You have been a Christian for years. Ministry seemed intimidating at first, but you’ve been involved in your church for a number of years, you’ve volunteered in some civic organizations, and you have a fairly clear perspective on your spiritual giftedness and effectiveness. Ministry is much more natural now.
Yet, while the patterns of life and ministry are well-established, it is still easy to get diverted from the essential aspects of serving Christ. The possible distractions are many:
- Discouragement — ministry and life aren’t turning out the way we anticipated or desired, which is likely what happened to John Mark (Acts 15:38).
- Temptation to sin — while the story of Demas, who was dazzled by the bright lights of Thessalonica is tragic (2 Tim. 4:10), even more tragic is that his defection was not an isolated event.
- Conflict — even Paul and Barnabas fell into this trap (Acts 15:39)
- Caring for tasks more than people
- Caring for people (and pleasing them) more than task and faithfulness to ministry
- “A better way to do ministry.” This was the temptation of Solomon — for all his wisdom, his trap became “can I find a better way to live? Is there something more satisfying?” The same kind of temptation can infiltrate ministry.
What will be the focus and attention of our lives in this ministry?
For all his foibles, Solomon’s words are helpful:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Eccl. 12:13)
The fear of God applies to every person. And the fear of God applies to every circumstance.
Another translation might be: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the wholeness of man.” This is the entirety of one’s life. The fear of God applies to every situation in such a way that it makes us whole people.
Another way to say this might be –
- “For me to live is Christ… ” Or,
- “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Or,
- “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Or,
- “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”
The most important thing we can do in this ministry is put God at the center of it.
In other words, we live to fear God.
What does it mean to fear God? It means that we recognize that He is infinitely and perfectly holy and that we are infinitely and perfectly un-holy. And because of that we care about what He says and submit to His authority so that He is honored and glorified (revealed) above all other things at all times.
To fear God then means that we come to God as the Holy One and appeal to Him to have mercy on our pitiful souls and that He might withhold His judgment of us and forgive our sins. Our salvation is the beginning of fearing God. It also means to worship and revere and delight in Him. To fear God means not only that we are afraid of Him, but it also means that we want Him.
But what does fearing God mean in ministry? It means that the first thing in our ministry is not the people we serve and it is not developing a new plan and strategy for the ministry. Ministry is not pre-eminent. Christ is.
The first thing – the central thing – is God. He alone is preeminent.
This fear and centrality of God is one of the consistent themes in Scripture, and even the book of Ecclesiastes. In fact, while this passage makes the theme of Ecclesiastes very clear, it is not the first time that the fear of God is mentioned —
- 3:14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.
- 5:7 …in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.
- 8:12-13 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
Joy in life is not evasive. It is possible. But it is possible only for those who seek the joy of knowing God. When God is feared and loved, then we will know joy. Ministry and marriage and work and children and home and finances may not satisfy. But when God is feared and loved and embraced, then there is no ultimate disappointment in life.
What I said in a sermon recently applies here: If an unbeliever loses a house or car or family or job or position or wealth or relationship, he’s lost everything. But if a believer loses those same things, he has lost something, but he has lost nothing ultimate so he can still bless God and praise him. That’s why Job can praise from the ash heap, why Paul and Silas can sing in prison, and why Peter and John can praise God after persecution.
It is only as we fear God that we will be able to experience the fulness of what God has for us in this ministry. When we make God the supreme purpose for which we live, then we will experience all the joys that are found in both Him and in this ministry.
We know these truths. We’ve been in ministry for a long time. We have read the Bible many times; we have heard hundreds of sermons and likely many of them have been on this theme. It’s easy to presume we’re doing well, or at least ok in this regard.
Do we want a successful and satisfying ministry? The most important thing we can do is to be vigilant to keep God at the center of it. And that calls for self-examination: is Christ the center of my life? Do I want Him more than anything else? Am I satisfied when I have Him and lose everything else?
The world and Satan are attempting to pull us away from God — they will be happy for us to be busy about ministry as long as we are not busy about God. On the other hand, God and the gospel and salvation are all designed to pull us away from the world and make us more satisfied with Christ than anything else.
In coming days, you and I will have ministry opportunities. We will (rightly) think and pray about the most effective means to carrying out our various ministries. But what will make us supremely effective is not what we do, but whom we love. The test of our faithfulness is whether we fear God by delighting in and obeying Him.