Ministers of God, Part 1
Who Are Ministers of God?
1 Corinthians 3:5-7: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."
Directory of Ministers of Religion
Today's directory of ministers of religion is like a "who-is-who" celebrity list or a compilation of profiles of members of a hall of fame. In fact, many who profess today to be ministers of God would consider it disrespectful, and even rude, if they are addressed simply by their names or introduced to an assembly without first trumpeting their heavy promotional profiles of achievements and titles. But are worldly accolades, credentials, commendations, ranks, and titles what make a genuine and effective minister of God?
Paul gives a direct, simple, and plain answer to this question. Ministers of God, including himself, are simply instruments used by the Lord. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?" This self-effacing profile of a minister of God is certainly not what today's clerical elites of celebrity preachers, "apostolic" authorities, venerated bishops, priests, and pastors, and chief executives and directors of church organizations are prepared to stomach. But genuine ministers can bring to the service of God nothing of themselves to boast of or glory in. They minister only to the extent that the Lord gives to each one to accomplish His work.
In fact, the truth is every member of the Body of Christ, every true believer in Christ, every born-again follower of Christ, is equally a minister of God. But religious elitism has not only ranked ministers in hierarchical levels of importance and authority, but also has made God’s gracious calling to be a minister seem like an exclusive vocation confined to a chosen so-called clergy instead of a God-ordained responsibility of every believer in Christ. But the Scriptures make it plain that there is nothing inherent in any man to qualify him more than another to be a minister of God. We become ministers of God and can minister only as the Lord gives to us according to His will and His grace.
Humbling and Hopeful
Paul defines the work of ministers of God as meaningless and futile except God makes them productive. "So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase." And so, ministers of God are really nothing of themselves without God. And this is both humbling and hopeful.
It is humbling because it makes any form of self-reliance, self-promotion, or boasting in accomplishments and qualifications vain among ministers of God. Human credentials are unnecessary for the calling of God to be ministers of God. So the "who-is-who" directory of genuine ministers of God is void of human glamour and accolades. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: "For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
It is hopeful because it gives hope to the humble, to those who consider themselves to be nothing, to those who are without man's credentials and commendations, who are rejected and despised by men, that God can make them effective and successful ministers of God. The primary objective of the accomplishments of ministers of God is to glorify God, to manifest the power of God, to demonstrate what God can do, rather than promote man's ability and accomplishments. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7: "For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us."
Treasure in Earthen Vessels
No one called of God to be a minister of God is disqualified because of human infirmities and weaknesses. Human weaknesses and infirmities are not inevitable failure when God is involved. God engages the weak and the frail and raises them into excellence in order to magnify His strength and power in them. Ministers of God are the exhibits of the excellence of God's power in human vessels of clay. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us."
This highlights the wisdom and grace of God in His ministers. It summons humility and generates hope in the hearts of all who are called to be ministers of God. The medals of boastings crumble and fizzle and the shame and despondency of human weakness and helplessness vanish when God puts forth His hand and raises His ministers. And so, from undeniable insufficiency, genuine ministers of God are made always ready and sufficient for the tasks their calling demands because they depend completely on God. "And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Excellence and Success
Therefore, genuine ministers of God may not make it to halls-of-fame or be listed in the directory of celebrity rolls and acclaimed achievers of this world, but they are assured of excellence and success in whatever the Lord has appointed them to do because God operates through them. It matters not to them how men esteem them by worldly standards. What matters to them is that they are called, ordained, empowered and anointed by God. What really matters to them is that they are ministers of God.
In essence, ministers of God neither commend themselves nor need the commendations of men. Their excellence and success come from God in Christ. God assigns them their ministry and gives to them their sphere of influence and power. So they do not strive or compete in the fulfillment of their mission.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:12-18: "For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us – a sphere which especially includes you. For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment. 'But he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.' For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends."
Therefore, genuine ministers of God are not ashamed to be nothing of themselves. But they are honoured to be made something through the grace of God, to minister not of themselves but as the Lord gives to each one, and to produce by God who gives the increase. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."
If ministers of God will recognize these fundamental God-given realities that make them who they are, the worldly frills of pomp and pride, medals and titles, will not matter. They will minister in the name of the Lord with confidence and contentment according to their individual calling. And in the end, they will be among those who will join the elders at the throne of God and having rejected the crowns of human adulations will sincerely worship God declaring: "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created" (Revelation 4:10-11).