The Ministry of the Gospel is Worth It
Dear Christian friends,
Messiah Lutheran Church is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Our synod has about 385,000 souls and about 305 thousand communicant members. Hundreds of churches in our synod support their own grade school. Our churches also support around 25 Lutheran high schools. We have two preparatory high schools where young people begin training for the public ministry. We have a college in New Ulm, Minnesota that trains teachers for our schools. They also prepare young men for entry into Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Our people also support Wisconsin Lutheran College where students get a lot of God but also are awarded degrees that will do them well for the workaday world. Besides investments in education our synod invests millions of dollars in a world mission program and a home mission program. People in the WELS support elderly care programs and aid to the needy. There are also counseling services. An annual report of our synod states that we as a synod supply about $313 million dollars for all of that we do in the LORD’s name. While that figure would never cover the size of our national debt, we can see that a lot of money given to support all the different facets of the Lord’s work. Is it worth it? Please give me a resounding “yes.”
Turn your attention to Messiah. We have around 170 members counting children. About 60% of our membership is in church on an average Sunday. We are paying off a mortgage that now is around $450,000 dollars. 10 years ago it was almost twice that. We support a full-time and a part-time staff. We have Sunday School, Bible classes, four outreach efforts to the elderly and special needs people. We have some rather rigorous outreach efforts. We supply about $22,000 to our synod to help carry on its mission. Last year we had about $248,000 in donations to further the cause of Jesus in this part of the city. That’s just under $2,000 a communicant member. Is it worth it? You bet it is! The Gospel Ministry, the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ, is Always Worth It. 1) It is always worth seeing the results; 2) It is always worth seeing God’s power at work.
Paul founded the church in Corinth. The Devil hated that. After Paul left Corinth to do mission work somewhere else, Satan stirred up all kinds of problems. Eventually Paul was led to write a letter, the book we call I Corinthians. He wrote it when he was in Ephesus. Read it sometime. It was come to Jesus letter. He gave it to Titus to take to the church in Corinth. Paul wanted to end up there too, but he had other things to do. Five or six years earlier, when Paul brought message of Jesus to Europe for the first time, the first city he had gone to was Troas. He didn’t spend much time there. He wanted to do more. He told Titus to meet him there after he had dropped off the letter and had their initial reaction to First Corinthians. He writes this second letter telling some of his critics his strategy. “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me.”
When Paul got to the city of Troas, Titus wasn’t there. That worried him. “I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.” Paul wondered if the letter, I Corinthians, was too tough. What was delaying Titus? So Paul left Troas to look for him! He headed south into the province of Macedonia. Somewhere along the line he met up with Titus. There was good news. Most of the members agreed they had made some ungodly errors and ungodly decisions. But they repented and many of the things that Paul addressed were corrected.
Many, even most of the people committed to stay faithful to Jesus. As a preacher of God’s word he was thankful, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” I don’t know about you but I am a visual learner. I like illustration. Paul uses an illustration. He compares the message of repentance and the message of Jesus to that of an ancient army marching into a liberated town. People are burning incense and laying flowers in front of the army in celebration. It is a glorious scene to the eye and to the nose. The message of Jesus is like a beautiful aroma that pleases. Regarding those who proclaim the message of Jesus, Paul writes, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved.”
Does that sound a bit pompous? To some in Corinth who remained critics of Paul, it did. The message he wrote brought about the desired result. People considered it as a beautiful scent. Those who preach Jesus are the aroma of Christ to repentant sinners.
A minister of the Gospel is a very special profession. Engineers and architects, we love your aesthetically beautiful designs and structures, but they will be burned up on the last day. You people at Coca Cola, I have come to appreciate your company. I know I can find a diet coke just about anywhere. Your presence in so many places is amazing. But on the last day, the secret formula will be burned up too. All you computer and software geeks, your products are amazing, but they won’t be needed in heaven. But because there were those who preached the Gospel, heaven will be filled with souls. What ministers of the Gospel do lasts forever!
A mother whose son left the ministry asked me a while ago if I liked the ministry anymore. The mother seemed to have a bitter taste over her son resigning. It is a wonderful calling. To let people know that the good Lord is real; to let people know they have a Savior who takes their guilt and shame away; to let people know that he is their best and eternal friend is so fantastic; to let people know that Jesus did everything that needed to be done - does it get any better? Young people, seriously think about doing this!
While the ministry of the Gospel is a wonderful gift from God and a blessed privilege for those called into it, there are far too many who think that the message of Jesus stinks. That’s what Paul says, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” That’s a kind of hits-you-between- the-eyes kind of comparison, isn’t it… but we understand every word it means. While it is such a blessing to see people come to know and then grow in Christ for the better, it is also sad to see so many reject his grace and literally think the message and the messenger stink; worse yet, it becomes for them the smell of death. Yet all people have to come out either for or against! That’s how important the ministry of the Gospel is.
It is also important to remember that it is God who produces the results. He has to. There are two problems that ministers of the gospel have. We deal with sinners, and the other problem is the one who deals with sinners is a sinner too.
There are ministers who do it for all the wrong reasons. As it is in our day, it was also true in Paul’s day that people saw it as a way of making money. His critics accused Paul of that too. Paul defends himself. “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.” There are those who pollute it and dilute the message of Jesus to make it more palatable for the sinful nature. Paul didn’t get a salary. He said he had a right to one; he didn’t take one. He made tents to support himself.
Fleecing people has been a way Satan has brought many to be angry with all who preach the Gospel. The Lutheran Reformation started because of the sale of indulgences that, when purchased, were supposed to guarantee the forgiveness of sins. It was a scheme to get money to give money so St. Peter’s in Rome could be built. I know it is a most beautiful church, yet the funding was an abomination and a slap to Jesus who only saves by his blood. There are still plenty of hucksters who want money more than the salvation of souls. Beware of them!
On the contrary, there are four motives that every minister of the Gospel ought to have. “In Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” The ministry is about Christ. It ought to sicken everyone if they go to church and not hear Jesus’ name mentioned or rarely mentioned. That too is an abomination. We are called the Holy Christian church for a reason. Our foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the reason we exist. He is the reason when we leave we ought not feel guilty. He’s the reason we live for the days and weeks ahead.
He says, “In Christ we speak before God.” A minister is accountable to God. I am accountable to God. Our church is accountable to God. Winning souls for and feeding souls our Savior is our objective. That’s our business. That’s God’s business!
We do it with sincerity. What we preach is what we believe. When I preach I preach to myself. Years ago I remember reading an article about a pastor of a mainline Christian denomination who didn’t believe in the Trinity. Someone asked him how he could lead the people in worship and in the Apostle’s creed or Nicene Creed when it says I believe in God the Father Almighty. His answer was: “I don’t say “I believe,” I say “they believe.” Nothing sincere about that, is there?
The fourth point is that a minister of the Gospel “is sent by God.” No one calls himself into the ministry. No one takes this honor on himself. The Lord takes care of that. Paul and Silas were called by God through the church in Antioch to go into areas that had never heard the Gospel before. The apostles were called by Jesus. I received God’s call through you. The only call the preachers who do it for money hear is the call of cha-ching.
Paul addresses another problem from his critics. Apparently they said he just came to town. He should have brought references letters or letters of recommendation. People ask me to write letters like that all the time - for a job or for school. They want to know if the person is good and trustworthy. I am happy to supply it. Paul’s reply was this, “Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Paul’s letter of recommendation was simply to look at the work that was done. There was a church in Corinth when at one time there wasn’t. God used Paul to establish it. All they needed to do was look around at the membership and see how powerfully the Gospel had been working. In his first letter he wrote, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.” They were that, but not any longer! God has been at work.
The Gospel is at work here too. While we are all a work in progress, there are signs that God is at work. Above all, see the repentant people. God says in his word that a broken and contrite heart God does not despise. I see grateful people who want others to know what you know. The apostle says, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” You are people who treasure the promises of your baptism; you know you are set apart for Jesus; you know you have been declared innocent of sin. Your gratitude shows in your lives living for Jesus.
In the end none of this could happen if God’s Spirit were not at work. Paul says that too. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant.” Making this easy to understand - a minister can stand up here all day and quote Shakespeare. He might be very good at it; he might even act it out well. He might even get a standing ovation, but it won’t change a single heart. It won’t take anyone from hell into heaven. It’s all about the Gospel! Not the smoothness of the speaker, not the grandiose vocabulary that he may have, it’s all about Jesus who lived perfectly in our place; Jesus who died taking our sins on the cross, who lives again guaranteeing his work was true and complete. Hearing it and sharing makes all worth it!