What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
It is a prophetic voice that speaks for God, and His prophets will always have as the basis of their prophecy the commandments of God as evidence. The message they give (predictive or not) will always be in harmony with previously revealed truth, even though the prophet may be breaking new doctrinal ground, which happens now and then.
We can see another difference between a prophet and a priest or minister. The priest or minister conserves old truth and implements new truth given by the prophet. Most of the time new truth will come through a prophet. Under the New Covenant, of course, new truth came through apostles who were about as close to prophets as one can get without being prophets. Paul makes that clear when he lists the offices in the church, listing apostles first and prophets second (Ephesians 4:11). Once we leave the Old Covenant for the New, God uses apostles to announce new truth, and the prophet is moved into a secondary position. However, throughout the Old Testament, new truth or new doctrines came through prophets.
A minister's job is to conserve what has already been given, to hold fast to what was given in the past, and to recognize that new truth comes through an apostle. There is no apostle now, so we should not expect that there will be any new truth. However, if God raises up a prophet, then we also have to recognize that new truth can come through him. He will not break God's pattern. New truth will either come through an apostle or a prophet. The prophet breaks new ground, yet he also conserves the old.
There is a difference between a minister and a prophet. A minister does not give new truth but conserves old truth. The prophet or the apostle will conserve the old and also proclaim the new.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)
This section's main subject is how a minister should approach preaching the gospel. But notice, when we distill His words down, Jesus is saying that, for a minister, preaching the gospel is non-negotiable. In the vernacular, He says to His ministry, "If you go into a town, and you find worthy people to stay with, preach the gospel to them. If they accept it, great. Stay there and preach for as long as you need to. If they reject it, great. Pick up your belongings, dust off your pants, and go to the next town. As a minister of God, you are not preaching for the sake of numbers, or to receive praise from the people, or to make money, or whatever. Preach the gospel. Period."
The minister's job is to preach the gospel. If the people accept it - wonderful. If they do not accept it - well, they will get their reward. The ministry does not have to waste its time in places where the gospel will not be accepted. God does not want His ministers to throw pearls before swine, as it were. He wants them to find those who accept the truth, who want to believe the truth, who are willing to support the truth, who want to help in getting the truth out. And if none are to be found in a particular place, they are to move on. Evidently, God has not called anyone there.
But the truth remains the same. The message must be preached, and it must not be changed. Jesus is pretty hard-nosed about this. A minister of God is not driven by numbers, nor by contributions. He should not be driven by anything designed to make him look "good" because he should not be in it for his own glory. He is in the ministry because he desires to preach the gospel and glorify God. That is what his Master has told him to do, and he is a man, a servant, under authority.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
One can tell immediately that this parable is different from the others; it does not start with "the Kingdom of Heaven is like." Obviously, it deals with the Kingdom of Heaven, because it says so within the context. Also, it is aimed directly at the disciples. Jesus says to them, "Because you said you understood this, here is My instruction." We could say it is aimed specifically at the ministry.
The word "scribe" may cause us a problem at first, because we normally think of a scribe as someone who writes something down for another person. For instance, a king would have an official court scribe. All that took place in his throne room would be written down by the scribe as the official record of the kingdom.
That is not what is meant here. Among the Jews in the first century, the scribe had an important position in the community. Ezra was the proto-typical scribe 450 years before Jesus spoke this parable. Ezra 7:6 tells us that the specialty of a scribe was the law of God or the words of God, the Bible. His job was to know the Bible. A scribe spent his life studying the Bible and knowing just as much as he could about its content (see Nehemiah 8:2,5,7-8). He stood before the people and expounded and explained it until they understood. Ministers fill the same function today. Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10:7; 28:19-20); it is the church's commission. He says to the apostles, "Teach everything that I commanded you to the people."
"Instructed" is a very interesting Greek word. It is the verb form of the noun that means "disciple." So Jesus really means, "every scribe discipled concerning the Kingdom." This depicts the scribe, the minister, as a student. He has been taught, but the word contains the idea that he is continuing to learn. Not only is he a teacher, but he is simultaneously a student. The preacher is under judgment too. He must continue learning so he can continue teaching.
The parable gives us a third description of this person: He is called "a householder." It literally means "house despot." It means "the ruler" or "the master of a house." "House despot" implies a great deal of authority as well as responsibility over his house. The buck stops with the householder, with the master of the house. Jesus says a scribe/minister is like a householder, meaning that the minister of God has been charged with being an authoritative interpreter of Scripture.
The more independent Christian probably does not think that a minister has much authority, but this parable bestows upon a minister a great deal of authority in expounding God's Word. Back then, "despot" did not have quite the same negative connotation as it does now, but it still meant a master or a person with great authority. Nevertheless, a minister is a teacher, a student, and a leader—one who has authority, but one who also at the same time has a great deal of responsibility.
His responsibility: "This householder," Christ says, "brings out of his treasure things new and old." "Treasure" may remind one of the same word in verse 44, but it is only the same English word. The word in verse 52 does not mean "treasure"—as in precious metals, jewels, and gems—but "treasure house," "treasury," "storehouse," or "storeroom," where one would store valuables. It is clear in the Greek that it means "a place" and not the actual treasure itself.
In this place one would store what is necessary, like food or clothing, for the house's provision. One would have a certain storeroom for grain, fruits, vegetables, and meal. One may have another room or closet to store valuables—the family papers, jewels, silver, or art. All the good things that a person would want to put away for safekeeping would be put into the treasury, storeroom, or storehouse. In the context, then, the minister is to use what he has learned and experienced in his life for the good of his house. He is to bring out all the things he had stored up to present to the people. A minister's treasure is mainly in his head—what he has witnessed and come to understand as he has lived and studied God's way.
Jesus instructs the scribe/minister to bring out "old and new." This becomes more understandable if we think of "old and new" in terms of foodstuffs. The master of the house is in charge of ensuring that his storeroom is full and had everything in it necessary to feed the family. A wise householder would balance serving his oldest store with fresh produce so that the old or the new is not wasted. If he served only the new, the old would go moldy and be ruined; it would have to be thrown out and wasted. But if he served only the old, then the fresh and the new would also be wasted because the family would not receive the benefit of the flavor and nutrition that is in fresh produce. So the wise householder serves his family old store as well as fresh-off-the-farm food, and he mixes them in balance so that neither is wasted.
This is how Jesus says a minister should teach the people: by carefully balancing the teaching of, say, the Old and the New Testaments. That would be "old and new." Or, old and new could be balancing traditional understanding of God's truth with new insights and applications of how it could be used in our time and situations.
He does not mean that the old is thrown away or that the old is wrong. It means that a minister may see an angle to a subject that has not been seen before in his experience, and he needs to preach on it because it will help the people in their present situation. This is exactly what Jesus did in the parables. He had taken the old truths of what the Kingdom of God is and shined new light on them so that people would understand that He had come as the Savior and have a hint about how events would transpire in the establishment of His Kingdom. He had taken old truth and put it in a new context.
Notice the Parable of the Faithful and the Evil Servant:
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. (Matthew 24:45-46)
To summarize, a minister's duty is to make the truths of God clear, fresh, and living so that the church may grow.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
Paul tells the elders to be careful how they shepherd the flock. He emphasizes that it is a God-given duty and responsibility. He says, "The Holy Spirit has made you overseers." Elders, ministers, are especially called out to watch over the flock, to guard it, to help it, to lead it. This is no light matter: The ones they are to help are the precious redeemed of God. Jesus Christ has given His life's blood for these people, and they are precious in God's sight. So the ministry is to be very careful how they watch over the people.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
This congregation was already so well established that other people in the world (presumably around the Mediterranean Sea) had already heard of the faith of the converted people in Rome. It must have been outstanding for him to make a statement like this, yet nonetheless, he still wanted to go there and preach the gospel to them.
Does this not show us that it is the responsibility of the ministry, the pastors of the church, including the apostles, evangelists, and local elders, to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God continually to the church? Our faith, the body of truth, remember, is the source of our spiritual strength.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part One)
1 Corinthians 1:18-21
We need a voice - a preacher, a true minister of God - to make the message clear.
By nature, our desires are likely to run amok. We think we know what we want, but we do not always know what we need. A minister's function within the church is to lead us from what we want to what we need.
A brief article excerpted from an old Fortune magazine article chided church pastors for following rather than leading their flocks. The result, it said, was a vicious, downward spiral of spiritual disillusionment in the congregates. The following quotation from that article is quite insightful:
There is only one way out of the spiral. The way out is the sound of a voice. Not our voice, but a voice coming from something not ourselves, in the existence of which we cannot disbelieve. It is the earthly task of the pastors to hear this voice, to cause us to hear it, and to tell us what it says.
This statement is backed up by Romans 10:13-17:
For "whoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved." How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah said, "Lord, who has believed our report?" So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
How can people call on God if they never heard of Him and do not know Him? Paul answers that they cannot hear without a preacher. A preacher cannot go unless he is sent, commissioned as an ambassador with a message revealed to him. Paul's summary is that faith - saving faith - arises from this combination of acts after the message is heard and believed. Faith comes by hearing the Voice of God spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. This, in effect, means that only He who sends the message can designate who bears it!
In addition, Paul is not simply describing the beginning of faith, but its beginning and all of the progress made by faith throughout a person's conversion. The very strength of faith is by hearing and believing. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is the key that opens the door of salvation, but only to those who will hear and believe and redirect their lives accordingly.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 4)
1 Corinthians 3:9-10
If God places us within an office in the church—as an elder or a deacon—it must be looked upon as a blessing that is a responsibility, not a reward! It is given for God's purposes. Paul even had his office as apostle because it was given to him. It is implied that all the powers to perform it were also given. He used them to lay the foundation.
Everybody else is the same way. The important thing is that each one of us must use our gifts to build. Paul says, "Be careful how you build." The foundation that was laid is Jesus Christ. When we begin to expand on it, it consists of the apostles and the prophets as well—the things that they wrote and the examples that they set. Everybody is to build on the same foundation! God gives everybody the gifts to enable them to do so.
To some, God gives gifts to be apostles; to others, He gives gifts to be an evangelist, pastor, teacher, or whatever. They are given, though, and every time God gives an office, He gives all that is needed for the person to fulfill that office—including overcoming sin.
The Bible consistently teaches that an office is not a place from which to exercise power, but a position from which to exercise service. The authority is certainly there, since God gives it. He always gives the authority to go with the office, but having it means that the elder or deacon must also have the right perspective on how to use the office God has given him. The office is given, not earned.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
In its broader context, Galatians 6:1-10 has spiritual matters more directly in mind than physical needs. This does not deny that there are times to help out physically, but the chapter begins with, "If one sees a brother in a fault. . . ." This the real foundation of the charge in verses 9 and 10. It is concerned primarily with spiritual matters, where the church's problems really lie. The church's problems are spiritual in nature.
In terms of the ministry, from the top of the administration on down, its emphasis must be on "feeding the flock." If there is a spiritual problem within the church, and we are charged first with taking care of the church, then it means that the administration of the church has to shift gears and take care of that spiritual problem first. It has first priority, not the preaching of the gospel to the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)
Perfect unity will not occur until we all believe and know, and therefore act, like our elder brother, Jesus Christ. This is why the ministry goes over the same territory Sabbath after Sabbath—because we have not reached perfect unity yet. We have by no means "come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God." We have not come "to a perfect man." We have not come "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," so the ministry keeps on preaching. It is its job, and if the preaching of it becomes trite, repetitive, boring—sorry, that is the ministry's job.
Ministers have to keep going over it until the perfect man is produced in the body of Christ. We will probably never reach it in this life, so church members should get used to hearing the same old sermons every week. It is hoped that ministers can come at it from new angles, provide deeper knowledge, explain things in a little bit better way each time, and make it seem fresh and interesting. But God, who gave the ministry this goal, desires that we strive to attain it, and so the ministry, if it is going to be faithful, will keep on preaching because it is in everyone's best interest that it do so. We all want to be in God's Kingdom.
It is obvious that the church has not reached perfect unity, and in fact, some of us have regressed in recent years. We can easily see this because, though Christ is not divided, the church is. We have schisms, and schisms are there to prove who is on His side. Paul says there must be schisms, factions, heresies, in the church because they expose, make manifest, those who are really following Christ (I Corinthians 11:19). The goal is that there be no divisions (I Corinthians 12:25), but Paul tells us that there will be, and that is the way God set up the church.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church
1 Peter 4:10
The Greek word translated "minister" is diakonos, which is sometimes translated "deacon." It is most frequently rendered either "minister" or "servant."
Every Christian has received some gift in trust from God to be held and used for the benefit of the whole church. The gifts may vary widely, but the ministry or the service of each is to be according to the character of the gift. As in Paul's body analogy, the finger does not do the same job as the toe, but the fingers are a gift to the body so that the body can function. However, the toes are also a gift to the body so it can function better in another area. It contributes its part to the well being of the body, but it does not have the same characteristics as a finger does—or the nose, ears, eyes, or mouth.
Everybody has been given gifts by God, and He has given them to the person so that he can serve the Body, allowing the Body to function better than it would have otherwise if it did not have that part, or that gift.
We are to do this as a steward, and above all things, a steward must be faithful. One cannot be faithful unless he has faith. This is where faithfulness begins—with faith, with a belief. Then we carry through. As we minister the gift to the Body of Christ, we become faithful—reliable, trustworthy, responsible—in carrying it out. Thus, each Christian is responsible to follow through faithfully in his service to the brethren.
William Barclay's translation of I Peter 4:10 reads:
As each has received a gift from God, so let all use such gifts in the service of one another, like good stewards of the grace of God.
A good steward is a faithful steward. A good steward, or a good servant, is one who follows through with his responsibility. Being a faithful steward of God's gifts can at least appear to be a discouraging responsibility, given our knowledge of how weak we are, but we will never be faithful if our beliefs are or remain mere preferences. We must be convicted of the rightness of what we believe, or we will never be faithful.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses
1 Peter 5:1-5
Notice all the words that suggest leading and/or following: elder(s), shepherd, flock, serving, overseers, lords, entrusted, and examples. This clearly establishes that God's church is a body in which He has placed leaders to oversee and care for His people. Further, the leadership is to provide examples for them to follow.
The Bible nowhere anticipates independent Christians in its instructions, but it always assumes the body has ministers given by Christ to provide teaching and guidance. Too frequently, people separate from one group then regroup around a person whom Christ has not appointed to teach His Word. It is not that this person cannot teach at all but that Christ has not given him the gifts to teach His people in His behalf. He was not placed in the body for that purpose. Steady spiritual degeneration within that group occurs.
John W. Ritenbaugh
'I'll Never Follow Another Man!'
1 John 2:27
Clearly, he is not saying that these people had no need for someone to teach them the difference between truth and error. They did need it! That is why John wrote his epistle! What they did not need was for anyone to teach them the church's basic doctrines, nor did they need human logic or philosophy to help them understand God's nature.
John had known, seen, heard, and touched Jesus Christ personally. Christ had taught him intensively for three-and-a-half years, and in turn, the aged apostle had taught them the same truth throughout his own ministry. The members of God's church had no need for any heretic to teach them.
As true sons of God, they had received His Holy Spirit, which had opened their minds and led them into the truth (John 16:13). They had been thoroughly grounded in the truth regarding the nature of Christ and God and the very purpose of life itself. God's truth had not changed, so what need did they have to relearn it?
In the rest of I John 2:27, John encourages them to allow the Holy Spirit to lead them and keep them faithful to what they had been taught from the beginning. Their original knowledge was true and no lie: "But as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."
Do we need teachers? Of course! John's epistle is an excellent example of why teachers are needed in the church. When false doctrine threatened members of the true body of believers, John found it necessary to spell out to them the dangers in it, even though the brethren had been thoroughly grounded in the truth. To reassure them that their foundational beliefs were true, he felt he needed to explain the truth to them again. He also saw that they could use some encouragement to trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into the truth.
This is exactly what a true minister of God is to do! The author of Hebrews instructs us to respect the ministry because they are given to us to protect us. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Hebrews 13:17).
Many New Testament examples show us our need for teachers. Philip's experience with the Ethiopian eunuch clearly illustrates how we need experienced and educated teachers to explain and expound the Word of God (Acts 8:26-38). As Philip approaches him, the eunuch is reading an Old Testament prophecy that foretold Christ's sufferings. When asked if he understands the passage, the eunuch has the humility to admit he needs help. He replies, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" (verse 31). Philip then explains to him how this prophecy was fulfilled in the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth. This results in the eunuch's baptism (verse 38).
In dealing with the many problems in the Corinthian church, Paul had to send Timothy to refresh them in the truth that Paul had preached.
Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (I Corinthians 4:16-17)
In his letters to Timothy, Paul instructs the young evangelist about various principles that he should teach the people. "These things command and teach.... Teach and exhort these things" (I Timothy 4:11; 6:2).
In addition, the apostle tells him to train others to be teachers. "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2). Besides this, an elder must be "able to teach" (I Timothy 3:2). The very purpose of the ministry is to help in perfecting the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12, KJV).
Throughout the New Testament, God continually emphasizes the need to provide spiritual food to the church. Jesus says that His servants will be providing "food in due season" to His people (Matthew 24:45). "Feed My sheep" is one of the last things Jesus tells Peter (John 21:17). Paul writes to Timothy, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Timothy 4:2).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
For the Perfecting of the Saints
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