Spiritual training is quite different from secular training programmes. One does not become, for example, an evangelist by completing an accredited programme resembling that of secular professions, for evangelism is a gift, not a profession. At regeneration, each believer receives a spiritual gift (or gifts) from the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church, 1 Cor. 12. 4, 11. Moreover, every believer has been called by God to perform a specific function within the church. A believer’s effectiveness in this service will depend upon his or her spiritual maturity and the development and use of his or her spiritual gift(s).
Biblically speaking, there are two main objectives in preparing the next generation to serve Christ: training in righteousness, 2 Tim. 3. 16-17, and training for service, Eph. 4. 12-13.
‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’, 2 Tim. 3. 16-17 NKJV.
‘And He Himself [Christ] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’, Eph. 4. 11-12 NKJV.
These two passages show us the inseparable link between godly character and God-honouring service. Ministry which does not reflect the character of Christ does more harm than good. This is why the work of mentoring must focus on both character development and preparation for ministry. The Lord Jesus made the character of His Father known to everyone He came in contact with through His life and His works. Likewise, the passion of every believer should be that Christ might be manifest to the world by our joyful disposition, steadfast morality, and genuine care for others.
Christians have the responsibility of training (mentoring) those who are younger in the Lord in the way of righteousness. The Greek word translated ‘equipping’, Eph. 4. 12, is the noun oikodome, which means ‘building’ or ‘edifying’. All Christians are called to edify other members of the body of Christ, Eph. 4. 15-16. God-empowered ministry of this type builds up the church and every believer is called to the work of edifying others!
The divine work of sanctification begins in the believer’s life immediately after he or she answers God’s call of salvation. God begins to fashion the new believer into a holy vessel and each believer is exhorted to cooperate in the working out of what He is working into his or her life.1 All believers will ultimately be conformed to the moral image of Christ;2 there is no human choice in that aspect of sanctification – it is God’s will and power that accomplishes this. Yet, there is an ongoing call to each believer not to resist God’s working in his or her life, but instead to be yielded to Him. God promises to chasten those who choose not to submit to Him in order that they may be brought to a yielded position and experience sanctification, Heb. 12. 6. Consequently, sanctification in a practical sense is happening to every believer, but some are more serious about it than others and, accordingly, will reap a greater blessing of being further refined in this life. Paul implored the Christians at Rome to yield to God’s ongoing work of sanctification, Rom. 12. 1-2.
Paul also exhorted Timothy to yield to God’s sanctifying work in his life. Speaking of God’s power, Paul wrote, ‘Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began’, 2 Tim. 1. 9 NKJV. Although Timothy had the choice of whether or not to cooperate with God’s work of sanctification, his ability to fulfil his ministry would directly depend upon how much he submitted to God’s ongoing work of sanctification, 2. 21-22. Timothy’s fruitful ministry is a testimony of what God can do with any believer-priest who aspires to have clean hands and a pure heart. From God’s perspective, it would seem that the believer’s righteous hands determine the spiritual value of what he or she may be carrying. The Mosaic law teaches us that unholy hands cannot offer up holy sacrifices to a holy God, Exod. 30. 18-20.
A vessel is used to hold or to transport something – from an earthly point of view it is what a vessel does, and not what it is that makes it important. Spiritually speaking, however, what a vessel is determines how it is used. The Bible refers to individuals as vessels and states that God will use both the yielded and the rebellious vessels to work His eternal purposes and to uphold His glory. Timothy was implored by Paul to flee youthful lusts in order to be a vessel of honour fit for God’s intended use. While on earth, only those Christians who yield to God’s work of sanctification will practically experience the life of Christ in selfless service. A good shepherd will affirm righteous behaviour through teaching and by practical example, and then apply the word of God to correct character bents and wrong attitudes they notice in a young believer – this ministry is called equipping in righteousness.
Inevitably, all believers will suffer failure – conviction, correction, and reproof are God’s means for restoring the wayward back to the path of righteousness. The Holy Spirit, and other believers as directed by the Holy Spirit, will be involved in this ministry, as well as providing further training in righteousness to enable the stumbling believer to walk more successfully in the future. God-honouring service becomes increasingly feasible with spiritual maturity. May we heed our own missteps, be patient with younger believers, and also have the courage to first address those un-Christ-like bents and sins in our own lives so that we may assist others to overcome these sins also.
The opportunity to please God through selfless service is made possible to those who yield to God’s ongoing work of sanctification. As there is nothing in and of the flesh that can please God, Rom. 7. 18, it is only those who continue to mortify the desires of the flesh and put aside their personal ambitions who are able to honour God through service. Thus, equipping in righteousness and equipping for ministry must go hand in hand.
The Lord Jesus gave some individuals, such as evangelists and teachers, as gifts to the church for a particular reason, ‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ’, Eph. 4. 12 NKJV. Every believer in the body of Christ has a work of ministry, the benefit of which will bless the entire body. For example, though the evangelist is skilful in reaching the lost for Christ, his or her main ministry to the church is to equip and to stir up others within the body to evangelize wherever God has placed them as a testimony to the lost. The result of which is that, in a collective sense, the church is stimulated and equipped to obey the great commission, Matt. 28. 19-20.
As believers rightly use their spiritual gifts, they equip others in the body to do ministry, which then passes the original blessing along to other believers in order to further edify the body. Visualize, for a moment, several children standing perfectly still in a wading pool while another child jumps into the pool. The resultant wave glides across the surface of the water and eventually bounces off every child in the pool. Each time the wave comes in contact with a child it is also reflected back across the pool; eventually it also makes contact with every other child, and so on.
This wave phenomenon illustrates how the initial edification of one member in the body equips other members to minister to the body; the blessing then continues to spread throughout the church. This enables individuals to reach their full potential in Christ and to fulfil God’s sovereign purpose for their lives. A good shepherd will assist fellow believers to recognize, to exercise and to develop their spiritual gift(s) to accomplish this goal.
In the first goal of training we recognized that the maturing process of a believer is enhanced by the practical instruction and correction of others in the body. This constructive feedback is also necessary to prepare believers for ministry. A young man desiring to be a carpenter cannot achieve the expertise needed to build houses by book-learning alone; he needs to be trained by a master carpenter. Nothing that the master teaches his apprentice will contradict the instruction within the carpentry manuals, yet the practical training and hands-on activities will be necessary to complete the learning process.
In the same way, the word of God guides believers into all that is necessary to please the Lord. Guides are helpful to better equip believers in the practical application of scripture. Younger believers must exercise and develop their spiritual gifts in order to be fruitful and bless the church; a good guide can help channel that process.
To be thoroughly equipped unto every good work, then, a believer will rely on the word of God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the assistance of spiritually-minded believers as he or she matures in Christ. Christians will accomplish their ministry within the body as they continue to grow spiritually and develop Christ-like character and their spiritual gifts. The world is God’s classroom, not a playground, for the believer. We are called to maturity and to service – the two cannot be separated. Scripture testifies to the fact that God grows ministries as He grows people. Each of us should ask ourselves the pertinent question, ‘Is my ministry equipping others to fulfil theirs?’ If we merely teach God’s word without challenging and equipping believers to live out truth in practical service, then we will have poorly prepared the next generation to reach their potential in Christ.
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