I’ve frequently thought in the past about how important it is for our identity to be rooted in Christ while we serve in ministry, so that our ministry does not become our functional sense of worth – for our salvation in Christ to be a greater force in our lives than our ministry on behalf of Christ. But today on a walk it came into my mind that this truth has not only a negative, warning application, but also a positive, encouraging one. When our salvation in Christ is our root-level identity, we are liberated to serve in ministry in a manner that reflects the gospel: with healthy motivation, with integrity and grace, and with perseverance and courage. The lesser reality gets defined by, and sucked into the orbit of, the greater reality.
I’ve been reflecting on this today in light of II Corinthians 4, a chapter that means much to me as I think about my ministry in light of Paul’s understanding of his own ministry. I draw out a number of principles from the way Paul speaks about his ministry in this chapter:
1. If my salvation is entirely by God’s grace, so is my ministry: “having this ministry by the mercy of God” (4:1).
2. If my salvation is truly visible only to the eyes of faith, so is my ministry: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (4:18); “we also believe, and so we also speak” (4:13, italics mine).
3. If my salvation is a manifestation of the power of God in the midst of human weakness, so is my ministry: “we have this treasure in jars of clay … we are afflicted in every way … to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (4:7-8).
4. If my salvation is ultimately for the glory of God, not my own, so is my ministry: “what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5); so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (4:15)
5. If my salvation is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, so is my ministry: “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus … always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake … so death is at work in us, but life in you” (II Corinthians 4:10-12).
The practical pay off that I walk away with is stated twice, at the beginning and end of the chapter: “we do not lose heart” (4:1, 4:16). If my ministry is based upon the same resources, the same truths – ultimately, the same Christ – as my salvation, then it has something of the same power, the same inevitability, the same Christ-focus. Just as the five solas of the Reformation have the functional effect of directing our eyes to Christ in our salvation, so their application to the ministry of the gospel has the effect of directing our eyes to Christ in it. Ministry, like salvation, is by Scripture alone, by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone (in his death and resurrection), and for the glory of God alone. When I live in this awareness, I do not lose heart, because my eyes are on Christ and His power. I want to be careful not to downplay important differences that do exist between salvation and ministry (e.g., I can lose my ministry, but not my salvation). But I do see in Scripture a link between these two twin realities: justification (salvation) and calling (ministry). For example, in Zechariah 3, Joshua’s justification is part and parcel with his priestly calling. They both flow from the same source.
Lord, give us grace to serve you out of the greater reality of how you have served us in your Son. Let our ministry efforts be the overflow of our experience of your extravagant love in the gospel. Amen.