Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (15)
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2.5
“The example of Christ is most worthy of ministers’ imitation. His example was perfect, without error, blemish, or defect; and therefore worthy to be made our rule, and to be regarded and followed without exception, limitation, or reserve; unless in those things which he did that were proper to his peculiar office. Christ’s virtue was not only perfect, but was exercised in those circumstances, and under those trials, that rendered his virtuous acts vastly the more amiable of any that ever appeared in any creature whether man or angel.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
The Rule of life
We are hearing a good bit of talk these days about the importance of having a rule of life. Writers such as Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option) are rediscovering the value of embracing set guidelines and disciplines for achieving greater consistency and fruitfulness in our walk with and work for the Lord. Spiritual directors help their charges develop personal rules for spiritual living.
It’s a practice we at The Fellowship of Ailbe have followed for nearly 15 years now. The Brothers of our Fellowship have just completed their annual review and upgrading of their Personal Rules, and I’m greatly encouraged by the energy they have put into this, and the high expectations they hold out for themselves and one another.
But while written rules can be beneficial, they must only serve as guiderails along the path to the greater and only Rule of life any Christian should adopt: the Lord Jesus Christ. Our lives should unfold around a commitment such as David declared in Psalm 16.8: “I have set the LORDalways before me…” What could be more beautiful, more virtuous, more abounding in goodness, more likely to engender obedience and power, or more crafted to turn the world rightside-up, than the vision of Jesus Christ, exalted in glory, filling all things in all things through us, His people and disciples (Eph. 1.22, 23; 4.7-10)?
As Edwards’ insisted, “The example of Christ is most worthy of ministers’ imitation.” His spiritual fullness, moral perfection, practical beauty, compelling authority, unwearied service, and sinless demeanor ought to be every Christian’s goal. Therefore, it should be above all else the Rule of life that the shepherds follow who are leading the Lord’s flocks into a greater realization of the presence, promise, and power of His Kingdom.
For all circumstances
Those who take up the challenge of a personal rule often limit their commitments to the spiritual aspects of their lives, narrowly defined. All of life is spiritual, and therefore ought to be brought under our Rule of life. But for many, a rule of life means a schedule of spiritual disciplines – read so many chapters a day from the Bible, spend so much time in prayer, insert a fast here and there, make extended time for being alone with the Lord, and so forth.
This is the place to start, certainly. But Jesus is our Rule for life, not just for our “spiritual” lives. He gives us every moment of our lives, in every situation and circumstance, and expects that we will receive and invest our time to glorify Him, whatever we may be doing (Eph. 5.15-17; 1 Cor. 10.31). Whatever we do in the time of our lives – work at our marriage, raise a family, do our jobs, serve in the church, get to know the neighbors – we are to do under the Rule of King Jesus. He is at work within us, by His Spirit, so that we might will and do that which pertains to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2.13; Rom. 14.17, 18). Thus, all our time and activities, all our work and rest and leisure, must be entered into as unto the Lord, that He might be at work in and through us to show His loveliness and truth to the world. We must be prepared to learn the disciplines of time usage that will allow us to make the most of all our time for knowing, enjoying, proclaiming, and glorifying our Lord Jesus Christ.
Developing a rule of life
Do you have a Rule of life? Are you conscious of having every moment and activity of your life arranged and prosecuted to know Jesus and make Him known?
Taking Jesus as our Rule begins within, in our hearts and minds (Eph. 4.17-24). When we earnestly desire to be more like Jesus, we will devote our minds to learning what that requires of us – where repentance is needed, how to grow in our understanding, envisioning our lives as expressing the virtue of Jesus Christ in every situation. Then, as we come to value the righteousness of Jesus, and call on His Spirit to clothe us with it, we will find that not even our trials and setbacks will be able to keep us from knowing the presence and peace of Jesus, and growing more completely into Him.
What Jesus spoke to Peter on that Galilean shore, He speaks to each one of us: “You follow Me” (Jn. 21.22). Fix your mind on Jesus (Col. 3.1-3). Meditate on His beauty (Ps. 27.4). Lay aside everything in your old nature that doesn’t look like Jesus, and take up every thought, attitude, priority, and practice that does (2 Cor. 10.3-5). Bear witness to His inward presence in every circumstance, at every opportunity, in all your roles, relationships, and responsibilities (Acts 1.8). And work hard to learn Jesus and the disciplines of life that will allow you to grow into Him increasingly (Eph. 4.17-24).
Christ, our Rule of life, provided an example for us that is “perfect, without error, blemish, or defect; and therefore worthy to be made our rule.” But we will each have to work this out according to our calling and condition in the Lord. Spring seems a good time to be doing this, so here is the opportunity. What doth hinder thee?
Think of a skilled painter painting a likeness of himself on a surface. So we may now imitate the same characteristics that God himself has displayed in his becoming a human being. We hold these characteristics before us as we go in discipleship along the path he set out. His purpose in consenting to put on human flesh when he was God was this: that we, upon seeing the divine image in this tablet, so to speak, might imitate this incomparable artist.
- Methodius of Olympus (d. 311), Symposium 1.4.24
Do you know Jesus?
Our book, To Know Him, can be an excellent resource to guide your leaders into a deeper and more transforming relationship with Jesus, our Rule of life. Order copies for yourself and your leaders by clicking here.
Monastic Rules of Ancient Ireland
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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).