As we seek to know the work that God calls us to do, it is wise to look at the words of some who have been in the same kind of ministry. God has recorded in the Bible some great examples of ministry. None of them were perfect, but they served their Lord, the honored the call of God.
Paul had some great advice for those in ministry. Paul was a man of character, for he was patient, loving, compassionate, considerate, sometimes firm, sometimes sympathetic, and charming.
Yet, more than character is needed. One needs consecration. Paul was faithful and loyal. Though ruthless in pursuit of the Lord's kingdom, he was gentle and kind in its administration.
the consecration of a trained athlete,
the subservience of a slave,
the absorption of a sweetheart,
and yet he mixed with that the wisdom and knowledge of a scholar.
We need consecration to overcome the distractions, temptations, trials, and attacks that the devil will bring us. We need to learn how to be the kind of minister that Paul set forth as an example.
In Gideon's army, 32,000 responded.
Yet, 22,000 were sent home, fearful of the work they needed to do.
9,700 others were not so fearful, but needed more anxiousness and discipline.
Only 300 met God's criteria.
God does have standards for the ministry, and He is patient and enduring in His training process. Since we are near the last battle of this age, against a devil and his angry cohorts, we must commit and consecrate as never before, and do it now!
1. Many ministers will have THORNS IN THE FLESH.
II Corinthians 12:7-12
"And lest I should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing, I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me; for I ought to have been commended of you; for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and in mighty deeds."
There have been great debates on these verses. Many do not want the "thorn" to be a fleshly disease. They want to teach that disease cannot come to Christians. So they have trouble with Job's boils, and Paul's thorn.
Smith Wigglesworth had diabetes every day of his ministry. Yet, many with even the same disease were healed in services in which he prayed for the sick.
Some see the thorn as physical, and others see it as spiritual battles. Which is correct? Do we have "thorns" today? What are they? - and - What aren't they?
Notice that visions and revelations preceded the thorn. Paul had been caught up into the third heaven, and whether he was in the flesh, or in the spirit, he did not know.
(A note here, the Jews talked of seven heavens:
The air about us here upon the earth was called the "first heaven."
The atmosphere above the clouds was called the "second heaven."
Sheol", (paradise, the abyss, & hell fire: called the "third heaven".
The solar system was called the "fourth heaven",
The regions of starry space was called the "fifth heaven".
The planet we know as "heaven" was called the "sixth heaven".
Within the planet called "heaven" [as sheol is within the earth] was the throne room of God, known as the "seventh heaven".)
While in the "third heaven," that is "paradise", he heard "unspeakable words". These words were messages to him that he was not to repeat, they were not for general consumption. It was "not lawful for a man to utter" the messages that God revealed, and the sights that he was shown. Just as John was forbidden to reveal the seven thunders in the book of Revelation, Paul was not to reveal what he saw and heard in those revelations.
These abundant revelations, and the frequent returns of Paul to this place, where he conferred with the Lord, and refreshed himself from the abundant trials, could have kept Paul in "cloud nine" the rest of his life.
If God raptured you in the spirit to paradise, it would be hard to keep your mind on earthly things after that. If God gave you revelations of things yet to occur, it would be hard to keep them silent. These abundant blessings meant that Paul had to suffer great trials, to keep him humble, and to keep him reminded of earthly realities.
There is a mountain on each side of the valley, and there cannot be a valley, without two mountains. So do not ever by pass a blessing, but do not be surprised that blessings are pre-empted, and followed by trials.
The word "thorn" is from the Greek word "skolops". This usually denoted something pointed, and the language denotes something physically painful, and humiliating. The thing that is stressed is the acuteness of the suffering.
The thorn, whatever it was, was something that caused great pain. Paul describes it as a physical ailment that afflicted him, and from which he prayed three times to be delivered.
Some believe it was OPHTHALMIA. Since Paul generally dictated his epistles, and then only signed them (II Thessalonians 3:17, I Corinthians 16:21). The disease of ophthalmia would account for that. He wrote the end of Galatians with his own hand, but apologized for his large handwriting. (Galatians 6:1 -"how large letters").
The Galatians did not despise him for it, but would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to the apostle, were it possible". Galatians 4:13-15 suggests that he had a disease that affected his eyesight. He says that he was unable to recognize the high priest in Acts.
The purpose of the thorn was "lest I be exalted (huperairomai) above measure."
The Greek word for "exalted" is "huperairomai" which is used only here and of the Antichrist exalting himself above God (II Thessalonians 2:4). God did not want Paul to exalt himself due to the many revelations given to him, so God allowed the thorn to keep Paul humble. To every problem, there is a reason and a purpose. Do not complain, but "count it all joy."
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience... But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
The source of the thorn was the "messenger of Satan."
The word for "messenger" is "angelos". It was an angel of the devil, or a demon spirit that afflicted Paul with this fleshly problem. The diseases in this cursed world are not sent by God, only allowed by God. As God allowed Satan to afflict Job, so God allowed the devil to afflict Paul with this thorn.
Do not blame God for sickness, disease, and troubles. The demons and Satan are seeking to devour us, and they await us to have a weak moment, and they attempt to jump through the gap in our hedges. And sometimes, God temporarily allows a gap in our hedge, but He makes it work together for good when He does.
Satan's goal in this thorn was to "buffet me."
Satan wants to buffet, attack, and hinder us. The word for "buffet" is the Greek word "kolaphizo" which means "to box on the ear". When we are in the Lord's ministry, we will find that the devil will buffet us with persecutions, physical ailments, trials, and troubles.
There was prayer made against this thorn. "I besought the Lord thrice" says Paul. God answered with a "NO!" There are good purposes to bad events for the Christians, and there are times, though we do not understand it, that a "NO!" is the best answer that God can give us.
God does give us answers when we ask, and God tells Paul here that "My grace is sufficient for thee". No matter how great a trial, the grace and mercy of God is sufficient, adequate, and ample for us. Some have charged God with not caring enough, not supplying enough, and not answering our prayers.
God does answer, and He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. And there is "no weapon formed against us" that can harm us. God is always there to take us through every dark tunnel, over every high mountain, and across every raging sea.
Paul's response to God's answer is better than many of the answers that today's ministers have given. Some today complain, fault God, deny the
posibility of a "NO" from God, and demand a miracle of deliverance from every thorn. Paul did not do these things.
Paul said that he took pleasure in the trials, infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses.
Because of his talk with God, he understood that sometimes, what seems bad, has good, and we need to trust God's evaluation above our own.
"Infirmities" is from the Greek work "astheneia" which means physical weaknesses or flaws. This probably included the eyesight problem of Paul.
"Reproaches" is the Greek word "hubris" which means "insults, hurts." This is like many ministers receive today from so called "saints". If a person has not received these from the religious community, and from the world, they do not have a ministry!
"Necessities" comes from the Greek word "anagke" which means "distresses" or "needs". We all come to times of need, financial distress, and economic need. This is part of the ministry too.
"Persecutions" comes from the Greek word "diogmos" which means "to drive away" or "to reject". We have been driven away from hypocritical congregations, from those who do not want to hear the truth, and from the blind that resent our "light of truth" that we preach. Paul was chased out of many a town, stoned, hunted, imprisoned, etc. Do not be surprised when congregations reject true ministry!
"Distresses" is from the Greek word "stenochoria" and means "anguishings". The above words when experienced will bring great anguish to the sensitive of heart, to those with the heart of a shepherd, and to every minister who has the love of the Lord.
The evil spirit that ‘buffetted’ Paul did all these things to him. The ‘thorn’ was likely ‘all of the above’. But, Paul gloried in these things, ceased praying for them to be removed, and enjoyed the victorious battle he was in. None of those things made him forget the wonders of paradise that he saw, none made them turn from Jesus.
Do you glory in your trials? Do you become a "fool in glorying?" Many are fools for politics, for sports teams, etc. Why not be a fool for God, and glory in your troubles, instead of faultfinding God for them!!! You could complain, you could pout, and you could quit God. Some will give up, get mad, or resign from the church. OR - YOU COULD GLORY, AS DID PAUL!!!
2. EXAMINE yourselves, frequently!
II Corinthians 13:5
"Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith."
Remember Paul is speaking to the ministry. 'Once saved, always saved' is not true for the parishioners, and is not true for the ministry either. The word "examine" is the Greek word peiraza" which means "to make full proof, to test, to try."
Is your faith false? or counterfeit? If we are truly saints of the Lord, we have power, and if we are not truly saints of the Lord, we are reprobates. Some believe they are Christians who are not! Some will someday say: 'Lord, Lord, haven't we cast out devils, etc.' and the Lord will reply: 'I never knew you!'
Some think that church attendance, tithing, denominational accreditation, or some past experience saves them. But Paul tells ministers to test their salvation, examine their hearts and minds. The real test of our faith is LOVE. If we do not have love for the brethren, then we are not Christian.
I have seen great men of God go through a trial, lose their love, begin to act on their anger, and step by step become a false prophet! They keep up the pretense of faith and religiousness. Their church attendance rivals anyone's. They carry a big Bible, offer long, pious sounding prayers, and yet, the Lord is on the outside of their church knocking to regain entrance.
Other ministers who have discernment will come as a Nathan to David, and try to awaken the dead spirit, but often there is no success.
Do not assume that because you have been saved, sanctified, called, and used of God, you need not to examine yourself often!
3. PROVE yourself!
II Corinthians 13:5
"Prove your own selves."
The word for "prove" is "dokimazo" which means "to assay metals, to discern". Assay your life, determine its worth. You may have examined it and found it real, but what is its worth to the Lord. Are you a valuable entry in His plan?
Some ministers are so weak, so undisciplined, so barren of fruit, and having so many buried talents that they will need to hang their head at the JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST.
It is possible to assay your life, and to determine its worth. And if you are going to improve, you will need to find what are your deficiencies. Every minister needs to find where there is room for improvement.
4. Be PERFECT.
II Corinthians 13:11
The Greek word for "perfect" is "katartizo" which means "to adjust, to put in order again, to restore." Now that you have examined and proven yourself, begin to put things back in order again.
The fruit of the Spirit was given at salvation to every Christian. Now, there been many 'rocks' thrown on top of that flowing well in the ministry. Like the wells of Isaac, when they went back to them, they found rocks had been thrown upon the fresh waters below. They needed removed, and then the fresh water was still flowing and useful.
Sometimes the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc. of our wells has been corrupted and hindered by rocks we have allowed to be put over the flow of fresh water. Begin to perfect your well, and remove the rocks of anger, hatred, bitterness, etc.
5. Be of GOOD COMFORT.
II Corinthians 13:11
"Be of good comfort."
The word for "comfort" is "parakaleo" and has the same root as the word "paraclete" which is used for the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. We need the comforting Holy Spirit active in our lives. We need to be in tune with His voice, hearing it every step of the way. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot have any comfort. And if we did not need Him desperately, the Lord would not have sent Him back from heaven to us. The Spirit is our Teacher, our Comforter, our Advocate, our Guide.
6. Be of ONE MIND.
II Corinthians 13:11
"Be of one mind."
The word used here is "phroneo" which means "the same thing, have no disputes..." It is reminiscent of what Paul said to the Romans:
"Be of the same mind one toward another."
The reason that Paul went on to explain to the Romans was that:
"...that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God."
This is hard, difficult, and so many have gotten into disputes and given up.
There are many disagreements between Christians. These need to be resolved. Only with heretics and those rebellious to attempts to resolve such disputes can we avoid the necessity of resolving disputes.
7. Live in PEACE.
II Corinthians 13:11
"Live in peace".
The word for "peace" is "eireneuo" which means "to cultivate a disposition of peace and harmony." We are to seek to be the kind of person that those who have had disputes with us, can, when they have found that they been in error, come to without fear of repudiation. They should know that we are the kind of person who can readily forgive and restore relationship. Peter could come back to Jesus so easily after his three time denial, and others should know that we are like that blessed, forgiving Lord.
"If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men."
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled."
We cannot be forgiven, unless we forgive! We cannot have the peace of God, and be at war with another of His saints. We cannot keep our salvation, and be on the attack against another of His children. Many are defiled with such sin, have lost their salvation, and have destroyed their ministries!
8. Be friendly.
II Corinthians 13:12
"Greet one another."
We should be friendly, glad to see each other, and encourage every friendly act with a show of true affection. Positive love needs to be expressed between Christians. We must show and express love to truly have love. If saints withdraw, and shrink back from expressing love and friendship, they will lose such love and friendship.
9. Do not sin!
II Corinthians 13:7
"Do no evil."
Paul did not want to return to Corinth to rebuke and to chasten. True ministers of the Lord do not enjoy the rebuking part, and the condemning that sometimes needs to be done. When it does need to be done, its purpose needs to be "edification and not to destruction." (II Cor. 13:10).
The key to avoiding that kind of constructive rebuke, is for each of us to not sin, to do no evil. We as ministers should know the laws of Jesus, and know the dedication needed. We should not pamper evil in our own lives, and condemn it in others. Do not even tolerate the littlest evil in your life.
"A LITTLE LEAVEN, LEAVENS THE WHOLE LUMP."
If we do these things, then:
II Corinthians 13:11
"...the God of love and peace shall be with you."
God's presence, peace, and love is vital to our ministry. Many ministers do not have those things. Their ministry may seem less stressful, less attacked by the devil, and less condemned by the religious world, but they are lacking real ministry. They are lacking the presence of the Lord in their lives.
Therefore, the devil is happier, the trials of faith are less, and the people enjoy more the "ear tickling" sermons from the lips of one who has no idea what God wants to have preached.
It involves cost to have the presence of the Lord actively ministering through us. The true ministry is not a primrose path, it is a rocky road. Many will quit true ministry to avoid such hazards as it carries.
"Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you."
Christ has not asked us to a ministry that He has not personally walked Himself. We are to take up our cross, and follow Him. We need to "walk worthy" of our Lord!
Some have been following this discussion of ‘homiletics’ (study of how to preach), and have seen in the Word of God many instructions from the Lord on how to carry on in whatever ministry calling one has. It is wise to be counseled by the Spirit, through the Word. Paul relates these things discussed here, and God saw to it that the instructions Paul gave are in the Bible, from which all of us should benefit.