Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thoughts on Luke 6:26 for those in Christian ministry (2016)

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. - Luke 6:26

Those who go into Christian ministry tend to genuinely like people, and want to teach, shepherd, and minister to people. And so, we tend to be the kind of people who like it when people like us. In Luke 6, Jesus is preaching to a great multitude, and so his comments are not exclusively intended for members of the clergy. But the last of his four couplets seems especially applicable to those of us in the clergy, and perhaps especially to the clergy who serve in North America in the 21st Century. "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets...Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6:22, 23, 26)

Jesus is warning us against a dangerous temptation, namely the temptation to value and even find our security and significance in the affirmations of others, rather than in Him.

St. Paul was writing specifically to a member of the clergy in his second pastoral letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, St. Paul writes: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

For those in ministry this is a challenging call to live by faith. To care so much about God, His word and sacraments, the glorious gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, and the Church - the blood-bought lambs of the Lord Jesus, that I care very little for my own reputation, my comfort, and even at times my job. The more we grasp the enormity of the challenge, the more we are unsurprised that there are so many failures. I have known ministers paralyzed by fear, unwilling to say, propose, or teach anything that cause the least controversy in their congregations. I have known ministers who have become callous and harsh, never acknowledging or repenting of the damage done by their words and actions. And I have known ministers who have become apathetic, who mostly just show up for services and events so that they can continue to receive their paychecks while expending the least amount of effort possible.

At any given time I can be tempted to fall into each of these three ways. And I have fallen and made mistakes in ministry in each of these directions. I have also had moments and seasons where I can say that by God's grace I have fought the good fight, and I have kept the faith.

Perhaps you have heard the maxim, "If you try to please everyone, no one will like it." The reality of life in ministry is that everyone is not going to like us. Everyone will not like your sermons, no matter how orthodox their expositions, how lively their illustrations, or how practical their applications. Everyone will not agree with our decisions with respect to worship services, what ministries to create, which ones to promote, and which ones to replace. And that is not to mention the critical issues related to the temperature of the sanctuary or the arrangement of the altar flowers, whether we had anything to do with those details or not.

Be encouraged, as it says in James 4:6, "He gives more grace." Fallible, broken, and sinful servants are the only kind of servants Jesus has in the Church. So let's be quick to repent, and quick to understand that there will always be people in the church who are disappointed with us.

And be encouraged, Jesus is the true and ultimate judge of the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1), and His verdict on you is in: Forgiven, righteous, accepted, loved. Jesus really is risen from the dead, and He really is today seated on His throne, the King of kings and Lord of lords. I need this reminder daily, and even moment by moment, because I so easily forget. As Tracy Chapman put it in her song, Fast Car, "me myself I got nothing to prove."

For those of us in ministry today, let us renew our love and trust in God, and let us renew our commitment to love and serve God's people - knowing that if and when we do this well everyone will not speak well of us, and knowing that we will need to always be sober-minded, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, and to fulfill our ministry. 

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