Ministry—Yours, Mine and Ours
It is important to consider what ministry we are called to in the Kingdom of God. According to Paul (1 Corinthians 12), we each have a part to play; a part no more nor less important than any other’s. We also understand from this chapter that God also gives gifts to each to enable that ministry, according to his sovereign will.
A question I’d like to ask is, how do we actually hear this passage? Do we emphasise that each of us has a ministry? Or do we emphasise that together we contribute our uniqueness to the ministry of the Body of Christ? For many of us who have grown up in the highly individualistic West, we will tend to consider the former first.
While it’s correct to say that we each have our individual ministries, it falls short of the rich picture Paul paints. It also falls short of the assumptions Paul would have brought to his thinking about ministry as one of the People of God. So let’s begin with this last item. As a Jew, Paul would have based much of his thinking about being one of God’s people on Jewish models; indeed, on the Jewish Scriptures (because the NT did not yet exist). Even though Israel had priests, and also had Levites acting as Temple functionaries, there was an underlying recognition that the whole of the People of God were ministers: ‘Now, if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own people. The whole earth is mine, but you will be my chosen people, 6 a people dedicated to me alone, and you will serve me as priests’ (Exod. 19:5-6 GNT). The apostle Peter echoes this in 1 Pet. 2:9 (GNT): ‘But you are the chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light’. So the whole people of God, initially Israel, and later the Church, has a role to reveal God to the creation He loves.
This puts ‘my ministry’ into a wider context. There is no thought of the individual having a ministry separate from the wider Body of Christ. In fact, the very unity of the Body was Paul’s major concern throughout his letter to the church at Corinth. Why is this so? There are a number of reasons; let me touch on a few. First, we complement each other. I’m not meant to use my gifts in isolation. I’m not meant to be able to do and be everything necessary to ensure ‘effective’ ministry is done. Just the opposite; we can only be effective when we allow other’s gifts and strengths to complement our own. Together we are Christ’s body. Second, because we are not yet fully redeemed, we still have our very human failings and limitations. Not only do others’ gifts add to mine, but others’ understanding of God can be a necessary correction to my own misunderstandings and errors. By ourselves, we limit the wisdom available to us. Together, we come closer to the mind of God.
Yes, the Church is full of fallen human beings—that’s because we are saved by Grace. Yet, for all the Church’s failings, it is one of God’s chosen methods to reveal Himself. My ministry, and your ministry, is always to be part of our, the Church’s, wider ministry.