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The Ministry (18)

Pope Shenouda III | 2 May 2010

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine"   "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)?

Who said this? It is the Great Preacher St. Paul, who experienced the depths of ministry and spiritual life, who in the ministry labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), and in spirituality was caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise (2 Cor 12: 3, 4). St. Paul wrote those words to Timothy, bishop of Ephesus, in whom genuine faith dwelt as in his mother and grandmother, who from childhood had known the Holy Scriptures (2 Tim 1: 5; 3: 15). He said this in spite of the big responsibilities St. Timothy had, especially in a country like Ephesus where ministry was uneasy, as we see from the words of St. Paul that he had fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Cor 15)
St. Paul wanted him to take heed first of himself, before doctrine, for that is necessary for his own salvation and the salvation of the others. It is a principal rule for everybody whether a minister or not. It is important, because many ministers, after having attained great fame for their activities and attempts to restore others, forgot themselves and were lost! Their ministry did not extend inward, but after heeding themselves, when they became ministers tepidity crept into their hearts. They thought that their mission is to take care of the others not of themselves. Some of those became in a much lower level than their own disciples and children! To each of those the apostle says, "Take heed of yourself", for, "what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul." (Mt 16: 26)
What will those who work hard in the ministry benefit if they neglect themselves and lose the kingdom? When such a minister thinks he has attained Rachel, lo, she is Leah! Many have undergone hardships and struggles, and fell in judging others, which things they had not experienced before. It is true, the ministry is not the cause of such hardships, but a person who does not take heed to himself may experience such things. His faults may increase and new sins arise which had no existence before or were only hidden. While it seems that ministry has raised him upward, the fact is that he dropped down, whether he is aware or not! The more he is busy with the ministry, the more his faults will increase, and the more his responsibilities increase the more all his time will be absorbed and the more he neglects his spirit and deprive it from its spiritual food, so he goes down. If we advise him to leave the ministry to take heed to himself, he will be grieved, because ministry has become to him his whole life without which he will not be able to live. Would that such a minister be aware of an important fact: that what brings a person to God is not the ministry but the purity of the heart! The true ministry is not that through which one's spirituality decreases until it is no more because a person has lived outside his own self. His main concern was outside himself, forgetting the words: "The kingdom of God is within you." (Lk 17: 21) He thinks that the kingdom is outside his own self, amidst people!
Within the depth of his ministry, St. Paul was taking heed to himself and to his spirituality, so he could plainly say:<BR>"I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." (1 Cor 9: 27) What dreadful words! How painful it will be for a person to find himself rejected by God in spite of ministering to others! He will be like a bridge carrying people from one place to another without itself moving, or like the church bells, which ring to call upon people to go into the holies without themselves going in.
Some ministers' lives have the pyramidal shape, going up unto the top then going down. Their time becomes no more their own, nor their interests and emotions. All these turn into ministry! They have no time for their spirituality, nor have they a heart desire to long for. They may think this condition is a type of sacrificing oneself for the sake of the others. Self-sacrifice is indeed a virtue, but sacrificing one's spiritualities is sin and loss! John the Baptist says, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn 3: 30) He did not mean that he had to decrease in spirituality or in God's love, but in honor, ministry, and fame. His spirituality increased when he disappeared by the appearance of Christ to take the lead of the church by Himself and receive the bride. So, when John seemed to decrease, he actually increased in humbleness, in God's love, and in faith in Christ and His mission.
Observe yourself, and if you find your spirituality in the ministry has decreased, take a stand to save yourself:<BR>   Do not take out of your spirituality to give the ministry, nor stop your ministry for you spirituality. Rather make use of the time you waste and from your many involvements and give for your spirituality. Rise from your negligence and understand properly the ministry that it is not a whirlpool in which you move around without knowing who you are. We present here examples of loss in the ministry, examples of persons, and examples of faults. The older lost son is a clear example: he refused to share the joy for his brother's return, objected, complained and criticized his father, saying, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came …" (Lk 15) See, how after so long years in service he fell to such a low level!
His focus was on himself, and he was displeased with his condition, comparing himself with his brother, and was angry because his brother was the subject of the pleasure and satisfaction of his family. He was not in communion with the father. So many ministers have the same feelings in spite of their long service. To them the apostle says, "Take heed to yourself". Within the ministry also Solomon who was full of wisdom fell. He had started his ministry in a wonderful spirit and done great works, and God appeared twice to him in Gebeon and in Jerusalem, but as he did not take heed to himself he fell (1 Kgs 11). His father David likewise upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came (1 Sam 16) was a man of prayer and psalms, but as he did not take heed to himself he fell more than once and repented. Demas, a great minister and an assistant of Paul the Apostle, when he did not take heed to himself he likewise fell and was lost (2 Tim 4: 10). Nicholas, one of the first seven deacons, full of the Holy Spirit likewise fell. A minister who does not take heed of himself may fall in many things, foremost of which is pride.  A spiritual minister keeps his humbleness and likes to learn continually, but some lose their humbleness and their discipleship when they grow. They may even hold to their own opinions and views without seeking the counsel of anybody. Even if they ask a guide, it will be only to know his opinion not to follow it! They turn from learning and seeking guidance into competition and arguing, then to objection and insisting on their own views, then to judging the others and destroying them. Some may end with deifying themselves by presenting their own views as if such views were a doctrine that should be accepted without argument or objection, otherwise they rise against whoever objects. Sometimes a person of this type may impose his own opinion and accuse any opposing one as obstinate and disobedient! Such a minister ought to take heed of himself.
Many other ministers become more nervous when they grow in the ministry! They keep rebuking and blaming the others. They are continually angry and cannot endure the faults of the others, but warn them harshly in a hurting way, without respecting their feelings. They keep judging the others, so they lose their meekness and humbleness. Their cheerful image and good dealings with the others will no more exist. Some of those are always shouting and giving orders and appearing with a spirit of authority! Those need to take heed to themselves. The church laws require that a bishop be not easily revoked but be slow to anger. This also applies to priests, deacons and ministers.
How to take heed to yourself. Keep always in mind your eternal life, which you cannot attain except by purity of heart and deep attachment to God. If you lose yourself you will lose everything, and if you win it you will win everything.2. If you take heed to yourself you also will take heed to the doctrine, because you yourself is the lesson and the living example and model. The parents are the first example to their children, the godly wife to her husband, the ministers or the instructors to their spiritual children and pupils. They learn from their life more than from their words.3. Sanctify your life to the Lord so that your ministry may be fruitful and successful for you cannot give unless you first get filled. Put before you the words of the Lord, though different in your case: For their sake I sanctify Myself that they may be sanctified in the truth. Do not put in your mind that you need to be filled so that you may flow over the others, but that you may enjoy this spiritual fullness. Be filled with love and with the Spirit, for love is your life and the Spirit sanctifies you, with knowledge in order that your eyes, mind and heart may be enlightened. The knowledge of God is the deepest knowledge that feeds the spirit with spiritual joy on the earth and in eternity (Jn 17: 3). Read for your own spirituality not for preparing a lesson to benefit the others! 5. Take heed to your thoughts and God's place in them. See where your thoughts do wander, why, and what emotions hide behind them. The father priest in the Mass asks the congregation, 'where are your hearts?' They say, 'they are with the Lord.' Let that answer be true, and let your mind always be awake, and say to yourself, "I lay down and slept; I awoke" (Ps 3: 5) "I wake up early."(Ps 6) 6. Take heed to your behavior and dealings with the others. Examine yourself and do not give yourself excuses but remember the words of St. Makarius the Great: 'Judge yourself, brother, before they judge you.' 7. Take heed to your goals and your means. Are they worldly? Is your self your only aim, or God is the only aim? Is money, fame, wealth, authority, grandeur, luxury, or mere knowledge your aim? Are your means spiritual or wrong and deceitful? 8.  See whether your life is fleshly, spiritual or social, whether your virtues are mere social virtues without spirit, how far you partake of the means of grace. 9.  See your faults, and find a remedy for them. A spiritual person may fall, but soon rises and regrets and takes care afterwards. Be careful lest your faults turn into habits and nature in you, which you will try to justify.10.  See also how far is your spiritual growth, because spiritual life is a voyage toward perfection through which a person progresses all the time until he attains the divine image in which he was created (Gen 1: 27). See then where you are; are you progressing, standing still, or going back? See also the kind of growth and its extent. Is it mere formality, increasing of prayers without depth, understanding, spirit, meditation, fervency, faith, awe, or humbleness? Teaching and ministry are not mere formalities or positions, but rather love transferred from one heart to the other, and faith handed down from one generation to another. Religion is an example given, and it is God's kingdom spreading and growing. It is holy zeal kindled in the heart and kindling other hearts. A spiritual minister is a person attached to God who is love, so he is filled with love towards God and people.
As for the doctrine, it should be sound, as St. Paul said to his disciple Titus, "Speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine." (Tit 2:1) Do not teach your own views, or distorted teaching, or mere doctrines of your invention, for the variety of doctrines often led to heresies.  It should be sound teaching and rich teaching that satisfies the listeners. It also should be suitable to the listeners' levels, pure and void of insults and reproach. When anybody hears such teaching, he feels it is the word of the Spirit on your mouth. It should be biblical teaching based on the word of God which is able to make you wise for salvation (2 Tim 3: 15), and apostolic teaching based on the Tradition received from the Fathers (2 Tim 2: 2). Do not rely on your thoughts, for the Scripture says, "Lean not on your own understanding." (Prov 3: 5). Let your teaching be complete and do not use half facts or a sole verse, for the whole Scripture is an integral teaching. Let your teaching be effective and attractive to your listeners, that your disciples may rejoice at it as one who finds great treasure (Ps 119: 162), and their spirit absorb it with joy and satisfaction.
<P>   While you take heed to yourself you will save yourself, for you also need to learn like the others. The holy Virgin said, "My spirit rejoiced in God my Savior." (Lk 1: 47) how much rather you should say so. Do not think that your mission is working for the salvation of the others, but for your own salvation as well, for St. Paul the apostle says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil 2: 12) St. Peter likewise says, "Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear." (1 Pet 1: 17) This is true for unless you are proceeding on the way of salvation with strictness you will not be able to lead the others or teach them to be strict. They will imitate your life as St. Timothy did following the doctrine and manner of life of St. Paul (2 Tim 3: 10, 11). This is how every minister should do, and continually, because some start their ministry carefully but slackened afterwards and their influence decreased. You can do so by the divine love, which you can transfer to the others also.
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