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The Ministry (14):While in the ministry

Pope Shenouda III | 21 March 2010

Many fell & some perished
   Do not think that all those who fell or perished were away from the church or from the ministry, for the Holy Scripture and the church history record many stories and occurrences about people who fell or perished although they were in the church or even in the ministry.

   Take for instance Demas the assistant of Paul the Apostle and his fellow worker whom he often mentioned in his epistles (Col 4: 14), and whom he once mentioned before Luke the Evangelist (Gal 24): both were fellow workers with Mark and Aristarchus, and no doubt several people believed through them. However, Demas ended his spiritual life tragically, for St. Paul says, "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." (2 Tim 4: 10) Some stories say that he even became a heathen!!

   Not only Demas, but many others also who St. Paul mentioned, saying, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of he cross of Christ." (Phil 3: 18)+
   St. Paul explains their problem, saying, "… whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame – who set their mind on earthly things." (Phil 3: 19) Let us then take a lesson from those and remember St. Paul's words: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Cor 10: 12)

   This shows that falling is possible, even for great ministers!+
   We have for example the angels of the seven churches to whom the Lord sent messages through St. John: To the angel of the church of Ephesus, the Lord said, "I know your works, your labor, your patience … and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary." (Rev 2: 2, 3) However that angel left his first love and the Lord said to him, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen … or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place –unless you repent." (Rev 2: 5) How awful are these words, yet harder still are the words said to the angel of the church in Sardis: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." (Rev 3: 1) In spite of this he was considered a minister and an angel in the right hand of the Lord (Rev 1: 20), and the Lord called him to repent and warned him (Rev 3: 3).

   The same applies to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans to whom the Lord said, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth." (Rev 3: 16)+
   Among the examples of those who were lost in the ministry are Eli the priest and his children. Eli continued to minister to the Lord until he grew old and his eyes grew so dim that he could not see, but he did not raise his children properly. Even when he rebuked them, he did it softly not firmly. Therefore the Lord removed him away and put to death his two children both in one day (1 Sam 2: 31, 34), and said, "Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever." (1 Sam 3: 14) Eli fell off the seat backward, his neck was broken, and he died. He had judged Israel forty days (1 Sam 4: 18). The old man and his children perished while in the ministry.

   King Saul, the Lord's anoint, is another example of those who perished.+
   The Lord sent Samuel the Prophet to anoint Saul with the holy oil as a king. The Lord's Spirit came upon Saul and he prophesied, so the people said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" (1 Sam 10: 11) But how did the life of that anoint of the Lord end? He sinned and "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him." (1 Sam 16: 14) He perished!

   The scribes and Pharisees were another example of those who perished while in the ministry.+
   They were masters and were very strict about the law. The Lord said about them, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat." (Mt 23: 2) In spite of this they perished; for they shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; they neither went, nor did they allow those who are entering to go in. The Lord called them, "blind guides" (Mt 23: 13, 16), and said to them, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Mt 23: 33)

   This also applies to the priests of that generation.+
   The Lord called them "wicked vinedressers" and said to them, "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." (Mt 21: 43) They and their chiefs tried Christ and condemned Him!! They accused Him before Pilate (Mt 27: 12), and demanded with loud voices that He be crucified (Lk 23: 23). Moreover, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers that they might tell them, "His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept." (Mt 28: 13) They also had paid the thirty pieces of silver to Judas to deliver Him to their hands (Mt 26: 14, 15). They perished although they were ministers and messengers of the Lord of hosts, from whose mouths the law was to be sought (Mal 2: 7).

   Another example is the older son in the story of the Lost Son.+
   The younger son represents those who got lost by separating themselves from the father's house and journeying away from their father, whereas the older son represents those who got lost while in the ministry, for he said to his father, "Lo these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time." (Lk 15: 29) He was not loving to his brother but rather got angry when his father received him joyfully. He refused to enter the house to take part in the family's joys. He also was not decent in talking to his father and even blamed him, saying, "You never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends." (Lk 15: 29)

   Those who perish while in the ministry remind us of the daughter of Jairus who died in her father's house (Lk 8: 49- 52).+
   In this she was different from the son of the widow at Nain who was carried in a coffin on the way (Lk 7: 12) or Lazarus who was in the tomb with a stone laid against it (Jn 11: 38).

   Adam and Eve fell while in the garden (Paradise). Yet the worst example is Judas Iscariot.+
   Judas was one of the twelve (Mt 10: 4); the Lord chose him and entrusted him with the moneybox. This is clear from the words of reproach said by the Lord to him, "What you do, do quickly." Some thought that Jesus had said to him, "Buy those things we need for the feast, or that he should give something to the poor." (Jn 13: 27- 29) Most probable Judas took part in the early training in ministry and received, like the other apostles, some gifts (Mt 10), yet he perished.

   We also have a lesson from the perdition of a famous prophet: Balaam.+
   He was a man "whose eyes are opened … who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty … with eyes opened wide." (Num 24: 15, 16) He prophesied about the Lord Christ, saying, "I see Him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab." (Num 24: 17) The angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam, and the Lord spoke to him more than once as it is said, "God met Balaam … the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, 'Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak …'" (Num 23: 4, 5; 16). Balaam had said to the messengers of Balak, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will; but what the Lord says, that I must speak." (Num 24: 13; 22: 18)

   It is also said that, "the Spirit of God came upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said …" (Num 24: 2- 3) Before speaking he had built seven altars and offered burnt offerings: Seven altars; seven bulls and seven rams (Num 23: 1, 2; 29, 30)+
   Yet, in spite of prophesies, burnt offerings, visions, and the coming down of the Spirit of God on him, Balaam perished and put a stumbling block before the children of Israel (Rev 2: 14) And the Scripture spoke about the error of Balaam in (Jude 11), and in (2 Pet 2: 15) that he loved the wages of unrighteousness.

   Among the examples of those who fell, not perished, is Aaron, Moses' brother.+
   Although he was a high priest and was anointed by Moses the Prophet with the anointing oil according to all that the Lord had commanded (Ex 40: 13- 16; Lev 8: 12), he made for the children of Israel the golden calf which they worshiped!! He said to them, "Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." He received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then, when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it, and made a proclamation and said, "Tomorrow is a feat to the Lord." So they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings." (Ex 32: 2- 6) And when Moses rebuked him after coming down form the mountain, Aaron said, "You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, 'Make us gods that shall go before us.'" (Ex 23: 22- 24) Thus the high priest fell, and he fell once more when he and Miriam spoke against Moses the Prophet (Num 12: 1) and the Lord struck Miriam with leprosy (Num 12: 4- 10)

   That was Miriam, who led the women with timbrel in her hand, singing to the Lord after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15: 20)!+
   That was Miriam, who sang that beautiful song, "Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!" (Ex 15: 21) However, this great prophetess was struck by the Lord with leprosy, and the Lord did not respond to the intercession of Moses for her, except after she was shut out of the camp seven days (Num 12: 13- 15)

   If we move from the Holy Scripture to history, we also can find examples of people who perished while in the ministry.+
   Some of those attained great levels in the ministry, like some heretics who were distinguished ministers, and who the church excommunicated.

   Arius was one of those heretics. He was the greatest preacher and a priest in Alexandria, but he perished because of deviating in teaching. As he persisted in his heresy the Holy Council of Nicaea excommunicated him.+
   Other heretics are Nestor and Macedonius the two Patriarchs of the See of Constantinople. Each of them was at the top of ministry in his church, and both fell in a heresy and perished. Macedonius was judged by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381, and Nestor was judged by the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. Both died excommunicated and perishing, though they were heads of a great church.

   The same almost applies to the perdition of Euticus who was a great spiritual father and abbot of a monastery in Constantinople. When he fell in a heresy all his past ministry was lost, and the church excommunicated him.+
   Let then every minister be on his guard as St. Paul the Apostle says to his disciple Timothy, "Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you." (1 Tim 4: 16)

   What are the reasons that make many ministers fall and perish? This will be the topic of next week's article – God willing.    

 

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