Monday, May 9, 2016

New Hope in Jesus Christ - Proclamation of the Word

Ephesians 4:11-13 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

1 Timothy 4:6 "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."

Christian leader Joseph Stowell made the following observation about the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo in his devotional book: "Day by Day with Jesus - Strength for the Journey": "Michelangelo is said to have often painted with a brush in one hand and a shielded candle in another to prevent his shadow from covering the masterpiece he was creating. As God works through us to craft His glory and gain, we must be careful that our shadows are not cast across the canvas of His work."

Why is proclamation of God's Word so vital for living out the hope we have in Jesus Christ? Yesterday we had considered the importance of discipleship and evangelism. The clearest definition we find for "discipleship" is where Jesus expresses in Luke 9:23-24 "And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." 

To be a disciple means to follow Jesus in attitude, in mind and in heart for the goal of becoming like Him. As a pastor, I am convinced that the hindrances to our Christian growth stems from us doing what Michelangelo in the quote above tried to avoid: namely casting our own shadows on God's continuing work of making us more and more like Jesus. 

We often will cite Ephesians 2:8-9 as one of the clearest Biblical definitions of salvation - and rightly so. In that text we see defined salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However very few people go onto Ephesians 2:10, which deals with why the Lord calls and saves sinners: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." 

Healthy Christian growth is not optional for the Christian
Oddly enough, many Christians today seem satisfied with little or no progress in their Christian walk. God chose, called and convicted sinners by His Spirit to believe on Christ apart from good works for the purpose of growing up in a salvation that is to abound in good works. The overall pattern and design of the Christian life is to grow onward and upward in the Lord. Such growth may experience seasonal declines, however the vast majority of the Christian life ought to witness advances and an overall pattern of change. 

Passages such as 2 Peter 3:18 explicitly command us to grow up in our walk with Christ: "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." Peter also writes in 1 Peter 2:2 "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." Like the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul also explains the need of healthy Christian growth. Romans 12:2 is but one example - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." All of these passages urges Christians to pursue healthy Christian discipleship.

The urgency for healthy Christian growth is not up for debate in the scriptures. The question is: what and how do Christians grow in their Christian lives?  God has prescribed three main ministries in the local church to ensure the spiritual healthy of Christians. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 4:12  "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." We will be exploring two chapters (Ephesians 4 and 1 Timothy 4) to discover what I am calling "the 3-braided rope" of healthy Christian growth in Christians and the church, which includes the following:

1. Pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 4; Ephesians 4:11-12)

2. Church-body life (Ephesians 4:13-24)

3. Small-groups (Ephesians 4:25-29)

So let us look first of all at how God has prescribed pastoral ministry for the healthy Christian growth of the Christian and the local church.

God has ordained pastoral ministry to be one of the three resources for healthy Christian growth
It is appropriate to be drawing these posts from Ephesians 4 and 1 Timothy 4, since both letters were written to the same church. Paul's letter to the Ephesian church was written in 60 A.D to the Ephesian congregation, urging them to be enriched in every spiritual blessing in Christ. Paul's letter to Timothy was composed 2 years later, urging him as a pastor to grow spiritually (1 Timothy 4:16) and to lead the Ephesians in ongoing spiritual growth and conduct (1 Timothy 3:15). 

When we come first of all to 1 Timothy 4, we see in general outline form the importance of pastoral ministry in the life of the Christian and the local church. Paul's point of the importance of pastoral ministry in 1 Timothy 4 can be summarized under four headings that spell out why Christians and churches need pastoral ministry for their Christian growth. We will consider these in alphabetical form:

1. Anchoring of people in God's truth. 1 Timothy 4:1-6
Christians and churches need men who will courageously and compassionately preach the truth in love. Moreover, pastors need to love their people by being present and interactive in their lives. A good pastor can provide an anchoring point for a church or a Christian who is experiencing seismic shifts. The pastor's ability to do so stems not from himself, but rather Christ working in and through him (see Colossians 1:27). 

2. Building godliness into people's lives. 1 Timothy 4:7-8
Jesus desires not only a loving church, but a loving church that loves His holiness and expresses holy love. As we saw a couple of days of ago, expressing the newness of hope in Jesus includes aiming to lovingly know God and other people. Pastors need to regularly urge their congregations onto holy lives that bear witness of God's love and transforming power (1 Peter 2:9-12; Hebrews 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 5)

3. Communicating the Gospel. 1 Timothy 4:9-10
Five times in Paul's pastoral letters (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) we find reference to these "statements worthy of all acceptance". In 1 Timothy 4:9-10 we find one of the clearest statements summarizing the Person and work of Jesus Christ as communicated in the Gospel. A pastor not only needs to feed His flock but also evangelize sinners both inside and outside the church. His purpose is undoubtedly to equip the saints to be witnesses of Christ wherever they live and work. Yet too, the pastor himself ought to be about looking for opportunities to share Jesus in personal daily interactions with people. Such practices enable the pastor to urge his people to communicate the Gospel.

So thus far we have seen how God uses pastoral ministry to encourage healthy Christian growth: anchoring people in the truth, building godliness into people's lives and communicating the Gospel. Now lets consider one final element as to why pastoral ministry is necessary for healthy Christian growth, namely....

4. Demonstrating healthy Christianity. 1 Timothy 4:11-16
If a pastor is to be effective in urging his congregation to healthy Christian growth in discipleship, he himself must live it! Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:15-16 "Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you."

As we think about proclaiming God's Word, the pulpit is what we typically think about - and rightly so. However, other ways of proclaiming God's Word and practicing some of the above principles can include conferences, encouraging and training more people to teach in Sunday School, small-groups and church events. 

As we are living in a 21st century world, other secondary means can be used to facilitate proclamation of the Word, namely: podcasts, You Tube, i-Tunes, Facebook and other venues.

Linking arms with other churches to increase efforts for proclaiming the Word can generate even more volumes of newness of hope across the Christian community. Such efforts could result in such things as community prayer times/revivals to reaching the secular and unchurched community.

Closing thoughts
As we have seen today, pastoral ministry and proclamation of the Word are necessary for Christian growth in discipleship. Pastors have been called by God to anchor people in His truth (1 Timothy 4:1-6); build godliness into people's lives (1 Timothy 4:7-8); communicate the gospel (1 Timothy 4:9-10) and demonstrate healthy Christianity (1 Timothy 4:11-16). Every member of the congregation to one degree or another has a share in this vital ministry of getting the Word out to people. Though this post did focus mainly on preaching, we musn't exclude proclamation to the preaching task. God has gifted many people in His church to creatively communicate His truth in various ways and venues to supplement the primary work He does through the preaching of God's Word. In turning quickly to Ephesians 4:11-12, we find an inspired summary of why pastor ministry is among the three God-ordained methods for healthy Christian growth in Christians and the local church: "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."

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