You will remember our previous gatherings on Sunday evenings, that we had a little Bible reading on “Helps” and “Foundations;” and tonight I thought of drawing your attention to “Ministry.”
“Minister” of course, means servant, and Christ’s servants are called “ministers” in the New Testament, but we first read of ministers set apart to the Word of God in the 28th chapter of Exodus, and previous to that time of course you who are acquainted with your Bibles know that worship of God and His service is largely carried out, in fact altogether carried out, in the homes of His people wherever that might be, in tents or other places more secure, but we cannot help being struck in reading the Bible with the progressiveness of God’s truth, leading from one stage to another until it comes to the consummation of all things. One would almost regret that the scenes that we have put before us in the Book of Genesis would not continue as God’s way of service, and work, but while there are many noble characters there depicted, yet there seems to be inherent in the ways of men in their relationship with God, something that was corrupting and that could not continue, that state of affairs under patriarchal worship could not continue, they served their purpose and the Bible passes on.
We read then in the 28th chapter of Exodus that Moses was instructed by God to set apart certain men for His particular service. It says in the 1st verse, “And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt speak unto all that are wisehearted whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.”
Just to briefly dwell upon this for a few moments, we know that in God’s mind in declaring His counsel after this manner He had in view its fulfilment in the life and death and resurrection and present position of His dear Son. The only way in which we can appreciate and value the Old Testament is seeing it leading on to that full consummation of God’s truth in Jesus, and when we read of these men being set apart, we know they are just typical men, it was never intended to continue for all time and eternity, it would serve its purpose in bringing to the remembrance of the children of Israel and to ourselves the wondrous way in which God’s truth has unfolded itself in types and shadows and figures, so this portion has to deal with Christ and His people.
Aaron, high priest of Israel, of course represents Jesus, our High Priest, and He was set apart. Aaron was set apart by his office, and by his garments, from his sons – they had a different office from their father, and he had an office belonging to only himself, the glorious garments that were upon him distinguished him. As he entered into the Holy Place once a year with the sin offering and with the names of the children of Israel upon his breast and upon his shoulder; this just typified what we hardly dare to believe that Christ in the presence of God for us bears upon His heart and upon His shoulders the responsibility, His people before God. I sometimes marvel at the unbelief that will creep into one’s mind, and how one will take for granted these wondrous truths. If we look at things as men look at them today, the world’s business and the world’s work is the most important thing in the minds of the vast majority of men, religion may be tacked on as something that should be in a well ordered life, but the Bible insists that the principal occupation of the Lord’s people is His service and His work, and unless saints and servants recognise that and devote themselves wholeheartedly to His work, even to becoming singular amongst men, they are missing the mark, they are losing out, they are in danger of being engulfed by the waters, the ever present waves of this world.
We see in these sons of Aaron representatives of ourselves, the Lord’s people. Aaron and his sons, Jesus and His people; and in looking into what happened afterwards in connection with these men we can take warning. Aaron did not fail, but two of these men failed utterly. We read in the 10th chapter of Leviticus what happened to fifty per cent of these sons of Aaron. “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censor and put fire therein and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not, and there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.”
In the previous chapter or so they had been consecrated to this great office of being God’s ministers amongst His people. They had a week of service, or rather they had a week of consecration and a day of service, and then this dreadful calamity happened them. We are not to be shocked or troubled that there are failures amongst God’s people. In all ages even amongst those that had the very highest privileges, and the greatest opportunities as these men had there were failures.
We read in that chapter, if we had time to look into it, that the Lord commanded Moses that the priests were not to take wine or strong drink when they entered into the tabernacle of the congregation to serve, and undoubtedly that was the cause of these men’s failure, they took strong drink, and we know that the Nazarite was commanded neither to take wine nor strong drink. Well we may not indulge in wine or strong drink in the natural sense, but men sometimes get puffed up, get conceited, get high-minded, get full of their own importance, and their own value, and it acts upon them as strong drink, they are intoxicated with their own vanities, and as a result offer strange fire before the Lord, which the Lord has not commanded.
In the previous chapter, the closing verse, it says, “That fire came down upon the altar and consumed the sacrifice that had been made, and the people shouted and fell on their faces,” so that was the demonstration of God’s acceptance of the sacrifice that had been made by Moses, by Aaron and by his Sons, until this calamity overtook them.
They offered strange fire, they went out of the way to be defiant to God’s instructions, as to the way in which His service should be conducted, and when you find people offering something through self will and their own ideas, following up their own plans in the service of God, it just amounts to the same great sin of offering strange fire before the Lord today and the judgment upon that, is death. “They died before the Lord.” We read that it is referred to again in the 3rd chapter of Numbers. “These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office, and Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children.” It is a very significant thing that the testimony of God ceased with them, there was no productiveness, there could be no results, there was no one to follow on except the memory of their dreadful sin in taking their own way and having their own ideas, rather than being humbly obedient to the revelation of God through his servants Moses, and Aaron. They had no children and were forgotten, and Eleazar and Ithamar then ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father. They were true to the revelation that had been already given to them.
The meaning of Eleazar I understand is “Help from God,” and Ithamar, “The land of the palm,” so these two who endured to the end and had the victory and were trusted by God. In their holy office were men that were in utter dependence upon God. When you find a man in dependence upon God to help Him, in himself he knows he is nothing. Paul could say “In my flesh there dwelleth no good thing,” he knew himself, he knew his limitations, he knew his weakness, and his frailty, and his strong fortress was “help from God,” “Having obtained help from God, we continue to this day.” Ithamar then, dwelling in the land of the palm is like a palm tree in the desert which affords shelter and gives food which has its life from within, and God expects His people to be able to afford shelter and give food to the weary traveller and to draw upon the life that is within, from God. Well that is in the Old Testament, and we will now just look at one or two cases of ministry in the New Testament.
These portions that I have referred to in the Old Testament were applied to the Lord’s people generally, but the priesthood in that separate office would apply particularly, I think, to the Lord’s servants, so we must see what ministry is mentioned in the Yew Testament in connection with the Lord’s saints and the Lord’s people.
We read in Matthew 8:14 and 15, “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever, and He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she arose and ministered unto them.” That is a very nice little episode in the life of the Master. We read that He went about healing everywhere. His influence was to heal, and to help, and when He came into that fever-stricken home, there was a poor soul there tossing upon her bed, burning up with fever, and the touch of Jesus drove the fever away.
Well it was a natural happening, which also has a spiritual significance. It is when we touch the Saviour, when we come into contact with life, life is begotten in us, and the fever of life is a thing of the past, and you are now able to minister as this woman did. I hope that you have some experience of this, that you are now in spiritual health, and spiritual comfort of mind through having been in contact with our Lord and Master today as you worshipped Him.
In Luke’s Gospel, we read of “ministry” again in the 8th chapter, “And it came to pass afterward that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God, and the twelve were with Him.” We read in Mark’s Gospel I think, that “out of His disciples He chose twelve that they might be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach.” The most important thing in the view of the Maker of this world that we live in, was that men could be called from their daily toil in the affairs of this life, that they might be ‘with Him,’ and that He might send them forth to preach. You are here tonight because that call was obeyed by some soul, somewhere, some time; but it is of the ‘ministry’ that is spoken of here in Luke 8 we wish to speak, “And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits, and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance.” So it was quite a little company that toured around Galilee and Judaea, twelve men and Jesus and these women, large hearted Godly women, that continued with them, and were with them in their journeys, that they might minister to them, so that the twelve might have freedom of time and opportunity to do the preaching that had been given to their trust, and these women ministered unto them of their substance.
What a different scene it is that we have here to the ways in which the work of God has been attempted to be done through the ages! The hireling and his wages, and his supporters, presents a very different scene, and sometimes we forget that our chiefest enemy is the false prophet in the false way, and that all relics of that in us, or belonging to us, must be cut off if we are to follow faithfully in the footsteps of the Master, and be content with the provision that God makes for us in the way He made provision for His dear Son and the twelve men that were with Him. Thank God the last thing we have to speak of is this provision. It is there and we are content. The cattle on a thousand hills are our Father’s and if we do His work faithfully and well according to His mind and plan, and minister in the priest’s office as the Lord has commanded us, there will be children born into His family that will name the name of Jesus, with sincerity, and become in their turn ministers of His truth.
It is very significant that there was a cessation of God’s work in the short testimony that Nadab and Abihu bore; just a week and it was all over, nothing left, nothing but a dreadful account of their sin. Well I think it ought to cheer the Lord’s people here tonight to know how to gauge their standing and their love, and what they are living for, by testing what they have in the light of what Peter’s wife’s mother did, ministering in natural things undoubtedly, at that time, and in spiritual things also to Jesus and His disciples, and in this portion also that women in a very good position some of them, for I think that the wife of Chuza would be a rather important person, and yet she was willing to leave her home and the surroundings of her home in order that she might be useful in helping in the Lord’s Work, not leaving her home permanently, but just for the time as they journeyed through Galilee, bearing this first witness that Jesus bore with His disciples.
Again as to the ministry of His servants we read in the 4th of II Corinthians, Paul uses the word “therefore,” that he is so fond of using when he has raised a point and wishes to drive it home effectively, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry.” Do you look upon it as your greatest privilege to have this ministry, as saint or servant, to be called to do something for God, to let the world go by, if it will, and its ways, and its people if they will, and recognize yourself as one of God’s princes, and people in the world, belonging to the Kingdom which cannot be moved or shaken, the ever lasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. “We have this ministry, as we have received mercy we faint not.” Probably we all experience fainting fits by the way, are conscious of a weakness; some of us were complaining last week of finding our knees feeble as the result of the heat and other things, and feebleness of the knees is spoken of in the 12th chapter of Hebrews, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,” but to experience that spiritually is a very trying experience.
“We faint not, because we have obtained mercy,” because we have a goodly heritage, because we know Him in whom we have believed, and here in the 2nd verse it says, “We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience, in the sight of God. But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.”
So there you have the equipment of a true minister, what he should be, what he should aim at, and the message that he brings by the Gospel. Renounced are the hidden things of dishonesty. It is a very terrible thing to be dishonest in the things of God; it would be better for a man to have a mill stone tied around his neck and cast into the depths of the sea than that he should persist in a course of dishonesty in the things of God, walking in craftiness, always scheming as to how it will affect himself, how his conduct will affect himself, how he will surround himself with people who are like-minded and according to his own idea of things, gathering a company.
Paul knew all about some that were walking in craftiness and handling the word of God deceitfully, applying the word of God to that which God never intended it to apply to. I have heard of some applying the truth that was entirely applicable to God’s servants to themselves, but it only shows the blindness and ignorance of their minds, and how little they knew of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the declaration of His truth.
“Commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” If a man does right, speaks right, and is true with his brother and neighbour, he must commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and you cannot bring the two together, and if the Gospel is hid, it is hid because they are lost. If a man does not see as you see as the servant of God and as the medium whereof His truth is to be declared in the world, if he cannot see, it is because he is blind, it is hid from him because he is lost. He pursues another way, another idea, and takes his own way and burns strange fire before the Lord. The god of this world has power to blind and deceive to-day as he had in days gone by.
“Then, we preach not ourselves.” We do not wish to exalt ourselves or our own name. That was the lamentable and dreadful sin of Edward Cooney. We had to come to the definite belief after many years of patience that he preached himself. His message was to exalt his own name, which has been put upon God’s people and which God’s people reject and resent. “We preach Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake.” You ministers for Christ’s sake; why am I here, why are these brothers here, why are these sisters here, because we want to be your servants for Jesus’ sake.
Well, then, just to pass on and not keep you too long, let us read his instruction to Timothy in II Timothy 4:4-5: “Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” The way in which we make proof of our ministry is that we are watchmen, on the walls of Jerusalem, for the good of God’s people, watching in all things, dealing with difficulties as they come, not just pleasing men, or pleasing any company of men, but faithful to the trust that God has reposed, not accepting bribes, Samuel said he accepted no bribe, and people could bribe you, could bribe you with hospitality, and bribe you with money, if you were open to it, try to gain favour in many ways, people that are wrong, and it is necessary for God’s servant to be watchful in all things, and endure afflictions, and at the same time do the work of an evangelist. The safety of the Lord’s servants is that they continue to do the work of an evangelist, as long as God gives them strength, to endeavour with all their might and main to proclaim that message that brings peace.
Then in Colossians, just a word concerning the ministry in the 17th verse of the 4th chapter, “And say to Archippus, take heed to the ministry which thou has received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” This man is spoken of in the little Epistle to Philemon, and he is spoken of as a fellow soldier, and here again he is mentioned, and you would almost think that there was a little feeling in the mind of the apostle of him not being just as hearty as he had been in the past; there is a little indication that there was a drawing back from that full consecration of doing the work of an evangelist that had been the mark of him when he was Paul’s fellow soldier, and he gives him that kindly little hint, “Say to Archippus, take heed to the ministry which thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfil it,” and with that little verse I will just close to-night hoping that our thoughts on the ministry may have helped us to do what we can, where and when we can for Him who hath called us out of darkness unto His marvellous Light. Amen.