The Lord’s Workers - Understanding Their Roles and God’s Expectation
Recently, God put a burden on my heart toward His workers. From time to time, a pastor or minister of the Word whom I have known for years, shares with me that they are feeling discouraged. God was the one who gave them their ministry, and sent them to minister. They have been faithful, and have diligently ministered to those whom the Lord placed under their care. Some of these men have spent year laboring among the same congregation, yet have not seen any signs of growth among their people.
Many of the people in their church are still babes, far from maturity. By this time, they should be flourishing and bearing abundant fruit, but have not borne any. Some have even plunged back into sin, and are ready to fall away from the grace of God.
As these pastors and ministers look at those under their care, they become overwhelmed by grief. They blame themselves. In their eyes, they are a failure. Some even feel that God has abandoned them or will call them unprofitable servants and punish them.
Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to these men, I encourage them. Much of their frustration comes from not understanding what God expects His workers to accomplish.Before God sends a minister to people, He first equips him with the abilities, and gifts needed to handle their task. Every minister should be able to handle and teach the Word of God correctly, helping God’s people to understand His truth.
God sends His workers to diverse people with different types of hearts. Some have it easier; God sends them to those who have good and noble hearts. Others God sends to hard-hearted people. Ministers should realize that as servants, they do not get to choose where and to whom they are sent. Nevertheless, they must be faithful, hardworking, and not lazy.
Consider Paul as an example. The Bible tells us that God sent Paul and other ministers to numerous cities and people. God had already prepared people in each of those cities whom He wanted to hear the Gospel and believe. Many resisted the Gospel and did not accept Paul or his words. After they rejected him, Paul would go to the next city where he was sent, and preach God’s message to them. Those who had good hearts, received, and believed the Word. The Word then sprang up in their hearts, grew, and bore fruit. (According to Paul’s Epistles, the Christians in Philippi, Ephesus and Thessalonica were among those who bore much fruit)
Not All Bore Abundant Fruit
However, Paul was also sent to Corinth, where he spent a year and a half teaching. God even promised Paul divine protection while there telling him, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10.) The Lord had many people in Corinth that He wanted to hear the Gospel. However, even after Paul had ministered among them for 1½ years, the Corinthians remained immature. So much so, that in his first letter to them, Paul rebuked them, saying that they were not spiritual people, but still babes in Christ. (Paul spent much of 1 Corinthians rebuking and correcting issues, which arose from their immaturity.)
Was Paul a failure because the Corinthians had never grown to maturity? No! He had done what the Lord wanted him to do. Paul understood that he was only a servant carrying out his master’s commands. He explained to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3) that ministers are merely God’s servants doing the work the Lord assigns to them.
Roles of God’s Workers
It is important that ministers understand both what their roles are as God’s workers, and what He expects from them.God not only sent Paul to Corinth, He sent others as well. Corinth was a large city with many people. The Bible records that Paul, Apollos, Aquila with his wife Priscilla, Silas, Timothy, and possibly even Cephas (Peter) ministered in Corinth. Yet, even though God sent so many workers to them, Paul still had to rebuke them for being immature (1 Corinthians 3.) The people of Corinth were prideful, boasting to each other which man of God had influenced their life. They bragged to each other about those who had taught them. One would say “I am of Apollo” and another would say, “I am of Paul.” Paul rebuked them saying that they were not spiritual people but carnal babes in Christ.
Paul went on to explain to them about the Lord’s ministers and their importance (or lack thereof.) Paul told them “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” (1 Corinthians 3:5)A minister is only a servant working for his master! Those who believed because of Paul’s preaching were simply those whom God had assigned to Paul. Those who believed through Apollos’ ministry were those whom God had assigned to Apollos.
Paul compared Apollos and himself to being co-labors in a field. The congregation in Corinth was God’s field. Paul as a servant had planted and Apollos watered, but God was the one who provided the growth. Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 Those that labored whether by planting seed or watering were simply workers who would be paid, each according to how well he did his job.
God Gave the Growth
What did Paul mean by, growth? As plants in God’s field, neither Paul nor Apollos could make a person grow. God was the one who made each grow. Paul may have planted the seed in them, and later Apollos came, taught, and watered that seed, but God was the one who caused that person to grow into maturity and bear fruit.
How can these things be? We see from other passages of Scripture (especially Jesus’ ‘Parable of the Sower & the Seed’ found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8) that one of the determining factors how well a Christian grows is based on his own heart. “But the seed in the good ground--these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” Luke 8:15
By His Word, God keeps everything in its proper order. By it, the sun moon and earth keep their proper place in the heavens. God’s Word does not go out in vain. By it, a seed springs to life and begins to grow.
Isaiah 55:11 “So My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and will prosper in what I send it to do.”
God has determined that once His words are spoken they will always produce the result He intends. The Gospel preached by Paul were seeds being sowed into the hearts of men, inevitably God caused those seeds to germinate and spring to life.
God has established an order to things. When seeds are sown into good ground (noble hearts) they not only grow, but also brings forth fruit. However just as the quality of some soil differs from one place to another, hearts of people also differ in quality. That is why the Lord Jesus explained, that when the Word is sown into the hearts of upright men, they grow, producing thirty, sixty and some a hundred fold. We watch some Christians grow, bearing abundant fruit, and become Godly people, full of grace, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience etc., while we see others bear almost no fruit. See illustration on the right.
God’s Word is also sown on rocky or thorny soil. He gives them life and they too grow. However, they do not grow into maturity. Some spring up for short while but have no depth, when hardships come they wither and die. Others entangle themselves with the desires of their own flesh (comforts and pleasures of life) and bring no fruit to maturity. Sad but true, many congregations are populated with both of these (young immature sprouts growing among rocks or thorns.) God gives them life, but because He is not their focus, they quickly stop growing.
What Does God Expect from His Workmen?
The question is; if ministers cannot choose the people to whom they are sent, nor make a person grow, and God makes one to grow more than another does, then what does God require of His workers? To answer this question we must continue reading what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:9 onwards.
Paul also compared himself to a master builder of God’s building in Corinth. The congregation was a building under construction. Paul had laid the foundation by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After him, others came and built on the foundation he had laid. Paul warned that his fellow workers, [other ministers] needed to be careful how they built of the foundation, which he had already laid. (1 Corinthians 3:10.)
There were many teachers teaching the church in Corinth.
Some were decent, worthly and profitable teachings resulting in the building up (edification) of the church.
These teachings are compared to gold, silver, and costly stones, which are able to endure fire. God was pleased with those ministers who taught these teachings. They taught what is of God, true doctrine and instructions that leads to righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness, self-control, and perseverance.
After their labor was done and their work complete, each would receive his wages (reward) according to how well he had done.
Some taught old Jewish fables, endless genealogies, strange doctrines, etc., which are considered by God to be unprofitable and useless.
These teachings were like wood, hay, and straw, which burn up in fire. People do not learn Godly living from these kinds of teachings, nor do these teachings edify (strengthen and build up) their faith. Paul said that God would burn up those useless teachings.
However, God would not destroy those ministers who taught such things. When the time came for God to pay the labors their wages (reward), these ministers would not receive anything.
1 Corinthians 3:14-15 “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Paul did not stop there! He continued telling about ministers who taught false doctrines that defiled the church of God (false teachings, doctrines and practices that are damaging, and lead people away from truth.) When they taught these destructive teachings, they were destroying God’s temple. God did not, nor does not, tolerate these teachings or those that teach them, but vowed to destroy them.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “Do you not know that you (church of Corinth) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (church of Corinth)? If anyone (any minister) destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him (that minister). For God’s temple is holy, and you (church of Corinth) are that temple.”
How this Applies to Ministers Today
Those ministers who are discouraged should simply examine themselves and ask one two-part question, “Am I where God sent me and am I teaching only His Word?”
If the answer is Yes, than you are being a true servant of God. No matter if, your people fight and squabble among themselves, or show no signs of growing into maturity, rest at ease knowing that God knew the results before He sent you. Remember God assigned Paul to teach and evangelize in Corinth for 18 months, yet after he left he still had to reprimand them for their baby-like behavior.
If after examining yourself the answer is No, and God did not send you to these people, or you have gotten sidetracked in your teaching, Ask God what He wants you to do to correct it, trust Him, He will tell you. Then have strength and obey.
The minister must:
He must teach decent, worthly, profitable teachings that cause the edification (building up) of the church of God.
He must avoid teaching useless and unprofitable teachings that do not build faith or lead to Godly living.
He must be careful not to teach any false or destructive teaching. When he does so, he not only brings destruction to the church of God, he brings destruction on himself as well. God will destroy him.