Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (15)
Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons…Mark 3.14, 15
“Ministers of the gospel are in some respects called and devoted to the same work and business that Christ himself was appointed to…ministers of the gospel, as Christ’s servants and officers under him, are appointed to promote the designs of that great work of Christ, the work of salvation.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
The example of Peter and John
The story of the lame man Peter healed, in Acts 3 and 4, illustrates Jesus’ success in His disciple-making efforts.
First, Peter and John wielded the grace of salvation in a most dramatic manner. All the healings and exorcisms Jesus did were demonstrations of His power over sin and its effects; they were signals that deliverance had arrived and salvation had come in the Person and Name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus empowered His disciples for this specific end, that they might wield the power for salvation. The healing of this lame man demonstrates that the power with which Jesus imbued them was working for salvation through these two disciples.
But Jesus also chose the disciples to be with Him. Indeed, it was their being with Him that gave them the focus, incentive, and wherewithal to go forth as His witnesses unto the salvation of many. It was obvious, even to Jesus’ detractors, that these unlearned fishermen had been with Jesus, and that this was the explanation for their ability to extend His saving mercies to the world.
Here, Edwards suggests, is a good way for ministers to think about their calling. We are “called and devoted to the same work and business that Christ himself was appointed to,” and that work begins by being with Jesus before we go out to show and proclaim Him for salvation to the world. And this must be the framework not only for our own lives, but for all those to whom we are sent for the work of making disciples of Jesus.
We will have no power, and can expect little in the way of blessing on the work of ministry appointed to us, unless being with Jesus is the foundation, focus, and fount of all we do.
A great danger in the work of ministry is that shepherds, who become very busy very quickly, allow their sacred time with the Lord to be elided into their work. They’re always praying with someone or in some group or public activity. And they’re always preparing in the Word for some preaching or teaching. This is as it should be.
What should not be is that these times of prayer and reading and study and waiting on Jesus begin to substitute for daily, personal, intense seasons of waiting on the Lord in His Word, in meditation and prayer, and in solitude and silence. Many pastors will admit that they do not have much personal time with the Lord, do not read through His Word regularly, are wanting in a rich and meaningful prayer life, and spend almost no time contemplating the glorious vision of Christ, exalted and reigning and coming again. They are seldom with Jesus merely for the purpose of seeing and hearing and partaking of Him.
Yet apart from such time with Jesus, we will find the ministry less a calling than a job, and will have neither the vision nor desire nor power to extend our ministries in new and more fruitful directions.
Jesus came to earth with a specific objective in mind. He didn’t come merely to preach, teach, do good, and help the needy. He came to bring salvation to me;, and to those who would become saved, a deeper and richer experience of that salvation day by day.
Ministers are similarly called. We must be careful lest we fall into the habit of treating the means of promoting salvation as the ends of ministry themselves. Our preaching, teaching, training, counseling, visiting, and all the rest must always be unto salvation in specific ways.
This entails our having a clear and growing vision of just how great the salvation is that we have in Jesus Christ (Heb. 2.3; for a fuller treatment of this theme, click here). The salvation of Christ is healing and restoring, and fills those who receive it with great hope and joy, and a desire to cling to the Lord and grow in Him. The work of ministry is not merely for getting people into heaven, or helping them to be assured of forgiveness and eternal life. The salvation of God is the Gospel of Christ, which is the power of God for making all things new. The great salvation of our Lord affects every aspect of our lives, all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities. The work of making disciples entails leading people to work out their great salvation in fear and trembling, so that Christ is continually increasing in and through them into their Personal Mission Fields. We are not shepherding the Lord’s flock as He intends until the power of His salvation is reaching, transforming, and flowing through those we serve into the waiting and weary world around us.
Ministers of the Gospel “are appointed to promote the designs of that great work of Christ, the work of salvation.” And the “designs” of Christ are that He should fill all things in all things (Eph. 1.22, 23; Eph. 4.7-10) and that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord should cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2.14).
And this will not be possible apart from our being with Jesus and forHis great salvation.
“They recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Not without purpose has the Evangelist set down this passage, but so that he might reveal where they were, that is, at the passion. For these men alone were with him then, when indeed they had seen them humble and dejected. It was this that particularly surprised them, namely, the greatness of the change. For in fact Annas, Caiaphas and company were there and had stood by him as well. Now their great outspokenness shocked them. For it was not only by their words that they revealed their lack of concern over the accusations they faced and the extreme danger impending, but also by their bearing, their voice and their gaze—in short, by everything about them they showed the outspokenness with which they confronted the people.
- John Chrysostom (344-407 AD), Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 10.
Shepherding God’s Flock at The Ailbe Seminary
We’re pleased to announce that our course, Shepherding God’s Flock, is now open for registration at The Ailbe Seminary. Whether you are a pastor, elder, or church leader in some other capacity, this course can show you how to make disciples, build the Lord’s church, and advance His Kingdom according to His example and teaching. Watch this brief introductory video, then register at the website (upper middle of the website), download the Course Introduction and Overview, and seek the Lord about enrolling in this course.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).