For many are called, but few are chosen. Matt. 22:14 (NASB)
What is full-time ministry? In simplest terms, a full-time minister is fully committed to serving YHWH*. Who is called to it? In a word, everyone. Whether people know it or not, YHWH desires all people to enter his kingdom, even those who refuse to do so. Being called doesn't mean the call has been answered. How does someone answer the call? All who are born of the Holy Spirit are commissioned, ordained by their rebirth to fulfill the call. These are the chosen of Jesus. [In this work, all quotes are from the New American Standard Bible (copyright The Lockman Foundation 1995), unless otherwise indicated.]
According to the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, YHWH commissioned descendants of Levi as full-time ministers to serve him by presenting offerings and sacrifices on behalf of the rest of Israel. Some became priests and, over time, some became prophets, judges and teachers. To support them, YHWH commanded Israel to give tithes and offerings. But this was not the original plan.
YHWH had promised a universal priesthood to the people of Israel in Ex. 19:5-6, but they failed to qualify, as evidenced by YHWH's selection of Moses' tribe, the descendants of Levi, as his servants and priests. And even then, despite repeated calls to return, the people of Israel, including priests and even prophets, repeatedly wandered away from YHWH to chase after the idols and gods of the peoples around them. See, e.g., Jer. 2:8, 26-28. After repeated failures by the priests and prophets, despite being given greater authority and responsibility in Israel's relationship with him, YHWH renewed his original promise: But you will be called the priests of the LORD [YHWH]; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. (Isa. 61:6; see also Isa. 66:21) But this time, he spoke of a future point in time when the kingdom of Israel would no longer exist and of a future people. See, e.g., Isa. 56:6-7, Hos. 2:23, Joel 2:28. And because the chosen people had broken YHWH's covenant with them, he promised a new covenant relationsip based on what he would do in people's hearts, not on external rituals (Jer. 31:31-34).
In the fullness of time, YHWH fulfilled those prophecies, but not until Jesus' death and resurrection and the creation of a new people through rebirth in the Holy Spirit, as promised in Ps. 22:31, the psalm Jesus began to recite while on the cross (Matt. 27:46). Since then, all born again Christians have been commissioned as full-time ministers by Jesus' "Great Commission", the instruction he gave to his original disciples, as reported in Matt. 28:19-20. While most Christians recognize the passage, they do not grasp its full significance. That passage translates literally from the Greek as follows (with alternate renderings in brackets):
"Going [having gone], therefore, disciple [make disciples, teach, instruct] all the nation[s] [people], baptizing them into the name the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything whatever commanded you; and look [listen, behold] I with you am all the day [time] until [to] the completion [end] the eternity [universe, age]."
In that passage, Jesus was telling his disciples and tells us that, as we go about our daily affairs in the world, we are to make disciples of everyone (at least those who will), saturating them with the whole person of YHWH (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) by reporting about him and living out the new life he puts in us. Then we are to obey everything Jesus commanded his disciples. This interpretion relies in part on some information that does not appear in the Bible at this point:
To the people of Israel, "nations" (goy or goyim in Hebrew) referred to everyone who was not one of them. In much the same way today, people who have not been born again are often referred to as "lost" or "unsaved". The Greek word baptizo, which is translated "baptize", was used in other ancient literature to refer (1) to cloth that is soaked in dye to give it the color of the dye and (2) to wood that has become waterlogged. It carries the concept of being submerged into and thoroughly filled with the substance in which the object is submerged. In the same way, every fiber of people's being should be filled with Jesus, so that Jesus shows in their lives, just as a dye's color shows in the fabric. Therefore, we lift Jesus up, so that he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32) and they may be baptized in him and be filled with his Holy Spirit.
Peter's first letter recalls the prophecy in Ex. 19:5-6, making clear its fulfillment and the fulfillment of other prophecies in Jesus' commisson and our resulting ordination to full-time ministry: But you are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light . . . (1 Pet. 2:9). See also Rev. 1:6, 5:8-10. That Peter was addressing born again Christians appears clearly in 1 Pet. 1:3, 23. By our rebirth, we are ordained into full-time ministry, service to YHWH through Jesus Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit. We fulfill Isaiah's prophecy and inherit the new covenant promised by Jeremiah.
But if all born-again Christians are part of the royal priesthood, why do so few perform the function? Why do so many think they can hire someone else to do what Jesus called and commissioned them to do?
True ministry is not paid
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus has only one full-time ministry: It consists simply of serving YHWH wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves, all the time, whether we respond appropriately or not. His ministry has only one call and one ordination, just as there is only one true, living God, although that ministry has many functions and forms of service. Those forms and functions are distributed among the members of Jesus' body according to the gifts manifested through each member and the situations confronting each member daily.
Also contrary to the belief that has developed over the centuries, full-time ministers of Jesus Christ do not accept payment for doing what Jesus commanded. In Matt. 6:24, Jesus instructs us, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." In Matt 10:8, Jesus further instructs, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give." Jesus' standard was not new. Elisha demonstrated it when he refused to take Naaman's gift in 2 Ki. 5:15-16.
Paul demonstrated this standard while serving Jesus. In Acts 20:32-35, during his parting sermon to the elders of Ephesus, he said,
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”From Acts 18:1-3, part of the record of Paul's stay in Corinth, we learn that Paul supported himself by working as a tent-maker. To help instruct members of the Church in that city, Paul reminded them of his conduct in his letters to them, which reveals his recognition of the importance of Jesus' words quoted above:
If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 1 Cor. 9:11-15See also 2 Cor. 12:12. Paul referred to the same conduct among the brothers and sisters in Thessolonica in 1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-9:
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.
Paul's allusions to "this right", "living from the gospel", and "the right to this" in the preceding quotes may rely on what Jesus told his disciples when he sent seventy of them out in pairs, telling them to take no money and to accept whatever was given them as food and shelter (Luke 10:4-7). He may also have remembered Old Testament passages like 2 Chr. 31:4: Also he [Hezekiah] commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the law of the LORD [YHWH]. I believe Paul also referred to the practice by which students or their parents paid teachers directly, because schools as we know them did not exist.
Despite believing that he had a right to be paid and supported by those to whom he imparted the gospel, according to the standards of that time, nevertheless Paul recognized that taking any money would devalue and diminish what he did. It would reduce his service from true ministry to a mere commercial activity. Peter expressed the same principle in the following instruction to elders in the Church:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 1 Pet. 5:1-3:
If someone takes money to do what Jesus commanded, it's a job or occupaton, just like any other. It's not ministry, at least not Biblical ministry. Unlike the priests and Levites who needed tithes and offerings so that they could devote themselves to YHWH on behalf of the people giving the tithes and offerings, all who are born again in Jesus are priests. We are all ordained to devote ourselves to YHWH. Our reward is in Jesus, and our support comes from such worldly employment as he provides and enables us to perform. Some may earn their living as professionals, some as farmers, some as cooks, some as mechanics, some in business, some in trades, some in manual labor. We cannot hire someone else to fulfill our obligation to Jesus, because all of us have our own full-time ministry to fulfill. All are expected to serve YHWH on a full-time basis. Just because people have not fulfilled that expectation does not mean they were not ordained. It merely means they have been deceived about full-time ministry or have not matured enough to respond to their ordination. The same may be said of those who believe that YHWH requires them to give to another, so that the other person can minister.
People traditionally thought of as "full-time ministers" perform true ministry to YHWH when they perform deeds other than such paid duties as delivering a sermon, officiating at a communion service, or counseling and praying with someone experiencing high stress. Deeds that go beyond those paid duties, such as a midnight visit to comfort grieving parents who have just lost a child or a hospital visit during the night to sit with someone whose spouse has just suffered a stroke, qualify as real ministry. People who are paid to do Jesus' work may find it harder to perform true ministry, but when they do, it is no less valid and no less a blessing to the Father and Jesus than the service of those who never take money to do his work.
Ministry by example
The quote from Peter's letter mentions being examples instead of lording it over others. In Matt. 20:25, Mark 10:42, and Luke 22:25, Jesus told his disciples that the rulers of the gentiles love to lord it over them. And then he added that they were not to behave that way. If they wanted to be great in his kingdom, they had to be servants, following his example (Matt. 20:26-28, Mark 10:43-45 and Luke 22:26-27). See also John 13:4-16. In addition to the quotes above, Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth exhorts Christians to follow his example (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1).
True ministry requires being an example for others. That is part of Godly leadership. The quote from 2 Thess. 3 reflects Paul's concern for that aspect of his own ministry. Preaching the word is worthless if our lives do not show that we take it seriously enough to live it or at least to try living it. Jesus clearly allowed for us to fail in our good faith efforts, recognizing that we are mere humans. But we are not to ignore his instructions.
During the early days after I was born again and received the Holy Spirit, I found great encouragement and comfort in the biographies of those who have gone before. Their lives, like Paul's, were living sermons, examples of true full-time ministry that inspired me and opened my eyes to what Jesus, Paul and Peter were saying in the passages quoted above. Among them were George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, and Jackie Pullinger. All of them trusted in YHWH for their provision, as well as their guidance and direction. The Greek word martus, from which "martyr" entered our language, means "witness". Those saints witnessed to Jesus not only by their word, but by the way they lived. Saints being persecuted and oppressed in China, Viet Nam, India, Burma (Myanmar), Muslim-dominated countries and other places have also inspired me by their perseverance and faithfulness. And many people in my own life have witnessed to me and inspired me by their example, including my wife Laurie. Each has blessed me in some way by something of Jesus that I have found in each. I recognized early on that my own life must be lived as an example as well, but I had no idea what form it would take, until I reflected on how YHWH had guided and directed me in serving him.
For several years after receiving the Holy Spirit, I thought YHWH would lead me out of the law practice into some form of what most people call "full-time ministry", and that would provide for my family. What I expected never happened. Instead, the Father kept me in the law practice and revealed that it was part of my true ministry, as well as the means of providing for that ministry. That ministry would consist, in part, of providing Christian counsel, fellowship and encouragement to thousands of people who would call me seeking legal advice and assistance. Although few ever became clients, I was able to assist them in ways that YHWH showed me as I would speak with them. Many times, he would give me a word of knowledge about something that the person had not disclosed. Those words would sometimes be a springboard to some breakthrough a person needed in their life or reveal an open door the person had not seen. I prayed for healing with clients and witnessed at least one instantaneous healing. Other gifts of the Spirit would also operate during those encounters, according to YHWH's will and the person's needs. I never knew how the gifts would operate, but I did expect them once I recognized them at work in me. Although I only earn money when I charge for my time, I do not charge or accept payment for the time spent in such ministry because my primary service is to YHWH. Nor am I concerned about how much time a person's needs may require.
After several years of serving YHWH in the midst of the law practice, having ministered to several thousand people, I finally realized that I was already in full-time ministry. It is not the kind I'd expected, but it is the kind Jesus ordains. And although the law practice has not made me wealthy, it has provided for my family's needs. Other aspects of the service YHWH has given me include providing and maintaining this website, praying with others, evangelizing, teaching, leading small groups, and delivering words that he gives me. Those are just a few of the ways YHWH has used me, almost all of which depend on the particular situation and the spiritual gift YHWH empowers at the particular time.
As a result of what I've learned from the Bible, as well as my own experience and that of many saints who have served Jesus before me, I've become convinced that the true full-time minister is the person who has been born into Jesus' body by the Holy Spirit. And I've become convinced that a true full-time minister serves YHWH all the time, doing whatever Jesus wants, according to the situation, wherever the minister may be. The true full-time minister takes no money for doing it but earns a living just like other people. Those who serve primarily by evangelizing may be called evangelists, and those who primarily teach may be called teachers, but all are still expected to fulfill whatever task YHWH presents, as YHWH's gifts empower them to act. In the course of a lifetime, an individual may exercise all the gifts of the Spirit identified in the Bible and partipate in as many miracles as the apostles did.
Finally, true full-time ministers live their lives uprightly, loving others, taking care not to harm others, honest and fair in their dealings with others, paying their debts, and helping others without expectation of reward or even appreciation. When they fall in any of these things, they do not give up. Instead, they dust themselves off, seek the Father's forgiveness for their failure and seek to right any wrong or injury. But above all, true full-time ministers strive to mature as the people YHWH created them to be and strive to serve YHWH faithfully. That is the life of those called and chosen by Jesus Christ.
*YHWH or YHVH is the English representation of the four Hebrew letters that spell the name of the God of the Bible, the one true, living God worshipped by Jews and Christians. YHWH was the name by which he identified himself to Moses in Ex. 3:14. According to references that I've read, the exact pronunciation of YHWH's name was lost in antiquity. After much study, I prefer to pronounce the name "Yahu-wah" (the "h" being aspirated as in "hay", emphasis on the last syllable), but the generally accepted pronounciation in common English is "Yah-weh" or "Yah-way". Some translations of the Bible, such as the KJV and NASB, substitute "the LORD" for his name, following a practice begun before Jesus' birth.
YHWH revealed himself in various ways to the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. He also revealed himself in and through his son Jesus Christ and acts, among other ways, in and through Christians by the Holy Spirit. Because the word "God" is being used today to designate all kinds of human inventions, although accepted for centuries in English as a name for YHWH, I prefer to use the name that YHWH chose for himself rather than "God" or "the LORD" as I did in early versions of my writings. Please read The Name of the One True, Living God for a fuller discussion.
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