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MBTS Fall 2016 Convocation Sermon: “Take Heed To the Ministry” (Colossians 4:17)

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here in this hour of worship and for choosing to be a part of this family; both as faculty, staff, student, trustee, and all that comprises who Midwestern Seminary is. I want to invite you this morning, as we frame the semester before us and think through where we are in our stage of life and ministry here, to Colossians 4:17. Frankly, this morning’s charge is a little different than what I typically do. I am not going to work through a longer passage of Scripture, rather, we are going to look at one verse in particular.  This verse will be a charge to the entire seminary community.

This summer, while reading my Bible and thinking and praying through what the Lord would have me say on this special day, I stumbled across, in the Lord’s providence, a verse that has never struck me as it did on that occasion, even though I have read the book of Colossians countless times. That verse is Colossians 4:17. It is a small verse, relatively obscure, that punches well above its weight: “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfil it.’”

This verse introduces us to an individual of whom we know precious little about. I will confess on the front end that it is a risky endeavor to preach a sermon on a passage, and in particular on a person, that we know so little about. In fact, Archippus is mentioned in only two places: here briefly, and in Philemon two. The import of the passage today is not the person, but the charge, which Paul gives through this church to this man.

In fact, Archippus reminds me of the story of Spurgeon’s conversion. Many of us here know it. After all, we are an institution that prizes our collection of his books and artifacts. You might recall this story. It was January of 1850, Charles Spurgeon was an adolescent at the age of 15, weighed down by sin, the guilt of it, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Seeking relief, he struck out on Sunday morning to go to church, but instead he was swept up in a violent snow storm that diverted him to a side street where, for shelter, Spurgeon ducked into a primitive Methodist chapel off Artillery Street in Colchester. The church was tiny in size, but that day the crowd was even smaller with only a handful in attendance. In fact, the scheduled preacher of the hour could not make it either, so an untrained, ineloquent layman took to the pulpit to preach because a few folks were there to worship. He read his text, Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” The layman was not much of a preacher. In fact, he was so ill-equipped he did not know what to do. So he simply kept reading and repeating the text for the lion’s share of his sermon. In Spurgeon’s autobiography he recounted this, “The preacher did not have much to say, and thanks be to God. For that compelled him to keep on repeating his text again and again. Then stopping, he pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery, and he said, that young man there looks very miserable.” Which I take as license to call out congregants who look the same as I preach. Then he shouted, “Young man, look, look, look now, look to Jesus.” In that instance, Spurgeon testifies that he was converted. His conversion is one of the greatest conversion stories ever told, but that layman is lost to church history. We know nothing about him; not even his name. All we know is that he, in his own untrained ineloquent way, called on the 15-year-old Spurgeon to look to Jesus. If you measure a sermon by its results, then it might be one of the greatest sermons ever preached because it resulted in the conversion of one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. The name of the preacher is lost to us. Permanently anonymous is he. He is a man of whom we know so little, yet from whom we have benefited so much.

In a similar sense, as I look at and consider verse 17 of chapter 4, I feel the same way about Archippus. We know so precious little about this man, but he speaks so very loudly to us. Rather, Paul, speaking to Archippus through the church and the believers at Colossae, speaks through him to us. What I want to do this morning in the minutes that remain is walk through this one verse and zero-in on every word, every phrase, and bring this Pauline charge to bear on us with seven exhortations from this one verse.

Exhortation number one for us today is to understand our calling to ministry as being through and to the church. In a sense, to hear me say that is unsurprising given the identity of this institution and the way I have sought to lead us under God, to be an institution given to the local church, for the church. However, as I read this verse, I was struck by how even Paul delivers this charge. Paul on occasion does speak personally to individuals and gives them a direct, person-to-person charge. Timothy and Titus are examples. Here, notice Paul’s charge is not spoken directly to Archippus. It is spoken to the church, for them to say to Archippus. It is for the church to hold him accountable, to encourage him, and to instruct him. This is a subtle but key point in this text, and a subtle but key point for each one of us this morning. It will frame your goals in ministry, your outlook for ministry, your passion in ministry, the accountability structures you have in ministry, and the stewardship you feel day-to-day as you serve in ministry.

Students, do you understand your calling to ministry as being one marked for accountability to the church? I want to especially encourage our students at this point not to think too microscopically about your calling. This passage will lead us, and later it will lead me, to talk about the specificity of our calling. Let me remind you especially as you are in the age of preparation: do not assume that once a youth minister, always a youth minister; or once a missionary, always a missionary. Think of your calling, more comprehensively, as being a calling to the church. Be prepared to serve the church while you are here, understanding that who knows where and what God may call you to do in the church in the years and decades that come. Unapologetically, that is one reason why we push the M.Div. degree here, because it contains the full toolkit to prepare students for ministry regardless of what God calls them to do in the local church. Seek the full complement of ministry training while you are here. These years are but a short period of time to give for three decades of ministry. Train well and understand your calling and your accountability is to the church.

Notice the second phrase here. It comes to us with the second exhortation. Guard your ministry. Paul says, “Take heed.” What is he saying? He is saying, “Give attention to, be sober about, think clearly upon, grasp firmly the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” Paul, if you read his letters, uses charges and admonitions that show up recurrently throughout the New Testament. He always exudes this sort of seriousness about the gospel and that is a good thing. Some of his charges go something like this: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman rightly dividing the word of truth.” “Kindle afresh the gift of God bestowed on you by the presbytery.” “Fulfill your ministry.” “Guard what has been entrusted to you.” This calling to take heed, to guard your ministry, first and foremost is an inward reality. This means to guard your character, to guard your heart, to build structures of accountability within your life; healthy barriers and structures to keep you and to help guard you from sin. Even within the deepest recesses of our heart, this is often done with Christlikeness. In the guarding of our character, there is godliness and piety, but listen closely, there is also sanctified common sense. In other words, you ought not have to spend your time and energy praying out of certain temptations if you use common sense on the front end not to put yourself in situations that might be tempting. I am reminded of I Timothy 3:1-7, where Paul gives the qualifications for ministry. If you read that list, what is remarkable about the list is that it is relatively unremarkable. It is basically “how to live the Christian life with a type of character that Christians should exhibit, and that Christian ministers especially should exhibit.” Guarding our character is key. This is a call not just to students, but to every man and women within the sound of my voice. Take heed to guard your ministry.

This reminds me of Billy Graham’s famous “Modesto Manifesto.” Some of you have read of it or heard of it. We all in the room today are at least somewhat familiar with Billy Graham, who is now approaching the age of 100. No name in the 20th century was more associated with gospel ministry than Billy Graham. He was a titanic figure, ubiquitous in American life for over a half century. He preached the gospel to millions, was confidant to ten U.S. presidents, and the face of American Evangelicalism. Though his political associations and evangelistic methodologies and ministerial ecumenism drew criticism along the way, he remained a cultural and ecclesiastical icon, and is, though diminished due to his age, to this day. If you think about it, what is most impressive about Graham is that for having a public ministry that has spanned seven decades, he was remarkably scandal free. Televangelists came and went due to sex scandals; prosperity preachers came and went due to financial ones, but Graham proved above reproach. He errored on the moral safe side, and as a young man, he pledged himself to the Modesto Manifesto. The year was 1948. Graham’s ministry was beginning to explode and was drawing national prominence. Meeting in a hotel room in Modesto, California, Graham and his senior evangelistic associates drafted a covenant with which they would minister with utmost integrity. The Modesto Manifesto stipulated ministry conviction, financial integrity, and marital fidelity. As to the last, it stated that Graham would never be alone with a women other than his wife. Graham knew you might not have an affair if you are alone with a woman, but if you are not alone with a woman, then you cannot have an affair, or be accused of having one. Graham’s high road gave no foothold for the devil, and praise God. He has lived a public ministry that dominated the 20th century without invoking personal moral scandal or impugning the name of Christ and the church. To us I say, take heed. There is an enemy who is alive and well and is seeking to destroy your life, your marriage, your family, and your ministry. It is not one of many things he is up to, it is the primary thing he is up to; to thwart the church and to hinder the work of God.

There is a third expectation from this passage, and it is to focus on your ministry. “Take heed to the ministry.” The word here for ministry is “diakonia” from which we get the word, “deacon.” Sometimes it is used as general service in the New Testament, sometimes it is used for the diaconate type service, and other times it is used for Christian ministerial service. I believe that is the context here. Additionally, in Philemon two, Paul refers to Archippus as a fellow soldier, suggesting a ministerial partnership, a ministerial comradery. I take, “Take heed to the ministry” as a call to the ministry. That is spelled out in I Timothy 3 in accordance with the broader testimony of the New Testament.

What did Archippus do anyway? We just do not know. We know that he was obviously in ministry. He was qualified as a minister and Paul thought of him as a minister. Paul even referred to him as a fellow soldier in ministerial service, but was he pastoring, discipling, or planting a local church? We do not know, but that is well enough. The point is not the specific ministry, but the calling to the ministry within the church, and the ministry that God has entrusted to you. Ministry ought to be so romantic to us, so heady for us, so passionate within us, that it invokes a drive, a purposefulness, a focus, an expectancy, a fruitfulness so that, as we will see in a moment, we may fulfill it. You still have time for fun things, that is, time for leisure and recreation. That is a part of living a balanced life, but for the minister, within our innermost being, the great goals of our life are fundamentally our ministry, our family, and the gospel.

I am reminded of this even as I think of the Olympics that we have enjoyed watching in recent weeks. We beheld the glory of Michael Phelps, the indignity of the Filipino dive team, and the other bloopers along the way. These are athletes who train their whole life for a sprint, a brief contest, or a swimming match. You do not just meander your way into accomplishing great things athletically, and you do not just meander your way into accomplishing great things for the kingdom either. In both domains, like virtually every other, you work your way into it. I will be candid; I have had to wrestle with this in my own life. Even since coming here and coming to the realization that given the fullness of the responsibilities, I will always lose to Dr. George in ping-pong because I do not have time to practice ping-pong, which, by the way, evidently he does. We will deal with that later. I will never be a good golfer because I get to play twice a year. It is maddening to go out a shoot a 103 or a 98 when thinking, “If I could play once a week, I could do better.” But you just have to come to grips with it. Honestly, I am being funny, but I am also being serious. Part of working through life and where you are is realizing, “If I am going to excel in ministry, and be faithful to my family, there are a whole lot of other things I just cannot excel at.” I will never catch a mountable bass or kill a trophy buck. You have to come to grips with that, but it is a sweet and good thing.

The fourth exhortation is to celebrate your ministry. “Take heed to the ministry which you have received.” No one signs up for the ministry. Maybe some have, in their own little way, drafted a resume and submitted it to a church, and they have, through their personal machination been able to land a ministry job. But in the sense that it really matters, as far as being called of God, no one signs up for that. It is granted, divinely bestowed from on high by the Lord. That ought not invoke arrogance, but it ought to appeal to us with a romantic-type attraction. It should have a sense of wonder to it. The fact that God is doing a great big grand work throughout this cosmos, and on this planet he has chosen to set apart a people for his church. By God’s grace he has chosen to set you apart for some service. He has enabled you to study at a place like this, with a faculty like this, and amenities like this, in this season of life. You are being invested in so that you can invest in others. Celebrate that. Understand that God initiated your call. It was not you, not man, not even the church. You have received it. You have desired it, but the Lord put that desire within you.

I wrestled with this as the Lord was calling me to ministry in college. I found myself wanting to do ministry, but given my previous experience as a kid in the church, my understanding of submitting to the ministry was a hyper-surrender-to-ministry spirituality. As a 12,13,15,17-year old, I viewed people surrendering to the ministry as though it was something you really did not want to do, but God so pressed you into it, that you relented and surrendered yourself to a life of misery. A lot of Evangelicals think of ministry that way. To me, I was in suspended animation as a 19, 20, 21-year-old who felt this call to ministry but did not know what I was supposed to feel toward ministry. I felt a desire for ministry, but I was not sure it was appropriate to desire the ministry. I began to read the Pastoral Epistles and kept tripping over a little phrase in I Timothy 3:1, “If any man aspires to the office of ministry, it is a noble work he desires to do.” I began to seek wise counsel and came to understand that the desire for the ministry was not only appropriate, it was indispensable to a call for ministry. It was a sign that God was desiring me for the ministry because he had put that desire within me for the ministry.  If that desire is there, rejoice in that. God has planted that within you. Steward that. Celebrate it. Live and minister fully in light of it.

Martin Lloyd-Jones, one of my preaching heroes, was one of the greatest preachers of the 21st century. He pastored, of course, Westminster Chapel in the heart of London for three decades. I have been able to tour his church there and take it all in. On my honeymoon, I read his two-volume biography by Iain Murray. That is what I did for a week. A few weeks back I got to preach, and I mentioned in the pulpit that on our honeymoon I read the two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. A man in the church came up to me and said, “I was wondering all along what you all were doing on your honeymoon and now I know.” It is a defining biography, and what made it so defining for me was that I saw a man who preached in and out while bombs were falling during the German air raids. All throughout the Battle of London, he kept preaching. As war, dramatic social transformation, and all the rest were taking place, he just kept preaching and preaching. Before he was a great preacher, he was a physician and not just any physician. As a young man he was already well known and prominent throughout England for his medical expertise and achievement. In fact, after earning his medical degree, he came under the tutelage of Lord Horder. Horder was a caregiver to His Majesty, King George V, and enjoyed one of the most promising medical careers in all of England. As he reflected on his call to ministry, Lloyd-Jones talked about the physician’s dilemma–giving up medicine to pursue preaching. It was as though he had his own war of desires. He said this about being a practicing physician: “We spend most of our time rendering people fit to go back to their sin. I want to heal souls. If a man has a diseased body and his soul is alright, he is alright to the end; but a man with a healthy body and a distressed soul is alright for 60 years or so, and then he has to face eternity in hell.” Lloyd-Jones said this about the desire to ministry, “I would say that the one, the only man, who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else. This call to preach is put upon him and it pressures him into it and he says, ‘I can do nothing else, I desire it, I must preach.’” Rejoice, celebrate in your ministry. If God has called you to the ministry, he has put that desire in you, and he expects faithful service from you.

Quickly, notice the fifth exhortation from this passage: remember your ultimate accountability in ministry. We have already seen the church’s part as Paul is calling on them to charge Archippus. At the same time, he calls them to remind him that he has received this ministry in the Lord. The origin of ministry was Christ himself. This is the fulfilment of Matthew 16, that he will build his church. This is the fulfilment of Ephesians 4, that Christ is calling out in this generation pastors, teachers, and evangelists for the church. This is how Christ does it. The promise to build the church in Matthew 16 is carried out by this phalanx of ministers and pastors that he promises to gift his church with. Generation after generation he fills those ranks in places like this and in lives like yours. He does so with accountability. If you think about it, there are two types of inheritance to receive. One is when your grandma leaves you $100,000, and you do with it as you please. The other is your grandmother puts $100,000 in a trust, and you do with it as she pleases. It is completely based on the stipulations she has assigned to that money. When you receive it, how you receive it, and what it may be spent upon. Think of your ministry as the latter. It is not just some grand gift from God for willy-nilly service, but it is a stewardship with stipulations and expectations associated to it. Your accountability is ultimately to the Lord.

Notice the sixth point with me. That is, I charge you to fulfill your ministry. Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, so that you may fulfill it. This “hina” clause means “so that” or “in order that” you may fulfill it. It is not a reproof or an admonition. It is an exhortation, and we ought to receive it as such.  Take note of the connection. As you take heed to the ministry the Lord has given you, you may fulfill it. To fulfill your calling is a serious matter. It is a precious stewardship. I sometimes talk to pastors who are older than I am, they may be 60, 65, or 70, and it sounds as though they understand their calling to ministry as something they are supposed to do until they have enough money at Guidestone that they do not have to do it anymore. That is a scary frame of mind to be in. I am not denigrating retirement. We all ought to make plans for the future, and God calls us to life transitions, but if ministry is something you look forward to tapping out of when you have stock-piled enough money, you understand neither calling, nor ministry, nor money. God does not call a man or woman to serve him until they have stockpiled enough money not to do it anymore. He calls a man or woman to serve him for life. That may take different forms, be in different circumstances with different levels of time commitment as we age. But let us not see ministry as something we get to tap out of when we have enough money stockpiled. Rather, let it be seen as something we continue to do in pursuit of faithfulness to the Lord until he calls us home.

Finally, number seven, the last exhortation: “that you may fulfill it.” Clarify your ministry. Continually clarify your ministry. Do not panic if you are here today and you do not understand clearly what God has called you to do. Seminary is a part of that clarifying experience. Moreover, do not think just because you know for certain God is calling you to pastor in the year 2016, that in the year 2025, your calling will be the same. He may call you to serve or support his church in another manner. At times it is a moving target. I was certain fifteen years ago I was called to pastor, so I pursued a degree for that, and did pastor, and have pastored. God moved and stirred in my heart new desires and opened new doors, ultimately bringing me here to serve. Be thinking continually about the “it” in your life. Are you called to pastor? Is it this church? Continue to think about the “it.” What is your “it?” Continue to clarify that with each season of life.  We, as a seminary, know our “it.” We are on a mission to fulfill our ministry to serve the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and to be the premier institution for the church on the planet. You, as one called to ministry, are on a mission to fulfill your ministry, or at least you better be. Refine what that “it” is, and proceed to do it with a great sense of stewardship.

The verse the Lord gave me in the process of coming here was 1 Timothy 6:20. From the first day I unpacked my books, I’ve had it on my desk at home, on my desk at the seminary, and even in recent weeks, I’ve had it plastered on my wall in my back office at the seminary. “Guard what has been entrusted to you.” Paul was not an alarmist with all of these charges and calls to guard and protect, steward and heed. He was moved by the Spirit under divine inspiration, giving page after page, and charge after charge to protect, guard, steward. Why? Because the stakes are so high. The evil one is so determined. The gospel is so precious, and the church is so needy for us to do anything else. My life verse is 1 Timothy 6:20: “Guard what has been entrusted to you.” Perhaps for all of us an additional life verse should be, “Take heed to the ministry you have received in the Lord so that you may fulfill it.”

topicsChurch & MinistryConvocationMidwestern Seminary

One Response to “MBTS Fall 2016 Convocation Sermon: “Take Heed To the Ministry” (Colossians 4:17)”

August 31, 2016 at 12:15 pm, Dr. Bobby S. Sena said:

I have read many of your sermons and presentations, but this one struck a cord-you were telling us how to preach a sermon-you unpacked some very critical applications for every and any person in ministry. Thank you-I read it as my devotional today.

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