A man sent from God
Most of the men God used to found His church would never be allowed into the ministry today.
John the Baptist, a preacher? You cant be serious! Look at his resume. The man's sole asset seems to be a stentorian voice that can penetrate the wilderness. Hardly enough to qualify him for the ministry. And he has no diplomacy. Imagine calling people "vipers" in public! Think what that will do to the public relations image of the church.
He's too independent anyway; no team player. He stands up to anybody, even a king. An attitude like that is guaranteed to rock the boat and bring problems to a committee. And his personal appearance is a matter of concern too. He despises pontifical robes or even a conservative three-piece suit, and goes around in strange clothes made of animal skins.
Furthermore, the fellow is simply not sociable. We've gotten a number of complaints that he won't eat and drink with the people (Luke 7:33). He lives out in the desert. How can he win the love and confidence of the people, how can he effectively minister to them, if he doesn't visit them in their homes or mingle with them in their parties? Worst of all, the man's faith and theology look a little shaky. One day he boldly declares Jesus to be the promised "Lamb of God" (John 1:29); a few days later he sends two of his followers to ask whether Jesus is indeed the one or whether they should "look ... for another" (Luke 7:19).
Nevertheless, "there was a man sent from God, whose name was John" (John 1:6).
Simon Peter? You mean the fisherman from Bethsaida? Can he preach? We've had reports that at least one time when he tried to preach, many in the audience thought he was drunk (Acts 2:14, 15). It's up to the board, but the man doesn't even have a high school certificate. He's sort of strange too, isn't he? Didn't he try to walk on water once?
What about his tendency to lie when put on the spot (Matt. 26:69, 70)? Do you think a liar should be a preacher? And he's prone to rash promises and braggadocio. One time he vowed to go to jail with Jesus or even to the death chamber, and then at the first sign of trouble he disappeared and tried to hide his identity. He also assaulted a man, didn't he (John 18:10)? It's a good thing the victim didn't press charges! That would have jeopardized the church's group liability insurance. Besides, we can't have a minister who goes around beating up people! He has two friends who want to be ministers as well, I understand. James and John Zebedee. People call them the "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). It sounds to me as if all three would make better prize fighters than ministers!
Nevertheless, "Jesus saith to Simon Peter, . . . loves thou me?. . . He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs" (John 21:15).
Saul of Tarsus? Wait a minute! Isn't that the man who used to carry out contracts for the Jerusalem mob? What on earth is happening to this church? What guarantee do we have that he is really a born-again Christian? A lot of these criminal types use religion to con their way into society. They say that the man is quite intelligent, too. In fact, he graduated from the university summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. That makes him doubly risky. It's safer to have men with average IQ's, you know. They don't cause as many problems for administration.
Nevertheless, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, . . . that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Tim. 1:12).
God sent a man! Not just one or two or three, but many men with serious character flaws and things in their past that should have been cause for grave concern. What are we to understand from this? Isn't God particular? The ministry is a high calling, isn't it? A holy office? A profession for the well-educated, the trained, and the polished?
Similar thoughts must have crossed the mind of Samuel when God selected David. "David instead of Saul? Is this a precedent for mediocrity in the ministry? The youthful shepherd whose cheeks flush at the sight of every attractive girl? Are You sure, Lord? The young fellow has a proneness to violence! Mark my words, someday he might even commit murder!"
Indeed, why did the Lord opt for the "foolish" and the "weak" to comprise His ministerial force (1 Cor. 1:27)? The key is found in 1 Samuel 16:7. "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." No, the Lord doesn't pick men and send them forth because they are tactless, self-serving, rough, or ignorant! But He has sent men forth in spite of these liabilities. God looks not at the considerations we usually examine; instead, He looks into the innermost recesses of a man's heart.
There He can objectively read whether that man can be used or not. And what does God look for primarily? Above all else, the Lord wants to see whether a man will go into the ministry to glorify God or to glorify himself! "He must increase, but I must decrease," declared John the Baptist (John 3:30). "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," added Paul (1 Cor. 2:2). "There is none other name," Peter proclaimed as he directed the crowd to the Christ (Acts 4:12).
Theological degrees can be secured; languages and philosophies can be learned; homiletics and preaching styles can be developed and cultivated; but only God can effectively deal with the human heart, which is the wellspring of all thoughts and actions. "The heart is deceitful" (Jer. 17:9). Therefore, it's very easy to be in the ministry for the wrong reason. Many small men seek large responsibilities and high office in order to be somebody. The ministry is a high office in which it is very easy to say, "I will be like the most High" (Isa. 14:14). The ministry is a fertile ground for producing an overdeveloped ego. It can be exhilarating to stand above the crowd and hear the people roar, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man" (Acts 12:22). It can be heady to preside over a group of sycophants. It can be pleasant to be escorted to the head table and lavished with the usual servile deference. It can be exciting to be handed the "Man of the Year" plaque.
God looks into a man's heart, and when He sees it is in the heart of that man to serve Him for no other purpose than to glorify Him, the Lord will take care of the rest. He will assume the responsibility for that man's fitness. He will mold, train, and equip that man for the "work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:12). He will put him in His training school—the University of Divine Providence. That man will make mistakes, probably many of them, because he is but a man. Yet the Lord will send him forth into the game of life as a valued member of His team. Periodically, He will summon him to the sidelines for further instructions. Then He will send him back out on the playing field to do his best. At the end of the game that man will bring home the trophy, and he will present it to the Lord, to whom it rightly belongs.
The early disciples established a precedent that would pay the modern Christian church to follow as it endeavors to appoint ministers. The early disciples spent considerable time in sincere and fervent prayer crying out, "Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew which of these . . . thou hast chosen" (Acts 1:24). What a tragedy that mod em committees are satisfied with the standard two-minute invocation because the business agenda is long and needs to be completed as quickly as possible! The early disciples "cast lots" because they wanted to be really sure that the outcome was God's will and not the result of influential lobbying by a segment of the church. Some Bible students believe that Judas Iscariot finagled his way into the ministry through his impressive qualifications and clever pulling of strings. If so, it did him little good. Fitness for God's work is more dependent upon the unction of the Holy Spirit than natural abilities and the training provided by literary institutions.
For what purpose does God send forth a man? Different men are called for different roles and ministries, yet the purpose is but one—to prepare the way of the Lord, and to proclaim the good news of salvation (Matt. 3:1-3; Mark 16:15). There is no other objective. Therefore, if any man wants to be in God's service, he must be there for no other purpose than to glorify God. If a man wants to make a name for himself or erect a monument to himself, let him do so outside of the ministry. In the day of ultimate reckoning, many who have occupied a place in God's work will approach Christ with their statistical reports labeled "Many Wonderful Works" (Matt. 7:22, 23). But they will be turned away. In the first place, they already have had their reward (chap. 6:1, 2). Those men whom God has sent have not yet received their rewards. Their rewards won't be dispensed till the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 22:12). John the Baptist died alone in Herod's gaol; Peter and Paul died alone somewhere in Caesar's prison system; all the other apostles died in equally remote and lonely places. Unsung, unheralded, unrecognized by the secular as well as the religious institutions of their times, they slid into unmarked resting places, known only to God.
"Whom shall I send?" (Isa. 6:8). God's work on earth is not yet completed. God still needs men to go on missions for Him. The battleground is still formidable and forbidding. The great majority of the modem world today is not Christian. Secularism, atheistic communism, materialism, and a host of "isms" of every sort are marching up and down the length and breadth of the earth under various guises and colors, and each time they pass they pick up a sizable following. Men of God are sorely needed to stem the tide!
To stop the onslaught, God needs Christian heroes! That means the Christian ministry must be more than just an array of trained professionals. Christian organizations must be more than just a cartel of professed experts with charts and computers. Seminars and structured sessions must not supersede genuine sessions of prayer. The men of God, in days of old, gave the forces of darkness a real battle and a fight. Under God's mighty power, they caused kings and rulers to shake on their thrones and tremble inside their royal robes. They did not purposely and deliberately court persecution, but neither was their primary purpose to have their pictures taken with the high and the mighty for the sake of public relations. Under the power of the One who sent them they caused nations and peoples to repent in sackcloth and ashes; under divine direction, they led three thousand souls into the kingdom in one day without props or gimmicks! They had hardly any "silver and gold" (Acts 3:6), but under God they enriched the lives of many for eternity.
The men whom God sent were men of clay, beset with the frailties of humanity, but under God's tutelage, wise direction, and enabling grace and power, they turned in a golden performance. They were put through the winepress of human woe; tribulation was their ticket to triumph; grief was their portal to greatness; scars were the price of their scepters; their crowns were cast from crucibles of affliction. But this made it truly meaningful: Christ led the way! The Man of Sorrows had trodden the winepress first and alone.
Such a preparation period is painfully puzzling and protracted. From Pharaoh's palace, Moses had to settle into a dreary internship in the dry desert. Forty years of obscure training can test the most formidable fortitude. From the high point of transfiguration mountain's magic moment, Peter, James, and John descended into the sinister shadow of Gethsemane, where they heard the Master's sympathetic comment: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Some hours later they would experience from a distance the agony of Golgotha's gory details. Paul flinched from the blinding flash of the Damascus road encounter, and all through the rest of his earthly life would carry a "thorn in the flesh." John the Baptist had his own "bitter cup" that none but the lonely and the brave would know by experience. In actuality, God's men are subject to discipline all their lives. All of them have had to walk in life's inclement weather, subject to its blows, but built up in the spirit. Betrayed by friends as well as enemies, they bounded back, the true bearers of God's banner.
In these final stages of His work on earth God still sends forth men. And there is a place in God's army for all kinds of men—the poor and the rich, the educated and the uneducated, the gifted and the average, the strong and the weak. It is God who equips and empowers. Some will be sent to do big things; others will carry out small errands. But whatever their background and what ever their task, they are all men of God, God-chosen, God-trained, God-sent! The only requirement is that they be willing to follow and to give all the glory to God.
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