Lessons in Ministry Love

Ernest Thompson Seton was an adventurer, artist, and writer who recorded his journey to northern Canada in his book The Arctic Prairies. He tells the story of an Algonquin woman whose village starved to death in winter. She and her infant son, the only survivors set out from the camp, hoping to reach another village where there might be food. Along the way she discovered a cache of supplies in a hollow tree, including a small bone fish hook. She had nothing to use for bait so she used her knife to slice a strip of flesh from her leg, baited her hook with it, and caught a fish. They ate, and she used pieces from the fish to catch more, and so they survived the winter.

A mother’s love compels her to do whatever is necessary for the good of her child. Genuine ministry is compelled by love. When we love others we will do them good, even at great personal cost. The model for our love is not a mother, but Jesus.

In John 13 we find Jesus teaching His disciples lessons in ministry love. Notice how John sets the scene in verse 1. Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. John summed up the disciples’ experience with Jesus this way: “He loved His own.” Then he added another word of eyewitness testimony:  “He loved them to the end.”

This prepositional phrase, “unto the end,” can designate time, meaning up to the point of his death, or his departure for heaven. He loved them to the end of His ministry in their presence.

The Greek phrase eis telos can also indicate completeness, to the full extent, or even extreme. Several translations reflect this meaning with the phrase, “to the uttermost.” He loved them completely. He showed them the full extent of His love. He loved them to the extreme.

This may be one of those instances where human language struggles to capture the fullness of divine truth, and one word or phrase contains nuances of meaning.

Jesus loved His disciples while He was with them; loved them to the very last hour of His natural life; loved them to such a degree He died on the cross in their behalf; loved them as He was dying, loved them until He was dead; loved them with His whole person and every ounce of His being; loved them after He rose from the dead, and loved them until He ascended to heaven, and as we now know, that was just the beginning, because neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Loving them to the uttermost led to the cross. But there were thousands of instances before that when Jesus showed them His love. And there was one, just before the cross, that John wanted to be sure to include. He recounted an event so deeply impressed on the minds and hearts of these disciples they would never forget it. After Jesus and the disciples had finished what we call The Last Supper, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Love elevated Him to the cross in the place of supreme sacrifice. But love also put Him on the floor in a position of servitude.

Jesus did this not only to show love to His disciples, but to teach His disciples how to love. There are lessons here for us as well. Love is produced in us by the Holy Spirit. But Jesus gave us a model to follow.

The Divine Servant teaches us lessons in ministry love.

This is the introduction to a sermon I preached at the Refresh Pastors Conference in 2019. You can listen to the full message here.

MONDAY MINISTRY LEADERSHIP DEVOTION – YOU ARE A MESSENGER

READING Exodus 19:1-20

MEDITATION – Moses acted as a mediator between God and His people. He had the opportunity to relay powerful and precious truths from God to Israelites. These include His care (verse 4), His covenant (verses 5-8) , and His commands (verses 19-20 and chapter 20 and following).

Our mediator today is Christ. God uses pastors and others in ministry, however, to provide leadership to His people and to communicate His Word to them.

God uses beautiful imagery, a mother eagle bearing a young eagle on her back as it leaves the nest and learns to fly (verse 4), to remind the people of His care for them as they escaped Egypt. As ministry leaders we remind our people of God’s caring involvement in their lives. He delivers them from sin’s bondage and carries them along as they learn to live for Him.

God reiterates His covenant, calling the Jewish people His “treasured possession” and promising to make them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (5-6). But the Israelites could not uphold their part of the covenant. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the terms that sinful humans cannot. Today we preach the promises of the New Covenant, conditioned only on faith in Jesus.

Through Moses, God delivered a long list of commands for His set apart people to follow. Today we teach God’s instructions, guiding people how to live a life transformed by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

No new mediator is needed today. But Christian leaders are the messengers of the grace and truth found only in Jesus Christ. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

Paul’s testimony is our model: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:5-7). We are messengers of the blessings mediated by Jesus Christ.

PRAYER
Thank you that the one perfect mediator has come. Help me faithfully proclaim the grace and truth found in Him.

MONDAY MINISTRY LEADERSHIP DEVOTION – DOING TOO MUCH?

READING – Exodus 18

MEDITATION – God was doing good things! When Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, visited him and heard of the spectacular works of God in their behalf, they thanked God with sacrifices and held a celebratory meal (vv. 10-13).

But God’s appointed leader, Moses, was doing too much. Notice the description, “all that he was doing for the people” (v. 14). Moses was busy doing good work and apparently it was not selfishly motivated. We might even say he was practicing servant-leadership. But one man was doing too much.

Would Jethro’s evaluation of Moses’ work be similar for you – “What you are doing is not good”? A leader doing all the work will eventually wear out. And he is actually hurting the people he is trying to help.

One of the most important responsibilities of leadership is identifying, enlisting, and equipping people qualified by ability and character to share the work (19-22). An effective leader proactively determines his role and primary responsibilities and prioritizes them. He enlists qualified people and equips them for additional roles and responsibilities that help the group fulfill its purpose. The result of working this way is an enduring ministry and an effective ministry.

A lot of emphasis is placed on servant-leadership in Christian teaching, and rightfully so. But this can lead to a misperception of how one leads effectively according to a biblical pattern. Serving others does not mean doing everything yourself. Leading effectively includes knowing one’s role and discerning the responsibilities and tasks necessary to fulfilling that role, then enlisting and equipping others to fill roles, take responsibilities, and complete tasks that fulfill the purpose of the group or organization.

PRAYER – Father, thank you for endowing your church with people who are gifted so together we can build up the body of Christ. Give me wisdom to discern my role and primary responsibilities so I can enlist others in fulfilling theirs.

Humble my heart so I will be open to the constructive advice of outsiders.

Enable me to distinguish between pragmatic business models and efficient ministry practices. Guide me in implementing practices that are truly good for all – both the leaders and the rest of the people.

Lift my head from existing day to day. Open my eyes to a long-term view of ministry. Deliver me from unwise practices that wear me down or burn me out.

By your grace, make my ministry both effective and enduring.