Let the Life be Pruned for Service

‘A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.’

Pruning isn’t easy – and always painful!

I really like that old saying by the late Robert McCheyne. He only lived a short life of 29 years, but the fruits of his service were beyond his age, thanks to his life that is wholly (and holy) devoted to God.

I am afraid that I observe the Church today emphasizing skills over character, the mind and the hands over the heart, the talk over the walk for the qualification for service. Of course, skills and the mind are not just important in the ministry, they are essential. But if we understand the Bible right, it would be accurate to say that God requires first holiness and godliness as essential criterion for service, over the importance of skills and abilities.

(2 Tim 2:20-21) But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

These words from Paul pertain primarily to the ministry of a pastor, as a personal exhortation given to Timothy. But the principle is very applicable to every area of the ministry, whatever it may be: If God would use a Christian for service powerfully, then He would be looking first at the quality of the Christian Life. It is Christlikeness first that matters, secondary only is the outward competency.

The church today is weak in emphasizing this truth. Let me give some observations:

  1. Holiness is rarely preached today. But much is given to blessings. Obedience is preached, but only often in relation to blessings. Obedience as an outcome of a holy life is very seldom preached.
  2. We scout for possible workers/leaders in terms only of abilities. We are easily attracted to good singing voice, good communicators, brilliant ideas, and so on – not in themselves bad, but become very futile if we neglect the much more important side of holiness.
  3. We are hesitant to discipline and/or replace erring leaders/workers. I am not for the trashing of erring people – everyone isn’t perfect. But the problem is that as we are so eager to put talented individuals to service, so are we so weak in disciplining our leaders/workers whose lives are not worthy to be followed. We have adapted the spirit that we are afraid to lose the machinery (and the tithes) of our church, to the point of compromising and sacrificing the integrity and testimony of the church.

Much could still be said in this issue. This is often overlooked but requires immediate consideration and action. To some extent, if the church will not put emphasis on the holiness of her leaders and workers, then inevitably she is welcoming sin to lurk in the corners of the church, destroying her little by little.

Survey the pastoral epistles (Titus, 1 & 2 Timothy), the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and we will easily see that God puts character first in the lives of his servants, before anything else.

“If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.”

I was delivering a sermon on our Preaching Class.

‘If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.’

Those were the words of strong conviction by the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, affirmed by another great preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Preaching and Preachers, page 105.

By the word ministry, these men pertain to Pastoral Ministry, with emphasis on the divine task of preaching. To explain their conviction, they only mean that if a man is called to preach (and to pastor), it should only be what he is doing, it is only his satisfaction and way of life. No secular work, no business. Just to pastor and preach.

Hard statement, and personally it hit my heart. I truly love the task of preaching: from preparing sermons, trying to live out the message and the act of delivering it to the church. Seeing that other pastors and fellow believers affirm me personally that I have the gift of preaching puts more confidence in my heart that I am called to preach.

However, that confidence is challenged as I read the above statement of Mr. Spurgeon. Right now I am facing an important decision that I have to make very soon: taking up secular college studies. Do I have to study again, this time in secular, with the purpose of teaching in secular schools someday? Then what about Spurgeon’s belief that Preaching is a calling so big that it demands your entire life? And if God is leading me to study in secular, then does that mean I am never called to preach?

Not just mind-hammering, but heart-tearing questions. Preaching is the passion of my life. And if Spurgeon’s conviction is biblical and true, then entering the secular career of teaching is in a sense ‘giving-up’ the call to preach and to pastor. Well of course I do not see Spurgeon as infallible, nor his words equal to the authority of the Bible. But he was a great man of God who dedicated all his life to the divine task of preaching. Very few can surpass the blessedness of his preaching ministry.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

And if Spurgeon were right, then how about the sincere pastors out there who have secular work? Are they sinning and belittling the call to preach?