Ministry for Mission (7)
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13.8-10
“Paul shows that the fulfillment of the law is found in love, i.e., in charity. Thus also the Lord says that the whole law and prophets depend on these two precepts, the love of God and neighbor. So he who came to fulfill the law gave love through the Holy Spirit, so that charity might accomplish what fear could not.”
- Augustine, Augustine on Romans 75
The mark of the Christian
It might seem unnecessary to remind believers that our highest calling, next to loving God with all our soul and strength, is to love our neighbors – our unsaved neighbors and our believing neighbors, as Christ has loved us.
Love, as Francis Schaeffer reminded us, is the mark of the Christian.
Love is the only proper end to seek of all Christian preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 1.5). Love is the primary fruit of the Spirit, from which all other aspects of spiritual fruit derive (Gal. 5.22, 23). Love is the greatest of all the virtues (1 Cor. 13.13). Loving our neighbors is the sum and substance of the Law of God, and of all God’s Word to His people (Matt. 22.34-30). Love is the proof of discipleship (Jn. 13.35). Love is the evidence that God is at work in the world, alive and powerful in us His people (1 Jn. 4.7, 8).
Wherever Christians are being equipped for ministry, the defining outcome of all our efforts must be love, first to God, then to the people to whom God sends us every day. If we will concentrate our preaching and teaching on helping God’s people grow in love for God, love for the people in their lives will flow like a river of living water from the indwelling Spirit of Christ (Jn. 7.37-39). As Jonathan Edwards insisted in Charity and Its Fruits, “it is plain that this spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit that the gospel revelation does especially hold forth motives and inducements to; and this is especially and eminently the Christian spirit – the right spirit of the gospel.”
It is the paucity of such love – in a nation that boasts millions of Christians – that suggests we must revisit our approach to equipping the saints, so that we are clear about what we should be seeking, and that the saints understand what we’re seeking, and what God is seeking for His Church: that the body of believers, individually and as a whole, should increase in love as they increase in the image of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4.11-16; 2 Cor. 3.12-18).
Coming up short
We must overcome two problems in teaching God’s people to increase in love. The first is our tendency to recommend immediate outcomes rather than ultimate outcomes in our instruction. And the second is to fail in directing God’s people to the pathway of love presented in Scripture. Where either of these problems exist, we will come up short in the proper goal of all ministry, which is to equip the saints with love so that they might do those works of ministry that glorify God.
Let’s consider each of these problems briefly.
We come up short in our work of equipping the saints when our focus in equipping is only to strengthen the saints commitment to or involvement in the local church and its ministries. We want people to take advantage of and contribute to the ministry opportunities our churches afford – for outreach, caring for the poor, missions, leadership, teaching, and others. We sponsor these efforts because we believe they can be useful in fulfilling our church’s calling. We want people to learn the Bible and to be exposed to sound theology; thus, we urge them to participate in various teaching and learning opportunities, or to volunteer to serve in such ministries. We want our church to have a positive influence in the community, so we sponsor efforts to care for the poor, tutor students, do good to the elderly or disabled, and so forth. We urge people to help by leading or participating in such efforts. The same is true for outreach events, short-term missions projects, and opportunities to help in maintaining the church’s property.
Such ministries can all be good and useful. But if the people who participate in or lead them are not motivated by love, these ministries will fail in their ultimate objective (1 Cor. 13.1-3).
The second problem appears in our neglect of teaching the Law of God, and by the Law I mean the specific statutes, rules, commandments, precepts, and testimonies given to Moses. The Law is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12). It outlines the good works, ordained of old, that believers are called to perform (Eph. 2.10). Keeping and encouraging others to keep the Law is the way to greatness in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19). The Law of God is the “core curriculum” of the Holy Spirit, as He works in the hearts of God’s people to equip them to be willing and able to do works of ministry (Ezek. 36.36, 37; Phil. 2.13). The Law of God is more to be desired than all earthly riches (Ps. 19.10).
Yet in our churches today, neglect of the Law is widespread, and contempt for it is increasingly in evidence.
The psalmist recommended regular reading and meditation in God’s Law (Ps. 1). This is what distinguishes the righteous from the unrighteous, since such meditation reveals the beauty of the Lord and leads His people to realize His goodness in the land of the living (Ps. 37). The Lord’s shepherds should bring the Law of God more consistently and pervasively into their work of preaching and teaching, especially in making sure that God’s people are reading the Law, meditating in it, and delighting to walk the pathway of love the Law outlines for us.
What are we seeking through the work of pastoral ministry? God has given shepherds to the local church to equip His people for works of ministry, works driven by the gratitude and zeal that grow from increasing love for God, and that reach others with His grace through works consistent with the teaching of God’s Law. Getting folks involved in our church can be a good thing, but only if their involvement is motivated by love for God and neighbors, and if in participating in our church’s ministries, love for God and neighbor are the twin foci around which everything orbits and toward which everything moves.
We are called to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12). The local church is both the sign that God’s Kingdom has come on earth, and the outpost from which that Kingdom advances in the world. As shepherds equip the saints for works of ministry in their Personal Mission Field, the primary outcome that should be everywhere in evidence, increasingly and unstoppably, is love – love that, like Jesus Himself, heals, restores, forgives, beautifies, serves, and enlists others in its cause. Jesus was sent to the world to bring the love of God to light in the darkness of unbelief and sin. He has sent us in just the same way (Jn. 20.21). Every believer has a mission from God, to bring His love to the world in all our words and deeds. It is the work of shepherds to equip God’s saints for that mission by equipping them to love God and their neighbors.
We’ll know that the Kingdom of God is advancing, and that our labors in the Lord are not in vain, as we see love for God and neighbors increasing in and through those to whom we minister the Word of God.
Paul's design is to reduce all the precepts of the law to love, so that we may know that we then rightly obey the commandments, when we observe the law of love, and when we refuse to undergo no burden in order to keep it.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 13.8
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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).
Equip Them to Love Others
- T.M. Moore
- December 12, 2019
It seems so fundamental, but it's easily overlooked.
Ministry for Mission (7)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.