By Joseph Ametepe
Perhaps the most neglected area of ministry in the believer's life is the area of ministering to the Person of God Himself. Yet this is the most important area of ministry. It is vital and foundational to our effectiveness in ministry. We are mostly busy with the activities and programs and plans of the church. As a result, we neglect the most vital area of ministry - that is, ministering to God Himself. In our busyness, we forget that ministering to the Person of God Himself is our highest occupation here on earth and for all eternity. This is not surprising. We live in a pragmatic age. The motto of this age is: "Busyness Equals Blessedness." And so ministry is often defined by the number of programs and plans a church or a fellowship can offer to their members. Unfortunately, busyness does not always equal blessedness. Effectiveness, success or fruitfulness in ministry is not defined by busyness, activities or even by successful programs. It is defined by whether or not God Himself is doing the work through us, for apart from Him we can do nothing that is of eternal value. God works powerfully through those who spend time in His presence ministering to Him, drawing from His strength, power and wisdom.
• True blessing in ministry comes first from taking time to minister to the One who is the source of all blessing, that is, God Almighty Himself. In other words, a fruitful ministry which brings about God's intended results, flows out of our personal ministry to God. First and foremost, ministry must be directed to the Person of God Himself before it can be beneficial to others. To put it another way, our ministry to people, believers and unbelievers alike, must proceed out of the inner fullness of hearts that make the worship of God Himself our first priority.
• Serving others God's way, starts with serving God Himself. King Josiah of Judah was greatly used by God to bring a major spiritual reform in the land of Judah. Josiah knew the importance of ministering first to God Himself before ministering to His people. Encouraging the priests and the Levites in the service of the Lord's temple at the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem, King Josiah, commanded them in the Holy Spirit, "Now serve the LORD your God and His people" (2 Chronicles 35:3). Please notice very carefully the order in which the Holy Spirit gave this command through King Josiah. It is very important. Service to the Person of God is first. This is followed by service to His people. This order cannot be reversed. But unfortunately that is what we do in our ministries. Most of us, either out of ignorance or stubbornness, try in vain to adopt the reverse order. Our concept of ministry is skewed.
• The goal of this present article is to help us see the importance of this order and encourage us to maintain it through the help of the Holy Spirit. This is the order God honors, ministering effectively to others begins with ministering to the Person of God Himself. He blesses the ministry of those who make it their top priority to minister to He Himself. Those who maintain this order discover that they accomplish more than they do when they reverse it. They realize that their ministering to the Person of God Himself increases their effectiveness in other areas of ministry. They learn that it is far more fruitful to serve God Himself and allow Him to serve others through them.
The Definition of Ministry
• Ministry is a privileged-partnership with God through the Holy Spirit and with Spirit-filled born again believers in serving the Person of God Himself, the people of God and the people of the world in love, in order to advance the redemptive purpose of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
• Please notice that in this definition, ministry is both a privilege and a partnership. Furthermore, it is a personal act of service to God, His people, that is, the Body of Christ, and to the people of the world. It is carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of glorifying God.
• It is a privilege because God chooses in His grace to bestow on redeemed sinners the blessed honor of service in His kingdom. There is nothing we could do to deserve or earn this honor. It is purely due to His marvelous and matchless grace. It's all about His grace. It's all about His favor. It's because of His doing, that we, who are savingly related to Him through the blood of Christ could approach the holy and righteous God to serve Him and His purpose in this world. This is an incredible privilege and honor bestowed on mortals.
• It is a partnership because God invites believers in Him to be His fellow-workers. This is awesome. God, who is altogether holy, all-wise, all-knowing, all-truthful, all-powerful, almighty, and all-sufficient, needing no one to assist Him, chooses to call us into His service to be His partners in advancing His redemptive purpose. This is amazing. The Holy Spirit deeply impressed this truth on Apostle Paul's heart. Twice, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he brought it to the attention of the believers in the church of Corinth.
• "We are God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9).
• "Working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1).
• In Mark 16:20, we read:
• "And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed."
• Also, in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, the Bible says:
• "We sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith."
• Clearly, these Scriptures reveal that ministry is indeed a partnership with God, a working together with God Almighty Himself. He did not leave us here to do our best without His partnership and presence.
• Ministry is not only partnership with God, but also partnership with other believers who love God and desire to honor Him. Paul was blessed with both partnership with God and other like-minded believers who served God's purpose out of love for Him. He had partnership with Epaphroditus, whom he described as "my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25). He also had partnership with Euodia and Synteche, whom he described as "my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life" (Philippians 4:3). Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke were among Paul's fellow workers (Philemon 1, 24). Prisca and Aquila were also his fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3). Clearly then, ministry is partnership with God and other like-minded believers who are brought together by God to serve His purpose.
• It is a personal act of service. Each and every single believer has been gifted and equipped to serve in the kingdom of the Great King. Serving God, His people, and the people of the world is a personal responsibility for each believer. No one can excuse himself or herself from it.
• Please, also note that the power for service is provided through the Person of the Holy Spirit. Reminding the suffering first century believers (who were scattered in what is now modern Turkey), inspired Apostle Peter clearly presented to them that God is the One who provides strength for our service.
• "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:11).
• Finally, notice that the purpose of ministry in our definition is the glory of God. Ministry is not about our glory. It is not about our fame. It is not about our honor. It is not for our praise. It's all about the glory and honor and praise and fame of the all-sufficient God.
Overview of Article
• Like ministering to God's people and ministering to the people of the world, ministering to the Person of God is God's idea. It originated with Him. He clearly revealed it in His Word. He taught it Himself. Therefore, it is necessary for us to carefully examine His Word to discover what He revealed and taught about this important subject of ministering to Himself. As a way of review, first, we will look at the Pentateuch to learn what God has revealed about ministering to Himself. Second, we will focus our attention on the Psalms to gain God's heart and insight about ministering to His Person. Third, we will examine the Prophets to discover God's teaching on this all important area of ministry. Fourth, we will focus on the life of the Person of Christ Himself to learn what it means to minister to God Himself. Fifth, the principle and pattern of the Jerusalem apostles will be discussed. Sixth, the practice of the Antioch church will be considered. Seventh, practical application of the truths learned from the Scriptures on this subject will be emphasized and encouraged.
Ministering to the Person of God as Taught in the Word of God
• God first revealed the truth of ministering to Himself in the Pentateuch. By a mighty and an outstretched hand, God redeemed the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, where they had been enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13). God, not only delivered them from slavery, but He also fulfilled His word of promise to Israel by bringing them into the land of Canaan (the Promised Land) and establishing them as a nation. They became the chosen people of God, a people on whom God had set His heart to love.
• On their way to the Promised Land, God gave them His laws and statutes at Mount Sinai. They were to live by God's principles, not by the principles of the nations they were going to dispossess. They were God's people and therefore they must do things God's way. They needed God's instructions to guide them in their relationship with their living and loving God.
• God also gave them instructions through Moses, the prophet of God for building the tabernacle and setting up the priesthood. The tabernacle was a tent-like structure which was to be God's dwelling place among His people. God desired to live with His people. This is His desire from the very beginning. He wants people to approach Him. But sin separates us from Him. The priesthood therefore reminded the children of Israel that sin had created a distance between God and themselves, and that they could draw near to Him only through these representatives appointed and made fit by Him.
• Out of the twelve tribes of Israel, God chose the tribe of Levi and set them apart for serving His purposes. Out of the descendants of Levi, Aaron and his family were chosen to serve as God's priests.
• In giving instructions to Aaron and his sons for the great honor bestowed on them to serve as God's priests, God repeatedly spoke through Moses to make it convincingly clear to them that they had be called first and foremost to minister to the Person of God. God particularly chose to reveal this truth in the second book of the Pentateuch, that is, Exodus.
"Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me-Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, Aaron's sons" (Exodus 28:1).
"You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me... They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me" (Exodus 28:3-4).
"You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests" (Exodus 28:41).
"Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests to Me" (Exodus 29:1).
"I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me" (Exodus 29:44).
"When they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire sacrifice to the LORD" (Exodus 30:20).
"You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may minister as priests to Me" (Exodus 30:30).
• The repetition of the phrase "minister ... to Me," clearly stresses the fact that God primarily calls His servants to Himself to minister to His Person. Aaron and his priestly family were to primarily focus on ministering to God Himself. Their service to God's people must flow out of their ministry to God Himself. They were to learn this truth as foundational to a fruitful ministry. And so before they ever began their priestly ministry, God, through His servant Moses, deeply impressed it on their hearts. They were assigned to spend their lives primarily ministering to the Person of God. This would better prepare them to minister to His people.
• The Hebrew word translated "minister" is "kahan."It comes from the word"kohen,"the Hebrew word for "priest." Its synonym is "sharath." It also means "serve." It speaks of ministerial service. It is the opposite of menial service. It is also used to mean higher domestic service as in the case of Joseph (Genesis 39:4; 40:4). It is usually used of special service in worship. From the usage of the word, we can state that ministering to the Person of God is the highest occupation of the believer. It is above all other ministries. It focuses intensely of the Person of God Himself. It centers on One who is the Highest One (Daniel 7:18, 22, 25, 27) and the Most High God (Daniel 5:18). It has to do with the personal worship of the true and living God.
• Just before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, the Holy Spirit led Moses to remind all Israel that God had set apart the tribe of Levi for Himself, to first serve He Himself and then others. This is set forth in the fifth book of the Pentateuch, that is, Deuteronomy.
"At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day" (Deuteronomy 10:8).
"The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel" (Deuteronomy 17:12).
"Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the LORD your God has chosen them to serve Him and to bless in His name..."(Deuteronomy 21:5).
• The Hebrew word "sharath" is used in the above verses. But it's second meaning "serve," is chosen in the translation of these verses. The point being made in these verses is that the priests and the Levites were chosen by God to serve He Himself and out of that would flow service to others. How important this order is! We would do well not only to pay attention to it, but also live by it if we hope for a fruitful ministry. It is my firm belief that those who learn the secret of ministering to God Himself and practice it in reliance upon the Person of the Holy Spirit, will hear these blessed words from God when they see Him face to face: "Well done, good and faithful slave... enter the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21).
• The commands and calls made in the Psalms to worship, exalt, extol, bless, praise, magnify, sing and give thanks to the Lord, are actually commands and calls to minister to the Person of God Himself. These commands and calls are numerous in the Psalms, stressing the point that, God's passionate desire for His believing people is that, they make ministering to Himself a priority in their lives. First and foremost, God's people must learn to minister to the Person of God. Their ministering to God Himself should be the foundation of their ministering to His people and to the people of the world. This is God's established pattern for effective ministry. Therefore it must be taken seriously and practiced diligently with the help of the Holy Spirit.
• Since ministering to the Person of God is the highest occupation of the believer, the Psalms particularly help us not only to see its importance, but also how it should be done. One cannot read the Psalms without coming away with that truth. By repeating the commands to praise, worship, exalt and extol the Lord Himself, we come face to face with the truth that God wants to be ministered to personally. He desires for us to come into His presence knowing that He is a Person who longs to be ministered to by His people. This does not mean that God is needy. He is fully sufficient, needing nothing at all from us to make Him complete. But He created us to be in a relationship with Him. Just as an earthly father longs for His children to be with him, so our Heavenly Father wants us to spend time in His presence, beholding, worshiping, adoring, praising, magnifying and blessing Him.
• Ministering to the Person of God is very practical. It is not a mystical endeavor. It involves giving thanks to God, praising God, blessing God, worshiping God, singing to Him, shouting joyfully to Him, and exalting Him. These actions focus on the Person of God Himself and thus glorify Him. What a great privilege and honor it is to minister to God Himself!
• Let's now look at some of the commands and calls in the Psalms which spell out what ministering to God is all about.
"Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; praise Him, O servants of the LORD, you who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God! Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good" (Psalm 135:1-3; cf. Psalms. 146:1, 10; 147:1; 148:1; 149:1; 150).
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits... Behold, bless the LORD, all servants of the LORD, who serve by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the LORD" (Psalms 103:1-2; 134:1-2; cf. Psalms 104:1; 135:19-20).
"O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together...Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He...Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the LORD our God" (Psalms 34:3; 99:5, 9).
• Please notice very carefully that the object of each of the highlighted verbs in the above passages is "the LORD." God Himself is the One receiving the actions expressed by the verbs. If you please, God is at the center stage receiving all the actions described above. The actions of the verbs are directed to Him and Him alone. He is the One being magnified, blessed, thanked, praised, exalted, sung to and shouted joyfully to. This is what ministering to the Person of God is all about.
• The Hebrew word, "sharath," translated "minister" or "serve" is actually used in the Psalms. Since the LORD is King and His authority is universal, He should be the object of praise by everyone and everything. As such, through King David, the Holy Spirit, commanded the angels of heaven and all created beings to bless Him.
"Bless the LORD, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His word" (Psalm 103:21-22).
• The expression, "you who serve Him," could also be rendered "you who minister to Him." Blessing Him is one of the many ways in which we minister to the Person of God. The verb is also used in Psalm 101:1 where David said in the Holy Spirit,"He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me." Spiritual integrity is the great qualification for service in the kingdom.
• After the usual daily schedule of activities at the temple in Jerusalem, the people returned to their homes, but there were priests and Levites who stood watch during the night (Psalm 134:1-2; 1 Chronicles 9:33). Because ministering to God is so important these servants of the Lord were exhorted to stop their work and minister to God Himself. "Behold, bless the LORD, all servants of the LORD, who serve by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the LORD" (Psalm 134:1-2). They were not to go through their night watch without pausing to lift up their hearts and hands to God, blessing His Person.
• Ministering to God always puts the Person of God at the center of action, that is, at the center of our adoration, worship, praise, blessing, thanksgiving, singing, rejoicing, celebration and magnification.
• The truth about ministering to the Person of God is also affirmed in the inspired writings of some of Israel's prophets, namely Samuel and Ezekiel.
• Samuel was the earliest of the great Hebrew prophets (after Moses) and the last judge of Israel. Therefore, Samuel is recognized as one of the greatest leaders of Israel (see Jeremiah 15:1; Hebrews 11:32). He was a unique prophet, in that even from the grave he still delivered a prophetic word of God which was fulfilled exactly as he had spoken (1 Samuel 28:11-19; 1 Samuel 31:1-6).
• From the life and experience of this great and unique prophet, God preserved precious lessons for us in His word about ministering to His Person. The Scripture tells us again and again that Samuel ministered to or before the Lord.
"Then Elkanah went to his home at Ramah. But the boy ministered to the LORD before Eli the priest" (1 Samuel 2:11).
"Now Samuel was ministering before the LORD, as a boy wearing a linen ephod" (1 Samuel 2:18).
"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent"(1 Samuel 3:1).
• Samuel's mother, Hannah, specifically asked God to give her a son (1 Samuel 1:11). Her purpose in asking for a son was that she might give her back to the Lord to serve Him all his life. God answered Hannah's earnest prayer and fulfilled her vow by dedicating him wholly to Him (1 Samuel 1:25-28). Samuel served under Eli the priest at Shiloh, which was where the ark and the tent of meeting were at that time in Israel's history.
• The above scriptures came from Samuel's experience at Shiloh. From them, an important biblical truth is revealed to us. We do not primarily minister to people; we minister to the LORD. This is what Samuel was taught early in his life and ministry. Oh that we would also learn this truth early in our life and ministry! How much more effective our ministries would be! What a great impact our ministries would have on many lives!
• Samuel's understanding of this principle and practice of it contributed greatly to the remarkable way in which God used him in a crucial time of Israel's life and history. What a legacy the prophet Samuel left for us! Our ministry will be taken to higher heights if we understand and pursue the principle that we do not primarily minister to people; we minister to the Person of the Lord Himself .
• The Hebrew word for "minister" in the above passages is "sharath." As stated earlier, the usage of this term suggests that ministering to the Lord is the highest occupation of the believer.
• The expression "ministered to the LORD" (1 Samuel 3:1) doesn't mean Samuel just had the job of lighting the candles. That is not the case at all. God raised up Samuel for Himself to be a faithful priest, who was to do all that was in God's heart and in God's mind (1 Samuel 2:35).
• While preparing to write this article, I discovered an excellent material from the pen of Dr. Henry Blackaby, in his book "Chosen to be God's Prophet." His writing throws more light on what ministering to the Lord is all about. With great spiritual insight, he writes:
"God says, 'I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind' (1 Samuel 2:35). This Scripture describes what God is looking for in a servant of God. That means if you are going to be a servant of God you need to be what Samuel was. He ministered to the Lord. And you are going to see very quickly that when Samuel ministered to the Lord, he was in the presence of God and God spoke to him. Ministry to the people will give you opportunity to hear what people want and what the people say. But if you minister to the Lord you will hear what the Lord says and what the Lord wants. Please make sure you know the difference. Can you minister to the people and to the Lord? Absolutely! Service to God does not mean you do not minister to people. But the primary focus is that God called you to Himself to minister to Him... The one who serves before God will hear things from God that other people do not hear. He will be like a spiritual watchman on the walls of the people of God, as in that striking passage in Isaiah 62:6-7... Is there a difference between being called to minister before God and ministering before the people? You are of no use to God unless you understand what it means to minister to God. He called you where? To Himself. To be for Him a faithful priest unto Him."
• Let us take these words to heart! We are of no use to God unless we understand what it really means to minister to the Person of God Himself. We have no business being in ministry if we do have a firm grasp of this basic truth. It is sad to note that such a basic biblical truth is not taught in churches and seminaries and Bible schools and colleges. We are mainly taught to focus on developing plans and programs that will draw in the crowd.
• Recently, a friend of mine shared an interesting story with me which perfectly illustrates the pattern most ministers and believers follow in their ministries today. The story was about a music minister who writes, produces music and performs concerts and worship services in churches. One day, while taking time to reflect on his life and music ministry, he discovered that he was no longer in tune with God. Pondering further, he discerned that his life has been of one busyness - writing, producing, and performing. He was busily ministering to people, but he was not ministering to the God who called and gifted him for such a ministry. It was a humble discovery for him. He realized that he had been going about ministry the wrong way. If he should continue this way, he would have no lasting and life-changing ministry. So, he confessed his sin of busying himself with ministry activities of writing, producing and performing concerts while neglecting ministering to God Himself.
• I was so glad to learn that God opened the eyes of this brother in Christ to see the right way to do ministry. He has rediscovered the primary focus of ministry, that is, God has called him to Himself to minister to Him. I believe that, armed with this precious lesson and by God's grace, this brother will become more effective in his ministry than before. He has been freshly renewed. His perspective of ministry has also been changed. He knows that he is of no use to God unless he understands what it means to minister to the Person of God Himself. My prayer is that God will open our eyes too to see the great importance of ministering to Him above all else. May our primary focus in ministry also be that God has called us to Himself to minister to Him!
• Basilea Schlink, Mother of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, founded in Darmstadt-Eberstadt, Germany, also shares a personal and life-transforming lesson learned concerning this principle of ministry. Writing in a time when God had called her into solitude and seclusion, she states:
"Until then I had been mainly concerned about being active for the Lord, and in this respect my service for Him, rather than He Himself, had absorbed my attention. However, from that time onwards my life was to revolve round Jesus alone. My ministry for Jesus was to have priority no longer, even though it did continue, as the fruit of times of prayer. First and foremost I was to minister unto Him. That meant spending far more time with Jesus, showing Him my love, and being wholly available for Him. Because of His inexpressible love for us, He deeply yearns for our love in return. Yet, as I came to realize, I had been neglecting His claim upon our love. It was as though the Lord let me gaze into His heart, which is sorely wounded because He is loved so little. He showed me how much He suffers because we always have time for one another, but seldom for Him (Luke 10:41f.). I could almost hear Him lamenting, "Who has time for Me?" Time and time again we find that people, things or our service for Him have grown more important to us than the Lord Himself. Yet no one loves us so much as our Lord, who is waiting for our love in return."
• What a powerful illustration of the importance of ministering to the Person of God Himself! We must pause and ask ourselves these heart-searching questions. Do we have time for God Himself? Have people, things or our service for God become more important to us than the Person of God Himself? Has service for God, rather than God Himself, consumed our attention? May the Holy Spirit help each one of us to come to the realization that we are called first and foremost to minister unto our God Himself!
• The teaching on ministering to the Person of God also featured prominently in the inspired writing of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel's name means "God will strengthen." He was from a priestly family (Ezekiel 1:3). Ezekiel was carried captive to Babylon in 597 B.C. when he was about 25 years old. His call to the prophetic ministry came five years later (Ezekiel 1:2). He prophesied to the Jewish exiles who dwelt by the River Chebar at Tel Abib (Ezekiel 1:1). His prophetic ministry among the captives covered a period of at least 22 years. However, his prophecies looked far in the future, even to the millennial period when the Lord Jesus would reign here on earth.
• Speaking in the context of millennial worship in the millennial temple, the inspired prophet declares that ministering to God Himself will be the reward of those who walk faithfully before Him.
"But the chamber which faces toward the north is for the priests who keep charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who from the sons of Levi come near to the LORD to minister to Him" (Ezekiel 40:46).
"You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me, declares the Lord GOD, a young bull for a sin offering" (Ezekiel 43:19).
"But the Levites who went away from Me when Israel went astray, who went astray from Me after their idols, shall bear the punishment for their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house and ministering in the house; they shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn against them, declares the Lord GOD, that they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity. And they shall not come near Me to serve as a priest to Me,nor come near to any of My holy things, to the things that are most holy, but they will bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the house, of all its service and of all that shall be done in it. But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood, declared the Lord GOD. They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge"(Ezekiel 44:10-16).
• The primary message from these passages is that sin often has bitter consequences, and that faithfulness to God is rewarded. God spoke of two kinds of priests in these verses. First, the Levitical priests who went astray from Him after idols. These were spiritual leaders among God's people. They were to point the people to God as their one and only satisfaction in life. But unfortunately, they failed to lead the people to God. They led them to idols. They might have started well as priests, but they got caught up with what the people wanted. They pleased the people. They did what made the people happy. They entertained the people. They let the people, not God, determine their agenda. How sad! They adapted and adjusted so they would be one with the people. Doing what they wanted to do and what pleased the people resulted in a spiritual tragedy. They went astray, with the people, from God. These priests were therefore unfaithful to God. Since they were unfaithful, God pronounced judgment on them. They were to bear the punishment of their iniquity, shame and abominations. Not only that, God Almighty swore by Himself, declaring, "they shall not come near Me to serve as a priest to Me." God could have banished them completely from the priestly service. But He extended grace to them by assigning the menial work to these Levites who had fallen into idolatry and led others into it as well. Their assignment was to the people, not to God Himself. "They shall slaughter the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them." How interesting!
• The second priests God repeatedly spoke of are called the "sons of Zadok." The sons of Zadok were faithful to God in times of trouble especially under David (2 Samuel 15:24; 1 Kings 1:32; 2:26, 27, 35). These were the priests who stayed in the presence of God, and did not follow the demands of the people. When the children of Israel no longer wanted to do all that the covenant required, the sons of Zadok remained faithful to God. They did not "go astray" when the people did. When God's people began to worship idols and bow before them, these servants of God stayed true to God. Therefore, according to God, only the sons of Zadok could serve as priests, drawing near and ministering to He Himself. This teaches us a timeless principle: ministering to the Person of God Himself is not only the believer's highest occupation but also his most privileged occupation.
• Speaking on this very subject, Dr. Henry Blackaby offers this advice:
"We must take some time to look carefully at this word from God, especially in the light of all that is happening in our day. The spiritual leader was strictly to "minister to God." That is, they were to stand before Him, for His heart and mind, and for His instructions. He was absolutely preeminent in the life of the spiritual leader. God would send spiritual leaders out into the midst of the people, but they were not to take their directions from the people. That would eliminate them from any usefulness before God. They were literally to "minister to" Him. They were to "come near" Him. It was to be in His presence that spiritual leaders were to stand ... Those who "went astray, when the people went astray" were now severely limited in their service. They could take care of the people and the house of the Lord. But they could not come near God. What a judgment on His spiritual leaders! Not in the presence of God! Therefore, no word from God. No intimacy with God. And this was to be their calling and assignment - to minister to God."
• Like the priests, God's primary calling upon our lives is to be people "who come near to minister to the LORD" (Ezekiel 45:4). May the Holy Spirit impress this truth on our heart and help us to live it, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day!
• The Lord Jesus knew what ministering to the Person of God is. His life and teachings clearly illustrated this. He understood the importance of ministering to God the Father. Although He Himself was God in human flesh, He diligently practiced ministering to the Father despite His rather busy schedule of ministry here on earth. It seemed the more demanding His work of building up His disciples and bringing the Good News to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the more He withdrew by Himself to minister to the Person of God the Father. I believe He did this to teach us the great value of ministering to God Himself.
• If Christ, God in human flesh, the very Son of God, saw the need to often withdraw by Himself to be in His Father's presence, how much more do we, ministers of God and believers in Jesus Christ desperately need to do so? Busyness in ministry did not prevent our Lord from being alone in His Father's presence. He didn't allow that to happen in His life and ministry here on earth. Our Lord always maintained His priority in life. He knew the significance of ministering to the Father and therefore did not give in to the demands of people. He maintained this focus as number one in His life from start to finish of His ministry.
• The Gospel of Luke is one of my favorite books in the Bible. This Gospel reveals more to us about the prayer life of our Lord Jesus Christ than any of the Gospels. It shows that our Lord's public ministry begins in prayer and ends in prayer (Luke 3:21-22; 23:34, 46). Not only that, it also demonstrates that His ministry was continually sustained by prayer (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28-36; 22:31, 40-46).
• Certainly our Lord's forty days and forty nights of fasting was a time of ministering to God the Father Himself. He was alone with Him, and was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1ff).
• Knowing the great importance of ministering to the Person of God the Father, the Lord Jesus often withdrew from the pressing demands of the crowds to be with His Father. After miraculously healing a certain leper, our Lord instructed him not to publicize the miracle. In spite of His prohibitions not to make known the miracle, news about our Lord spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and be healed of their sicknesses (Luke 5:15). This was an opportune time for our Lord to bask in the praise of men. He was needed and He was wanted by the people. He was popular and was enjoying increased popularity. Masses were following Him. This is what preachers and pastors want - to have people following them. It would have been so easy for our Lord to continue to bask in His ever-increasing popularity. But He knew better. In spite of the draw of the multitudes, our Lord was forced to withdraw in order to seek quiet to be with His Father. "But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray" (Luke 5:16). Please notice that the Bible is speaking here of Jesus' habit of prayer. It was an established pattern in His life to slip away from the multitudes to be in the presence of His Father, spending time with Him, enjoying Him, adoring Him, praising Him. In short, ministering to His Person.
• Ministering to the Person of God the Father was so important to the Lord Jesus that even in a time of crisis He was willing to spend an entire night alone in prayer to God. Dr. Luke is the only Gospel writer who mentions this night of prayer.
"And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:12).
• What a rebuke this is to our impulsiveness and independence of God! How many of us Christians today have ever spent a whole night in prayer? In His prayer life, as in all else, the Lord Jesus stands far above even the best of us whose words about prayer need to be matched by the consistent practice of it.
• The atmosphere was threatening as the Pharisees were furious because of His "disrespect" for the Sabbath and were discussing what they might do to Him (Luke 6:6-11). The circumstances were pressing. Controversy was brewing. The selection of the twelve apostles was to be made (Luke 6:13-16). Indeed, this was a time of crisis and decision-making for our Lord. But we see Him, not panicking, but persevering in prayer all night. He was calm, not confused about what to do in such a crucial time in His life. He spent the night in the presence of His Father. Oh, we have so much to learn from the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ! May the Holy Spirit help us learn all that God wants us to learn from the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ!
• Mark's account of our Lord's choice of the twelve apostles presents us with a powerful and vivid picture of the great significance of ministering to the Person of God Himself. The record of the inspired Gospel writer, clearly reveals God's orderly teaching on this subject.
"And He went up on the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons" (Mark 3:13-15).
• Please notice that it was the Lord Jesus who called the disciples to Himself. He chose those whom He Himself wanted. The twelve apostles did not appoint themselves to their apostleship - a position of privilege and honor. Neither can we appoint ourselves into a position of ministry. The choice always belongs to God. He bestows that honor upon those whom He Himself desires to place in ministry.
• Please also notice that there was a threefold purpose behind the choice and call of the twelve: (1) that they might be with Him; (2) that He might send them out to preach; and (3) that they might have power to heal sicknesses and cast out demons.
• The order in which the Holy Spirit recorded the threefold purpose is important and instructive. First there was to be a time of being with the Person of Christ Himself.We must spend time with God Himself ministering to His Person before we move out as His representatives. This is a basic principle of service established by God Himself and lived out by Christ Himself. For the twelve, being with the Person of the Lord Jesus not only meant preparation in private before preaching in public, but also a time of personally ministering to Him. They were to live with Jesus Christ, travel with Him, converse with Him, and learn from Him. They were not called first to preach, but to be with the Person of Christ. This same basic principle of ministry applies to us. We are first and foremost called to be with the Person of God Himself, spending time with Him and ministering to Him. As we do so, we are prepared in private to serve others.
• Secondly, they were sent out to preach. Proclamation of the Word of God must always be central. It is the basic method of equipping, edifying and encouraging believers as well as evangelizing the lost. Those who spend time ministering to God in private takes seriously the task of proclaiming the Good News. They neither entertain people with shallow messages nor do they distort the word of God.
• Finally, they were given supernatural power for casting out demons. The salvation Jesus brings involves the defeat of Satan and his demons. Casting out demons would attest that God was speaking through the apostles. Since the Bible had not been completed, miracles were the credentials of God's messengers. Today we have access to the complete Word of God. We do not necessarily need the proof of miracles to believe it. But this does not mean that God is not able to do miracles today. He has the power to do so anytime and anywhere in order to bring glory to Himself.
• Our Lord Himself was careful to follow this principle. He practiced what He preached. A story which occurred early in His ministry vividly illustrates how the Lord Jesus modeled this principle for us. It is recorded in Mark 1:35-39.
"In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and His companions searched for Him; they found Him and said to Him, 'Everyone is looking for You.' He said to them, 'Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.' And He went into their synagogues through all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons."
• First, notice that the Lord Jesus was alone in a solitary place, spending time with God the Father, ministering to His Person. After a busy evening of healings and exorcisms, our Lord got up early the next morning and sought a quiet place to pray. This shows the importance the Lord Jesus attached to ministering to the Person of God Himself.
• Secondly, after His time alone with God, He was ready to preach the Good News in other places.
• Finally, in the context of preaching the Good News, He drove out demons.
• Interestingly, the order of praying, preaching and casting out demons in Mark 1:35-39 is the same as that in Mark 3:13-15, namely, being with Him, preaching and casting out demons. What is the Holy Spirit trying to teach us from this observation?A simple but significant truth: spending time with the Person of God, ministering to He Himself is the key to a fruitful ministry to others.
• Our Lord exemplified this in many ways. On one occasion, He had just spent a whole day ministering to the needs of the masses in Galilee. Although He withdrew from them, they followed Him to a remote place. It was already getting late. His disciples "counseled" Him to send the crowds away, so they could go to the villages and buy food for themselves. Jesus did not send the crowds away. He miraculously provided enough food from five loaves of bread and two fish to feed over five thousand people (Matthew 14:14-21). One would have thought that after such a full day of ministry to the people, our Lord would seek a place to rest and sleep. He didn't do that. He sought a place to spend time with His Father. And so the Bible says,
"Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray, and when it was evening, He was there alone" (Matthew 14:22-23).
• Truly, our Savior was a Man of prayer. Even after a hectic time of ministering to multitudes, He found it necessary to be alone in His Father's presence to minister to His Person. Certainly, His miracle of feeding over five thousand people with very little, taught the disciples that they were following One who could abundantly provide for their needs. Later, they learned that He could protect and preserve their lives when He stilled the storm and saved Peter from sinking (Matthew 14:24-33). But before the stilling of the storm and the saving of Peter, our Lord was alone on the mountain, praying to God, ministering to His Person.
• One of the clearest teachings the Lord Jesus Himself presented on one of God's greatest desires for the people He created, is recorded for us in John 4:23-24. This passage reveals that God is deeply interested in the adoration of His people. He wants He Himself to be the sole object of our worship. God is seeking those who will draw near to Him in true and sincere worship. He wants that more than anything else. The Lord Jesus made this known with great authority to a woman of Samaria at Jacob's well.
• Having established the fact that the Samaritan worship was a wrong kind of worship, the Lord Jesus proceeded to state what true worship is all about.
"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).
• The Lord Jesus carefully instructed the Samaritan woman that, with His coming, God Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, no longer had a certain place on earth for worship. Those who now believe on the Lord Jesus can worship God at any time and in any place. True worship happens when a believer's spirit is connected with God's Spirit, not when a believer is in any particular physical place like Jerusalem or Samaria. God's Spirit is everywhere, therefore worship of the Person of God can happen anywhere. Your body may be in a den, cave, car, prison, or field, but your spirit can draw near to God in the heavenly sanctuary by faith.
• God is Spirit and is seeking worshipers who will commit themselves to worshiping Him above all else in sincerity and truth. It is very significant to note that our Lord's teaching about worship was immediately followed by His teaching regarding workers in the harvest (John 4:35-39). It always amazes me to observe the careful order in which the Holy Spirit led the human authors to record the stories and events in the Bible. The teaching on worshipers was given prominence over the teaching on workers or witnesses. This is simply God's way of emphasizing this precious truth: effective ministry to others starts with ministering to the Person of God Himself.
• The Jerusalem apostles learned a great deal about ministering to God Himself from their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They had closely observed His life and ministry and saw that the effectiveness of Christ's ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel was directly linked to His ministry to the Person of God the Father. Desiring to be effective as their Lord was, they followed His model. They were not disappointed. They became very effective in their ministry to believers and to the lost. Following the example of the Lord Jesus in total dependence on the Holy Spirit, they soon turned the world upside down.
• The Jerusalem apostles and the early believers in Jesus Christ devoted themselves to prayer. Their devotion to prayer was the foundation of their fruitful and powerful ministry. Steadfast commitment to prayer characterized their lives and ministries from start to finish.
• While waiting in Jerusalem in obedience to the direct command of the Risen Lord, the apostles and the early believers gave themselves to prayer.
"These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers" (Acts 1:14).
• Please notice that two things characterized the prayer of the early believers. First, they were united in purpose. They "were all with one mind," or in "one accord." Secondly, they were unceasing in their prayers. The verb translated "continually devoting" (proskartereo) is a common one that denotes a steadfast and single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action.
• The disciples were waiting. They were not ministering to the lost. They were simply ministering to the Lord Himself in their united and unceasing prayer. The Lord Himself was their primary focus. They were centering on Him and Him alone. Their eyes and hearts were fixed in reverence worship of the Lord. Later, we are told that they specifically petitioned the Lord to show them the one He had chosen to replace Judas (Acts 1:16-26).
• After the explosion of the church at Pentecost, we are told that the three thousand new believers "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). The new converts proved the genuineness of their salvation by their continual devotion (proskartereo) to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and to prayer. They also demonstrated a steadfast and single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action, in this case, to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and to prayer. They quickly learned to give themselves wholeheartedly to prayer. In prayer, they ministered to the Person of God by adoring, worshiping, praising, blessing, thanking and celebrating Him. They were thus prepared for serving others effectively.
• As partners in the Gospel, Peter and John continued to take prayer seriously. Also, as leaders in the early church, they needed to model a life of delighting in and depending on God. Their delight in the Person of God and dependence on Him motivated them to go up to the temple at the time of prayer. "Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer" (Acts 3:1). They were primarily going to minister to the Person of God Himself. They had no plans for healing a crippled beggar. But because their hearts were already ministering to the Lord, He used them mightily in healing the lame beggar (Acts 3:2-8). It is amazing to note that the first thing the healed beggar did was to praise God. He began ministering to the Person of God through his praise.
• The ninth hour is actually 3 P.M., at which time the evening sacrifice is made in the temple. There were three Jewish times of prayer, namely at 9:00 A.M., 12 Noon and 3 P.M. Peter and John would not miss the last hour of prayer in the temple. Their "sweet hour of prayer" called them from a world of care to bow themselves at their Father's throne and to minister to His Person.
• As a result of the miraculous healing of the lame beggar and the preaching of the Lord Jesus to the crowd that had gathered to behold this act of God, the religious leaders of Israel were greatly disturbed and felt the time had come to put a stop to"proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 4:1-2). So Peter and John were arrested and put in jail for the night. The next day, they were put on trial. They were strictly warned not to speak to anyone in Jesus' name. After being threatened, they were released.
• On their release, Peter and John went back to the rest of the believers and reported all that the religious leaders had said to them. The church's response to the release and report of the apostles was a spontaneous outburst of ministering to the Person of God Himself. Their ministering to God was one of praise, psalmody and petition.
• United in purpose, the believers prayed:
"O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the LORD and against His Christ.' For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus" (Acts 4:24-30).
• Please take note of this. The believers did not embark on a protest march through the streets of Jerusalem, condemning the religious leaders for bullying and threatening them. Rather, they ministered to the Person of God by praising Him for being what He is; omnipotent, the Creator of the universe. Certainly, that helped put things in perspective. No doubt, the religious leaders of Israel had power. But God had almighty power.
• They also ministered to God by recounting to Him His prophetic word, recorded in Psalm 2, spoken through His prophet, David. God loves to hear His believing children reminding Him of His prophetic word. It delights His heart. Of course, God doesn't need a reminder from us, but His heart is gladdened when we recount His own words to Him. God was not taken by surprise by Calvary. David (and many others) foretold it through the Holy Spirit. The believers were simply saying, "God, what You predicted, You also performed before our own eyes."
• Having ministered to God through their praises and recounting of His prophetic word written in Psalm 2, they petitioned Him to enable them to speak His word with ever increasing confidence while He Himself confirm their word with His deeds of power. It is significant to note that these early believers were not praying for relief from oppression or judgment on their oppressors but for enablement to speak the word with great boldness amid oppressions and for God to act in mighty power through the name of Jesus, His holy servant. In other words, their concern was for God's word to go forth and for Jesus' name to be glorified, leaving to God Himself their own circumstances. Certainly, with such a petition God is well pleased.
• Problems in our lives have a way of either clarifying or clouding our vision. The church in Jerusalem had several problems. They were put in prison. They were warned. They were threatened. They were beaten. In short, they were persecuted. The Sanhedrin of Israel was determined to stamp out the spread of Christianity. However, their persecution only helped to clarify and confirm the vision of the early believers.
• In Acts chapter 6, we are told that the Jerusalem church had an internal problem at the time when the disciples were increasing. A complaint arose in the church. The Gentile or Hellenistic Jews complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1). The matter came before the twelve apostles. Dealing with this internal problem, led to the clearest statement ever made by the apostles about their most important spiritual mandate.
• After telling the whole congregation it would not be right for them to neglect the ministry of the word in order to serve tables, they asked the congregation to choose seven spiritually qualified men, to whom the responsibility of waiting on tables would be given. Then, they declared to the believing community:
"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word"(Acts 6:4).
• What we learn here is that, the vision of the apostles, was not clouded by the internal problem that arose within the church at Jerusalem. Rather, it resulted in the clarification of their God-given vision as never before. They were ever more convinced that this was their spiritual mandate. This was their primary calling. Their lives were to be committed to a steadfast and single-minded loyalty to prayer and the ministry of the word. Please notice the primacy given to prayer. Prayer was to be the foundation of their ministry.
• In prayer, they ministered to the Person of God Himself and were thus prepared and empowered to minister to the people. There is no doubt in my mind that, part of their devotion to prayer would have been spent in interceding for the believing community and for the progress of the gospel among the unsaved. They knew that the ministry of the word must come out of a devoted prayer life.
• While I count it a great privilege to minister the word of God and passionately love to do so, I know very well that without the foundation of prayer, I will make little or no impact. Moreover, Satan will not feel threatened at all by my ministry. After all, it makes little or no impact, and his kingdom will not in any way be threatened. He will rejoice to see me minister God's word without saturating it in fervent, fruitful and focused prayer, which involves a ministering to the Person of God Himself.
• Devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word was the apostles' principle. It was their practice and pattern. They gave themselves to prayer, in which they ministered to the Person of God Himself and to the ministry of the word, in which they served believers and unbelievers. A pattern is set here for us, believers and all those who are called into full-time ministry. I believe with all my heart that God's work would move ahead more efficiently were this pattern followed more carefully and consistently.
• The apostles' principle and pattern of giving themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word was done corporately as well as individually. In Acts 10, Peter, the one to whom the keys of the kingdom were given (Matthew 16:19) is seen devoting himself to prayer on a roof top in Joppa. Peter would be chosen by God to open another important door for the gospel - as he did with the Jews on the day of Pentecost. The door of the gospel would be opened to the Gentiles at Caesarea. It is interesting to note that several hundred years earlier, in the same city of Joppa, Jonah would resist God's call upon him to take His message to the Ninevites (Jonah 1:3).
• Before Peter would be directed to travel to Caesarea to preach the gospel, he was devoting himself to prayer. Peter was personally living the principle and pattern of Acts 6:4. He was practicing what he preached to the church in Jerusalem. The vivid account of Peter's unique experience on the roof top is recorded for us in Acts 10:9-20.
"Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. But he became hungry and was desiring to eat, but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat!' But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.' Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Behold, three men are looking for you. But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself."
• The flat roofs of Palestine, approached by an outdoor flight of steps, were common places of prayer in biblical times (2 Kings 23:12; Nehemiah 8:16; Jeremiah 19:13; 32:29; Zechariah 1:5). It was a good place to pray during the daytime as it was separate from the activity of the house, and the sea breeze and an awning helped cooled the place.
• The main lesson Peter learned from this roof top experience was not to consider any group of people common or unclean (Acts 10:28). In other words, the point of the vision was that God is not partial to any one ethnic or racial group. Having prayed and having learned that he was not to call any person unholy or unclean, Peter was prepared to minister the word. He did this with great power. The result, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to his message. The Jewish Christians who came with Peter to Caesarea were amazed at the work of God among the Gentiles. These Gentiles were transformed and began new lives in Christ Jesus. But it all began with Peter following the principle and pattern of devoting himself to prayer and then to the ministry of the word.
• This is God's plan for our lives as individual believers as well as a corporate body.Our main calling is to minister to the Person of God and allow Him to minister His love and life through us.
F. The Practice of the Church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-4)
• The first century church of Antioch had a humble beginning. This church was begun surprisingly by some unknown and unnamed "men of Cyprus and Cyrene"(Acts 11:20). With no New Testament yet written, with no formal church buildings, with no apparent source of income, with no printed materials, with no booming sound systems or music directors or choirs or special stage lights or special audio-visual equipment to "enhance" their presentation of the Good News, these unknown believers were used by God to form one of the most dynamic churches of the Christian era.
• This is how the Bible records the humble beginning of the first century church of Antioch.
"So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:19-21).
• God brought good out of the persecution that came upon the Jerusalem church. The believers were scattered, but they were not silenced. They spread the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ. They did so, not by presenting a program, but by preaching the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. As they preached the Lord Jesus, God's hand of power was with them. And as a result, multitudes trusted and turned to the Lord in repentance and faith. The church in Jerusalem heard about God's work in Antioch and sent Barnabas, a man of faith, who was also full of the Holy Spirit. On his arrival, Barnabas witnessed the grace of God and encouraged the believers to remain true to the Lord. Many more were brought to the Lord (Acts 11:22-24).
• It is clear that from the beginning of this church, the preeminence of the Lord Jesus was established. It was the Lord Jesus who was preached. It was His hand of power that was with the unnamed believers. It was to Him that repentant sinners turned or were brought. It was Him the new believers were encouraged to remain true to. This was truly a Christ-centered church. It is therefore no surprise that the Antioch church understood and practiced ministering to the Lord Himself, leaving us an example to follow.
• As stated earlier, the names of the believers God first used to start the church of Antioch were not made known to us. However, the Holy Spirit gave Dr. Luke the freedom to mention the names of those who were involved in the leadership of the church after her humble beginning. The list of prophets and teachers (Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger (black), Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul (Paul)) mentioned in Acts 13:1, symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Antioch. Although these godly servant-leaders came from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, they were united in the purpose of ministering to the Person of the Lord Himself.
• Unlike many in the ministry today who are busy with shallow and superficial activities and programs, the servant-leaders at Antioch clearly understood their spiritual mandate. They patterned their lives and ministries after the Lord Jesus and His early apostles, who, first of all, devoted themselves to ministering to God Himself.
• The Bible reports,
"While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus" (Acts 13:2-4).
• Please notice carefully that their ministering was not to the congregation but to the Lord Himself. They were ministering to the Person of God Himself. They were centering on God Himself. The Lord Himself was the object of their ministry, not the believers in the local church of Antioch. They were giving themselves first to the Person of God. It was the Lord Himself they were serving now. Their hearts' worship and service at this gathering were directed to the Person of God Himself. The Person of the Lord Himself was the primary recipient of their service. They knew it was of utmost importance to minister to the Lord Himself first before ministering to others. And they did that heartily.
• Ministering is from leitourgeo. In classical Greek it was used for "doing public work at one's own expense." In the Septuagint (LXX), it was used almost exclusively for priestly service in the temple. The NIV translates it as "worshiping."
• Certainly, their ministering to the Lord, involved worship and praise of the Lord Himself, prayer to Him and fresh consecration of themselves to God to use them for His purposes. They recognized the reality of the Lordship of Jesus in their lives. He was Lord and they were to be His loyal servants. In the context of ministering to the Lord and praying and fasting, Barnabas and Saul were called by the Holy Spirit for a worldwide ministry. Notice, we are not told how the Holy Spirit communicated His message. The message may have come through a revelation given to one of the prophets. However the message was communicated, what is important is that, the church was very convinced that it was the Holy Spirit who had called the two men and that it was to the Spirit's own work that He had called them. The church was sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
• Not only was the church sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, but was also submissive to the Spirit's clear instructions. Their obedience to the Spirit was instantaneous. The church readily released their key leaders for missions with no apparent hesitation. There was no complaining or resentment. The Holy Spirit demanded the church's best, and the Antioch church joyously released the two missioners. Having prayed for Barnabas and Saul and having publicly identified with them, by laying hands on them, the Antioch church sent them away. They let them go. They released them. Just as it was the whole church that released them to the work the Holy Spirit had set them apart, so it was the whole church they reported to on returning to Antioch (Acts 14:27).
• Acts 13:4 reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the One who ultimately sends out His servants. The Holy Spirit, not the church, sent out Barnabas and Saul. Since He had already sent them, all the church could do was cut the cord and let them go. The church was very supportive of Barnabas and Saul in the work to which the Holy Spirit had called them. They supported them mainly through prayer and their public identification with them. Nothing is said of financial provision for the missioners. But they went to the work of the Lord and He provided for all their needs.
• By ministering to the Person of God Himself, the Antioch church was led to a missionary work that impacted the Roman world. The world was turned upside down (Acts 17:3). Lives were transformed. Disciples, not mere decisions, were made through the preaching of the Gospel. By learning and practicing serving God Himself first, the Antioch church was used mightily to serve others. God honored them for giving themselves first to Him. If their goal were ministering to people, they would have been tempted to compromise to achieve that end. Making the Lord Himself the object of their ministry did away with the need for compromise.
• I am convinced that God chose to preserve the record of the Antioch church's ministering to He Himself and the fruits that came out of it, to serve as a powerful example for the church today. If we want to be used for the furtherance of the gospel in our day, then we must follow the patterns and principles that have been proven and tested in the Word of God. God is smart. He doesn't need our innovations, no matter how cool and classy they are. He only wants our immediate submission to and identification with His Person and purposes. Let's not try to invent new methods for doing God's work. After all, there is nothing new under sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). As of utmost importance, the Antioch church ministered to God Himself. As a result, God Himself directed them to minister to others. Their service to others yielded abundant and eternal fruit, because they had learned and practiced service first to the Person of God Himself. That is the pattern God wants to follow in our personal and corporate ministry.
G. Practical Application
• For God's truths to do their work in our lives, we must seek to apply them to our lives. Let me make it clear that we do not apply them in our own strength. That will only lead to failure. We apply them to our lives in dependence on the Person of the Holy Spirit who dwells in all believers.
• The Bible exhorts us: "prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22). We gain nothing spiritually if we simply hear the word of God without seeking to apply it to our hearts.
• The message on ministering to the Person of God is not just for our ears and heads. It is primarily for our heart. That's where it matters. That's where it must be applied for it to bear fruit in our lives.
• But the question is, "how do we practically apply this truth to our heart?" Please allow me to suggest the following ways to apply this truth: Confession, Thanksgiving, Setting Time Aside, and Seeking the Spirit's Assistance to Minister to God.
• First, we must confess that we have been going about ministry the wrong way. True confession means to say the same thing about sin that God says. It involves humbling ourselves and agreeing with Him about our waywardness. Earlier, I wrote about a music minister who was busily writing, producing music and performing concerts and worship services in churches. But then, he realized that he had neglected ministering to God Himself who called and gifted him. He humbly confessed his sin of neglecting ministering to the Person of God Himself. Please know that the application of the message of ministering to the Person of God Himself is not limited only to those who are called into full-time ministry. It applies to all believers. Are you a parent, busily caring for your children and household, but neglecting to minister to God Himself? You must confess this sin of neglect. Are you a student, working hard on your projects, papers and personal ambitions, but neglecting to minister to God? You need to confess to God your neglect of Him while focusing on other things, which are temporary. Are you a worker, putting in long hours to make ends meet, and as a result have neglected ministering to your God who gives you the strength and ability to do your job? You, like all of us, must agree with God, that you have sinned against Him. We've all have missed the mark when it comes to understanding and practicing the truth that we are primarily called to minister to God Himself. Our God is willing to forgive us of this sin, if we sincerely confess it to Him.
• Second, we must thank Him, not only for the forgiveness He is willing to bless us with, but also for refreshing and renewing our minds on this important subject. The truth of ministering to the Person of God has been clearly revealed in the Scriptures. But the enemy of our soul doesn't want us to understand and lay hold of it. He would prefer for us to "busy" ourselves "doing ministry," but ignoring and disregarding ministering God's Person. But we should thank God for not allowing this to happen in our lives. He has been gracious to refresh and renew our minds on this biblical truth.
• Third, we must set time aside to minister to the Person of God. The Lord Jesus did this in His earthly ministry. He set time aside to be in the presence of His Heavenly and ministered to His Person. There were times He rose up early in the morning to be with the Father. He also often withdrew into the wilderness to spend time alone with His Father. On a few occasions in the evening, He was by Himself on the mountain, simply to minister to the Person of God the Father. He even spent an entire night in the presence of His Father. He set time aside to minister to God because He knew the great value of it in His life and ministry. Since we have also learned the significance of ministering to the Person of God Himself, we would do well to set time aside to do just that. If we are just hoping that this is going to happen without careful and deliberate planning, days, weeks, and months would pass by without us actually practicing it. The devil will bring "good and busy things" for us to do. We will be losers in the end because none of those "good and busy things" matters to God if they are not flowing out of our personal ministry to Him.
• Fourth and finally, we must seek the Spirit's assistance to minister to the Person of God, individually and corporately. Ministering to the Person of God is not the work of the flesh. It is the work of the Spirit. We must rely on the Spirit of God to minister to the Person of God. Ministering to God is an intensely spiritual exercise. Therefore, it cannot be done without the help of the Holy Spirit. Just as He assisted the first century believers in the church of Antioch and even communicated to them, so He is willing to help us and share what's on God's heart with us and direct our steps into the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. What a privilege!
• The Holy Spirit is our able Helper. He will not fail to assist us to minister to the Person of God. It is His great joy and delight to help us. But we must regularly ask Him to give us aid in ministering to our God Himself.
• Clearly, the Scriptures have revealed that God desires to be ministered to personally. He is a Person, though complete in Himself, and needing from us, yet He wants to be the main focus of our worship, praise, adoration, exaltation, thanksgiving, blessing, singing, and rejoicing. That is what it means to minister to God Himself. He delights and desires that His people regularly draw near to Him and express their appreciation of His Person.
• God's word which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). The light of God's word has shone and revealed that we do not primarily minister to people, we minister to the Lord. It shows that service to God does not mean we do not minister to people. But the primary focus is that God called us to Himself to minister to Him. It teaches a solemn truth: we are of no use to God unless we understand what it means to minister to the Person of God Himself.
• God primarily calls His servants to Himself to minister to His Person. Ministering to the Person of God is the believer's highest and most privileged occupation. That being the case, we must spend time with God Himself ministering to His Person before we move out as His representatives. Spending time with the Person of God, ministering to He Himself is the key to a fruitful ministry to others. In other words, effective ministry to others starts with ministry to the Person of God Himself. To put it another way, our main calling is to minister to the Person of God and allow Him to minister His love and life through us to others.
• The Bible also shows that God places a high price on ministering to His Person. He repeatedly spoke of this and vividly illustrated it in the life of His Blessed and Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Having seen the great value of ministering to God Himself from the life of the Lord Jesus, the apostles and early believers committed themselves to doing the same. They didn't see the need to invent a new foundational principle of ministry. They knew that God was far smarter than they were or would ever be. God has not given us the task of inventing a new foundational principle of ministry. He has already established one, that is, effective ministry starts with ministry to the Person of God Himself. God's heart's desire is for us to model our ministry after this principle. Period.
• My prayer for you as a believer in Jesus Christ is that the Holy Spirit will impress these truths on your heart and give you a deeper hunger to spend time regularly in the presence of God, ministering to His Person. The more you minister to His Person the more precious He will become to you and the more powerful your ministry to others will be. This is the basic principle of effective ministry in God's kingdom. It has been tested and proven in the lives of the priests, the prophets, the psalmists, the Person of the Lord Jesus. It has been the practice and pattern of the early believers whose ministry bore great fruit to the glory of God. It is now our turn to follow in their footsteps that our ministry may bear much fruit, lasting fruit to the glory of God!