The ABC's of Ministry

Last week we looked at the mandate for a decentralized ministry. Today I want to look at the nature of that ministry. What should it look like? And I think Titus 1 is an excellent summary. If you want to have a framework for the book as a whole, you can think of chapter 1 as dealing with a godly church, chapter 2 with a godly home, and chapter 3 dealing with godly citizens. But pastor Titus had a responsibility to teach to all three areas.

Paul starts this epistle with a few foundational principles for ministry. And because they are foundational, I have labeled them the ABC's of ministry.

Abnegation of Self in Ministry — Humility (v. 1a)

Slave to God rather than self ("servant")

It was hard to come up with an A and a B. But A stands for abnegation. It's a new word our family learned from the book called, 1200 Essential Words Every Educated Person Should be Able to Use and Define. Well, with a title like that, how could I not use the term?! And who's going to admit that they don't know what it means?!

Anyway, the dictionary defines abnegation as renunciation of something or as self-denial putting one's own interests behind the interests of others. And the idea is that ministers are called to be serving the Lord's interests, not their own. Paul not only calls upon Teaching Elder Titus, and the ruling elders to have this abnegation of self, but he models it as an apostle. Even an apostle cannot escape the mandate of servanthood. Verse 1 says, Paul, a bondservant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

We are so used to throwing around the term "servant" that we have a hard time imagining how difficult it would have been for Greeks to accept that term from the lips of Paul. The Greek word for "bondservant" (douvloß), is a term that was definitely not a complementary term to the Greeks. And I think it's unfortunate that modern versions have tended to soften the tone because of how politically incorrect slavery has become. Let me give you some dictionary definitions: Spicq, NAS, LEH and Lidell Scott all simply define it as "slave." But there were a couple of dictionaries that expanded a bit. Louw and Nida said,

Pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something...

That's slavery, isn't it? The definition goes on,

— "subservient to, controlled by"... one who is a slave in the sense of becoming the property of an owner.

That's what Paul says he was. Strong's dictionary says,

A slave (literal or figurative, involuntary or voluntary; frequently, therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency)

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology said,

Because douleuoœ involved the abrogation of one's own autonomy and the subordination of one's will to that of another, the Greek felt only revulsion and contempt for the position of a slave...

Keep in mind that these are the first words out of Paul's mouth to this Greek convert Titus, and his Greek congregation: "Paul, a slave of God." They are shocking words. They are words to immediately set a spiritual context for ministry: a context of self-abnegation; putting one's own will completely into subordination to that of another. I think this is the first and the most important characteristic of leadership. Anyway, the dictionary went on to say:

It remained peculiar to Gk. thought that man found his true worth only in being conscious of himself and in the free development of his potential.

Nothing new under the sun, is there? That's quite a precise definition of the Self-Esteem movement. He goes on:

Hence, douleuein in the sense of dependence and subordination in service is debasing and contemptible.

This shows how opposite Christianity is to the world's way of thinking. A Greek leader was characterized by pride and self-assertiveness. But for the Christian, to be great was to be a servant.

Self-abnegation. And Paul gloried in this abnegation. It was his badge of honor — the first thing he puts forth. And this is the question that I want to ask of you: Is your will submitted unreservedly to the will of God? If not, you lack the first essential for ministry. Ministers need to be FAST people: they need to be Faithful, Available, Submissive and Teachable. In other words, they need to be good bondservants. They need to be people with self-abnegation.

Represent God's interests rather than self-interest ("apostle")

But Paul describes himself with another word that shows self-abnegation. He calls himself an apostle of Jesus Christ.

In secular, and even in Biblical Greek, an apostle can be translated as an ambassador or as an envoy, or as a chargé d'affaires. When it takes over the Jewish Hebrew term Sheliach, it refers to a person who acts in the name of and with the full authority of the sender. So in one sense, these two terms are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Paul is not only a slave, way down here, but he is also an apostle with high authority, speaking in the very name and with the very words of Christ. But in another sense, an apostle had no authority to speak for himself. And frequently, slaves were apostles for kings — speaking not with their own authority, but speaking what the king wanted spoken. And in the same way, Paul was sent to speak the words of another. He had no authority except the authority of Christ. HE had to put his own interests on the back burner. In fact, his whole interest had to be wrapped up in the Lord's. An apostle who did not have self-abnegation was a contradiction in terms.

So what does Biblical ministry look like? It must be characterized by abnegation. If that was true of even an apostle, how much more so of each of us? We are not here to build our own kingdom. This is not our church. It's not about us. It's about the Lord. Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

The Bulls-eye of Ministry — Objectives (v. 1b)

The B of ministry deals with its aim or goals or objectives. What is it that our ministry should shoot at? The closest B I could find was bulls-eyes, and of course we shoot at a bulls-eye, don't we? The next phrase gives those objectives that we are aiming for: and there are three concentric circles. He says, according to [and that is a preposition that carries the connotation of "for the promotion of" or as Hendriksen says, "in the interests of." What is it his ministry is promoting. Or if you prefer the NASB translation, what is it that his ministry is "for"? He tells us: "For"] the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness. The whole ministry can be summed up in bringing people to faith, promoting knowledge of the truth far and wide and thirdly, seeing that knowledge producing holiness in every area of life. Reaching God's elect, training God's elect and changing God's elect. Let's look at each one of those three.

Faith (Reaching God's Elect)

He says, according to [or "For"] the faith of God's elect. True ministry promotes faith in God. Paul is not interested in promoting a sense of self-sufficiency in the church. Paul is interested in making us realize that without Christ, we can do nothing. You are succeeding in ministry if people are being driven to the Lord in faith. You are succeeding in ministry if you tremble at the thought of doing any of it in your own strength, but you go to the Lord to receive of His strength. Everything flows from God through Jesus Christ and into our lives. Faith lays claim to something outside of ourselves. Even the existence of faith is from God because it is a gift of election. Only the elect are given faith. ...the faith of God's elect. And faith itself trusts God's provision for the whole of Christianity. Hebrews 11 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. Well, that's pretty important then, isn't it?

So if faith is one of the key objectives for all Biblical ministry, it means you ought to be able to judge a church by the the degree of faith their ministry stirs up. What kind of vision do its leaders have? Is it a kind of vision that anyone can accomplish in their own strength? We must not water down the Biblical message into a message that is achievable in our own strength. We are called to faith. And if you are the elect of God, God has given you faith.

Knowledge (Training God's Elect)

So we are called to reach the faith and be used to stir up their faith. Second, we are called to train God's elect in the whole counsel of God. The second phrase is and the acknowledgment of the truth — or New American Standard — knowledge of the truth. Now knowledge has been given a bad rap in many circles, but according to Paul, you can judge a ministry by the degree of knowledge of Scripture that it conveys. I don't see as one of Paul's objectives that people come out of a worship service feeling good about themselves. That's a man-centered view. Ministry that does not cram people's heads with knowledge is a defective ministry. Paul wanted his ministry judged by the degree to which his people knew and acknowledged the truth. Do you hunger for the truth? Is it your desire that officers will give you more of the truth? As we have an expansion of officers, there will be the potential for the expansion of teaching ministry.

Godliness (Changing God's Elect)

The third ring on the target that we are shooting at is godliness. To sum up all three objectives, we could say that a faith that does not lead to hungering for the Word is a defective faith. And a knowledge that does not lead to godliness is a defective understanding of the truth. The truth was designed to change and to transform us. It was designed to lead to faith, and faith was designed to lead to godliness. You cannot have one without the other. All three are dependant on each other.

As you consider officers for the future, do it with the prayer that our church would hit the bullseye. Pray that we would be ever more effective in finding the elect, training the elect and changing the elect. Pray that our ministry would be so effective in its focus, that it would transform family living (chapter 2) and would transform society (chapter 3).

The Comfort of the Ministry — Comfort (v. 2)

The C of our ministry, or the third foundation is the comfort that the church should have. It would be easy for a church that is driven by a huge vision to become insecure because the task is so overwhelming. But verse 2 says that all of this ministry is in hope of eternal life which God who cannot lie, promised before time began. Once again, it's all about God and not about us. Our comfort should not rest in how good the officers are. Our comfort should not rest in how much money we have. Our comfort must be grounded in the sufficiency of God. And so in this verse we have hope for the future, confidence in the present and trust in God's eternal decrees.

Hope for the future hope of eternal life. You know, that's the neat thing about the ministry. Because the hopeless are now given hope, and because they don't need to worry about the future, they are freed up to serve in the present. If you are constantly thinking that you are getting saved, then lost then saved again, then lost again, your lack of hope will keep you from every maturing. Security in God does not make us lazy as many people have assumed. It produces the Calvinistic work ethic. Because we know we don't have to work for our salvation, it frees us up to work out of love for the Lord and the thrill of dominion. Eternal Security does not make us carnal. On the contrary, the hope we have been given in the future frees us up to be able to serve the Lord without distraction.

Confidence in the present

The next phrase speaks of God, who cannot lie [or "God who does not lie"]. Truth is what God says it is. By definition he can't lie. Unless you embrace the inerrancy of Scripture — in other words, that God's Word does not lie or have any error in it, you will be driven back and forth by every wind of doctrine. You will never have confidence. You can judge a ministry by whether it really believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. The bible gives us axioms for every area of life, and when we take those seriously, we can have confidence and stability that the world does not have.

Trust in God's eternal decrees (v. 2)

And then finally, a trust in God's eternal decrees. God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. That is Calvinism in a nutshell. By the way, who did God promise that to? There weren't any angels to make a promise to before time began. There weren't any men. This is one of many verses which speak of the eternal covenant that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit made with each other before the foundation of the world. The Father made a perfect plan for history. The Son undertook to purchase and communicate this plan. And the Spirit promised to apply the plan by His power. They promised it to each other. The Trinity has always existed, has always communicated, and has always loved.

And what a comfort this eternal and unchangeable plan brings when we are in the midst of upheavals and attacks and confusion. Do you have the comfort that Paul had in his ministry? Calvin didn't invent Calvinism. We should just call it radical Biblicisim. But this comfort will sustain you in the midst of attack, abuse, discouragement and apparent lack of success. Hope for the future, confidence in the present and trust in God's eternal decrees. That's something that can keep you keeping on in the ministry.

The Dogmatism of the Ministry — Certainty (vv. 2-4a)

The fourth foundation is dogmatism or certainty. And this too is a good judge of how Biblical any ministry is. If there is zero dogmatism, it is an unbiblical ministry. It is so popular nowadays to be tolerant of anything in ministry. Our pluralistic culture despises dogmatism just as surely as they despise the previous three points. It takes God's grace for people to appreciate the Biblical ministry of Paul. But in any case, let's look at some of this dogmatism.

Dogmatism on the truth of God's Word (vv. 2-3a)

First, dogmatism on the truth of God's Word. hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching... What was it that was being preached? It was the Word. And the Word of God cannot lie because God cannot lie. I have zero tolerance for Christians who deny the inerrancy of Scripture. I have zero tolerance for people who say that Paul was mistaken when he said that women cannot be elders or pastors. I have zero tolerance with people who pit evolution against the first chapters of the Bible. They weren't there! How do they know? What they are doing is that they are pitting their puny, finite minds against God's mind. Rather than allowing God's Word to judge and transform their minds, they are allowing their minds to judge and transform the Scripture into saying something it never intended to say. Even a child knows that Genesis 1 is not talking about billions of years of history.

To say that the Bible has error is to call God a liar. That's why I cannot tolerate it. It is heresy. And yet evangelicalism is rife with such people. Evangelicalism used to be a good word. But that word has been hijacked by the partial inerrancy crowd. Well, partial inerrancy means partial errancy doesn't it? And if the bible is partly in error, how do you know which parts are true and which are not? No, you can't go down that road according to Paul. You take it all or you leave it all. If you are the elect who has been given faith, it is a faith in God's Word. And people who deny the inerrancy of Scripture are simply saying that they don't have faith in God's Word. Well, let me tell you something. There is no other basis for faith. Gordon Clark describes the true philosophy of Christianity with the word Dogmatism. It's an absolute foundation for ministry.

Now don't get me wrong. We should not be dogmatic on our own opinions. But flee from a church that hates all dogmatism, because it has substituted a subtle form of dogmatism of its own. It is a dogmatism that we cannot say anything dogmatic and that we cannot offend men. Let me tell you something — don't even get into the ministry if pleasing men is your goal. So, we must be dogmatic first, that the Word of God is inerrant.

Dogmatism on the need to preach God's Word ("commandment")

The second thing we should be dogmatic about is the need to preach God's Word. ...but has in due time manifested His Word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior. Not the suggestion of God our Savior, but the commandment. Preaching is a commandment. Some people might prefer video clips, drama and sharing. But we must be dogmatic where Paul is dogmatic. There is no substitute for preaching. And you can judge a ministry based on whether it has this dogmatism. You may prefer to stay home and read a book, but Paul is dogmatic — preaching the Word is central. It is not an option.

Dogmatism on the content of God's Word ("our common faith" v. 4)

The third thing that Paul is dogmatic about is that there is an objective, Biblical content to our faith. Verse 4 speaks of "our common faith". To Titus, our true son in our common faith. Paul was never one to let go of the truths of Scripture just because there were false teachers out there who sought to twist God's Word. He wasn'\t one to say, "Oh, I don't know. We shouldn't be dogmatic, because there are so many viewpoints out there." No. He admonishes his churches to maintain the common faith. It is very popular today to downplay any doctrines that might divide Christians. They say, "Doctrine divides — love unites." Well, get a concordance out some time and see how many times Paul insists on good doctrine. Even in this book you see it in Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1,7 and 10. Paul described his faithfulness to ministry in Acts 20:27 by saying that he had not shunned teaching the whole counsel of God. The content of our ministry must be the Word, the whole Word and nothing but the Word.

We don't preach the psychology of Rogers or Freud. The Bible has it's own psychology. We don't preach the economics of Marx or Adam Smith. The Bible has its own economics. One of the things that characterized Christ's preaching over against the Pharisees was that He taught as one with authority, and not like the rabbis. If you read the Talmud, you can see how the rabbis taught. They were impressed with the experts, and rather than dealing with the text of Scripture themselves, they just quoted authorities. "Rabbi so and so said this. But on the other hand, another Rabbi said that. So maybe we can do a third thing." Ordinarily, pulpit ministry should be a verse by verse expositional ministry, and when it is topical, it still needs to be carefully rooted in verse by verse exposition.

Now there are some things about which we should not be dogmatic. But then, I won't preach on what I don't know. We can at least be dogmatic about this: 1) that God cannot lie and therefore His Word cannot lie, 2) second, that preaching is a commandment, not an option, 3) and thirdly, that there is a common faith that has been transmitted in God's Word, and we need to avoid any dogmatism that goes beyond this Biblical faith.

The Emissaries of God's Word Described — Office (vv. 5ff)

So we have looked at the A,B,C and D of the ministry. The E is emissaries. An emissary is a person sent out on a mission. Here is the amazing thing: God has chosen to use the weakness of human officers to minister the greatness of His Word.

The apostle Paul considered himself to be nothing, and yet the power of God's Spirit worked through his weakness. Timothy was fearful and timid, and apparently had stomach ulcers, and yet was used powerfully by the Lord. According to chapter 2:15, Titus (apparently) was despised by some people in Crete, yet God used him to establish a strong church. And we will be seeing on another Sunday that the work of elders, though sometimes not appreciated, is a necessary ingredient in having a strong, vibrant congregation.

We may think that we don't need any further officers, but Paul begs to differ. In verse 5 Paul says that in the church in Crete, there were things lacking. For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking... One of the things lacking was ruling elders. Now, did the church of Crete survive without those ruling elders? Yes it did. It actually survived several years. If Hendriksen is correct (that the church in Crete was established shortly after Paul's first missionary journey - about 50 AD), then the church had been functioning for 13 years with only Teaching Elders. Titus was written in about 63 AD. If it was established during the third missionary journey, then it had been functioning for five to seven years without ruling elders. But it was still lacking. That's the point. And I think that our church is lacking because we do not have officers.

Now this does say something about not being in a hurry, doesn't it? Paul didn't jump instantly into having officers. Better to have no officers than unqualified officers. Apparently people weren't ready to be elected as elders yet. But Titus was trying to remedy that problem. And we don't know how much longer it took before they got their first ruling elders. But in any case, God uses the weakness of human officers.

In verses 5 and following we see that Titus was commissioned and every elder in the church is commissioned to the pastoral ministry of which Paul was an example. Verse 7 speaks of elders as being stewards of God. They are responsible to God for their ministry. Verse 9 says, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. And the rest of the book illustrates that principle as well. They are commissioned by God to have the same aims for pastoral ministry as Paul had. To have the same authority and basis for their ministry: namely God and His word.. To have the same comfort and dogmatism. The ABC's of Paul's ministry should be the ABC's of every church officers ministry.

The Fountain of God's Ministry — Resources (v. 4b)

The last foundation of ministry is the fountain or the source from which ministry flows. Verse 4 continues: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. If Titus needed God's grace to minister, then so will every officer today. And we are going to need to pray for God's grace in their lives. If Titus needed God's mercy, then don't expect perfection from officers today. They too will need the Lord's mercy. They will need your mercy. If Titus needed God's peace to guard his heart and mind in Christ Jesus, you know that each one of us will need that same supernatural peace. It's tough to be an officer ministering to God's people. And so pray for these future officers: associate pastors, elders and deacons.

We must go to the fountainhead. Once again, the blessings come from God through the merits of Jesus. If we try to do ministry in our own strength, then our striving will be losing. But if the Right Man is on our side: the Man of God's own Choosing: the Lord Jesus Christ, then not even the gates of hell will be able to prevail against the ministry of this church. Amen?

Pray. Pray that we would not neglect the ABC's of ministry. Pray that these foundations would characterize our church in great measure. And may the Lord receive all the glory! Amen.

The ABC's of Ministry is part of the Titus series published on September 12, 2004

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