Welcome to Expositing Ephesians

THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED to one of the chief passions of my life and ministry, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. I believe this epistle is at the very core of the Christian life. I spent years in the study of it and then three and one half years expositing it from my pulpit. I hope this blog will be a blessing to you as I share that exposition. I also hope you will tell others about this blog. Please check for new posts each Monday .

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Church Leadership: The “Call” to Ministry (2)

Last time we considered a pivotal verse on the issue of the “call” to full-time Church leadership in I Timothy 3:1: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. Specifically, taken together, the two terms desire and desireth describe the man who outwardly pursues the ministry because of a driving compulsion on the inside.

This principle immediately and fundamentally implies that not just anyone can preach, which is the exact opposite of modern opinion. Why? Because not just anyone can disregard all else to fill that office and then fulfill its responsibilities. A preacher is called of God to preach and does nothing else. Many, if not most, people today believe in “lay‑preachers,” “lay­pastors,” and “lay‑elders.” But these simply do not match the Scripture, no matter how one tries to justify them. Preaching and teaching the Scripture takes the majority of a man’s time to prepare for; it is not something that can be done as a “sideline.”

Many disagree with that view, but think of it in a simple practical way: would any of us want a surgeon to operate on us simply because he read a couple books on how to perform surgery, perhaps one titled, General Surgery for Dummies? Anyone, in fact, could ask the same question of their vocation, such as this: “Could just anyone walk into my office and say, ‘Well, I read a couple of books on your job, so I think I can do it as well as you?’” How ridiculous, and if I may be frank, how arrogant and insulting! But this is precisely what many do with teaching the Bible. They think that just a little time in the Word, such as reading their Sunday School lesson or reading a couple of commentaries, qualifies them to preach and teach. How tragically wrong that is! Yes, a pastor has many duties, but the majority of his day must be spent in the study of the Word so he can adequately prepare to feed God’s people. We submit, if this isn’t a man’s attitude, he doesn’t belong in a pulpit.

Many people today react to this by saying, “You just think you are part of an elite group. Or maybe it’s just that you’re proud and don’t want to share the glory with anyone else.” On the contrary, one of the main reasons we make this clear is for their own protection. As James declares, “My brethren, be not many masters [i.e., didaskalos, teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). Here is a serious warning that seems to be overlooked by almost everyone today. Such would-be teachers, whether a Sunday School teacher, lay-preacher, or other position, have no idea what responsibility they take on when they presume to teach the Scripture. Every person who takes on that task will give an account of it and will be more strictly judged than other believers. James is telling us, “We warned! Don’t take this on unless God has called you and you have properly trained for it.”

As a pastor, this principle hits me every time I sit down to study in preparation for preaching and teaching. I will answer for what I teach, and it is for that reason that I spend so many hours in study. There are times when I will spend hours, or even days, on one verse, or even a single word, because I want to get it right.
The above attitude of the ministry being a “glorious profession” also shows a total misunderstanding of the ministry. If a man preaches the pure, unaltered Truth, especially in our modern pragmatic, relativistic society, the last thing he’ll receive is glory, rather he’ll experience resistance, rebellion, and even rage from many, if not most, hearers.

So, once again we are brought back to a distinct call of God, which takes place between Him and His servants. We see once more that this was true of Paul, as Luke records in Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (emphasis added).

Calling is not the end, only the beginning of a long journey. A man must secondly be tested according to the qualifications for leadership (I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), thirdly trained in doctrine and practice (I Tim. 3:6; II Tim. 2:2), fourthly ordained by other leaders (Acts 14:21-25; I Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Titus 1:5;) and then finally sent forth by the Church (Acts 13:2-3). But at the very foundation is the irresistible call of God in his life.

If I might interject a personal example, I did not start out to be preacher; I was headed for another vocation entirely, a surgeon. The ministry was not my plan, but it was God’s. He called me to the ministry and put within me that compulsion. We find the same story of men throughout Scripture and throughout Church History. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Church Leadership: The “Call” to Ministry (1)

In dealing with Biblical Church leadership, facing another issue is unavoidable, namely, the call to ministry, that is, God’s call to “full-time ministry” as one’s vocation. This is something that has increasingly been questioned in the last three decades. More and more church leaders deny the distinct “call” of God. Many say this is “too subjective;” they insist that ministry is more by personal choice or by the choice of the church.
To that we say first, of course it’s subjective, because it’s what God is doing in a man’s heart and mind to compel him to the ministry. This is the precedent we wee throughout Scripture. Second, and more important, it most certainly is not by personal choice or the choice of a church. It is God’s choice alone. Yes, a local church is to train and ordain men to the ministry and thereby show that it recognizes their call and qualifications. But the actual call is God’s and He works it out between Himself and His servants.

As we noted in Ephesians 4:8—[Christ] ascended up on high, he . . . gave gifts unto men—the words He gave literally mean “He Himself gave,” that is, He, and no one else, gave, and gives, these gifts. In short, it is Christ alone Who calls to ministry.

A pivotal verse here is I Timothy 3:1: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. While context (vs. 2-7) lists the absolutely specific qualifications for leadership, verse 1 deals with the divine call. This verse has been terribly abused! Desire has been twisted to say that anyone can preach or teach as a “side‑line” just because he “wants to.” But the Greek words behind desire and desireth say something quite different. Desire is orego, which means “to stretch.” One Greek authority tells us: “to stretch one’s self out in order to grasp something; to reach after or desire something.” Another adds that metaphorically the idea is to “long after, try to gain, be ambitious (in a benign manner).” So, this means far more than what we usually mean by desire. It speaks of a deep longing, a complete disregard for all else. This is exactly what the call to the ministry is: a desire to preach that disregards all else one could do. There is in this a sense of restraint; one can do nothing else.

How well the great Charles Spurgeon said it in one of his lectures to pastoral students: “In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling to others what God has done to our own souls . . . “Do not enter the ministry if you can help it,” was the deeply sage advice of a divine to one who sought his judgment. If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or lawyer, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fulness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.” Put another way: If a man can do anything else and be satisfied with it, and have peace in it, then he is not called to preach.

Desireth (epithumeo), then, means “to long after, to have a passionate compulsion.” This word often speaks of something bad and lustful, but the word good and the surrounding context make it clear that this is for good rather than for evil. In contrast to orego, (which doesn’t imply inner motive only outward pursuit) this verb refers to the inward feeling of desire. So, taken together, the two terms describe the man who outwardly pursues the ministry because of a driving compulsion on the inside. THAT is the call to ministry.

All this was true of the Apostle Paul. All of II Corinthians 5 is about the compulsion of the ministry. In verse 14 Paul says, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Even more pointed is I Corinthians 9:16 where Paul writes, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” This kind of desire transcends mere human desire; it is placed by God; it is given according to His grace. This is not any man’s idea, not something that he desires before the call, not something he chooses to do because it’s as good as anything else. Rather, it is something God does in a man’s life, and that man can do nothing else. A mere human de­sire will fade, as we see more and more today, if a man does what the Scriptures demand of one in the ministry. We’ll conclude these thoughts next time.