The importance of ministry: St. Paul the Apostle, talking about the various gifts of the Spirit, said, " As God has dealt to each one a measure of faith according to the grace that is given us " ; "If prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence." (Rom 12: 3- 8) In all this, ministry is foremost of everything due to its importance. And the Lord Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant to serve mankind, and said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 45) If so, how much rather should we serve, and how honorable ministry actually is!
The apostles also accomplished spiritual ministry as well as social services. When appointing the seven deacons, they said, "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (Acts 6: 4) On this spiritual ministry, St. Paul likewise said, " has given us the ministry of reconciliation therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5: 18, 20) To his disciple Timothy, he said, "Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim 4: 5) and about St. Mark he said, "He is useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim 4: 11) Concerning the social service, he said, "These hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me." (Acts 20: 34) Again praising the Hebrews, he said, "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister." (Heb 6: 10)
It is clear that the church fathers had the spirit of ministry rather than domination. They served people and sacrificed themselves for them. Priests also considered themselves servants of their churches, serving the Holy Sacraments, God and the congregation. St. Augustine the bishop of Hippo prayed for his congregation, saying, 'I ask you, O Lord, for my lords, Your servants.' Though a bishop he considered those whom he served as his lords. They were servants in the true meaning of the word, for they labored to the farthest extent of their ability, "In journeys often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in fastings " (2 Cor 11: 26, 27) They watched out for their souls, as those who must give account (Heb 13: 17).
The church fathers were like candles that melt to give light to the others Beautiful indeed are the words of the spiritual elderly father on ministry: 'Wherever you go, be the smallest of your brothers and their servant'! The attitude of grandeur is not an evidence of power but rather a war, for the powerful is the person who trains himself to be a servant.
St. Amba Sarabamon Abu Tarha (the Veiled) used when he was a bishop to go by night secretly to the houses of the poor, knock at their doors, and leave the food he carried to them and go away happily. <BR>Amba Moussa the Black likewise used to carry water to the cells of the monks; and St. Pinofius trained himself to do the disdainful works scorned by the others, such as cleaning the water closets, sweeping the monastery, removing away garbage etc.
The fathers did such services happily, without being required to do them and with no murmuring. They did them with humbleness, feeling glad to serve their brothers. One of the saints, seeing a brother struck with leprosy, carried him to his cell, served and provided for him for three months, thus receiving the blessing of such a service. So many fathers served the sick or the elderly for long periods, like St. John the short who served his spiritual father Amba Bemwa with amazing patience until that father reposed in peace blessing him and saying about him, 'This is an angel, not a human being!' Others used to help anyone in trouble, as the Lord said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt 11: 28)
Love of ministry: Two things we should focus on with respect to ministry: love of ministry, and spirit of ministry. Love of ministry makes a person keen on helping whoever is in need. But, since it is difficult for one person, in spite of deep love, to serve everybody alone there exists specialization in the field of ministry. Some would enjoy serving orphans to provide them with the parental love they need; others prefer to serve the sick, the elderly, the nursery children, the poor families, the students living away from home, or girls exposed to deviation and loss.
Love of ministry accompanies a minister at home, at work, and everywhere. Even while eating, a minister cannot rest until he is sure that none at the table needs anything, not even a cup of water, some salt or bread. He helps with preparing the table and cleaning it after eating, not leaving that to the mother, the sister, or the wife. When he rises up he makes his bed, arranges his clothes instead of leaving them to someone else to arrange them. Unlike this type is a person who does not serve the others and even is a burden on them to serve him. A true minister is very sensitive for the needs of the others, always thinks about what they need and provides it.
This is the mission of the active shepherd or successful spiritual minister. They try to find out what people need and think of projects and activities that may satisfy their spiritual and financial needs even though they are not required to. So many are those who criticize, but so few who care about correction, for criticizing is easy, but correcting is the spiritual phase full of practical love leading to the kingdom. It is easy to drive away a naughty boy from the class, while he actually needs correction. To serve such a naughty child or abnormal boy is the deep ministry that has a big reward. Moreover, it is a good thing to serve where the name of Christ has no place, where people mock religion and the religious, or where some have never served the church and do not want.
The majority of ministers seek easy ministry where they enter into the labors of others and build upon the foundation laid by others. On the contrary, great strugglers labor for establishing ministries that had no existence, and do not object if others enter into their labors. The Lord Christ did this and left us an example to follow. He said, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Mt 9: 37, 38) These words apply as well to the present time, for in spite of the thousands of ministers, the laborers are very few, I mean the laborers in whom the Spirit of God works, whose ministry has deep impact and increasing fruit, on whose mouths the living and effective word of God works.
Effectiveness of ministry:The twelve did not start their ministry until the Spirit came upon them and they received power from Him (Acts 1: 8). Having that power from on high (Lk 24: 49), "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." (Ps 19: 4) Deacon Stephen being filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, stood before three councils and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6: 10). Also by the work of the Spirit in the apostolic era, "The word of God spread and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem." (Acts 6: 7) "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2: 47) "Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." (Acts 9: 31) We have so many instructors, but the spiritual ministers are so few. Take for instance a minister like Paul the Apostle; he labored more abundantly than all the apostles (1 Cor15: 10); he suffered and struggled more than the others with deep concern for all the churches and with such zeal which he described by the words, "Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation." (2 Cor 11: 28, 29) He was called "the apostle of the Gentiles", for his ministry extended from Jerusalem to Antioch, Cyprus, Minor Asia, Greece, and Rome. He wrote 14 epistles and preached even when he was in prison!
The ministry of one Paul is more effective than that of thousands! There may be fifty ministers whose ministry has no zeal, but when a new minister joins them the ministry turns into a flame of fire by the power of the Spirit in him! The tongues of fire that descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost gave them a fiery tongue, and fiery words and ministry, with zeal in the spirit, in prayer, in traveling and in moving from one place to another. Their ministry was like live coal that reached the whole world turning it into fire that kindled the hearts with faith.
St. Augustine, for instance, the influence of his ministry was not confined to his generation only, but we still benefit from his contemplations up till now. Tadros the disciple of St. Bakhomius likewise when he became a monk his influence was very deep on the monastic life in all monasteries. We also read about St. John the short that the whole scete hanged on his finger! It is a fact that in every generation there were distinguished ministers of a special type, "Chief among ten thousand." (Song 5: 10)<BR> We have many ministers in ordinary classes, but those who have the ability to serve in youths meetings, university groups, preparatory courses for new minister, or who can serve as speakers, those are few. However, in spite of the need, some ministers compete or fight each other regarding certain ministries, leaving many fields with none to serve! In their fighting and competing they give a bad example far from spirituality and lacking the spirit of love, cooperation and self-denial. They become stumbling blocks!
Fields of ministry: If we really love the souls that need ministry everywhere, we will not compete each other, for there is much space for ministry. Ministry is not competing, but sacrificing. Who competes the others actually loves himself, whereas who loves the ministry and is occupied with it always tries to make it succeed in all ways and at the hands of anybody. Such a minister will not complain of its hardness, but rejoices at seeing it grow, and finds pleasure in bearing the burdens of the others as the Lord Christ has borne the burdens of the whole world. Therefore, he will not refuse any ministry nor chooses for himself, for his main concern is the need of the others!
It is good to find some ministry for those elderly retired persons to benefit from their free time and from their experience, talents, and abilities. On the other hand, they will benefit from the ministry liveliness and energy. They will feel that they still have a mission in life and both the society and the church do not dispense with them. Women also have many fields that need their service, whether in Sunday Schools, social services, cleaning the church, or organizing women in church.
A woman also may be consecrated as a deaconess.<BR>In this field she can supervise nurseries and student houses, help with handwork and sewing, organizing women for the holy communion or for baptism, visiting families and sick people, or comforting the sorrowful. As the Lord said, 'in My Father's house there are many mansions." This applies not only in eternity, but also on the earth, for there is a place and dignity for every one in God's house.
Characteristics of spiritual ministry:Fervency and heat of the ministry: It is the type of unlimited sacrificing ministry, as St. Paul says, "For necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some." (1 Cor 9: 16- 22)Visitation for ministry: Our father apostles used to follow up the ministry they had founded, whether by letters, or by sending their disciples, as St. Paul sent Titus and Timothy. He also visited them by himself, and said his words full of love, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing." (Acts 15: 36)Ministry full of the Spirit and power: Beautiful are the words of the Scripture: "With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all." (Acts 4: 33) It is the nature of the spiritual ministry to be powerful, because it is by the Spirit, and because the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Acts 4: 12). His word does not return void, but accomplishes what He pleases, and prospers in the thing for which He sent it (Isa 55: 11).Ministry full of love:The Lord Christ loved His own He loved them to the end (Jn 13: 1), and with the same love the apostles ministered, not a mere official ministry
Many fell & some perished
Do not think that all those who fell or perished were away from the church or from the ministry, for the Holy Scripture and the church history record many stories and occurrences about people who fell or perished although they were in the church or even in the ministry.
Take for instance Demas the assistant of Paul the Apostle and his fellow worker whom he often mentioned in his epistles (Col 4: 14), and whom he once mentioned before Luke the Evangelist (Gal 24): both were fellow workers with Mark and Aristarchus, and no doubt several people believed through them. However, Demas ended his spiritual life tragically, for St. Paul says, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." (2 Tim 4: 10) Some stories say that he even became a heathen!!
Not only Demas, but many others also who St. Paul
mentioned, saying, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now
tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of he cross of Christ."
(Phil 3: 18)+
St. Paul explains their problem, saying, " whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame who set their mind on earthly things." (Phil 3: 19) Let us then take a lesson from those and remember St. Paul's words: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor 10: 12)
This shows that falling is possible, even for great
We have for example the angels of the seven churches to whom the Lord sent messages through St. John: To the angel of the church of Ephesus, the Lord said, "I know your works, your labor, your patience and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary." (Rev 2: 2, 3) However that angel left his first love and the Lord said to him, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place unless you repent." (Rev 2: 5) How awful are these words, yet harder still are the words said to the angel of the church in Sardis: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." (Rev 3: 1) In spite of this he was considered a minister and an angel in the right hand of the Lord (Rev 1: 20), and the Lord called him to repent and warned him (Rev 3: 3).
The same applies to the angel of the church of the
Laodiceans to whom the Lord said, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither
cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth." (Rev 3: 16)+
Among the examples of those who were lost in the ministry are Eli the priest and his children. Eli continued to minister to the Lord until he grew old and his eyes grew so dim that he could not see, but he did not raise his children properly. Even when he rebuked them, he did it softly not firmly. Therefore the Lord removed him away and put to death his two children both in one day (1 Sam 2: 31, 34), and said, "Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever." (1 Sam 3: 14) Eli fell off the seat backward, his neck was broken, and he died. He had judged Israel forty days (1 Sam 4: 18). The old man and his children perished while in the ministry.
King Saul, the Lord's anoint, is another example of
those who perished.+
The Lord sent Samuel the Prophet to anoint Saul with the holy oil as a king. The Lord's Spirit came upon Saul and he prophesied, so the people said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" (1 Sam 10: 11) But how did the life of that anoint of the Lord end? He sinned and "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him." (1 Sam 16: 14) He perished!
The scribes and Pharisees were another example of
those who perished while in the ministry.+
They were masters and were very strict about the law. The Lord said about them, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." (Mt 23: 2) In spite of this they perished; for they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; they neither went, nor did they allow those who are entering to go in. The Lord called them, "blind guides" (Mt 23: 13, 16), and said to them, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Mt 23: 33)
This also applies to the priests of that
The Lord called them "wicked vinedressers" and said to them, "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." (Mt 21: 43) They and their chiefs tried Christ and condemned Him!! They accused Him before Pilate (Mt 27: 12), and demanded with loud voices that He be crucified (Lk 23: 23). Moreover, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers that they might tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept." (Mt 28: 13) They also had paid the thirty pieces of silver to Judas to deliver Him to their hands (Mt 26: 14, 15). They perished although they were ministers and messengers of the Lord of hosts, from whose mouths the law was to be sought (Mal 2: 7).
Another example is the older son in the story of
the Lost Son.+
The younger son represents those who got lost by separating themselves from the father's house and journeying away from their father, whereas the older son represents those who got lost while in the ministry, for he said to his father, "Lo these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time." (Lk 15: 29) He was not loving to his brother but rather got angry when his father received him joyfully. He refused to enter the house to take part in the family's joys. He also was not decent in talking to his father and even blamed him, saying, "You never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends." (Lk 15: 29)
Those who perish while in the ministry remind us of
the daughter of Jairus who died in her father's house (Lk 8: 49- 52).+
In this she was different from the son of the widow at Nain who was carried in a coffin on the way (Lk 7: 12) or Lazarus who was in the tomb with a stone laid against it (Jn 11: 38).
Adam and Eve fell while in the garden (Paradise).
Yet the worst example is Judas Iscariot.+
Judas was one of the twelve (Mt 10: 4); the Lord chose him and entrusted him with the moneybox. This is clear from the words of reproach said by the Lord to him, "What you do, do quickly." Some thought that Jesus had said to him, "Buy those things we need for the feast, or that he should give something to the poor." (Jn 13: 27- 29) Most probable Judas took part in the early training in ministry and received, like the other apostles, some gifts (Mt 10), yet he perished.
We also have a lesson from the perdition of a
famous prophet: Balaam.+
He was a man "whose eyes are opened who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty with eyes opened wide." (Num 24: 15, 16) He prophesied about the Lord Christ, saying, "I see Him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab." (Num 24: 17) The angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, and the Lord spoke to him more than once as it is said, "God met Balaam the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, 'Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak '" (Num 23: 4, 5; 16). Balaam had said to the messengers of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will; but what the Lord says, that I must speak." (Num 24: 13; 22: 18)
It is also said that, "the Spirit of God came
upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said
" (Num 24: 2- 3) Before
speaking he had built seven altars and offered burnt offerings: Seven altars;
seven bulls and seven rams (Num 23: 1, 2; 29, 30)+
Yet, in spite of prophesies, burnt offerings, visions, and the coming down of the Spirit of God on him, Balaam perished and put a stumbling block before the children of Israel (Rev 2: 14) And the Scripture spoke about the error of Balaam in (Jude 11), and in (2 Pet 2: 15) that he loved the wages of unrighteousness.
Among the examples of those who fell, not perished,
is Aaron, Moses' brother.+
Although he was a high priest and was anointed by Moses the Prophet with the anointing oil according to all that the Lord had commanded (Ex 40: 13- 16; Lev 8: 12), he made for the children of Israel the golden calf which they worshiped!! He said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." He received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then, when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it, and made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feat to the Lord." So they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings." (Ex 32: 2- 6) And when Moses rebuked him after coming down form the mountain, Aaron said, "You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, 'Make us gods that shall go before us.'" (Ex 23: 22- 24) Thus the high priest fell, and he fell once more when he and Miriam spoke against Moses the Prophet (Num 12: 1) and the Lord struck Miriam with leprosy (Num 12: 4- 10)
That was Miriam, who led the women with timbrel in
her hand, singing to the Lord after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15: 20)!+
That was Miriam, who sang that beautiful song, "Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!" (Ex 15: 21) However, this great prophetess was struck by the Lord with leprosy, and the Lord did not respond to the intercession of Moses for her, except after she was shut out of the camp seven days (Num 12: 13- 15)
If we move from the Holy Scripture to history, we
also can find examples of people who perished while in the ministry.+
Some of those attained great levels in the ministry, like some heretics who were distinguished ministers, and who the church excommunicated.
Arius was one of those heretics. He was the
greatest preacher and a priest in Alexandria, but he perished because of
deviating in teaching. As he persisted in his heresy the Holy Council of Nicaea
Other heretics are Nestor and Macedonius the two Patriarchs of the See of Constantinople. Each of them was at the top of ministry in his church, and both fell in a heresy and perished. Macedonius was judged by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, and Nestor was judged by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. Both died excommunicated and perishing, though they were heads of a great church.
The same almost applies to the perdition of Euticus
who was a great spiritual father and abbot of a monastery in Constantinople.
When he fell in a heresy all his past ministry was lost, and the church excommunicated
Let then every minister be on his guard as St. Paul the Apostle says to his disciple Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." (1 Tim 4: 16)
What are the reasons that make many ministers fall and perish? This will be the topic of next week's article God willing.
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