Monday, March 30, 2015

We Need to Respect the Office of the Minister

God's teaching in the Bible is clear that we need to respect the office of minister in the Church. God has placed men in the ordained ministry in various offices, and we need to respect and honor God's decisions in giving those men offices of authority, even when we disagree with their actions.

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28). "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

And God gives us plenty of instruction that we are to respect those He has placed in offices of authority over the Church and obey them when they make decisions within the scope of their authority, except when we must obey God first.

"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7). "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Paul himself practiced that respect when he realized one he had disrespected was the high priest. He repented of his words. "Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, 'Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.' And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, 'God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?' And those who stood by said, 'Do you revile God’s high priest?' Then Paul said, 'I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people" ' " (Acts 23:1-5).

What is the scope of the ministry's authority? They have authority over the work of the Church, such as preaching the gospel, teaching of doctrine, feeding the flock, distributing to the poor in the Church, counseling, judging disputes between brethren, and discipline for open and serious sins. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16). "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18). "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

In matters of the work of the Church and the ministry, we should obey our ministers except if they tell us to break a command or instruction of God, to sin in other words. In that case, we must obey God rather than man.

Moreover, we have examples, both good and bad, in the Old Testament that shows how God thinks regarding those who rebel against authority in the Church without good cause. For example, when king Saul was trying to unjustly kill David, after David was already anointed by Samuel to be king (1 Samuel 16:13), David had the opportunity to kill Saul but would not do it because he respected the office Saul had from God. "And he said to his men, 'The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord' " (1 Samuel 24:6).

In practical terms, we should not criticize our leaders and pastors where we attend with other members in the same group or congregation, for this weakens the authority of the ministry when we do this. If we have a problem with a leader, we can take it to the leader himself in personal and private discussion, if we think that may help. There is nothing wrong with correction offered privately and respectfully. Naaman's servants "corrected" him, and Naaman listened and God blessed the correction with good fruit. "And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, 'My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, "Wash, and be clean?" ' " (2 Kings 5:13). See 2 Kings 5:1-14 for the whole story and context. This was correction from the bottom up, yet it was right because it was not a challenge to authority, but respectful and loving advice.

But even in giving a leader "advice", there can be a fine line between respectful suggestions and a power play designed to resist or overturn the leader's actions and decisions.

Look at the situation with Aaron and Miriam. "Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?' And the Lord heard it....Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, 'Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!' So the three came out.... 'Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?' So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper" (Numbers 12:1-4, 7-10).

What was wrong with Aaron and Miriam going to Moses to offer counsel concerning a problem they thought Moses had? Nothing, except they did not do it privately and respectfully. Instead, they talked between themselves, criticizing Moses behind his back. This was not a case of Aaron going to Moses privately and saying, "Moses, I am concerned about you taking an Ethiopian wife. Are you sure this is a good idea?" And maybe Miriam, not being aware of Aaron doing this, also speaking to Moses and saying the same thing, but privately to Moses, not speaking to Aaron about Moses's problems. When they talk to each other, criticizing Moses behind his back, they may think they are strengthening each other, but they are weakening Moses. If Aaron criticizes Moses in front of Miriam, he weakens Miriam's respect for the authority of Moses, and if Miriam criticized Moses when speaking to Aaron, she likewise weakens Aaron's respect for Moses's authority. Yet that is what they did.

When they did that, as God looked at it, they spoke against Moses, not trying to help him.

One group of leading ministers in a certain Church of God fellowship went to their leader with their complaints and concerns. They requested a meeting with him and came to him as a group. Right there, that shows they must have talked to each other first and criticized the leader behind his back. How else could they have formed a group first and requested a meeting? And in discussing the leader's faults among themselves, they weakened his authority in the minds of each other. Each man's respect for the leader was diminished as he heard his fellow ministers give voice to their criticisms of the leader.

That is what Aaron and Miriam did. And it is not God's way. When Aaron and Miriam discussed the situation between themselves saying, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?", God judged that they spoke against Moses. Contrast that attitude with the servants of Naaman who went to him respectfully and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean?' ".

We must also realize that God's servants often have faults, but God uses them anyway. Samson had faults. Gideon made an idol and it became a snare to him and to his house (Judges 8:22-27). Yet Samson and Gideon are listed in the faith chapter of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Solomon had faults and was not wholly faithful to God (1 Kings 11:9). Yet God used him, perhaps prior to his unfaithfulness, to write two whole books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, and much or most of a third, Proverbs, and his writings remain as part of God's word, the Bible, which "cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

And God can use even an unfaithful leader in an office and use the authority of that office to accomplish His will.

Here is proof. Around the time when Jesus was about to be crucified, the high priest made a prophetic announcement that Jesus would die for the nation. Yet, the high priest was not faithful to God and actually rejected Jesus and had his part in condemning Him and causing Him to be crucified. Yet, God inspired the high priest, because he was high priest and occupied an office of authority, to make a prophetic announcement from God, that Jesus would die for the nation. What the high priest had in mind was different from what God had in mind, but his words were inspired nevertheless. "Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.' And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.' Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death" (John 11:47-53).

There are lessons here. Not only does it show that God can use even an unfaithful person in authority, but it shows that one who speaks for God with authority is not necessarily righteous.

The high priest made a prophetic announcement. Probably, he thought Jesus's death would prevent the Romans from taking away the self-government of the Jews and would be good for the Jews. But he spoke the words saying that Jesus would die for the nation, and God had in mind that Jesus would die for not only Israel but the whole world by paying for our sins. The high priest didn't understand his own words, but God inspired those words and we understand them today.

Someone holding an office can speak for God, and God can use that person and perhaps speak through him, perhaps in a sermon or in a counseling session, but that does not necessarily mean that the speaker is righteous or fully understands the impact of what he says. But God can use him nevertheless.

A lesson here is, if God uses you as a teacher or minister or servant, and you are doing God's work in some way, and God is using you, do not assume you are righteous in God's sight. At that moment, the high priest uttered God's prophecy, but that did not make the high priest righteous with God. God used Solomon to build the first temple and to write part of the Bible, but that did not make Solomon righteous with God when Solomon sinned against God.

"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' " (Matthew 7:22-23).

Each of use will be judged by God based on how we believe and obey Him, or in other words, how we live by every word of God. We cannot be content to practice sin in our lives and think we are ok because God uses us to do His work.

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).

Paul said, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

"When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die" (Ezekiel 33:13).

If you are being used by God in some kind of service to the brethren or to His work, but you have a sin to overcome, you need to work at overcoming the sin and not assume you are ok because you are serving. But while you are working on overcoming sin, should you stop serving? NO! Stay at your post! Keep doing the service or work God has given you. "If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your post; For conciliation pacifies great offenses" (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

The opportunity, the talent, the ability to serve God and the Church is a gift from God. It is not a sign of our righteousness.

We also need to love our ministers and pray for them. That is God's way. And if we love them and pray for them, it will be easier for us to obey God's command to respect them and the authority of the office they hold. But if we criticize them behind their back, or willingly listen to such criticism when we should not be listening to it, that makes it more difficult for us to respect them the way we should, and we sin against God.

That is a sin that some in the Church need to repent of and put out of their lives.

No comments: