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Paul's Call to the Ministry

By: Pastor Ricky Kurth

 

Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Berean Searchlight

 

Did you hear about the young Christian man who was wondering what to do with his life when he looked up and noticed that the clouds had formed the letters "G P C." He immediately interpreted this as a sign from God that he should "Go Preach Christ." He didn't want to be a pastor, but felt that the sign left him no choice. A few years later, when it didn't exactly work out for him in the ministry, he asked a friend how he could possibly have misinterpreted the sign. His friend replied by suggesting, "Maybe G P C meant Go Park Cars."

 

Unlike the young man in this fictitious story, there was one man whom God called to the ministry in no uncertain terms. The Apostle Paul would later use the word "apprehended" to describe how the Lord called him to the ministry (Philippians 3:12), and thirty years later he was still thankful for the call!

 

1 Timothy 1:12

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry

 

As regular Searchlight readers know, I am issuing a call to arms to men of God in the grace movement to step up and train for the ministry in the wake of the recent home-going of BBS president Pastor Paul M. Sadler. I'm basing this call on texts found in Paul's first epistle to a minister named Timothy. Perhaps these articles have you thinking about the ministry, but you've heard that a man must be "called to the ministry." To help you determine whether or not God has called you, let's consider the call the Lord issued to Paul, the first minister in "the church, which is His body" (Ephesians 1:22-23), a call for which he here thanked "Christ Jesus our Lord."

 

Why Thank the Lord?

 

But before we consider the apostle's call, his words here raise a question we are often asked here at Berean Bible Society: "Is it okay to pray to Jesus?" When asked this question, I always point to Ephesians 5:20, where Paul says we should be "giving thanks always for all things unto God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Since all of our prayers should include thanksgiving, this verse would seem to indicate that we should pray to the Father in the name of the Son.

 

But if Paul would have us thank God the Father "for all things," why did he himself thank God the Son when it came to the one particular thing of his call to the ministry? I believe this was Paul's way of letting us know that the day the Lord called him, He did something for him that He doesn't do to call men to the ministry today. In the dispensation of grace, God is not calling men with miraculous signs or visions such as He used to call Paul (Acts 26:19).

 

Whenever a man asks me, "How do I know if I'm called to the ministry?" I always respond by directing him to Paul's words in 1 Timothy 3:1. There the apostle mentions a "desire" to be a pastor as the first and foremost requirement in a list of qualifications for the ministry. If you are wondering if God can use you in the pastorate, don't wait for a vision or a sign in the clouds. If you have the desire to be a pastor, consider yourself called, for most men don't have that desire. That's the only kind of call a man can't possibly misinterpret.

 

A group of preachers was once asked if they believed God speaks only through His word in the present dispensation, and they all agreed that this was so. They were then asked about their respective calls to the ministry, and most of them had to backpedal, for they all remembered feeling called to the ministry in a tangible, powerful, extra-biblical way.

 

But I would submit to you that each of these pastors was called to the ministry when God created a desire in him for the pastorate using His Word. As they read the Scriptures and realized that the lost need to hear the gospel, and that God's saints need to be edified in the faith, the Word of God worked in their hearts so powerfully that they felt it physically.

 

But is that how the Lord called Paul to the ministry? Was he studying the Scriptures one day only to find himself overwhelmed by the desire to see sinners trust the Lord Jesus as their Savior and grow in grace? No! Paul was living in rebellion against the Word of God that was being preached by the twelve when God singled him out and called him into His service. That's what made his call to the ministry unique, and Paul thanked God the Son in this unique way to point this out.

 

The Enablement of Grace

 

But how did Christ Jesus the Lord "enable" Paul to be a minister? Well, that word means to make someone able to do something, to supply an individual with the ability to perform a given task. And while the Lord called Paul to the ministry in a unique way, He enabled the apostle to serve Him in the same way He enables us. When God made Paul and his associates "able ministers of the new testament" (2 Corinthians 3:6), it wasn't by any miraculous enabling. He rather empowered His apostle to serve Him in the ministry by giving him such an easy message to minister.

 

Sometimes manufacturers will recruit salesmen by saying, "You're going to make gobs of money with very little effort because this product sells itself!" But for a product to truly sell itself it has to be an astounding product that is ridiculously low priced. Well, both of those things are true of the new covenant of which God has made us able ministers!

 

First, it is a "product" of grace, the most astounding product of all time! A quick review of the terms of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 will reveal all the things God promised to do for His people asking nothing in return. Well, God has a word for this kind of thing; He calls it grace, and it is now available to all men everywhere at a ridiculously low price it is absolutely free (Romans 3:24; 5:15-18).

 

That's how the Lord enabled Paul to serve Him in the ministry, and that's how He enables men to serve Him today! If you are praying about getting into the ministry, but don't think much of your ability, read what Paul said right before he spoke of how God enabled him:

 

2 Corinthians 3:5-6

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament

 

If you aspire to become a minister of the gospel of the grace of God, you are sufficient to proclaim the riches of His grace as Paul was, for God has given you the same astonishing message of grace that He gave Paul so many years ago.

 

The Lord is Counting on You

 

But first you have to be counted faithful, as we learn when Paul said, "Christ Jesus our Lord" "counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry" (1 Timothy 1:12). But this begs a question. Remember, the Lord put Paul into the ministry moments after saving him, saying,

 

Acts 26:16-17

I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister delivering thee from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee

 

The question is, how was the Lord able to count Paul faithful in the scant few minutes between saving hi and making him His minister to the Gentiles? How did He count him faithful before he had a chance to show how faithful he would be?

 

Well, something similar happened when Paul and his entourage entered Philippi and encountered a women's prayer meeting (Acts 16:12-13).

 

Acts 16:14-15

And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. [15] And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

 

Here we have the same kind of thing. Paul had just met Lydia. How was he able to evaluate her faithfulness so quickly? Well, notice that she attended to the things spoken by Paul. That word means to listen to, to pay attention to someone. It also has the idea of responding, as when we read,

 

Psalm 66:19

God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.

 

How did the psalmist know that God attended to his prayer? He must have responded to it by answering his prayer! So when Paul says that Lydia attended to the words spoken by Paul, it means she responded to his words. And on the basis of her response, he judged her to be faithful enough to host him and his entourage, even though he had just met her and God had just saved her from her sins.

 

And the same thing happened the day Paul was saved. When the Lord told Saul "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest," he responded by saying "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:5-6). When the Lord heard Paul attend unto His words with a response like that, He was able to count him faithful and put him into the ministry. That is, when Saul showed he was willing to do a complete '180' and turn from being a persecutor to one of the persecuted, that told the Lord all He needed to know about how faithful Paul would be.

 

And if you as a man of God have spoken those same words, "Lord what with thou have me to do?" then that tells the Lord all He needs to know about you. He is more than willing to count you faithful once He hears you attend into His Word with a response like that. All that remains is for you to get some solid ministry training so you can convince a local grace assembly that you can be counted faithful, and they will be more than happy to ordain you to the ministry.

 

The Basis for Paul's Charge

 

Paul began this epistle by charging Timothy to charge others "that they teach no other doctrine" than Pauline doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). The apostle then went on in this passage to remind this young pastor of the basis for this charge:

 

1 Timothy 1:18

This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;

 

Paul was obviously speaking here of a time when the gift of prophecy was still in operation. Based on the prophecies that were made on Timothy, most likely at his ordination, Paul issued this charge to the young man "according to" those prophecies. This suggests that the prophets predicted that Timothy would be a leader of men, someone who could be charged with charging others.

 

Since the prophets spoke for God, this shows that God saw something in Timothy that others probably did not. Remember, we know that Timothy was timid by nature, since Paul had to instruct the Corinthians not to intimidate him (1 Corinthians 16:10). So it is likely that no one else saw leadership potential in Timothy, but based on what God prompted His prophets to say about him, God did!

 

This reminds us of what happened when God told Samuel to go anoint a king for Israel among the sons of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:1). When Jesse's eldest son came before Samuel "he looked on Eliab and said, Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him" (1 Samuel 16:6).

 

1 Samuel 16:7

But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

 

Eliab was evidently tall and handsome, the kinds of things men look for when choosing a leader but not God! When Hod showed a similar disinterest in the rest of Jesse's sons,

 

1 Samuel 16:11

And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.

 

While Jesse many not have known that Samuel was looking for Israel's next king among his sons, it is clear that he saw nothing in his youngest boy that prompted him to even present David to Samuel when the prophet invited "Jesse and his sons" to come to sacrifice (1 Samuel 16:5). But God saw potential in David that evidently not even his father saw.

 

And He likewise saw potential in Timothy that no one else was likely to see. No one looking at Timothy could picture him charging men, but God did! Accordingly, Paul committed this charge to Timothy, as he said, "according to the prophecies which went before thee" (1 Timothy 1:18).

 

The Basis for Timothy's Courage

 

But God not only intended for those prophecies to persuade Paul to charge Timothy, He also intended for Timothy to draw courage from those prophecies, that "by them" he might "war a good warfare." This suggest that God knew that even Timothy didn't see anything in himself that would convince him he could be a man who could charge others. So He caused the prophets to predict otherwise, knowing how the memory of his ordination would serve to remind Timothy of the confidence that God had in his ability to be a leader of men.

 

If you're not sure how that would work, consider the prophecy that went before on Jacob's son Judah:

 

Genesis 49:1

And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.

 

Genesis 49:8

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.

 

If you were a member of the tribe of Judah, do you think this prophecy might give you the courage you might lack to fight the Lord's battles? It seems that at least one member of the tribe of Judah drew courage from it, for after God gave David victory over his enemies, he quoted that prophecy praying, "Thou has also given me the necks of mine enemies" (2 Samuel 22:41). This suggests he was familiar with Jacob's prediction about his tribe and had used it to bolster his courage.

 

Similarly, Timothy could draw courage from the prophecies that God made on him. He may have thought, "I don't think I have it in me to charge men, but evidently God thinks I do, and He knows me better than I know myself!

 

Of course, Timothy still had to decide to live up to those prophecies, but we see evidence that he did so when Paul later told him,

 

1 Timothy 6:12

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

 

This means that when Timothy first heard the predictions that he would fight a good fight and war a good warfare, he might have "gulped," he might have quivered, but he manned up, and before all men who had gathered to witness the confirmation of his call to the ministry, he professed, "Yes, I'll fight the good fight of the faith."

 

The Basis for Your Courage

 

Now how about you, man of God? Are you willing to answer God's call? If you're thinking, "But there aren't any prophecies about me warring a good warfare," you're right, there aren't. But that doesn't mean there's no place in God's Word to which you can look to draw courage for the conflict. Pastors aren't the only ones whom God expects to be soldiers of the cross. Paul told the Corinthians,

 

2 Corinthians 10:3-4

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: [4] (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

 

Hold on a minute! Surely Paul didn't expect that the carnal Corinthians would be able to war a good warfare! Or did he? In this same epistle, he told them, "I have confidence in you in all things" (2 Corinthians 7:16). No one looking at the Corinthians would expect that they could fight the good fight of faith but God did, and He inspired Paul to express that confidence. They probably thought themselves incapable of warring a good warfare, but they no doubt drew courage from Paul"s confidence in them.

 

So again, how about you, man of God? It doesn't matter what others think of your height, or your handsomeness, or your ability to lead the charge in proclaiming God's command to teach no other doctrine. And it doesn't matter what you yourself think of your limitations, for God knows you better than you know yourself. These very Corinthians testify to the truth of the old saying that says, "God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). If you have the "desire" to get into the ministry (1 Timothy 3:1), consider yourself called, get some training, and come out fighting! If not you, then who? If not now, then when?




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