! (See Exodus chapter 3).

Abraham’s attempt to ‘help’ God (he was enthusiastic to see God’s promises fulfilled), resulted in Ishmael being born, the descendants of whom have been a constant problem to Isaac’s descendants to this day – as prophesied in Genesis 16:12.

Like Simon Peter, Moses and Abraham, many Christians have gone through a ‘time of trial’ at the start of their ministry, where they feel as though they have been ‘put through a furnace’. Peter, no doubt mindful of his own previous failings says: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;” (1 Peter 4:12).

James continues: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

God wants us to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing, but all too often we haven’t got the time; we know we need patience but we want it now!  It has been said that nowadays many Christians spend just 3 years training for 30 years in ministry (rather than the other way round as Jesus did)! Even the Apostle Paul after his conversion waited for 14 years before his ministry began in earnest (see Gal 1:15 to 2:1). Moses waited 40 years, Abraham 25 years, Noah 100 years to see God’s promises fulfilled. David was anointed as Israel’s king many years before he sat on the throne, but he was prepared to wait for God to do things in His time.

Proverbs 17:3 says “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts”. The problem is not enthusiasm, but obedience and trust. Not obedience to ‘our’ ministry, but to God, in His way, in His timing.

All the time that we are striving to fulfil our own agendas, seeking to serve God in our own way, we are of little use to Him. God wants to drive out of us any hint of self-reliance or confidence in our own abilities. Oswald Chambers said: ‘We have to get rid of this notion—“Am I of any use?” and make up our minds that we are not, and we may be near the truth. It is never a question of being of use, but of being of value to God Himself. When we are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time.’ 4

The idea with all forms of ministry ‘is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us’.5  When we understand this we will be ready for whatever ministry the Lord calls us to.

Somewhere down the road – Where it can all go wrong

Very often at the start of a ministry ‘putting God first’ seems like the most natural thing. However, as the days go by, we can get complacent or simply forget that it is the Lord who has brought us this far. Like the children of Israel, our memories of God’s provision slip from our mind and we start to rely on our own strength again as if nothing had changed in our lives. Like Samson, we rise to meet the challenge without realising that God’s Spirit is no longer powering us (Judges 16:20). As we struggle we blame God for not being faithful and blessing our ministries; after all, HE called us to this ministry in the first place!  We also start to become resentful of others who, on the surface, don’t appear to be doing as much as we are. We find ourselves in the Mary and Martha situation.

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

This type of situation will probably ring true for many of us; we take our eyes off the Lord, things start to go wrong and all of sudden we start to notice others, who are apparently doing nothing! We cry out to God ‘It’s not fair’!

However, Paul raises and important point in Romans14:4: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls”.   In other words, it’s none of your business what others do before God. Jesus replied in a similar way when questioned by Peter about John’s relationship with Jesus; “Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:22)

Jesus also told the parable (Matt 20:1-15) of the man who hired workers throughout the day. At the end of the day he chose to give the same wages to all of them. Those who had worked longest and therefore hardest complained feeling unjustly treated. But as the man in the parable points out, each man received exactly what had been agreed. So it is with us, each of us answers to our own Master, (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil 2:12), we have received that which we were promised (i.e. the salvation of our souls), and therefore we have no grounds to complain.

NB: This is not suggesting that others will get away with doing nothing for the Kingdom, faith without works is dead (see Galatians 6:7 / Matthew 6:20-21 / 1 Cor. 3, for a start!).

The verse in Romans clearly states that ‘To his own master he stands or falls.”  We can rest in the assurance that God is Just: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25) However if others are doing nothing, it is almost always because their walk with the Lord is not where it should be, and we probably need to pray for them rather than criticise them. At the end of the day, they are losing out while you continue to store up treasure in heaven that will be waiting for you! (Matt 6:19-21)

So, to summarise thus far, when we take our eyes off Jesus, we end up ‘sinking’.

“And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”  And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him.”

(Matt 14:28-31)

Oswald Chambers comments on this verse: ‘The wind was actually boisterous, the waves were actually high, but Peter did not see them at first. He did not reckon with them, he simply recognised his Lord, and stepped out in recognition of Him and walked on the water. Then he began to reckon with the actual things, and down he went instantly. Why could not our Lord have enabled him to walk at the bottom of the waves as well as on the top of them? Neither could be done except by recognition of the Lord Jesus’6

This is it in a nutshell. When we take our eyes off Jesus, even for a moment, and start to consider our circumstances, look at others, and start counting the cost, we will struggle.

“Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

 “If we undertake work for God and get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility will be overwhelmingly crushing; but if we roll back on God that which He has put upon us, He takes away the sense of responsibility by bringing in the realisation of Himself.”7 – Oswald Chambers

Be filled with the Holy Spirit

As a river is continually refreshed from the source, so must we be if we are to continue bearing His light and bringing glory to our Saviour. In Christian ministry we will continually be ‘giving out’ and unless we make sure that we also ‘take in’, we will dry up, and our ministry, and more importantly, our own spiritual life will be affected. Daily Bible reading, prayer without ceasing, fellowship with other Christians; all of these are absolutely essential if we are to be pleasing to God and effective in our ministries for Him.

It will never cease to be a source of amazement, how many Christians know nothing of God’s Word and yet expect to have fruitful ministries. As we have already seen, Jesus said that we should make disciples and teach them. What will we teach them if we don’t know the Word of God? All we will have is our own ideas and opinions – again, we will end up sinking, and no doubt blaming God!

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”.  (Isaiah 40: 28-31)

Spending time waiting on God is the only way that you will find sufficient strength to do all that lays before you. As has been stated, God must be number one. Unless we spend time before Him, drinking and being nourished in His Word, we will not last the distance. “Bodily exercise is all right, but spiritual exercise is much more important and is a tonic for all you do.“ (1 Tim 4:8 The Living Bible)

Dr Paul Yonggi Cho, is the pastor of the Central Church in Seoul, Korea which now has over half a million members. In his book ‘Prayer – Key to revival’8 he explains that unless he got up early and spent time with the Lord before the start of each day, he would not be able to cope with all the demands that are placed upon him.

 

Keep the fire burning!

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Gal 6:9)

We have the hope of all that is before us to look forward to, this alone should give us the resolve and determination to keep pressing on.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (Matt 25:21)

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18)

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Col 3:2-4)

 

Finally to conclude:

“Jesus Christ says, in effect, ‘Don’t rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me’. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You never can measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ.

Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it.”9

“The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us – ‘I reckon on you for extreme service, with no complaining on your part and no explanation on mine’. God wants to use us as He used His own Son.”10               – Oswald Chambers

 

All scripture quotations from The New King James Version. 1996, c1982. Thomas Nelson: Nashville (unless otherwise stated)
1)     McGee, J. V. 1997, c1981. Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson: Nashville www.thruthebible.org
2)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – December 18th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
3)     Chambers, Oswald, Abandoned to God, (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1993.
4)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – February 21st (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
5)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – December 18th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
6)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – June 18th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
7)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – April 13th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
8)     Paul Y Cho, with R. Whitney Manzano, Prayer: Key To Revival, (United Kingdom: Word Books) c1984
9)     Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – August 30th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
10) Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, – December 18th (United Kingdom: Marshall Morgan & Scott) c1927.
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