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The Ministry (7)

Pope Shenouda III | 31 January 2010

The spiritual minister by whom God works
God works always for the salvation and restoration of mankind. He works through and by His spiritual ministers. Who then is such a spiritual minister by whom and through whom God works?
   It is that minister who cares about his own eternal life, not forgetting himself in the ministry or making of it the object of his focus for which he may sacrifice everything, even his spirituality. Whereas the Scripture teaches us that salvation of oneself should be in the first place, for 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) We notice here that St. Paul puts oneself and one's own salvation before teaching and salvation of the others. It is because a minister who cares about his own salvation shall be able to save the others as well.

   On the contrary, a minister who cares not about his own spirituality will not be able to present spirituality to the others, because he who lacks something cannot give it to others. Moreover, the ministry is an expression of the love one bears towards God and towards the others, and one who loses such love is no more a minister.

   Another fearful phrase we ought to put before us in the ministry is that said by St. Paul: "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) Strange indeed! Such a great saint who was caught up to the third heaven, into Paradise (2 Cor 12: 2, 4), who labored more abundantly than all the other apostles (1 Cor 15: 10), who worked signs, powers and wonders, such a saint says that he feared lest he become disqualified!! It means that there is fear lest any of those who preach others be rejected!! Caring about one's own salvation therefore is very important, and is requested by the Lord, as He said in His messages to the angels of the seven churches in Asia. How amazing are the Lord's words to the angel of the church in Sardis: "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful … repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and will not know what hour I will come upon you"! (Rev 3: 1- 3) and to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans, the Lord said, "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." (Rev 3: 16) and to the angel of the church of Ephesus, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place – unless you repent." (Rev 2: 4, 5)

   So, if the Lord said this about those whom He called "angels" and "stars", and who were in His right hand (Rev 2: 1), what should we rather say about ourselves? Should we not be concerned about our own salvation?! This I say lest we fall in pride and think ourselves really ministers, or fall in vain glory, seeing that we have spiritual children or disciples, or have classes and a name in church, or are counted among the ministers or preachers!! Let us always remember the words of St. Paul: "Lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."

   If the great Paul needed strictness and cautiousness, and needed to discipline his body and bring it into subjection, how much rather we need it!
   Therefore a minister is in need for deep humbleness of heart so as not to fall in pride and think himself a great person. Believe me, brothers, I feel greatly astonished when I meditate on a great saint like Peter the Apostle who was one of the three distinguished apostles who were in the Lord's company in His private meetings, who were described by St. Paul as "Pillars of the church" (Gal 2: 9), when the Lord says to him, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail." (Lk 22" 32) How serious are these words from the Lord! It would have been better if He had said, 'that your faith should not become weak'. But it is a lesson to us that we may watch and be on our guard, for sin is said to have cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by it were strong men (Prov 7: 26).

   A spiritual minister ought to be on his guard, not only against small sins or unintentional faults, but also against the uncleanness that fight the beginners!! And though such a minister grows in spirituality he continues to consider himself a beginner not a minister teaching the others.

   St. Arsanius who taught the kings' children and was known for his silence, prayers, tears and love of solitude, said about himself, 'I have not yet started. Grant me the ability, O Lord, to start.' Would that we take this saint as an example for our ministry!

   A spiritual minister does not only consider himself a beginner in ministry, but also in spirituality as a whole. He considers the lesson he delivers is addressed to his own self before being addressed to the others. When he preaches he considers the words meant to him before the others, rather than consider himself preaching the others words that turn into life to them. He prays that God may give them His grace to benefit from his words or from the grace God gives them. He prays that God may give them something through him, not from him. He mixes his lesson with prayer, so that the Lord speaks and he listens among his disciples!

   A spiritual minister never considers himself has become a senior or a leader, for he puts before his eyes continually the Lord's words: "Without Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15: 5)
   He has to receive that he may give, and say to the Lord: 'I know nothing, O Lord, they have taken me and made me a minister, not knowing my shortcomings and weaknesses. You alone know, Lord, that I have not attained the level of being an example for the others to benefit from. I do not fulfill the commandments which I should say to the others. I fear that such words apply to me: "Physician, heal yourself!" (Lk 4: 23)

   A spiritual minister meets with God before meeting with those whom he will serve.
   He says to Him, 'Do not prevent Your grace, O Lord, from those because of my weaknesses and personal faults or because I am far from Your Holy Spirit! What is their guilt?! Not for my sake You give them, but for Your love, because You are their Father who care about their eternal life. For their need give them through me or through anyone else, no matter who. Work within their heart when I speak to them, or even without me speaking. Let my ministry to them be a prayer, if not life, for I have no life to give them as an example, or a prayer to give them power. Do work in them for the love You have for them. I have no knowledge to present to them, and even if I have, knowledge alone is not sufficient to bring salvation. Our mother Eve knew the commandment, but she fell (Gen 3: 2- 6). If ministry were mere words, how easy are words, but what avails is the spirit that is in the words, for the Lord says, "The words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (Jn 6: 63) What avails is the Spirit that impacts, gives the power to work. A word alone does not save if it is from us, but if from the Lord, "The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit." (Heb 4: 12)

   Our mission as ministers is to receive a word from God and give to the people, not to give them from our emptiness. We receive from Him fullness and flow with it on them, as the Scripture says the beautiful words, "Of His fullness we have all received." (Jn 1: 16)

   A spiritual minister is not a mere horn issuing a sound, but a spiritual life transferred to the others.
   The students receive and absorb from the life of the teacher the way of dealing and behavior. The scribes and the Pharisees sat in Moses' seat (Mt 23: 2). People were astonished at the teaching of the Lord Christ, for He taught as one having authority (Mk 1: 22). His words had influence, power and authority. They were another type which they had never heard. When He spoke about partaking of His flesh and blood, some of them were bewildered and left Him. So, He said to His disciples, "Do you also want to go away?" But Peter said to Him, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (Jn 6: 68) What beautiful words! This is the required from the minister. This reminds us of the words of the angel to Cornelius about Peter the Apostle, "who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved." (Acts 11: 14) It is the difference between one minister and the other: one says words that have influence and power, and the other not.

   A spiritual ministers utters words by which the others may be saved and their life changed, by which they may feel cut to the heart like the Jews who listened to the sermon of Peter (Acts 2: 37). And when they feel cut to the heart, it will be hard for them to kick against the goads (Acts 9: 5). Even when they resist the word they will return to it, for there are goads in their hearts reminding them of it. Therefore the Lord said about His own word, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isa 55: 11) Indeed, the word of God never returns void, even if it did not bring forth fruit immediately. Believe me, even the word which the Lord said to Judas Iscariot did not return void, but it made Judas repent and return the money he had received, and said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." (Mt 27: 4) The problem with him was that he fell in despair because of the remorse he felt, and he hung himself.

   A spiritual minister should only say the word of God, and to receive it from God he should have a life steadfast in Him.
   He should have such a relationship with God that may enable him to receive from Him and to have familiarity with Him by which he can say to Him, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!" (Gen 32: 26) Or, 'I will not let You go unless You give what I can give to those!'  Such is the spiritual ministry in which God works, which are not mere words read in a book and repeated without any impact. The Lord commanded His disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high (Lk 24: 49). Spiritual ministry needs such power, the power of God that works within us by His Holy Spirit.
   This subject shall be continued in the following weeks – God willing.

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