Prayer, Hope, and Theology
…say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it. Colossians 4.17
This past summer there was a report of dolphins beaching themselves and dying at Cape Cod. No one was sure why it was happening. Dolphins are extremely social creatures and swim together. After a multitude of tests and site studies, marine biologists concluded that one of the more likely explanations for this behavior was that the dolphins were following a disoriented leader.
Ministers, elders, really all of us, must always be checking our own orientation because others are following us. In this text from Colossians, Paul speaks about the fulfillment of ministry. How are we to fulfill the ministries to which God has called us as elders of the church? It is the divine origin of the ministry that Paul wants us to grasp – a ministry “received in the Lord.” “Take heed” or “better watch out” or “look out”. These phrases imply the presence of danger. Paul calls upon Archippus to “fulfill” his ministry in light of such danger. What could he have in mind and is there something here that helps our own unique circumstances and situation today? From this text and the letter itself we may draw a few examples of what it means to “fulfill” the ministry.
Fulfill it prayerfully. It is interesting that Paul speaks about the need for prayer in this letter and then goes on to talk about how much he needs it because he is dealing with so many different people and situations (4:1-6). And he points out how we need the same wisdom (4:5-6). Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Prayer gives us the help we need to carry out an equitable ministry that also differentiates and treats people personally. Paul tells Timothy in 1Tim.5.1……Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity. Prayer provides perspective on personality. Watch out and pray over all the possible ways to treat people and God will help you to be fair but personal. I am so thankful for the ongoing ministry of prayer in our church for those elders who take it upon themselves to make sure the church prays.
Fulfill this ministry hopefully. Presbyterian congregations highly value order, structures, hierarchy, and John Calvin. But such orders or structures or titles or hierarchies, or personalities are not the ministry, but only forms for it and expressions of it. The PCUSA does not own the ministry, nor does any other denomination. Our text make clear that the ministry belongs to Christ. It comes from Him, not us. Notice our text does not say the ministry you received in Laodicea but says the ministry you received in the Lord. I find this very freeing and hopeful for us. It should awaken expectancy in us all. Paul says in 3.1-3 If you died with Christ, seek those things above…Set your mind on things above…If your mind is on Christ, you will be able to care for His people. If your mind is not on Christ, you will probably become very discouraged and give up. But if your mind is set on the things of Christ, you will have His love for them when your own is gone. You will have His patience for all the flock under your care when your own is gone. Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil.2.5). The only way we can really mind the flock is if our mind is on Christ. And when our mind is on Christ we will feel ourselves more equal with those for whom we care. It is true that you are to govern and rule the church, but hierarchy can be dangerous, too. Elders are, in real sense, over others, and any position of leadership puts you over others, but the more our minds are set on Christ, the more equal we will feel to those over whom we have been given charge. This will help us to properly consider what to do to help each person around us, and to have the requisite sympathy and strength to fulfill our ministry.
Fulfill it theologically. Paul’s prayers and the content of this letter are concerned with a right understanding of Christ and His work (1.9-18). Ministers and elders are called to watch out for the church’s understanding and teaching and application of the gospel to all of life. There must be among leaders a genuine interest in biblical theology. There is so much more to say about this! With regard to limits of time and space, suffice it here to issue a warning: Be careful and be aware of the dangers of an untheological devotion. Just as the priests in the Old Testament were concerned with every detail of the ceremonial law, so leaders are to be concerned for a correct understanding of the gospel, as with all of the Scriptures. The sacrifice of Christ- understanding it, declaring it, applying it, and defending it – this is their work. One of the great obstacles to the spiritual life of the church is the reduction of its ministry to the structure of a volunteer organization under human authority with human religious expertise. Instead it is a spiritual community under the headship of Jesus Christ who leads and guides us through His word. We must constantly check ourselves and critique ourselves in this regard. Are we basing our ideas upon the current religious expertise of our time or upon the eternal and abiding Word of God?
Leaders of the church, all of us, must make sure that our orientation is sound and that we do not become the cause of running others aground in their faith. People are following us, depending on us. As we guide the church and call upon others to follow us, we have to ask ourselves of this decision, of this action, of this program – are we carrying it out prayerfully and hopefully? Is it based upon the theology of the Scriptures? Are we treating people fairly and with sensitivity to their differences and needs? How does our leadership reflect our understanding of the glorious gospel of grace that we proclaim? When we ask the kinds of questions then we are on our way to fulfilling the ministry Christ has given to us.