“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” – Ephesians 3:8-9
When we read this, it’s wise to ask ourselves the question: Is our ministry our gift to God or is our ministry God’s gift to us?
I know the majority of the time I view my ministry as my duty, my service, my offering, my gift to God. But the Apostle didn’t view his ministry that way. He saw his ministry as “grace that was given” to Him from the “God who created all things.” He was the “least of all the saints,” the foremost sinner (1 Timothy 1:15), and “the least of all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9), yet to this unworthy man, God chose to lavish the grace of ministry.
And as a cursory reading of Paul’s letters to the churches will show, his ministry wasn’t easy.
“Are they servants of Christ? I am speaking like I am out of my mind, but I am so much more: in harder labor, in more imprisonments, in worse beatings, in frequent danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea.
In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure.” – 2 Corinthians 23-27
Beaten, bloodied, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hated by others, hungry and thirsty, cold and alone. And as if this wasn’t enough, Paul contends: “Apart from these external trials, I face daily the pressure of my anxiety for all the churches” (v. 28). Internally and externally, Paul suffered greatly in his ministry. Yet, none of these trials steered his understanding of the ministry God gave Him away from being that of a gift. Nay, more than a gift, Paul saw his ministry as grace.
One can merit a gift, but one cannot merit grace. Paul didn’t complain of any of his beatings or endangerments as undeserved, but the ministry of the Gospel, “preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” this he spoke of as undeserved. “Give me all the beatings you want, take away all of my dignity, do your worst. I deserve it! But this precious ministry that has led me into all of these trials: what undeserved grace!”
There was something profound that Paul understood about the ministry. Namely, that it is a privilege, not an obligation. Many ministers today may subtly view their ministry as an obligation they owe to God, although they wouldn’t articulate it that way. Instead, it may take the form of gratitude or recompense for what God has done for us. “God has saved me from hell and damnation, how could I not serve Him in return!?” This may sound pious but propping up this sentiment is the burden of obligation.
My wife, Hayley, made a profound statement once. She said, “When Christ said, ‘it is finished’ on the cross, all of our obligations became privileges.” Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf, earned the righteousness we couldn’t earn, and gave that to righteousness to us as a gift of grace. Since that’s true, then you are no more obligated to “pay God back” by giving yourself to ministry than a homeowner is obligated to keep making payments to the bank after the mortgage has been paid. Once that “paid in full” stamp is made, no more obligation. And that applies to our ministry as well: it is not an obligation, but a privilege. A gracious, precious gift from God that we do not deserve. We do not serve God out of obligation, but out of privilege.
Pastor, minister, saint (because yes, all of those who are in Christ are called to ministry [Ephesians 4:12]), do you view your ministry as your obligation to God? As what you owe Him? If so, then you may be unintentionally cheapening the full payment that Christ made to God on your behalf. You have nothing to prove to God you have nothing to pay Him back for. Instead, you get to revel in the privilege of searching for, enjoying, and sharing “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Rest in this privilege today, Beloved and serve the King in the strength Christ alone provides.
This post first appeared online at Servants of Grace.