One of the realities of being a Minister is that there are burdens involved. Some of those burdens alter from time to time because the troubles which affect individuals or which affect the church as a whole may change. Obviously the current lockdown has brought it’s own set of burdens and I am very grateful for those bearing them with me. Special thanks to those who have taken on the responsibility of keeping in touch with members of the congregation. The burdens I want to talk about in this letter are the routine burdens – the burdens which simply belong to the ministry of the gospel and which are inseparable from it.
Burden One – Faithfulness in Preaching One thing that has always impressed me is the Apostle Paul’s honesty in his prayer requests. In Ephesians 6: 18 - 20 he asks the Ephesians to be ‘making supplication ............... that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.’ As he asks twice for prayer that he may preach, ‘boldly’ he highlights the danger he faces – he could lack boldness and hence fail to proclaim the gospel as bluntly and openly and honestly as he should. In any congregation a Minister will be aware of those who will not appreciate some aspects of him declaring the full counsel of God. That may mean they resent being challenged about the fullness of their guilt and their need of repentance. It may mean that they resent hearing that they are dead in trespasses and sins and in need of life-giving grace. It may be an aversion to the full and free and open offer of the gospel. It will come in different forms in different places but the responsibility is always there to be bold and forthright and to rely on the truth of God’s word. Then in Colossians 4: 3 + 4 he requests: ‘pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison-that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.’ In some respects this requests mirrors the one in Ephesians but there is an extra issue, ‘that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.’ We can fail to be clear because of cowardice, which is the danger highlighted in Ephesians, but this danger appears to relate to the need to work hard to get God’s message over to others. Whenever we speak for Christ, and this relates to personal witness as well as preaching, we need to speak not just so that we can be understood but, as far as possible, so we can’t be misunderstood. If Paul isn’t ashamed to ask prayer for boldness and clarity I can’t be ashamed to make the same requests.
Burden Two - Being the bearer of news which is unpleasant and unwelcome On this last Sunday I chose to preach on the words in John 3: 16: ‘that whoever believes in him (Jesus the Son of God) should not perish but have eternal life.’ To do this boldly and clearly demanded that I put before you the truth that perishing involves (2 Thessalonians 9): ‘eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.’ To preach of hell is difficult and distressing for me because I am aware that people I love may well end up in that terrible place. The reality is that I am preaching to people who may resent that fact that I am saying that the sins of everyone merit hell and that the sins of this who do not believe in Christ will inevitably lead them to hell. The news is unpleasant, because it tells everyone they have hearts that are, ‘desperately wicked’ and unwelcome, because, if doing my best, if being religious, if avoiding ‘serious’ sin is not enough what can I do?
Burden Three - Knowing that the gospel message is a message of condemnation when the grace it offers is rejected (2 Corinthians 3: 15 + 16): ‘For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.’ The intent of God in sending his Son is not death but life and not condemnation but justification. Without hearing the gospel salvation is not a possibility so it must be preached and by God’s grace there will be a harvest of life. However it will also be true that there is, ‘a fragrance from death to death’ because this is also a horrible reality (John 3: 19): ‘And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.’
Burden Four – Knowing that there is no alternative to preaching the gospel It is only through the gospel that men and women may believe and live. In the gospel the glories of a faithful, loving, forgiving God are revealed and without that gospel we are lost. To have a gospel to preach and to be called to preach the gospel is an overwhelming privilege but privilege in this case involves cost and burden.
Looking ahead As we come to Sunday I will (God willing) be preaching on the words from John 3: 16: ‘that whoever believes in him should not perish BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.’ Please pray that I may be able to preach the riches of God’s gift of salvation in Christ boldly and clearly as I should. Looking again at John 3: 15 + 16 it is evident in the repeated words: ‘that whoever believes in him should have eternal life’ (the two phrases in Greek are identical barring that verse 15 has ‘believes in’ and verse 16 ‘believes into’) that the burden and aim of the gospel is the free gift of eternal life by faith in Christ who died and is exalted to make intercession for us. Please pray that all may realize afresh the wonder of God’s love and the glory of his salvation.
Yours in the Lord,
24th April 2020