logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

“Power and Joy in Ministering God’s Word”

May 27, 2012 1Thess 1:4-6, 2:8-13,19-20


Chuck Swindoll tells of a young pastor whose besetting sin was not laziness, but conceit. He frequently boasted in public that all the time he needed in order to prepare his Sunday sermon was the few moments it took him to walk to the church from the parsonage next door. Can you guess what the congregation voted to do? They bought a new parsonage eight miles away!
    Today I am particularly blessed that we can mark together the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of “Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care”. I’d like to focus on the first part of that: why is “ministry of the word” so important? With all the upheaval, pressures, and problems dealing with people that one encounters in pastoral ministry, what motivates a person to give their life to it, and once in it, to keep at it? In Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, we find he not only refers to ministry of the word, but also shares how pastoral care can be very rewarding.
    What’s going on in ‘ministry of the word’? Proclaiming God’s word can be very powerful because God has ‘set us up’ for it, through the way He has formed us and by His Holy Spirit addressing us.
    Last weekend I was trying to troubleshoot my father’s internet connection. His laptop wasn’t connecting to his Internet Service Provider. We determined quickly that the ISP’s signal was getting through into the house just fine. But even though the router was turned on, there was no signal showing up to either Dad’s laptop or mine. We swapped in another (used) router and soon there was a connection. The original router was the culprit: the lights were on, but ‘there was nobody home’.
    God has hard-wired us to communicate with Him. God’s word is His signal being sent forth, like a laptop broadcasting, looking for a receiving device. We’re like that router - custom-designed to hook up with the laptop, engineered for all the right frequencies and protocols. Yet some people resist the connection - the ‘lights are on’ but they’re not responding.
    Consider the suitability of ‘the word’ as the means by which God operates. We understand from God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture that “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) The word for ‘spirit’ in Hebrew and Greek is related to ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ - invisible, dynamic, not confined to a particular place. So it’s very appropriate that His Spirit should find expression in sound or word. JI Packer in Knowing God writes, “God’s Word in the Old Testament is His creative utterance, His power in action fulfilling His purpose.The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of His purpose, as having power in itself to effect the thing purposed...The Word of God is thus God at work.” For example, Genesis 1:3, “And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.” God’s very WORD makes things happen! Psalm 33(6), “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” When Jesus the Son of God comes on the scene, John describes this as, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (Jn 1:14) So the word is God’s means of self-expression, reaching out to contact humans His creatures.
    Paul describes the word of God as “the sword of the Spirit.” (Eph 6:17) At the end of time, we are told prophetically in the book of Revelation (19:13,15) that Jesus’ enemies are slain by a sword which comes, surprisingly, from - where? His mouth! John describes a rider on a white horse wearing many crowns whose eyes are like blazing fire: “...his name is the Word of God...Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” Clearly, from our beginning to our end, from Genesis to Revelation, it is God’s word which defines our existence, it’s His word with which we have to do. Jesus underscored its authoritativeness: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
    So, that’s God’s side, being constituted of “spirit”, communicating by word. What about on this end? The Bible maintains people are made uniquely in a way that corresponds to God’s nature: Genesis 1(26f) again, “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness”...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We’re fashioned in God’s image or likeness as the router is built to communicate with a laptop; we are “spirit, soul, and body” (1Th 5:23) to be able to relate to our Maker who is spirit. God has let us in on the blueprints of our own design in the Manufacturer’s Handbook. The router is as good as dead - useless - purposeless, when it won’t communicate, which is what it was made for. Paul tells the Romans God has outfitted us with conscience, ‘hard-wired’ us for morality as it were, so we understand innately (in our very nature or make-up) concepts like good and evil, glory and shame. As Paul puts it, even Gentiles show that the ‘requirements of the law’ are written on their hearts (Rom 2:14f).
    But thanks to the Bible, the inspired revelation written by prophets and apostles, we don’t have to ‘guess at’ or work out by trial-and-error the basics of the universe’s ethical framework; God gives us His word to help us in our lives, spare us the pain of moral pitfalls, so we might be complete and benefit. Moses’ charge to Joshua (Josh 1:8), “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Reading between the lines) “Spare yourself a whole whack of grief and trouble!” David sang in Psalm 19(7f), “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.[HEAR THE BENEFITS?]The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart...”
    Jeremiah delighted in God’s word, saying, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (Jer 15:16) When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, after fasting a long time, to turn stones into bread, He answered: "It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on [WHAT?] every word that comes from the mouth of God.’" (Mt 4:4) Hear what He’s acknowledging? Bread - foodstuff - alone doesn’t make a life; we were DESIGNED for more, to find meaning with the help of God’s word. We need Spirit-content - the word - to feed our spirit, our inner person.
    When we receive God’s word, it (or rather, He) connects with us at the deepest level; we’re hard-wired to resonate with His signals, like the router and laptop. So Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is living and active.Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The divine word penetrates to our very core, His Spirit addresses our spirit, we hear His command and promise and explanation; His teaching is the eternal yardstick by which our heart’s attitude is sized up.
    In today’s Scripture reading, we see Paul recollecting how the Thessalonians experienced this POWER of God’s word when they received it. 1Thess 1:5, “...our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” 2:13, “...when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” The phrase ‘is at work’ translates the Greek energeo from which we get “energy”. God’s word ‘performs its work’ (NASV). Along with the power of the word acting in their lives, they sensed JOY: 1:6, “...you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
    John MacArthur lists many things God’s work can accomplish in our lives (and he includes Scripture references for each of these): “The work of God’s word includes: saving (Rom 10:17; 1Pet 1:23); teaching and training (2Tim 3:16f); guiding (Ps 119:105); counseling (Ps 119:24); reviving (Ps 119:154); restoring (Ps 19:7); warning and rewarding (Ps 19:11); nourishing (1Pet 2:2); judging (Heb 4:12); sanctifying (Jn 17:17); freeing (Jn 8:31f); enriching (Col 3:16); protecting (Ps 119:11); strengthening (Ps 119:28); making wise (Ps 119:97-100); rejoicing the heart (Ps 19:8); and prospering (Josh 1:8f).” Most of us would admit such things would benefit us! God’s word offers them to us.


Do we really need people set aside or ordained for the so-called ‘ministry of the word’ in the church, or is it just something every believer does by him or herself? It is vital for believers to study the Bible on their own; but in addition, from the start the church has designated some to make it a priority. Jesus Himself went around teaching (Mk 6:6); He sent the Twelve out 2 by 2 to preach that people should repent (Mk 6:7; Mt 10:7). His “Great Commission” commands us not only to baptize disciples, but also “teach them to obey all I commanded you” (Mt 28:20). The early church in Acts 5(42) never stopped teaching and proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the Christ. When pressure mounted to start a food distribution program, the apostles appointed deacons - they determined it was not right to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables (Acts 6:2); instead, they said, we “will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Ac 6:4) Paul told the Corinthians that in the church God has appointed “apostles, prophets, teachers,” etc.(1Cor 12:28) And in Ephesians 4(11f), “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” So this office of “pastor/teacher” existed from very early on.
    Paul wrote to Timothy, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1Ti 5:17) And he left Titus in Crete to “straighten out what was unfinished and appoint elders in every town”; an elder was to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:5,9) Throughout the centuries, the church has benefited from devoted pastor-teachers who presented wholesome doctrine that encourages the flock, and that countered the tempting theories and heresies with which the world and the devil would try to seduce us. Especially in this media-savvy and morally-lax age, the church needs creative minds, compassionate hearts, and sharp intellects to keep God’s truth before Christians in an engaging manner! So, ministry of the word is a priority, it plays a key role in strengthening and equipping the church. It’s a vital and honourable profession, and we need more gifted young people AND second-career folk to give themselves to it.


Of course, with words and teaching, there’s always a danger of the content remaining just “head-knowledge” - of us becoming educated beyond the level of our obedience! Education without APPlication becomes STAGnation - and that renders us liable to judgment, for, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Lu 12:48)
    Paul and his companions practised what they preached. 1Thess 1:5, “You know how we lived among you for your sake.” And the church caught what was taught: v6, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Information was translated into TRANSformation. In chapter 2 we see 4 aspects of the PRODUCT of preaching: first, v9, “you remember...our toil and hardship; we worked night and day...” The ‘energy’ of God’s word instilled energy for working in Paul and those with him. Note these are not works in an attempt to try to EARN favour with God - Jesus’ work at the cross won that for us; these works are sparked by gratitude, in response to God’s rich grace and forgiveness.
    Second, 2:9 continues, “in order not to be a burden to anyone...” God’s word stimulates us to help others, not burden them; the Holy Spirit is our “Helper” and produces the fruit of goodness and kindness so we can help others.
    Third, v10, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” God’s word works holiness in our lives, sharpens and enlivens our conscience, develops moral integrity and a passion for what’s right.
    Fourth, v12, “urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.” God’s word gives our life WORTH as we live to please the Lord not ourselves. We can get by with less now, knowing we’re destined for more later - sharing His kingdom and glory. Live a life worthy of God.
    During last weekend’s webcast from the All Ontario Youth Convention, Shane Claiborne was recalling his time working in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. They had to get up at 5 a.m.for morning prayer. As he meditated he noticed Mother Teresa’s feet - strangely deformed. Later a nun asked if he’d noticed them and explained that, whenever a shipment of donated shoes came in, Mother Teresa went sorting through it looking for the worst pair. She jammed her own feet into those inferior shoes so no one else would have to suffer! Hardship - helpfulness - holiness - living a life worthy of God.


As the years pass in ministry, you can develop a real closeness with many of the people in a congregation. As Paul writes, we can detect how dear are the bonds he has with those at Thessalonica. The ministry of “pastoral care” goes along with ministry of the word.
    2:8, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” There was a genuine love there that prompted the apostle to hold nothing back - to share his ‘soul’ as well as the saving message of Jesus. They’d become dear, there was real agape or divine love. Paul draws on a couple of family metaphors to express this closeness. 2:7, “we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” The image is actually that of a mother-nurse as in breastfeeding, taking tender care of a little one – real nurture and support. Then further on in verse 11, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you...” Subtle shift here to a dad’s perhaps more challenging and confrontational role: still caring and loving, with comfort and encouragement, but also urging, exhorting, like a coach calling forth that little bit extra in an athlete, urging them to stretch beyond past performance to the max they’re capable of. This is part of my job description! Yet it runs the risk of offending people much more than just ‘encouraging’ and ‘comforting’. So I beg your graciousness and need you to cut me some slack when, as your pastor, trying to be obedient to the Lord’s prompting, I may challenge you and urge you on some matter. Recognizing that I quite likely have some growing to do in that area myself!


After 25 years in ministry, I may be better at some aspects than when I began, but I’m certainly not perfect. Did you know that after hundreds of years, a model preacher has been found to suit everyone? He preaches exactly 20 minutes and then sits down. He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8 am to 10 pm in every type of work from preaching to custodial service. He tithes weekly to the church and stands ready to contribute to every good work that comes along.
    He is 26 years old and has been preaching 30 years. He’s tall and short, thin and heavyset, and handsome. He has one brown eye and one blue; hair parted down the middle, left side dark and straight, the right brown and wavy.
    He has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and spends all his time with older folks. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humour that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is never out of the office.
    Now, if your pastor doesn’t quite measure up to that, you’re in luck - there’s a chain letter going around you might be interested in. No cost involved. You send a copy of the letter to 6 other churches that are tired of their ministers too. Then you bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the bottom of the list. In one week you will receive 16,436 pastors, one of whom should be just about perfect! But beware – one church broke the chain and got their old pastor back! Let’s pray.