We know what it is to fear God
We try to persuade men
Wednesday, 26 October 2005
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, boys and girls,
We are going to witness a very special event in the life of the church tonight. Long ago, before the creation of the universe, the Triune God decided to call to Himself a church. This church would be from all tribes, nations, tongues and peoples. The one who calls this church to Him is God; its Redeemer is Jesus Christ; its Comforter is the Holy Spirit.
But the most amazing aspect of work of God in calling a church to Himself, is the fact that this church did not even seek Him; they, and that counts for each and every member of it, were actually enemy of God. They did not deserve to be called children of the Living God, but He, by what we will never be able to understand, showed mercy and grace to utterly corrupt sinners by having his Son take their sins upon Him; He died on a cross, forsaken by his own Father. He rose again on the third day and later He ascended into heaven to intercede for those He died for. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the church to make them holy and to empower them to act like children of God in a very corrupt world to bring others to salvation in Christ.
This act of grace stands freely upon God own dicision. He did it, not because He was compelled to do it. He just wanted to.
But another aspect of the grace of God is that He promised to build his church. He made his Son Head of the church who promised to be with his people. Not only did He give to his church the infallible Word, the Bible, but He also plants into the hearts of his people his Holy Spirit so that collectively the become the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Further, God from all eternity, ordained that there would be some of his children who would teach his people and guide his people from his Word. He gave elders to rule as under-shepherds under Christ. Some He ordained to be teaching shepherds. We call them ministers: they serve God and they serve the church. God enables them to serve Him and serve God’s people all to the glory of the Father. The apostle Paul declares of ministers:
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)
The charge of a minister
So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
He can say this because
Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
The charge of any minister is to please God, whatever the circumstance might be. He does so by taking the ministry he received from God, and then minister to the people. It is not his ministry, because it is not his church. He is plainly just a messenger, nothing more. He assumes not power and he does not Lord it over the people of God. The only power he has is the charge God gave him by calling Him with the purpose to feel and tend the flock. He has to prepare the bride of Christ to meet the Groom on the day of his return.
We cannot go into all the detail of the charge of a minister in the short space of this sermon tonight, but a major aspect of his charge is to proclaim the message of reconciliation. Paul puts it like this:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
This is the essence of the work of a minister. He is not supposed to run all the organisations of the church. He is not the head of his congregation as if nothing can be done unless he was the chairman of the meeting who decided to have it done. He minister does not find his purpose by serving on committees of the school, the City Council, the golf club or the tennis club. His task is not even to be the only one to visit the sick, the bereaved or the lonely. For this purpose God ordained elders to help with the work; He also gifted all members with specific gifts to serve on different aspects of the church.
We read of the early church that they had a lot of widows. The spotless tried to take care of the needy widows and their children, but they realised they got caught up in what God did not intend for them. Then we read:
Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4)
A minister is an ambassador for Christ
In ministering the Word, and serving God before the people, and serving the people before God, he stands as a person with no authority in himself. His authority is from the One who sends him. He is an ambassador. Before the ambassador speaks and represents his government, he has to be sure he knows what his government stands for and what their policies are.
The same then applies to the minister of Word and Sacrament. Like a Samuel he has to pray: “Speak Lord, for Thy servant listens.” And like a Samuel he then has to feed God’s people with the Word of God, even if it means a very unpopular message as the one he had to tell old Eli.
As an ambassador is accountable to his government, so is the minister accountable to God. He is not accountable to his church. They may not love his message, but that should not stand in his way to still proclaim God’s Word. Paul helps us to understand this aspect:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
And it is within this context that he then states: we know what it is to fear God! He talks about the judgment seat of God. He says one day he will have to stand before God to give account of his ambassadorship.
I sometimes think about this verse. I think about my ministry, and I wonder. It fills me with awe on one hand, but also real dread on the other hand to think that God will one day call me before his judgement throne to give account of how I discharged of my duties as a minister and shepherd.
Too many ministers today act as if the church belongs to them. They are sloppy in the presentation of the Word; they are not bothered by impure doctrine; turn a blind eye to sin in their congregations as long as they can remain friends and remain in the good books of people.
It is not easy to be a messenger of God. It is not always easy to a prophet of God. Jeremiah stands before God and complains:
O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:7-9)
Brother Kwangho, you will take vows before God and his people tonight, and you will commit your life to the Lord in the ministry of his Word and Sacrament. It’s a wonderful calling; nothing compares with it, but there will be times that you would want to talk to Jeremiah and tell him you understand. You would want to lock yourself up in your room to spend hours with God, just to ask Him to restore your faith in Him and in his Word.
The pleading task of a minister
Paul, in the sight of his responsibility to preach the Word, and in the sight of his accountability to God who called him and gave him the ministry of reconciliation, says, “We try to persuade men.”
Yes, we know that God gives the growth, but there is also such a thing as the minister urgently trying to persuade people.
If we take the picture of the judgement throne of God and the fact that all of us will one day need to appear before that throne, the task of the minister in more than one instance is like the fireman or like the rescue workers as we saw them on TV not long ago in Louisiana. There are people who are just not aware of the impending danger, and it calls for the fireman and the rescue worker to wake them out of their complacency. It is a matter of life and death.
My dear brother and sister, don’t expect your minister do have a cup of tea with you on the front porch when he actually knocked on your door to tell you your house is on fire. Don’t think it is the task of the minister to inform you about the latest cricket score of developments on the stock market, while he actually needs to talk to you about the eternal destiny of your soul.
My fellow brothers minister, is it not time that we take our calling very seriously? We are given the ministry of reconciliation. This reconciliation is about this gracious act of God:
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
The “committed” in this verse means to be entrusted as stewards. God expects, under his grace and guidance, that we will do what Paul did: he tried to persuade people. More strongly put: Paul says he discharges of his duty as if God is making his appeal through him to those who God entrusted to him. He then goes further; he says he therefore implores, or beseech, or pleads with people on Christ’s behalf. What does he ask? What does he call people to? Does he give them some pep talk to feel good about themselves? Does he sugar-coat a psychology lesson with a Bible text? No! He says it is as if he standing on his knees before people, pleading with them in the Name of Jesus Christ, to be reconciled to God.
This means he makes serious talk about sin and repentance and salvation. To talk about sin these days have become a sin! But you know what? People who feel good about themselves will never understand the holiness and righteousness of God; they will never understand their own sinfulness and therefore they will never understand their need to be saved. And with the sound of good advice of feeling better about themselves they enter into an eternity without God.
Kwangho, brothers ministers – and I include myself – is it not time again to say: “We know what is it to fear God, therefore we plead with sinners, ‘Be reconciled to God’”? This implies that we must understand what it means to be saved by grace ourselves.
Kwangho, with you we want to be ambassadors for Christ. With you we will plead for sinners to be saved. May god give us grace. AMEN.