Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Spirit of True Ministry (Jn.3:29-36)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 6th December 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 3:29-36

Jesus said that of all those born of women there had not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. If Jesus had not mentioned this, we would not realise how great John is. But Christ also said that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (John the Baptist). This is because John the Baptist ended the Old Testament era and prepared the people for the coming of Christ which started the a new era in history. John was later beheaded and Christ was crucified. The New Testament started this way.

John was very clear of his calling from the very beginning. To the one who told him that his ministry was threatened because Jesus was attracting more disciples than him, he replied:

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him” The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn. 3:27-30)

This tells us the energy necessary to serve in ministry. The kind of words that were told to John could often cause conflicts among co-workers. But John was clear of his position and could calmly respond to that. This passage also teaches us how we should respond to other people’s successes.

When one realises that his existence is threatened and someone succeeds not according to his expectation, one can easily become a judge. But who are we to judge? John’s statement “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” teaches us that everything we have is from God and we are not worthy to receive anything. But it is easy to fall into the trap where we subconsciously credit all we have as something we deserve.

Among church leaders, the level of politics are often not that different from secular world. On one hand, they appear humble and on the other hand they steal glory from God and declare themselves as great. They are willing to go up but not willing to step down. They want to continue in their own pleasure and cannot be displeased. They think it is not right for their position in ministry to go downhill. They do all they can to prevent perceived competitors. When this kind of unnecessary pain clouds your ministry, your ministry has lost its meaning because gradually you fail to glorify God and edify men.

John’s ministry is based on pure motives. When someone told him these words, he said if it is not from heaven no one can receive anything. Hence whatever he had is according to God’s will and his ambition is irrelevant. When God takes back what He has given us, we need to submit in thanksgiving. This is how Job’s attitude was different from his wife when they lost all their children and possessions.

Many people do not see God’s glory but boast of what they have. That is not true ministry. True ministry is taking God as God and men as men. It is only by His grace that we have impacted lives and produced results. We will be accountable for our errors and sins. But we give thanks to God for all the good that has happened. We are just His vessels. When we offer everything to God, we need to realise that we are not worthy to offer anything and everything we could offer belongs to Him in the first place.

John said to the man who spoke to him that he could bear testimony that John himself told him from the start that he was not the Christ. He had a pure motive from the very beginning. He understood his position in the big picture and his mission in history.

When God uses you, we need to serve faithfully. When his time comes for us to step down we should do so. So we need to be faithful to our service and know when to step down. Often people just know how to step up but not step down.

John said Jesus is the true bridegroom and he is a friend of the bridegroom. He did not take the glory from Christ and rejoiced when Christ was glorified. The epistle of Paul also depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church as that of a husband and wife. When everyone was turning their attention to Jesus, John said that his joy was now complete. He was indeed great.

Ministry is not about displaying your talents. The simplest definition is whether by life or by death, Christ be magnified in our life. John the Baptist truly lived this way. This is the last recorded verse. Apart from the occasion when he asked his disciples to go to Jesus and asked if he was the Messiah, there was no more record of John’s words. His words of doubt shows us that even the greatest man of God had his time of weakness.

But God would not break the bruised reed. Jesus said to John’s disciples to go back and tell John that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the ppor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me” (Matt. 11:5-6). Even Mother Theresa admitted in one of her writing that she had doubted the existence of God before. This becomes words of comfort for the rest of us who struggle in our journey of faith.

The last portion of John’s words, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But why is it a must? Why must John become smaller? Why must Christ become greater? Eventually, John would be imprisoned and beheaded. He did become smaller and Christ became greater. It was something he was prepared to face. He went downhill willingly. And Christ was lifted up.

When we become less and insignificant, do not despair because it is according to God’s will. We should not boast because we have a share in ministry, it is because God gives us opportunity to serve. The same thing will happen with or without our contribution. We should not take credit. We need to know our position and know when to go up and to come down. In this way our ministry will be blessed in God’s eyes.


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