The Seven Pillars of Ministry
Pillar 4: True Ministry is Not the Result of Our Effort, But of Our Surrender

(These notes have been developed based on draft notes prepared by Tommy Jones, Connection Pastor at Hoffmantown Church)

Intro:

Wayne’s sermon this morning entitled this Pillar 4 as "True Ministry is Not the Result of Our Commitment, But of His Surrender".  The His, with the capital H is the surrender of Jesus to the will of the Father. The point is that we are to model Jesus, and Jesus was totally surrendered to the Father. We saw that many places in the New Testament and we have looked at several of them in earlier Pillars. Over and over Jesus said that everything he did was the Father’s work, not his ... that he did nothing on his own. Even in the garden, he acknowledged that the will of the Father be done, not his.

Wayne used the word "commitment". That could be misunderstood also. He is not talking about our commitment to Jesus and our obligation as a Christian to follow the model of the life of Jesus. He is using the word commitment to mean our effort, our hard work.

Today: Pillar 4:

So as we apply this Pillar to Hoffmantown and to each of us as Christians, perhaps it is constructive to re-title the Pillar slightly, to: True Ministry is Not the Result of Our Effort, But of Our Surrender.

To flesh out this Pillar, I want to study the life of Paul and his road to surrender. While on his road to a life of surrendering, Paul learned over a period of time that there was a difference in Paul's doing ministry for God and allowing God to do ministry through Paul.

Many today think that ministry is about being committed to do ministry for God, rather than understanding that it’s all about what He can do through us. It is possible to fall into a trap of working for God.  Jesus did not work for God, he let God work through Him. This should be our model for ministry … we don’t do it by our own strength, we just get our self out of the way, we allow Jesus to be Jesus in us and through us.

Paul's Journey - the road to Surrender:

Paul says that it is a privilege to serve God.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? --2 Corinthians 2:14-16
Paul is speaking of the work God does as the gospel is preached by Paul and his traveling partners. Paul marvels about what God is able to do through them. He attributes God as the source for all things good taking place in ministry.

The first thing Paul testifies about is that God led them in victory. But note, it wasn’t their victory; it was “His” triumph, and that, “in Christ”. Paul seems to be drawing on the imagery of a Roman triumph in which the victorious general, along with his proud soldiers, used to lead a triumphal procession of the prisoners of war who were exposed to public ridicule. The Apostles, as well as Christians in general, may be either exultant soldiers who share in the benefits of Christ’s victory or willing captives who count it a privilege to be part of God’s triumph.

In any case, Paul sees God, through the work of Jesus and the message of the gospel, triumphing in victory as the lost are receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord. Secondly, God was “manifesting” or spreading in many places the fragrant understanding of Himself to those who have put their faith in Jesus. To those being saved, the “aroma” of Paul and his missionary companions was one of life in Christ, to those who reject the gospel message and are thus spiritually dead, the Apostles give off the “aroma” of death. Then, Paul asks, “And who is adequate for these things?”

The Greek word for “adequate” is hikanos, which means sufficient or competent. So, he asks, “who is sufficient for these things?”, meaning, “who is sufficient to the task of being the aroma of Christ?” The answer would be "no one", if he depends upon himself. Think about that. Who has within himself or herself the ability to live Christ-life and manifest all His qualities day by day? Who can do it? We may want to live like that. But the truth is, apart from the indwelling Jesus, no one has the power or sufficiency to diffuse the aroma of Jesus, unless it is Jesus spreading His fragrance of life through them.

And yet, Paul gives us the answer to his own question.

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. --2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Let’s look at two other translations on verse 5:

J.B. Phillips: “Not that we are in any way confident of doing anything by our own resources—our ability comes from God”.

Amplified Version: “Not that we are fit (qualified and sufficient in ability) of ourselves to form personal judgments or to claim or count anything coming from us; but our power and ability and sufficiency are from God”.

In other words, Paul is saying that this wonderful ministry we have, and the glorious results we are seeing is not something we have done ourselves—it is Christ’s life, Christ’s sufficiency in us that is doing it. He is adequate, competent and able to do it all. Paul is sharing a truth about his ministry: his consuming passion to share the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles came from Jesus living in him. Paul had lived under that law, that “letter” that “kills”. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul lived by the Law of Moses. It was up to him and his zeal to propagate that OT view that one must keep or obey the law of Moses to become righteous. But now, in Christ, he understands that his efforts don't bring about true ministry, but his surrender to Christ does. He now knows that as he yields his life to Christ’s control, Jesus is free to perform the ministry He desires. In essence, Paul’s “adequacy” is Christ.

How did Paul come to this conclusion?   Did he have this understanding the moment he was saved on the Damascus Road?   I will argue that it was an understanding that came progressively, over a period of time

Let’s trace the road to Paul’s understanding of Christ’s sufficiency.

Where it all Began:

Remember that Saul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the Christians there when he had an epiphany, literally. You talk about meeting Jesus, he met Jesus, face to face. From that encounter he was left blind. He traveled on to Damascus. In Damascus there was a man named Ananias whom God told to go to Saul.

Ananias said, "No way!   I’ve heard of that dude. He is trying to kill the Christians."   God convinced him to go to Saul and put his hands on him to cause him to see and be filled with The Holy Spirit, which Ananias did. We pick up the story there in Acts 9:18:

And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” --Acts 9:18-21
People who heard him, especially the Jews and believers in Damascus, were astonished at what he was saying. They only knew Paul as a henchman intent on destroying those professing the deity of Jesus. It appears he has changed teams, so they are cautious. But now, something interesting happens in 9:22.
But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. --Acts 9:22
In verse 20, he “proclaimed” Jesus as deity. In verse 22, he “proves” the deity of Jesus. Now, there is a big difference in proclaiming something to be true and proving it is true. So, what is the reason for this great leap from preaching to proving? The answer: he “kept increasing in strength”. This spiritual growth and profound understanding did not happen over a period of days or months, but years! How do we know this?

Well, we need to understand that Paul’s biography is not contained only in Acts. We have to consult some of his own writings to get the full picture of the events that took place in his life after his conversion. With that let’s go to the Book of Galatians where Paul says:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem... --Galatians 1:15-18
So Paul tells us that immediately after His conversion and his subsequent zealous preaching in Damascus of Jesus’ deity, he doesn’t consult with others on theology, nor does he rush to Jerusalem to present himself to the Apostles and go through some schooling. Quite the contrary, he packs up his stuff and heads out to the vast wastelands of the Arabian desert for three years! Now, if he doesn’t consult with believers in Damascus or the leaders in Jerusalem, where did he gain the knowledge and understanding needed to “prove” Jesus is indeed the Messiah?

In Arabia!

It wasn’t until after his Arabian desert experience that we even can look back to Acts 9:22,23 where he begins to astonish his listeners.

This might be a good place to lay down a chronological timeline. In Richard Longenecker’s Commentary, "The Acts of the Apostles", he proposes the following chronology of events:

"It is not going beyond a reasonable historical reconstruction to suggest that the actual order of events was probably as follows.
  1. Saul’s conversion and commission (Acts 9:1-19a);
  2. his preaching in the synagogues of Damascus for a time immediately following his conversion (9:19b-22);
  3. his prolonged residence in Arabia (Gal.1:17);
  4. his return to Damascus (9:23-25); and as we must consider later,
  5. his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian some three years after his conversion, with his subsequent travel to Caesarea, Syria, and Cilicia (9:26-30; Gal.1:18-24)"
Let’s get back to Arabia. We have an idea of where it is. (as far south as Sinai near Egypt all the way north to the lower end of Syria) But why did Paul have to go there? There’s been much conjecture from many sources as to what Paul did there, but the truth is, the Bible is silent about it. We really don’t know for sure. Paul does mention in I Cor.11:23 and 2 Cor.12:1-6 a “receiving from the Lord” Himself some instruction as well as a vision in which he was taken up into the third heaven. Did Paul experience all this in Arabia? Perhaps … but we can’t be sure. It is reasonable to believe that it was there that Paul pulled together all he knew from the Old Testament and how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I suspect that he developed and analyzed his theology while he was in the desert. He became totally convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, but how could he reconcile it with what he had been taught as a boy, and as a Pharisee? This time in Arabia helped him fill in the gaps as he began to see Jesus in every book, through all the Law and the Prophets.

In Charles Swindoll’s book on Paul, he contends that the desert time became a three-year crash course in sound doctrine from which would flow a lifetime of preaching, teaching, and writing. More than that, it’s where Paul tossed aside his polished trophies and traded his resume of religious credentials for a vibrant relationship with the risen Christ. Everything changed.

Of this experience, F.B. Meyer writes,

“Grain by grain his profound self-reliance and impetuosity were worn away. No longer confident in himself, he was henceforth more than content to be the slave of Jesus Christ. We all need to go to Arabia to learn lessons like these.”

We now pick back up in Acts and move through the timeline once again. Now upon his return from Arabia, being greatly “strengthened”, he went to those same synagogues where he first proclaimed that Jesus was Messiah and took the very Word of God and “proved” (in the Greek, literally = to knit together) that Jesus was the Christ of God.

The Greek word translated as proved is sumbibazo [soom·bib·ad·zo], to cause to coalesce, to join together, put together; to unite or knit together: to prove, demonstrate.

So Paul used the Old Testament to knit together the proof that Jesus was the Messiah. But that put Paul in jeopardy, so then he had to escape.

When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. --Acts 9:23-25
What did Paul learn from all this? He has spent three years in learning and preparation for this moment … and look at the response. The one who used to hunt down Christians is now being hunted.

As Chuck Swindoll writes, “The fear and humiliation of that alone must have humbled the blazing preacher. Yet, it was all part of God’s plan to break an independent spirit.”

R.C.H. Lenski writes, “Paul’s career began, like that of Moses, with flight and with a long period of waiting, waiting ... nothing but waiting. This makes the flight from Damascus so significant. It forced Paul into the long wait in which he fully learned he was nothing, that his mightiest asset was utter weakness, weakness which enabled God to do everything with him and through him.”

 

Note the words of these two great preachers: “part of God’s plan to break an independent spirit … forcing Paul into the long wait … he fully learned he was nothing … his mightiest asset was utter weakness … enabled God to do everything with him and through him.”  Was Paul beginning to learn to surrender, that his ministry would not be the result of his efforts, but of his surrender?

Then Paul found himself the outcast.

When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. --Acts 9:26
Let’s take a look at the phrase, “he was trying to associate”. The word “associate” comes from the Greek word kollao - [kol·lah·o], meaning, glue. It meant to “glue together, to make cohere”. In this context, it means to side up with someone. We can see Paul’s dilemma. He has been rejected by the Jews in Damascus and now is wants to side up to the disciples in Jerusalem, only to be rebuffed and rejected. Can you imagine Paul finally getting into Jerusalem after three years? He knows this town like the back of his hand. He had a standing with the Jews. He was somebody there. Now, he has the opportunity to preach Christ and even the Christians wouldn’t associate with him, fearing him and his reputation for being a Christian killer.

Did he not have a ministry here? Was he not talented, gifted, bold? Sure he was.   Was he not excited about doing ministry for God? Yes.

But things weren’t working out the way he had anticipated. In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul admits he’s able to see Peter and a few others there in his stay at Jerusalem; but if the believers are frightened of him, how does he get in to see some of the Apostles?

We need to go to Acts 9:27-29 for this. Barnabas takes him to the Apostles and gives them an account of his conversion, his preaching and that Paul was the real deal. Paul then is able to preach Christ, along with the Apostles, and move about freely in Jerusalem. In fact, he has a new audience: Greek-speaking Jews or Hellenists. He speaks boldly, but ends up “disputing” against them. They argue with one another. In fact, Paul makes such a good impression that they seek to kill him. It’s like Damascus revisited ... déjà vu’ all over again!

What is Paul’s reaction to all this? Luke does not give account of it; however, in Acts 22, many years later when Paul is defending himself against a Jerusalem mob, he speaks of the after-effects of this rejection in Acts 9. Let’s look at Paul’s words in Acts 22:

“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’  And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” --Acts 22:17-21
What we know is that Paul was in the temple praying. His message was not being received by others, his ministry seems to be going nowhere, and he is feeling, conceivably, some discouragement and defeat. What better thing to do than hit your knees and get to praying! While praying, Jesus appears to him in some sort of a “trance” and says in effect, “get out of Dodge, Paul, and get out from among the Jews there because no matter what you say, they will not accept your testimony about Me.”

What comes next is quite revealing. Paul responds back to Jesus in a way that may reveal his thinking about this whole thing.

 

Ray Stedman, long-time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church writes about this incident in his book,  "Authentic Christianity".  He says this: “In these words Saul gave himself away. We can now see what he was depending upon for success in his efforts at witnessing. It is apparent that he saw himself as the one eminently qualified to reach the Jews for Christ. His argument says in effect, ‘Lord you don’t understand the situation. If you send me out of Jerusalem you are going to miss the opportunity of a lifetime. If there is anyone who understands how these Jews think and reason, it is I.  I was one of them. I speak their language. I know how they react.  If anyone has the qualifications to make them listen, it is I.  I do not come to them unacquainted with their background … I even persecuted the church, as they are now doing. Why, when the martyr Stephen was killed, it was I who kept the garments of those who murdered him. Lord, don’t send me away. I have what it takes to reach these men. Don’t miss this opportunity.”

Paul was looking to himself to accomplish this wonderful ministry for Jesus. But he had not yet come to the point of understanding, it’s not about what we think we can do for Him, it’s understanding what He will do through us … His way, His methods, His timing. Jesus was firm in His response back to Paul: “Go to the Gentiles!”   I wonder if he felt like this a demotion of some sort?

Paul's road back home:

Well … what lies on the horizon for Paul now, on the road back home?

But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. --Acts 9:30
Tarsus?   Was this some lesson in humility? Tarsus was Paul’s hometown. Home is a difficult place to go back to after many years away, but for Paul, who only wanted a preaching ministry, home must have been really difficult. It seems like Paul’s efforts to be an influence in the “fertile evangelistic fields of the motherland seemed to come of nothing”.

F.B. Meyer writes, “So the disciples brought the hunted preacher down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus, not improbably he resumed tent-making there, content to await the Lord’s will and bidding. Years passed slowly. Possibly four or five years were spent in comparative obscurity and neglect”

In Acts 9:31, Luke tells us what transpired after Paul was sent home:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. --Acts 9:31
Once again, the church has peace and begins to grow ... without Paul.

Swindoll comments: “The secret of the church then and now is not a remarkably gifted individual like Saul. The secret to the blessing and health of any church is Almighty God”.

True ministry is not the result of OUR efforts:

Then Paul had a long period of silent years. For many, many years, we don’t hear of Paul. As a matter of fact, once he does come back on the scene, he even says in Galatians:

Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; --Galatians 1:21-22
It’s not till we get to Acts 11:22-24 that we see Paul again. Barnabas knew help was needed in Antioch, so he heads out to find one in particular, Paul. During this time, Paul, once again, had time to reflect, grow and mature as a believer. He, along with Barnabas, was with the disciples (the believers) in Antioch for one year. He teaches the Word and launches off from here to go into all the world and preach Jesus -- never to look back.

What Paul Learned - as a "basket case":

What happened during all those years? What was Paul doing?

Writing to the Corinthians years later, he speaks of his boasting in his accomplishments. His response is recorded in Second Corinthians eleven. And then, as if to say, “you want to hear of my boasting?   Let me tell you something I will boast of”.  His letter contains his “boast”.

If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands. --2 Corinthians 11:30-33
Paul says, “here’s my boast: if I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness ... I will boast in that one experience that started it all for me ... my basket experience.” My boast is that I couldn’t do anything myself, how embarrassing it was to have to sneak away in a basket, like a bunch of fruit.

This is when God began to teach Paul, it’s all about God and not Paul. It’s where he saw that everything was to come from God and nothing was to come from himself. It’s where he began to understand that ministry would not be about his gifts, efforts and hard work, it was about God humbling him, breaking him and causing Paul to rely fully upon God working through him.   Now that’s ministry!

This is why Paul can say in Second Corinthians three:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God --2 Corinthians 3:5

 

Sitting in a Roman prison, Paul writes this in Philippians three:
For we … who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh ... if anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings… --Philippians 3:3-10
Commenting on this passage, Ray Stedman writes: “What he, Paul, once regarded as qualifying him to be a success before God and men (his ancestry, his orthodoxy, his morality, and his activity) he now regards as so much manure compared to depending upon the working of Jesus Christ within him. He has learned to shift from the old covenant (everything coming from me, nothing coming from God) to the new covenant (nothing coming from me, everything coming from God), which gives life.”

If we look at Paul, we see a man with a lot of talents, gifts and abilities. He possessed the commitment, drive, passion, energy and everything else to do ministry for God. And yet, what he learned was that all he had, including himself, was not sufficient for what God required.

As we track Paul’s rise and ministry, we can look at the road he traveled and agree: true ministry is not the result of his efforts, but of his surrender. Our true ministry is not the result of our efforts either, but of our surrender, our surrender to be fully available to do and be, whatever Jesus wants.

__________

Next week:

...we will study Pillar 5: "God gets the Glory for His Ministry".