Timothy Keller’s new book, an exposition of Galatians, sounds like it will speak to our works-oriented and me-orientated hearts. The article posted by the Gospel Coalition, Gospel Ministry vs False Ministry, lays the smack down on the hearts of ministers of God’s Word. To whom are we drawing people? To Christ or to us? Is there a part of our heart that goes beyond simple happiness that people are grateful for our ministry directing them to Christ? Is there jealousy when we hear about people getting spiritual help from another? May the Lord continue to shine in all of our hearts so that we are rejoicing in Christ and in the joy of seeing others rejoice in Christ.
Paul was a man who poured himself into ministry. In Galatians 4:12-20, we’re given an insight into how he planted a church. There is much for us to learn here about gospel ministry and relationships in our settings today.
First, gospel ministry is culturally flexible: “I became like you” (v. 12). A ministry energized by the gospel is flexible and adaptable with everything apart from the gospel. It’s not tied to every specific of culture and custom. Its leaders can come and truly live among the people they are seeking to reach and adopt their ways and love them. Paul is a model of someone who truly comes close to and enters into the lives of the people he seeks to reach—just as Christ did in his incarnation.
Second, gospel ministry is transparent: “Become like me” (v. 12). Paul has been so open about his own heart and so consistent in his own life that he can invite the Galatians to imitate him.
Our words are not sufficient for persuading others about the truth of Christ. People have to be able to look into our hearts and lives, to assess how we handle trouble, how we deal with disappointment and interruptions, how we conduct our relationships, how we feel and act, so they can see whether Christ is real and how the gospel affects a day-to-day human life.
Third, gospel ministry looks for opportunities in hardship. Problems become possibilities. “It was because of an illness,” he reminds the Galatians, “that I first preached the gospel to you” (v. 13). That most likely means he was in Galatia either because of a detour from his planned itinerary or because of a delay in his planned schedule. Either way, he wasn’t planning on preaching the gospel to them. But the illness caused it to happen.
Two Ministries, Two Goals, Two Means
The Galatians had received Paul very warmly (v. 14); but now (v. 15) they’re treating him as though he were an adversary. Why? Not because Paul has changed his message or ministry, but because their response to that message and ministry has changed. They’re now under the influence of men who have a very different message, because they have very different goals.
The false teachers’ goal is “that you may be zealous for them” (v. 17). The NIV misses some of the nuances of Paul’s sentence. The phrase “zealous to win you over” renders a word that means literally “to build up” or even “puff up.” It translates better as, “They are flattering and making much of you, so that you will flatter and make much of them.”
A gospel-energized ministry does not need to have fans who are emotionally dependent on the leaders. It seeks to please God, assured of salvation through faith. These false teachers, on the other hand, are ministering not because they are sure of their salvation but in order to be sure of and win their salvation. Just as they are calling the Galatians to earn their salvation through works, so they are earning their salvation through works—it is salvation-by-ministry.
This means they need, emotionally, to have people who emotionally need them. They need their converts and their disciples to be wrapped up in their leaders, obeying and adoring them.
This goal affects the means they use. They are “zealous to win you over” (v. 17). This is a way of saying, “They are telling you what you want to hear; they are tickling your ears, pandering to you in order to get your loyalty.” There is nothing wrong with zeal (v. 18) in itself; what dictates whether zeal is good or bad is whether “the purpose is good.” The false teachers simply want to be built up by building the Galatians up—not in the gospel, but in pride and self-righteousness.
By contrast, Paul’s goal is in verse 19: he is in agony “until Christ be formed in you.” This is critical. Despite Paul’s appeal in verse 12 to “become like me,” Paul is only being an example to the Galatians in order for them to be changed into the likeness of Christ. Paul doesn’t say “like me,” but “become like me.” He isn’t trying to get fans but to get people to follow Christ as he does. Paul wants people not to become dependent on him, but on Christ.
This is why Paul uses the image of labor. He is like a mother, laboring “in the pains of childbirth” over his disciples. A mother in labor desperately wants her child to get out and be independently alive! A child grows inside the mother. The mother must suffer in order to give life to the child, but that does not mean she wants the child to stay in the womb. It’s a remarkable image for healthy, gospel-based ministry.
The false teachers want followers who glorify them; Paul wants partners who glorify Christ. And that directs the means to his goal. Unlike his opponents, Paul is not telling the Galatians what they would like to hear. He is telling them “the truth” (v. 16), and he is being vilified for it. Paul would love to be affirming and gentle, to “change my tone” (v. 20). But he would rather hold out the gospel than receive the praise. After all, the gospel brings people to Christ-dependence, shapes people in Christ-likeness, and provokes people to Christ-praise.
This kind of gospel ministry is costly to the minister. It’s not always easy for those they are ministering to. But it is based on the truth; it is pointing to Christ; and it is eternally worthwhile. We would do well to imitate Paul in our ministry to others; and to love and thank those who love us enough to minister to us as he did to the Galatians.
This excerpt is adapted from Tim Keller’s new resource, Galatians For You: For Reading, For Feeding, For Leading (The Good Book Company, 2013). Keller has also written an accompanying Bible-study curriculum, Gospel Matters: The Good Book Guide to Galatians.
By JON NIELSON
About six months ago I made the transition from high school pastor to college pastor. When our senior pastor first invited me to consider this change, I was leading a vibrant, Word-centered high school ministry and loving it. However, after prayer, careful thought, conversations with mentors, and, of course, conversations with my wife, we decided to embrace this new role. I’m amazed at God’s kindness in leading our ministry thus far, and I’m excited about all that’s to come.
I’ve also become more convinced than ever that the local church must intentionally disciple, lead, invest in, and train college-age Christians. I’ll offer several reasons. But as I do, let me say I fully acknowledge that having a college pastor is a luxury few churches can afford. Still, I believe the following points apply to churches with formal college ministries (or staff leaders) as well as to churches led by one pastor with a team of lay leaders.
So why must we in the local church focus intently on gospel ministry to 18- to 23-year-olds?
First, these young people are setting the spiritual trajectory for their entire lives.
Think for a moment about your own spiritual journey. Surely some of you enjoyed dramatic conversion experiences later in life—perhaps even during your college years. Such stories remind us conversion is a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit invading and convincing lost hearts of gospel truth. But I imagine many of you have a different story. It’s a story of coming to faith in Christ at a fairly young age—a conversion followed by small choices, adjustments in direction, rebukes from trusted mentors, and steady growth in holiness over the course of years.
Now, for how many of us did several of those vital direction adjustments occur during college? For better or worse, between the ages of 18 and 23 we often become the people we’re going to be for the rest of our lives. College students are making huge choices: where they’ll work, whom they’ll marry, how they’ll engage in the church, and with whom they’ll associate. For the sake of these dear young people’s souls, let me implore you, pastors and lay leaders, invest yourselves in this “trajectory-setting” process for the glory of God.
Second, these young people will overwhelmingly make their choice for or against investment in the local church during these years.
It’s during the college years, away from home and parents for the first time, that many they face a significant (and often new) question: Will I commit to a church? Numerous young people from Christian families have never answered that question on their own. And tragically, many answer it negatively. Is that entirely the fault of the Christian parents or surrounding churches? Of course not. Sometimes new independence merely exposes a heart that’s never been given in repentant faith to Christ. For college students who doknow the Lord, however, this season of life is crucially important for setting patterns of local church commitment, involvement, and ministry. Learning to serve as men and women—not just “tagalong” kids of longtime members—is a lesson of incalculable value. I certainly found new joy in local church investment during my college years because of this dynamic.
Third, these young people bring life, vibrancy, service, wisdom, and energy to our church bodies now.
I’m speaking again to those of us older than 23. We need these young people in the everyday life and ministry of our local churches. They need us, yes, but we need them, too. Our church has welcomed the great benefit of seeing many Wheaton College students teach our young children in Sunday school classes. My heart is encouraged each Sunday as I run into a member of the college basketball team—there at 8 a.m.—faithfully helping lead our first- and second-grade Bible classes.
Friends, we should look for opportunities to put these young people to work in vital gospel ministry now. Ask them to read Scripture publicly. Use their musical gifts in corporate worship. Invite them to disciple younger students and children. If our 18- to 23-year-olds aren’t joining, serving, and even leading (in some fashion) in our churches, they’re not the only ones missing out.
Fourth, college students will for the most part leave our churches and pursue jobs and professional callings around the world.
I’m already dreading May 11, 2013, when we’ll see dozens of godly men and women graduate, leave our town and church, and possibly never return. But as a college pastor I need to embrace the transient nature of my ministry, recognizing this transience makes it such strategic gospel work. What a privilege I have to teach God’s Word, train students to study it, disciple young men, foster maturing faith in Jesus Christ . . . and then say “goodbye” as these young soldiers fan out across the globe to work, marry, join and lead churches, and declare the beauty of the gospel in all of it. I’m not exaggerating when I tell my colleagues I have the best job in the church.
So take note of the 18- to 23-year-olds in your midst. Meet them. Love them. Disciple them. Train them. Involve them in ministry. Then rejoice as they’re launched out to bear witness to Christ in their various callings around the world.
“Ministry is long. And busy. And never seems to end. I love it, I think it’s important, and I don’t bemoan doing it (well, most of the time), but it is constant.”
That line, especially the “I love it” inserted in the middle caught my attention from a blog that a skim through each week. Finding Time to Rest (Part 1) was an excellent read. The constant pounding of ministry upon a person’s time, energy, emotions, and spiritual strength can act like an adrenaline rush but it can also wear a person down and out if not kept in check. This is an area that I know I have to keep addressing in my life and labor. Especially since I will be getting married in sixteen days and want to properly care for my wife and our marriage.
The blog made an excellent point when it comes to finding time to rest: If Jesus needed to do it so do you. Here are a few more tips from the article:
We need to be refreshed. Tragically, we often don’t take the time to do it. Or we rest, but don’t invest spiritually because of all the other time we spend studying, preparing messages, and reading blogs during the week. We functionally act as if that is enough, even though once again it’s pouring into others. Selflessness is great, but if Jesus needed to take time away from everything, so do we.
Take out a Bible and look up the two passages at the top [Mark 1:35; 6:45-46]. Seriously, grab a Bible and turn there. Look what’s around them. There’s intensity to Jesus ministry. Not to compare us to Jesus, but there’s times when ministry is really busy, and those times are frequent. Bottom line, we cannot pour into others if we don’t take the time to be refreshed ourselves. That’s what Jesus modeled. It usually doesn’t happen through services that we’re in some way involved in. It doesn’t happen (usually) when we’re studying with the point of teaching. We need to take the time out ourselves.
God created the Sabbath for a reason. It’s a pattern for us to follow. We don’t need to be legalistic about it, but we do need to be realistic about the way God has wired us – that we need rest. So, if you haven’t done it, schedule a time to rest. Take the day to be with family. Mark off part of that time to be alone with God. Don’t check your work email. At all. Don’t peek. Emails can wait. Don’t plan out your events, or try to multitask with family. God told us to rest, let’s honor Him by resting.
R.C. Sproul has made a major impact in the current evangelical Christian world as a pastor and teacher. In a recent interview he was asked how his wife has impacted his ministry. Sproul’s response was full of humor and appreciation to the woman who has labored alongside of him as his wife for fifty years of marriage.
I recommend watching this video (click the image for the link) to all those who currently or will be serving the Lord as husband and wife – whether the husband is a pastor in the pulpit or they are both involved in serving Christ in addition to working. In whatever function that I will be serving Christ in the future, I look forward to ministering with my soon-to-be-wife (June 2010) in a way that lives forth an effective and biblical pattern. It is my hope that my marriage and the marriages of all those who have been under my ministry can inspire others, just as the Sproul family has helped many people around the globe.
While I am not a husband (until June 12th, 2010) or a father (until sometime after marriage), I am in full-time ministry operating as a pastor. Looking ahead to the near future I have come to think more about how to be a proper husband, father and pastor all at the same time. I have seen some good examples in my life as well as some bad examples.
I came across a link on facebook to the Resurgence.com that had an excellent article on this subject. It laid out three great points worth noting:
1. The church can get another pastor, but your kids can’t get another dad.
2. The church can get another pastor, but your wife only has one husband—and she needs a good one.
3. A day off is not just a good idea. It is essential.
I highly suggest that not only pastors & their wives read the article Lead Your Family Well, but all those with a desire to serve the Lord – those in “full-time ministry”, those who work 40 hours in the world plus serve the Lord, and those who are raising families at home plus serve the Lord.
I have listened to a couple audio messages by Bob Kauflin from the Sovereign Grace Worship Team Training Resources website. The messages are from the Practical Foundations for Worship series. They are: “Leading and Feeding Your Team” and “Heart Attitudes for the Worship Team”.
This message is directed primarily at those who are taking the lead within the music team. It deals with relationships between the leader and the team, team members and one another, the worship leader and the pastor, the bringing on of new members, discipline within the team, rehearsal practices, and more.
I recommend that those who are taking the lead in a worship team listen to this message. It wouldn’t be bad if others in the team listen to the message as well.
This message is very well put together and I highly recommend it for all those in the area of music ministry. It’s principles also stretch to people involved in other areas of church service. Bob examines the proper heart attitudes needed to properly and biblicaly serve, especially in a public area of ministry.
It is a good way to check with the Lord about our own heart condition and attitude – confessing & repenting where short. I highly recommend those in ministry listen to this message.