“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ”, 1 Tim. 4. 6.
New Testament-wise, the word “minister’ has acquired an unintended meaning, that is, as having ecclesiastical overtones. It is thus understood by many as meaning an ordained person. In the New Testament, its use is not even confined to religious service, but is also used, on occasion, of secular office, in that the representatives of civil powers are described by the same word, as in Romans 13. 4, 6, “he is the minister of God … they are God’s ministers”. As applying to the church, the New Testament does not use the word as describing ecclesiastical position or office, but for servant, one who serves (Greek, diakonos), whence “deacon” is derived. In this context, a “minister’ is simply a servant of the church concerned.
Paul writes of “a good minister of Jesus Christ”. As in civil affairs, there are bad, as well as good servants in religious circles. The Lord spoke of a bad servant, who in the absence of his master, abused the under-servants and himself lived wantonly, Luke 12. 45. Paul also wrote of some who masquer-aded as “ministers of righteousness”, but who were in reality emissaries of Satan, 2 Cor. 11. 15. These have their modern counterparts. A “minister’ can only be “good" by satisfying the requirements of Scripture, that is, by being “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine".
We may say that “a good minister’ is made> not born. It is a God-given ability, not a natural aptitude, although the latter may subserve the former. Some are born with a flair for musicianship, or art, or poetry, all of which must be as-siduously developed to reach their full potential in the individual. Not so with “a good minister . Paul writes of being “made a minister”, whether of the gospel or of the church and in the same letter exhorts Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord”, Col. 1. 23,25; 4.17. Only God can make “a good minister”, although it will rest with the individual to prove it, by faithfulness and diligence.
To touch upon a topical subject, in some circles there is much talk about admitting women to “the ministry’, equally with men. There are those who are for and others who are against such an innovation. In other circles, the admission of women to the ministry is already a fait accompli. A question which must be asked is, “Does this conform to Scripture?” In his first Epistle to Timothy, Paul gives a plainly negative answer, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”, 2. 12. A woman is to “learn in silence with all subjection”, v. 11. Paul is not less explicit in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience … for it is a shame for women to speak in the church”, 14. 34, 35. Even a modern translation is equally explicit, “As in all congregations of God’s people, women should not address the meeting. They have no licence to speak, but should keep their place … It is a shocking thing that a woman should address the congregation’. Did Paul speak for God in this, or was he merely expressing his own view? Who are we to decide that the latter were the case, for that were to impugn the validity of everything he wrote. We cannot say that he was inspired at times and not at others. Paul dealt with this matter in the latter Scripture, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”, v. 37. In this connection, it is worthy of note that Paul was careful, in other matters, to distinguish between what was mandatory by Scripture and what was his own advice, although that were not to be lightly esteemed; cf. 1 Cor. 7. 10, 12,25, 40.
Public ministry in the church excepted, women had, and have, an important part to play in its affairs, and Paul himself would have been the first to accept this as right and proper. For example, in his letter to the Philippians, although he had occasion to exhort two women “that they be of the same mind in the Lord”, he recognized the measure of their contribution to the service of the gospel, for he refers to “those women which laboured with me in the gospel”, 4. 2, 3. Clearly, certain women made an important contribution to Christ’s own ministry. Of such were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others, who “ministered unto him of their substance”, Luke 8. 2, 3. Christ had ministered to their spiritual and physical needs, for some “had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities”. Mary Magdalene had been delivered from seven demons. In return these women gave what they were so well fitted to give to the comfort of the Lord and His apostles in their itinerant public ministry. Their service was their privilege, for they were deeply indebted to Christ. Unlike Israel in the desert, who had only to gather the manna and prepare it, and whose clothing and footwear did not wear out during that time, Christ and the apostles relied, for the most part, on food that needed to be bought in the usual way and clothing that needed to be repaired. Doubtless these were some of the ways in which these women “ministered unto him of their substance”. These same women followed Jesus to the cross, “many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him’, among whom was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children, Matt. 27. 55, 56. These women prepared spices and ointments to embalm His body, Luke 23. 56. It was their last personal service to Him.
The case of Phebe requires attention. She is thought to have been a well-to-do widow who lived at Cenchrea, a port of Corinth, having private business at Rome and who was the bearer of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul commended her in warm terms, “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (Greek, diakonos) of the church which is at Cenchrea”, Rom. 16.1. Paul desired that “ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also”, v. 2. The Revised Version (marg.) describes her as a “deaconess of the church”. She was evidently a woman of some substance, who was in a position to “succour" fellow-Christians, including Paul himself. That he should have entrusted his important letter to the Romans to her care, was a measure of Paul’s regard and confidence in her ability and reliability.
What are the marks of “a good minister of Jesus Christ"? First, humility; not a desire for prestige or position, but for lowly service to others, even as the Lord Himself “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister”, Matt. 20. 28. He said to the apostles, “I am among you as he that serveth”, Luke 22. 27. Through their mother, James and John had sought position in the kingdom, that one might sit on Christ’s right hand and the other on His left. The Lord took occasion to emphasize the law of precedence in the kingdom, “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister”, Matt. 20, 26.
On another occasion He said, “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all”, Mark 9. 35. In the same context as Paul wrote of himself as being “made a minister’ of the Gentiles, he referred to himself as “less than the least of all saints”, Eph. 3. 7, 8. To the schis-matic Corinthians, who boasted in those they regarded as party leaders, Paul among them, Paul wrote “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?” Neither Paul nor Apollos were “any thing" in the matter, i Cor. 3. 5-7. Both belonged to the Corinthians as ministers, not the Corinthians to them, v. 22.
A second mark of “a good minister’ is faithfulness. The Gospel had been committed to Paul’s trust, by divine enablement, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” His earlier anti-Christian conduct had been a measure of his unfaithfulness, “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief”, 1 Tim. 1. 12,13. Doubtless the Lord saw Paul’s potential under grace, “I obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful”, 1 Cor. 7. 25. Both Epaphras and Tychicus are commended by Paul as “a faithful minister”, Col, 1. 7; 4. 7.
A third mark is consistency. In this quality, the scribes were plainly seen to be at fault, “for they say, and do not”, Matt. 23. 3. What they said was right, but what they did, did not support their teaching. Contrariwise, the authority of the Lord’s teaching consisted in conduct that supported His teaching. Luke wrote that his gospel was a record of what “Jesus began both to do and teach”, Acts 1.1. His teaching answered to what He was and did. In the absence of such consistency between teaching and conduct lies the weakness of much preaching. Preachers must be seen to exemplify what they preach and teach. Paul closely followed the Lord in his own consistency. To the Thessalonians he wrote, “ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake … Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you”, 1 Thess. 1. 5; 2. 10. To his consistency could be attributed his success, “when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God”, 2. 13. Nothing less than this consistency between the men and their message would have caused them to turn “to God from idols”, r. 9. Paul knew full well that for his conduct to be seen to be at variance with his message would have harmed and invalidated his ministry. In this vein he wrote to the Corinthians, “Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God”, 2 Cor. 6, 3, 4.
Fourth, diligence, "let us wait on our ministering”, or R.v. “let us give ourselves to our ministry’, Rom. 12. 7. The Book of Proverbs contrasts the slothful and the diligent man, “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour”, 21. 25. Contrariwise, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men”, 22. 29. The ministry will not thrive upon idleness, or lack of application, for that were no commendation of it. Of “the house of Stephanas”, Paul wrote “that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints”, 1 Cor. 16. 15; in so doing, they served the Lord; cf. Heb. 6. 10.
No one, even when God-appointed, automatically becomes “a good minister of Jesus Christ”. Such is known only by his conformity to “good doctrine”; a bad minister by his lack of conformity to it, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine”. Paul forewarned Timothy “that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils”. Their apostasy would be seen in their “forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanks-giving of them which believe and know the truth”, 1 Tim. 4.1-3. Only the “good doctrine”, preached by “a good minister of Jesus Christ”, could answer to these subversions of truth.
To be followed by “A good Soldier".