THE MARKS OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER
Dr. Albert N. Martin
Delivered at the Toronto Baptist Seminary Jubilee Graduation held in Jarvis Street Baptist Church. April 29, 1977*
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.
May I urge you, in the few minutes that lie before us, as we attempt to consider the mind of God in the first few verses of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, to gird up the loins of your mind, to stir up all of your God-given faculties of concentration, and seek to rivet your attention upon this portion of the Word of God which I am convinced has peculiar relevance to those of you who have come on such an occasion as this.
Looking at the first five verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 2, I wish to speak to you on the basic theme, “The Marks of a Faithful Minister” and I direct these remarks particularly to you young men who will mark this night a milestone in your own preparation for the work of the ministry – not the completion of that work- for God will be continually preparing you, and God will never cease preparing you until He takes you home to Himself. But this is a very critical time, a time when it is essential that you get your eyes fixed upon some very clear Biblical principles, and by the grace of God, submit yourselves to those principles, and feel their weight and influence throughout all of your days. I would primarily direct my remarks to you men, but I would also direct the remarks to those of you who attend upon a Gospel ministry, who by your prayers and by your gifts and by the influence you often are called upon to exert in the calling of a pastor, in the commending of men for the work of the ministry, and who ought to have a very clear understanding of what constitutes the marks of a true and a faithful minister. So though the remarks have particular relevance to those who are set apart for the work of the ministry, by no means are those remarks exclusively applicable to them.
I have chosen this passage because I know of no other passage in all of the Word of God which more succinctly and yet more comprehen-sively brings together all of the fundamental lines of Biblical truth touching this great theme, “The Marks of a Faithful Minister.” Furthermore, I have chosen this passage because the divisions are very naturally formed by the verse divisions. If all passages broke down as neatly as this one does and as naturally, preaching would be far more a delight than a labour as it often is. This passage in many ways is like a Swiss army knife. You may not call them that here in Canada. It is one of those knives that has a couple of cutting blades. It has another blade that serves as a screwdriver, another as a corkscrew, another one as an awl, another one as a can-opener. When you have that little instrument with you, if you are camping or out on a hike somewhere, it is a wonderful companion. Well, this passage is similar to that. It is a ruler by which we can measure ourselves if we are ministers. It is a mirror in which we can see reflected what we really are. It is a road map to mark out the path that we ought to tread. It can be a goad to prod us on. It can be a rod of correction to reprove us. This passage can be all of those things to us, and I trust it will become for many of us a lifetime companion and if not that, at least something which under the blessing of the Spirit of God will be so written upon our hearts that it will be brought to our remembrance again and again and again.
First of all then, look at the passage, as we consider it very briefly. With some of the verses I shall give you only some of the leading thoughts and trust you to work out the implications at your leisure. We see in the statement of the Apostle Paul what I am calling THE SELF-CONSCIOUS ROLE OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.” The Apostle was very self-conscious of his God-given role as a minister of the Gospel, and in this passage he gives us this expression of that self-consciousness. He gives it to us, first of all negatively and then positively. He says, “When I came to you, (I) came not” – and then we have two negatives – “with excellency of speech or of wisdom . . .” In other words, the Apostle says, “I did not come in the role of an orator (excellency of speech) nor in the role of a philosopher (of wisdom).” The Apostle was very conscious that his calling was not the calling of a public orator. You see, the orator is concerned with playing with words in such a way as to have people become the sounding board for his own praise. An auditory, a group of people, exists for him, and he uses words to the end that he may either manipulate the people to his own carnal ends or so speak as to play a pleasant tune upon the ears of men that that pleasant tune will elicit a response feeding his own ego and his own pride. And the Apostle Paul says, “When I came to you, I did not come in the role of an orator. Furthermore (he says) I did not come to you in the role of a philosopher.”
The philosopher is that man who assumes that in his mind is the power to penetrate the mysteries of life. So the philosopher sits upon his stump, or sits surrounded by all of his weighty tomes in his place of seclusion, and he strokes his scraggly beard and wrinkles up his learned brow. Then he picks up pen and tells the poor unfortunate people who cannot penetrate life’s mysteries all of his wonderful discoveries. You see, the philosopher is taken up with his own ideas about the great mysteries of life and feels that he has some obligation to bless humanity with his super insights. Now the Apostle Paul says, “When I came to you people at Corinth, I did not come in the role of an orator, playing with words to accomplish carnal ends, or simply to play a pleasant tune upon your ears in order to feed my own pride. Nor did I come in the role of a philosopher who was concerned with giving his opinions and his insights into the mysteries of life.” Rather, the Apostle says, “My self-conscious identity as a preacher was simply this: I declared unto you the testimony or the mystery of God.”
Now there is nothing glamorous about being a witness, for a witness, you see, claims no originality, he claims no cleverness, he claims no profound insights. He simply says, “This is what I have seen; this is what I have heard.” The Apostle was very conscious that that was precisely his role as a minister of the Gospel. He was simply a witness to the testimony of God; that is, the testimony of which God Himself is the Author, and of which God Himself is the end.
Now may I direct a word of application to you men who will be assuming the awesome task of the work of the ministry. May God help you to have a self-conscious identity parallel to this of the Apostle Paul. If you are convinced that your task under God is to be that of an authoritative witness, that your great responsibility is to bear testimony to the truth of God, then you will never concern yourself about being thought brilliant. You will never be concerned about being clever. You will not be concerned as to whether or not people assess you as an impressive public speaker. Your great concern will be two-fold: to penetrate the mysteries of the mind of God, and then faithfully to declare what God has helped you to see and to hear with a mind and heart subject to the Word of God written. If our task is the task of a witness, then our great labour will be the labour of penetrating the mind of God in Holy Scripture, and that is the most unglamorous and arduous task in the slog of the ministry day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. There is nothing glamorous in tracing the etymology of words, tracking down the intricacies of grammar. There is nothing glamorous about seeking not to impose your thoughts upon the words of Scripture, but to penetrate the mind of God bound up in the words of Scripture. As God has been pleased to thrust me in the past ten years into a ministry particularly with pastors, literally now around the world, I believe I can speak out of experience of a broad exposure that perhaps the crowning sin of professional clergymen is the sin of laziness – laziness! – and starved, anaemic congregations are the witness are the monumental testimony of that wicked sin of laziness. The congregation can tell what the sermon will be no matter what the text because the preacher has been over that ground again and again and again. He is pushing back no new horizons in penetrating the mind of God as revealed in Holy Scripture. There are no new and subtle and precious nuances to his ministry. There is no deepening richness. Why? because he has forgotten that his true role is that of a witness, and he is to bear witness to the whole counsel of God, and that means he is to live his entire life to penetrating the substance of that counsel.
Not only will this self-conscious identity mean that the great concern in secret will be penetrating the mind of God as revealed in Scripture, but then when we actually stand before the people of God our great concern will be to open up the mind of God with simplicity and unadorned clarity. If God has given any of you any facility with words, be careful, lest they become your snare. I think one of the most wonderful criticisms I have ever had hurled at me is, “Why that is so simple that kids can understand it!” Hallelujah! For it is said of Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge, “The common people heard him gladly.” That is your role. That is my role. Not orator, not philosopher, but a witness – just a witness, to declare “Thus saith the Lord.” But you had better know the Lord has said it, and you do not know that unless you have done your homework. You do not know that He said it because you got a warm feeling when you read that particular passage. I have had sermons go down the drain that started out wonderfully with a warm feeling when I read a passage, but when I studied the text, I realized it just did not say what I thought it said when I got my warm feeling.
In verse 2 the Apostle sets before us THE COMPREHENSIVE THEME OF A FAITHFUL MINISTRY.
“For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This is a statement not of the constricted theme of a faithful minister, but the comprehensive theme of a faithful minister. Some have reasoned from this passage: “Well, you see, here is what happened. The Apostle Paul is at Athens and he tries to be a philosopher. So on Mars Hill, he philosophises.” That is ridiculous! He just gives a good dose of vigorous Biblical theism to these pagans. They must have that before they will ever understand the Gospel. He was a witness to who God is as Creator, and Sustainer, and Sovereign Lord of the universe, and he preached that. So this is not the result of his ‘failure at Athens”; and now he determines to preach the Gospel at Corinth. You see, the Apostle Paul was never governed in the substance of his message by apparent lack or presence of success. This is a present-day malady; the Apostle was not afflicted with it. Truth was determined by revelation not success. He did not have the mentality: “If it works, I will preach it; if it does not, I will try something else.” A witness does not do that. No, this was the Apostle’s heart, no matter where he went. His great and comprehensive theme is this: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The emphasis falls in two directions. His comprehensive theme was a setting forth of the glory and uniqueness of the person of the Lord Jesus, and the glory, uniqueness and sufficiency of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the Apostle’s great and comprehensive theme, and there was no aspect of truth that did not flow out of this theme and flow back into this theme. The Apostle Paul saw the Lord Jesus in the uniqueness of His person and in the sufficiency of His work as the crucified Lord of glory, as the great lodestone of all truth, as the Rome to which every road of truth led and out of which every road went to every dimension of life and experience. Here, at this point, it takes the most discipline to restrict oneself as to time, for what a theme for anyone who has beheld at least even the edges of His ways, who has beheld just a little of the glory inherent in His person, and in His work! May I simply underscore this principle by way of application.
When the Apostle says, “I determined not to know anything among you” he uses a word that is forensic in its nature. It has to do with a legal, and a conscious deliberate mental judgment: “I determined.” There was that sense of resoluteness. I would not be turned aside from this great theme: Christ Jesus in the uniqueness of His Person, as the One who is truly God, truly Man, One Person in the two natures forever, but particularly this Jesus who is the Son of God, Son of Man, ,not as Example, not as Teacher, not as perfect or exalted Man alone, but Jesus Christ and Him as crucified. And for the Apostle Paul to preach Christ crucified was to preach those sombre overtones of divine wrath against human sin. It was to proclaim Christ as Propitiation, the One who absorbed the full weight of divine wrath against sin, that that wrath might be turned away, and God might receive sinners with favour into His presence. To preach Christ as crucified is not simply to parrot the terminology: “Jesus died, Jesus died, Jesus died.” It is to do what the Apostle does: to open up the significance of that death. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us. For it is written. Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree.” It is to declare with the Apostle that the One who “knew no sin” was “made … sin for us … that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Do you catch something of the vigour of that terminology? Vicarious curse-bearing, the innocent suffering for the guilty, that there might be just grounds of imputed righteousness. How wonderfully vigorous and red-blooded is that Biblical language! You men going into the ministry, do not exchange that for the saccharin terms that are filled with human sentiment about “sweet Jesus” and having a “Jesus trip” and all this other prostitution of the sacred Biblical concepts: propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, vicarious curse-bearing, imputed righteousness. Those are not theological abstractions! That is the sum and substance of the Gospel. That is the comprehensive theme. We proclaim it to sinners, and you know it is that message reiterated in the power of the Spirit which is the main instrument of the believer’s growth. We do not grow beyond the cross, as though that is elementary, and having mastered that, we go on to something else – oh no! It was no little saintling who said, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross.” You will grow in grace only so far as you grow in penetrating the mystery of the great exchange that occurred at Calvary and as you understand more and more of the wonder and the glory that the sinless One should, as the surety of His people, take upon Himself all of their liabilities and debts, and in the pressure of that love, discharge them all. Dear Christians, it is as we grow, penetrating more and more that wonderful heart of all mysteries, that our hearts shall burn with more and more love to Christ; and when our hearts burn with more and more love then the wheels of devotion turn with more and more alacrity. With more and more fervour and power we will press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold upon us.
There is no duty in the Word of God which is ever laid upon the people of God in the New Testament that is not traced back to the cross as the fundamental incentive. For instance – and I will just touch one or two to buttress this with Scripture – what theme could be more removed from the cross than the immorality of Corinth? Here were people who looked upon fornication as nothing more than a biological sneeze. Paul had to deal with that problem. How does he deal with it? He plants the cross right in the centre of fornication. He says, “What? know ye not that ye have been purchased with a price? Your body belongs to the One who purchased it.” He puts the cross right down in the midst of the problem of fornication. He is going to teach husbands how to treat their wives and wives how to react to their husbands. What does he do? He plants the cross right in the middle of the home: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” “Wives be subject unto your husbands as the church is subject to the heavenly bridegroom who has won it and wooed it at the purchase of blood.” The cross you see, is planted right in the middle of the most practical duties. That is what it means to be determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is the great comprehensive theme. Thank God it is one of the themes, the mystery of which we will be penetrating through all eternity.
Well, I will give you just the headings of what I hoped to say on the others, and leave you to work it out. Thirdly (verse 3), what is the inward attitude and disposition of this kind of a man, conscious of his role, that he is not orator or philosopher but witness, conscious that his great and comprehensive theme is Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Now THAT IS THE INWARD DISPOSITION WITHIN WHICH, AND IN THE CONTEXT OF WHICH, HE CARRIES OUT THIS MINISTRY? “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” Now this may have a specific historical reference. As you study Acts 18, Paul was in a literal state of fear at Corinth, and the Lord had to come and comfort him. But his little phrase “fear and trembling” is found several times in the New Testament. We are to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” It means, with the greatest concentration of all our faculties, but in a setting in which we realize on the one hand the magnitude of the task and on the other, the impotence of our own native abilities to perform it, and there is that true grace of humility and the absence of creature confidence, carnal swagger.
I shocked a young man two weeks ago when preaching over at the Atlantic Baptist College in Moncton, New Brunswick. It was the second morning I was there in ministry, and as I was going into the chapel, he said to me, “Well, Mr. Martin, are you all ready, ready to give it to us?” I looked him in the eye, and I said, “Young man, do you know that every single time is like the first time? Every single time is like the first time, and there comes that point three or four minutes before I must stand to speak when if I could I would run!” Why? Because I have begun to understand that the ingredients that make for true preaching, the operation of the Spirit upon the minds and hearts of the hearers, the operation of the Spirit upon the preacher’s mind and heart and tongue, are so wholly of God that you cannot bring them with you in your pocket and take them out because the church bell has rung and it is time to “do your thing.” The Apostle Paul knew that! He said, “Who is sufficient for these things?” He went on to state it even more bluntly, and he said, “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves.” There is nothing more disgusting in a Christian minister than the swagger of carnal confidence.
Wonder of wonders! This weakness and fear and trembling can be found in the context of the greatest boldness and authoritative proclamation. That is the wonderful mystery of what constitutes a faithful minister. Being weaned from all confidence in himself, he is told to trust his God to make it evident to men that there is a God, and that that God speaks through His written Word when someone who has no desire to be clever or to be original stands as a witness to tell men what God has said. That is the inward disposition that we must ever cultivate.
Then what should be the primary characteristic as to the preaching itself? (Verse four). Because he is not orator or philosopher, the primary characteristics evidence that. Therefore he says, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of men’s wisdom. You see, if I were an orator, I would use persuasive words. If I were a philosopher, they would be words that reflect man’s wisdom.” But he said, “No, because I am neither philosopher nor orator, but witness, GOD BORE WITNESS TO MY POSITION AS WITNESS. My speech and the thing preached were in a demonstration of which the Spirit is Author and, concerning which, power was the primary characteristic.” In other words, the Apostle said, “It was evident to you Corinthians, you were not dealing with this little Jew – you were dealing with his God! – for his God bore witness to that Word with power.”
Then finally, THE SELF-CONSCIOUS GOAL OF A FAITHFUL MINISTER -look at it in verse five – “that”, “in order that” – here is the calculated goal of all this – “In order that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” In other words, the Apostle says, “I fear lest men should simply respond to that which has its roots in what I am as a man, my persuasiveness, my cleverness.” “Oh, no,” he said, “/ want your faith to stand not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God”
Oh, how much could be said at this point where the Gospel has been made into a clever Madison Avenue safe technique where people can predict for every fifty contacts you will get one convert, where the whole approach to evangelism is nothing but programmed psychological response! Oh, the offence of the cross is either stripped away or so clouded and veiled that unregenerate men can respond to this stripped-down, anaemic, bloodless Gospel without an ounce of Holy Ghost power touching the heart, if we could measure it in terms of weights, whereas the Apostle says, “I feared that above all else.” That is why he held out Christ and Him crucified in all the flesh-withering declarative aspects of that Gospel.
Oh, I plead with you dear men going into the ministry that you accept this self-conscious goal as your goal. Now notice! He did not say, “I have no goal.” He said, “I want to see men believe.” It was not “Take it or leave it. I believe in the sovereignty of God. Hope it all works!” Oh no. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” “My little children of whom I travail in birth . . . till Christ be formed in you.” I am sure if someone said of McCheyne, “He preaches as if he is a-dyin’ to have ya converted” they would have said it of the Apostle Paul, when he could even with pen, without people even being in front of him, enter into that sympathetic interplay, when he could say, sitting alone in a jail, “I tell you now with tears” – I cannot believe that the man was a dry-eyed preacher. O no, this is no indifferentism. He says, “I want your faith to stand or to be in the power of God.” He longed to see men come to faith. But he would never manipulate the message, nor would he toy with the Divine method in order to bring men to what appeared to be faith. There is the difference. Do you see it? Yearn, pray for the ability to have a weeping heart and weeping eyes and to preach, if not with outstretched hands, with an outstretched heart. Let no one ever say, having heard you preach but once, “That man is indifferent to my eternal welfare.” Let them go out and say, “He is a madman!” Let them go out and say, “What in the world is the matter with him? He rants and raves like a fool!” I would far rather have that accusation than have anyone say, “That man preached as though my salvation was a matter of indifference to him.”
Oh dear men, never manipulate the message, never turn it into philosophy, never turn preaching into the “persuasive sales oratory,” calculated at getting the client to sign on the line so you can go home and show people what a good salesman you are. Your self-conscious goal should be that men’s faith should be in the power of God and not in the wisdom of men.
I trust this passage will be your companion. We have only skimmed the surface, but I promised to be reasonable. You have manifested a conscious effort to gird up the loins of your minds. May God the Holy Spirit write the truth of this portion upon our hearts!
My final word is one that I must give, for without it, it would be a denial of everything I have tried to say tonight. I would be a fool to think that everyone in this building tonight is vitally joined to Jesus Christ in the bonds of saving faith. There are men, women, boys and girls in this building, who are sitting under this ornate and beautiful roof- and there it is above you. You may not have been conscious of it. You may have looked up at it when you came in. You may look at it now while I point to it. But just as really as that roof has been over you every moment you have been in this building tonight, the wrath of Almighty God is a frightening canopy over the head of every unbeliever, for the Scripture says, “The wrath of God abideth on him that believeth not.” Some of you who have heard the testimonies and this talk about God and the Gospel, have let it run by you as a very interesting show. My friend, listen to me. These are the most vital issues to you, and I intreat you in the name of the God of heaven: if you do not know that you are in union with Jesus Christ, give yourself no rest until Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, seated upon a throne of power and might – is yours, for though you may live without Him now, what will it be to die without Him, and to face the judgment without Him? You will curse the day you were ever conceived, the day you were ever born! Oh, may God help you to be sober, to “seek the Lord while he may be found, (to) call upon him while he is near.” May God grant that He shall take that simple word addressed to your conscience and make it effectual to your salvation.
And as for you dear men going out into the ministry, if I could, I would turn you in another direction, because if God is going to make you useful. He is going to bring you through the fire, He is going to give you the trials and the agonies of a whole congregation so that you will be able to minister to the deepest needs of their hearts. Remember one thing: the Christ who has laid His hand upon you is able to make you all that His Word says you must be. Feed upon Him. Feed much upon your blessed Saviour, and may God make you faithful until we stand before Him and fall at the feet of the Lamb, and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” Amen.