Friday, March 02, 2007

The Ministry of the Word Pastor Lars Larson

Dear Fellow Christian and Servant of the Lord:

We are very pleased with your progress and encouraged to see God blessing you in His service. Regarding the hostility that you are encountering personally as you seek to make known God’s Word, welcome to the ministry. In every place of ministry I have served, the same pattern has been repeated that you have and are now experiencing. This is also, of course, the common testimony of God’s servants though history. It comes with God’s blessing His Word. Often to the degree the Word is embraced by some, it will be rejected by others. And because we are so closely identified with our message, we ourselves either become loved or hated by those we are attempting to serve. This is in accordance with Paul’s testimony.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. (2 Cor. 2:14ff).
Notice, Paul is speaking of himself as a messenger of God who is perceived by others to be as detestable and disgusting as a rotting corpse. But thankfully, reaction and rejection confirms to us that the Lord is using us. We know this because what we are enduring identifies us with His servants whom he affirmed, who had encountered similar things. Therefore, far from discouraging us, the resistance we encounter may be legitimate grounds to encourage us and embolden us further. He said to His own,
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-21)
But most times this resistance is not from those of the unbelieving secular world, but from those who proclaim to be in Christ. Spiritual warfare is most frequently and most hotly engaged in the church, not the world. And when it comes from those who profess to be Christian, it is most painful. Spurgeon said, “I would rather be attacked by wolves, than sheep.” But again, this is the nature of true ministry of the Word. It will stir up things in the church first and foremost.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).
You may not recall what we encountered after arriving at Leominster. The same pattern in ministry reoccurred here as it had when I had arrived to pastor our church in Munich, Germany, in 1994. It had also transpired in two other churches in California where I had opportunity for short-term ministry of the word (one church for two years and an interim church for 5 months). This is the common experience of ministers of the Word to the degree that they fully and properly make known His Word.

This is how it always played out in my ministry (at least since I became Reformed in my theology and teaching). Upon arrival and the beginning to preach and teach the Word, there was an initial enthusiastic response to the Word being preached and all seemed to be pleased. (In those first months after arriving here, our attendance was around 190 to 200, if I recall correctly.) But then before long, the Lord began to “bless” His Word being sown. People who had thought that they were quite sound Christians discovered that they had been generally characterized by too much ignorance, error, and wrong behavior. This resulted in some having suspicion toward me and my teaching. Others were rightly concluding that if what I was preaching were true, then they were either not walking with God rightly, or they were not converted at all. Some of these became offended and rejected such a notion, justifying themselves. They were often the source of murmurings and complaining, resisting and rejecting what was being proclaimed. They talked down doctrine. They talked down me before others. There were accusations of legalism. I was an unloving and unsuitable pastor. “He is too above the level of our people.” (Actually, this was probably more a revelation of their crass ignorance rather than my supposed advanced knowledge.) How often I have heard through the years, “He would make a good seminary professor, but he is no pastor.” But I have always been amazed that even while being accused of this, that some, who might be regarded as the least “capable” in the church body, are testifying and revealing how much spiritual insight and true knowledge they are acquiring. Ultimately, spiritual knowledge is not a function of intelligence capability. The Bible speaks little of that kind of thing. Rather, it is the one with a thirsty and teachable heart to whom the Lord gives understanding. A hard heart often comes with a slow mind. Often those, who do not want to know, will argue that you make it too difficult for them or others to understand what you are teaching. But in actuality if they would be humble and teachable, and ask the Lord to help them, the Lord would illuminate their minds to truth in ways that would overwhelm and delight them. God will not illuminate the mind for long, if the heart lies in indifference. Much of the resistance we encounter is fostered in our anti-intellectual and pro experience oriented culture. But a ministry of the Word that engages the mind, will always have its detractors, especially in these days.

Nevertheless, during this time when the Word was increasingly blessed among our people, some became confused and had their doubts and reservations about what was happening within their church. Some rejected it. Others remained teachable, but with difficulty. In time the Lord revealed who were gracious souls (had God’s grace operative within them) and who were not. In other words, the Word of God over time divided and separated, and thus purified the professing people of God. The church was divided into those who had a true heart for God and those who had not.

Please do not misunderstand, some might have resisted to a point that they were angered and left, but have since shown evidence of God’s grace in them.
We should not think that just because a person does not receive our teaching immediately, it is a sure sign that he is unregenerate. Sanctification in knowledge of doctrine occurs over time, and sometimes the process is slow and is besought with impediments.
Moreover, a person may be in Christ, but whose understanding of doctrine is very weak and even errant. Nevertheless, a desire to learn and a willingness to be taught doctrine is a sign of grace. And I have always been amazed to discover who it is that shows over time he is gracious and who reveals himself to be a stranger of grace. It underscores God’s discriminating love and grace for His chosen people. In the end our Lord’s words are always confirmed,
I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion. (Rom. 9:15)
The ministry of His Word
is the means to reveal to His people
that they are His people,
and to us also who they are.

This is the nature of ministry of the Word.

But thankfully, even while the Lord’s work is being advanced in others through us, that same Word is also doing a work in us. When the insinuations and accusations come, they are often tied to some personality trait or perceived defect in us (may the Lord help us if they are tied to actual sin or unrighteous attitudes or behavior.) Granted, they are often unjust or exaggerations of us, but they nevertheless are driven home to us. We are tender-hearted toward our Lord and others, although they think that we are hard and indifferent. It horrifies us to think that some flaw in us would diminish the influence of God’s Word. And so, out of love for our Lord and His message and concern that they not reject our message because of our weakness, we seek to be circumspect and live blamelessly among them. In this way, the Lord does His sanctifying work in us, while we are seeking to see others sanctified by Hos Word.
One more point before I close. This ‘suffering’ for the Word is so closely associated with the true blessing of God, that we should welcome it and rejoice because of it, when we encounter it.

First, it assures us that God has called us to this work and that He will use us. Our Lord declared,
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Persecution is the indicator of a true spokesman for God. God is showing you and would encourage you to know that He regards you as a true “prophet” of the Word. This is not in a professional sense; the “office” of prophet is no longer, but it abides in a functional sense. When we make known God’s Word, we are prophesying to His people, because He has called us and has equipped us (and is always further equipping us) for this work.

Second, recognize that present suffering may be a harbinger of coming blessing. Paul could welcome his suffering because it encouraged him in hope of a fruitful ministry. Paul wrote,
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
It is not fully clear what Paul was enduring, but it is clear why he rejoiced in it. He desired that God’s grace, His power, would rest upon Him. Power in the ministry of the Word will be proportional to how much difficulty you encounter in ministry of the Word. When you encounter much people’s hostility toward you and your efforts to make His Word known, you have every reason to be hopeful and encouraged of coming blessing. On the other hand, if we claim that we have a ministry of the Word and it is not accompanied with heartache, difficulty, rejection, we should be most concerned and even grieve, for it is a sign that God’s blessing has departed from us. One day Mrs. Spurgeon commented about the rise of popularity of her husband. She said something like this to her husband,
“Ah, those former days of abuse and neglect are gone. Look how popular you have come! Even the prime minister sits in his pew to listen to you."
His response was,
“Yes, it is so, and I fear that we will not have many conversions this year. I would sooner return to those former days when my name was cursed in the streets, that the power of God would rest upon me and His blessing of His Word would again be manifest.”
The ministry philosophy today which says that we are to shape our message and church services and activities to make people like us, feel comfortable with us, and embrace us, even while they continue in unbelief and unrepentance, is from the pit.

Keep us posted as to what is happening. Remember, your work of making a disciple has not been attained until he/she has been baptized and is fully a member and in service to the body of Jesus Christ, in His local church. Let us know if we can assist you in any way.

Through Calvary’s ties,
Pastor Lars
2 Tim. 3:16-17

1 comment:

Brian said...

Definitely blessed by this post.