All believers must continue to carry out the general ministry of the church, and they must continue to carry these out wholeheartedly until they receive their distinctive ministries from the Lord. Once the distinctive ministry is received, it must take priority over all else.
Sometimes a distinctive ministry is to be begun immediately after it is received. At other times, there is need for further waiting¬ for more training in the Schools of God. Paul received a distinctive ministry from the Lord, but he needed three years with God in God’s School in Arabia. The disciples received a distinctive ministry, but they had to wait and be clothed with power from on high.
Each one who receives a distinctive ministry must receive from the Lord when to begin it.
A distinctive ministry will always bring an end to many other ambitions. We do not know what ambitions Moses had as a shepherd. Maybe he wanted to multiply his flock a hundredfold and establish himself as a rich man. Maybe he had other ambitions. Whatever they were, one thing is clear: the encounter with God, the reception of the distinctive ministry, brought an end to all the other ambitions.
The day he received God’s call, his ambition to be a great shepherd of flocks died. It received a fatal blow. The love of money, fame, etc, received a fatal wound and died. Money, fame, etc, ceased to mean anything anymore. He saw God and he saw that ministry to which he had been called. From that day on, only God mattered to him and only that ministry mattered. He put everything into knowing God and he put everything into accomplishing that ministry.
The commitment to the ministry received was total, complete. He did not ask the Lord what would happen to his flocks, just as Peter, John, and the others did not ask what would happen to their fishing business. He did not ask about a salary. He did not ask about what would become of his family. All he knew was that God, the Lord of all the universe, had condescended to call him to do a job for Him, and that call was the greatest privilege and the greatest responsibility for him.
Do you understand what I am saying? I am saying that the call to distinctive ministry brings an end to all other interests:
- professional interests,
- social interests,
- academic interests,
- spiritual interests,
- financial interests, etc.
It also brings to an end carnal caution, worldly security, and all the other guarantees of man. The person sees God; he says goodbye to all these other things, and he throws himself recklessly on God. That is the price of a distinctive ministry, and God will not grant a distinctive ministry to people who will put it aside and pursue some cherished worldly interest. He will not give it to people who will try to accomplish it and at the same time try to gain the world. Such double-minded people are useless to God (James 1:6-8). Moses said, “Goodbye” to Midian, to his father-in-law, to his property, etc. This is absolutely essential. Have you done the same?
The Limits of Personal Ministry
Often God calls a person to do just a particular thing. He may call someone to be an evangelist to a particular tribe, town, village, nation, or continent, or He may call the person to be an evangelist to the whole world. If God calls someone to be an evangelist, he should stay within the evangelistic ministry. He should accomplish that ministry. He should not also try to be a pastor, teacher, prophet, apostle, etc. He should stay within the ministry that the Lord has called him to do for Him. There may be needs in other areas in the Body of Christ, but that is not his responsibility. He moves according to the call of God and not according to need. If he leaves the ministry to which God has called him and tries to accomplish others because of the shortage of workers, he will be doing great harm. He should pray for workers, but he should remain in the call to which the Lord has called him. He must not get involved in controversies and quarrels that concern the ministries of others. The Bible says:
“He who meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).
The dog will bite him and he will suffer a wound he could have safely avoided!
There is something more to it than just suffering unnecessarily because God has not given us time and energy for everything. Any time spent on other things is the time taken away from that to which we have been called. The apostles kept themselves within the ministry of the word and prayer. They left the other things to others. People, by attempting to do everything, throw confusion into the household of God. This point is of such importance that we shall discuss it at length elsewhere.
It is not only just to stay within one’s ministry, but one must also stay within the sphere of one’s ministry. A person who is called by the Lord to become an evangelist to one town or village or tribe etc, but who decides on his own to become an evangelist to many towns, villages, tribes, etc, will fail God absolutely. If God calls a man to just one tribe, it means that God has a work in that tribe to occupy him up to the limits of his abilities. Should he on his own expand his ministry to people to whom God has not called him, he does much harm thus:
- He leaves his own people without the depth of care that God meant them to have as far as that ministry is concerned.
- He steps into a ministry which God had for another person at a different time and sows confusion there.
- He makes people in both places suffer loss and in this way makes the whole Kingdom of God suffer.
- He creates for the Enemy a situation to exploit for his own advantage.
This expansion beyond the limits of God is tragic beyond telling. On the other hand, a person may be called to be an evangelist to many towns, nations, and continents. Should he decide to stay in one town or nation or continent, he will fail God utterly, sow confusion into the plans of God, and leave many people outside the Kingdom who would have entered into it had he been faithful to the extent and limit of his ministry.
So God may call a person to an evangelistic ministry in a specified area. The person should ensure that that is the ministry he has really received from the Lord and he should stay within that ministry and within the geographical spheres to which God has called him.
There is another limitation. It is the limitation of time. God may call a person to a particular ministry at a particular place for a certain length of time. It may be one day, one month, one year, or it may be ten years, or fifty. This is something that must be received from the Lord as well, without which there will be confusion; for should God call a man to spend his whole life in one place and he moves away because of the hardships " practical, spiritual, etc, he would have failed God completely. On the other hand, should God call him there for one day or one year and he decides to stay there for much longer because of the blessings that the Lord was giving or because there was no one available to continue the ministry, that one would do great harm to the Lord and to His Body. Let us illustrate it from Scripture.
Philip the evangelist was involved in a great move of God in Samaria. There were conversions, healings, and deliverances and, to crown it all, the apostles came there and the Holy Spirit was poured out on these people. It was all really wonderful. There could not be a better place to stay and continue to minister. To make things even more needful for him to stay there, the converts were young and there was no one to take care of them. From a human point of view, he ought to have stayed there! However, as far as God was concerned, his ministry in Samaria was finished! An angel of the Lord said to him,
“Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26).
One distinctive ministry was over and another was begun. On the road to Gaza, God sent the Ethiopian to him. (This was truly a distinctive ministry, planned from the very foundations of the world, and all the details were being worked out by God.) He led him to the Lord, baptized him in water, and while the Ethiopian went away, rejoicing, you would have expected that God would lead Philip back to his beloved Samaritans. That would have been natural, human, but God did not act that way. When the Ethiopian and Philip
“came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more.... But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea” (Acts 8:39-40).
In Caesarea, the Lord allowed him to stay and there made a base for his further ministry as an evangelist (Acts 21:8).
Philip discharged these ministries. His was an evangelistic ministry. He moved with the Holy Spirit. When he was told,
“Rise and go . . . ” (Acts 8:26),
“He rose and went” (Acts 8:27).
By receiving clear instructions and obeying them, he stayed in the centre of God’s will and fulfilled his ministry. He did not carry the burden of the churches on himself. He let the apostles do that.
Paul was having a hard time in Corinth. The Jews opposed and reviled him. He wanted to leave the town, but the Lord said to him,
"Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
He obeyed and stayed there for one year and six months.
So we see that the distinctive ministry caused people to move or stay. The time varied:
- They did not move as finances dictated.
- They did not move as the political climate dictated.
- They did not move as their family situation dictated.
- Their move was not dictated by response to or rejection of the gospel. It was not dictated by the presence or absence of crowds.
They listened to the Holy Spirit and they obeyed Him, and thus they stayed within their ministries. It was the Holy Spirit, and He alone, who decided:
- the type of ministry,
- the place of ministry,
- the timing of ministry,
- the termination of ministry.
No one should allow his heart to be hooked to anything, not even to a certain ministry. No one should allow himself to be hooked to any place. No one must set his heart on any person. All hearts should be hooked on Jesus and on Him alone. The type of ministry and all that concerns it must be left to the Holy Spirit to decide. He is the Director of God’s Missionary Enterprise. He selects people for the various ministries. He decides the spheres of their ministry and He sets the time limits. All who are serious obey Him.
The Completion of a Distinctive Ministry
The distinctive ministry committed by God to anyone will have a beginning in time. There will be a day when that ministry actually starts, and there will be a day when that ministry is fully accomplished.
There was a day when the Lord began His public ministry. Much had happened behind the scenes in preparation, but one day He actually began the ministry. He laboured at it and one day, He said to His Father, “It is finished.”
God intends that everyone to whom He has given a distinctive ministry should finish it. We have already mentioned the woman whose distinctive ministry of five years of praying all Friday night was finished and she knew it. Paul also received a distinctive ministry and he wanted it finished.
“But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
He did accomplish his course and finish his ministry. Before he died (and not on his dying bed!) he said,
“I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
Others would go on doing God’s work, but that distinctive ministry that was given to Paul was completed. It was finished. No one could continue it. There was nothing left that could be continued. Others could continue with what they had received from the Lord, but Paul’s portion was finished.
Paul was able to finish his course and ministry. He could have died without finishing it. But praise the Lord, he did.
So, God gives distinctive ministries to people. He determines the methods to be used. He sets the limits to the ministry. Believers are to receive distinctive ministries from the Lord. They are to receive and use God’s methods for the discharge of the ministry. They are to put all of themselves and all that they have into that ministry. They are to complete their ministry. Glory be to the Lord of the ministry. Amen!