Ministry for Mission: Ministry Outcomes (3)
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. 2 Thessalonians 3.1, 2
"Course means here dissemination; glory means something farther―that his preaching may have its power and efficacy for renewing men after the image of God."
- John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3.1
Throw your weight around
When Christians talk about the glory of God – a rare occurrence at any rate – they can settle into a frame of mind in which they use the word confidently without really understanding what it means. “Glory” is one of many terms believers freely employ to describe some aspect of their faith; but, as with such other terms as grace and praise and worship, we often use glory as a kind of spiritual place-holder, without really understanding its meaning.
The root of the Old Testament word for glory carries the idea of being heavy. There is a solidity to glory. Paul mentioned an eternal weight of glory which he expected to know even in the midst of his many afflictions (2 Cor. 4.17). When one is in the presence of the glory of God, a kind of heaviness presses in. In the Old Testament, when God revealed His glory, light radiated brilliantly, or darkness encroached menacingly, either of which caused people to fall down on their faces, or otherwise to avoid the sight of or any encounter with that glory. Moses’ face shone with the glory of God, and even that was too much for the people of Israel, who requested that he shield them from God’s glory by placing a veil over his face.
When the glory of God descended on Mt. Sinai, or filled the tabernacle or the temple, people dared not come near or try to enter. A sense of danger accompanied the presence of God’s glory. Ordinary things – rocks, bushes, tapestries, furnishings, faces – became objects heightened by the divine presence as they refracted the light, power, and mystery of God in their own unique ways.
So when we say that our chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, we should make sure we know what we’re saying. We want the glory of God – His presence, holiness, truth, beauty, goodness, and power – to be known in everything we do, even down to such everyday activities as taking a meal (1 Cor. 10.31). We want glory to throw its weight around so powerfully in and through us, that the people around us experience a reality such as they seldom encounter, and which resonates with the knowledge of God embedded but buried in their souls. One thinks of Captain Hook’s response to the dueling skills of Peter Pan: “This is no ordinary boy.” Just so, our words and deeds should so radiate the glory of God’s Word, that people who experience us, living as witnesses for Christ, should say to themselves, “Something different, something extraordinary, is at work here.”
Paul said that the goal of his ministry was that the Word of the Lord might follow a swift course and be glorified in the people he served. All who follow in Paul’s footsteps must take nothing other than this as our objective as well.
But what does this mean? Calvin says it succinctly: That our ministry of the Word – and of prayer and our personal example – should bring people into the glory of God with such efficacy and power, that they are transformed into the image of Jesus, if only by a little, with the result that the Word runs swiftly and is glorified in their everyday lives.
Two strategies for such a glory-disseminating ministry suggest themselves: That we minister in such a way as that the glory of God – especially as it exists in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4.6) – might be clearly, consistently, and powerfullyshown to those we serve, so that through them the knowledge of that glory might be known in all their words and deeds.
How can we showthe glory of God to the people we serve? By preaching Jesus, modeling Jesus, helping them see Jesus in worship, in their daily devotions, throughout the creation, and in all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. The glory of God is most powerfully focused in the face of Jesus Christ, as the apostle John discovered on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1). God would have His ministers so shine the light of truth into the hearts of those they serve, that the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus would be the inescapable result. They would see Jesus, and their vision of Jesus, exalted in glory, would be clarified, enhanced, enlarged, and made their constant vision and guide in every aspect of their lives, so that they go into each day and every situation having their minds set on the things that are above, where Christ is seated in heavenly places, and the Lord Jesus Himself set always before them in glory (Col. 3.1-3; Ps. 16.8).
We might think this too small a strategy for our ministries. We might prefer a checklist of things we want people to be or do or become. We might like to think and plan in terms of a bigger church, or a larger budget, or more people in Bible studies, or whatever. But this is only to divert our true focus and dilute our energies. The work of transforming people into the image of Jesus Christ is the work of the Spirit of God; and the method He chooses is that of showing people the glory of the Lord in the Word of the Lord, connecting them with the living and reigning Christ with ever-increasing glory (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
Let them see Jesus as the first part of your strategy, and the rest of what you do will have much more efficacy and extension.
The second part of our strategy is that the glory shown to God’s people should become glory known in all the relationships, roles, and responsibilities of their everyday lives. Here the shepherd’s task is to lead the Lord’s sheep into green pastures for rich feeding on the Word of God, beside still waters of rest and refreshment in Him, and together as a flock moving ever higher into the promised meadows of the Lord.
The shepherd must explain the way to God’s people, and walk that way before them as the example of how they, too, can live for the glory of the Lord. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, the shepherd must guide the Lord’s flock into their every next step of obedient service to Christ the Good and Chief Shepherd. He must point the way to follow Jesus, and to do this, the shepherd must understand the flock and its condition and circumstances. He must tell them how to follow Jesus in the home and family, at school, during the work day, in conversation with neighbors, and as they gather with other sheep. He must give them a vision of what their lives will look like as they follow the Word of God and seek His glory in all the everyday details of life.
But every flock is led not only by a highly visible, loving, communicative, confident, and faithful shepherd, who sets the pace and leads the way into the riches of the Lord’s glory; but for every shepherd leading the flock, there are sheep dogs nipping lovingly at the heels of God’s people, reminding, encouraging, exhorting, admonishing, and being present with the sheep, working among all the flock to keep them moving in the direction of God’s glory.
God’s people can live for His glory every day, and the glory of God can be refracted through them in infinite ways, lighting the world with the presence of Jesus, and leading many to see and be drawn to God through the glory they experience in the followers of Christ. But this doesn’t just happen. The shepherds of God’s flock must take as their strategy in ministry, first, to show the glory of Jesus at all times and in all facets of their lives and ministries; and, second, to lead – personally and persistently – each of the Lord’s sheep in showing the glory of God in every aspect of their lives.
By such a strategy we may expect the Word of God to run swiftly and be glorified, to flow through the rivulets of believer’s lives into all the dry places of the world, to give the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ.
The goal of pastoral ministry must be that glory, and nothing else.
With this in mind, dearly beloved, let us always look forward with longing toward our everlasting joy. Let us always pray for fortitude in our temporal labors and trials. Let us offer prayers for one another. Let my prayers be offered for you, and yours for me. And, brothers, do not think that you need my prayers, but that I have no need of yours. We have mutual need of one another’s prayers, for those reciprocal prayers are enkindled by charity and—like a sacrifice offered on the altar of piety—are fragrant and pleasing to the Lord.
- Augustine (354-430 AD), Sermons 13.10
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).