Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Ministering in the Midst of the Mess with Thanksgiving

Monday, November 21, 2016

Ministering in the Midst of the Mess with Thanksgiving

Ministering in the Midst of the Mess with Thanksgiving

The soldier in the midst of war expects to have bullets whizzing by his head.  Causalities are expected.  Difficulties and opposition confront the soldier at every turn and when least expected.  There is nothing pleasant about war.  This reality was certainly understood by William Tecumseh Sherman as he implemented his “scorched earth” philosophy of war literally burning every Confederate city he conquered to the ground.  That is the context of Sherman’s statement in a speech defending his “scorched earth” philosophy – “War is hell.”  The point is that we should avoid it whenever possible. 

          There is a war no one can avoid.  There is a spiritual war that began in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago and it has never paused for even one moment.  There is no intermission or momentary cease fire.  A large group of angels, led by the Archangel Lucifer, rebelled against God’s sovereign order of creation.  Those fallen angels sought to use every means allowed them to destroy humanity and turn the hearts of men, women, and children away from worshiping and serving God.  This scenario is actually the backdrop of the book of Job.  In the introduction to the first two chapters of Job, we read of Satan’s accusation against humanity.  Satan’s accusation is essentially – “If God does not bless man, man will not worship Him.” 

This is the substance of what the spiritual war between humanity and fallen angels is all about.  What will people do to escape the pain and suffering of living under the curse of the fall of humanity into sin and accepting Satan’s lordship over our lives?  In Adam’s willful act of disobedience to the sovereign will of God, he surrendered himself and all of humanity to the sovereignty of Satan.  Satan became the “god of this world” (II Corinthians 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).  We all will live in the midst of the curse until the day we die.  In most part, we will minister in the midst of the mess of the curse all of our lives trying to contribute as little as possible to the mess ourselves.  Ministry is about cleaning up as much of the mess as possible one life at a time – beginning with our own mess.

Perhaps there is no better instruction about how to minister in the midst of the mess than Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.  The old battle scarred warrior of the faith sees his purpose in this life very simply.  Paul’s purpose and vision of existence is stated in Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  The historical backdrop for this statement was that Paul was in prison at Rome and was soon to have his head removed by Nero.  Paul had many enemies from both the unbelieving world and from within the midst of the corruptions of heretics exposed by his epistles to the local churches.  This is what real ministry in the midst of the curse always looks like.  In most part, there will be many more people that want to see you dead than those wanting to see you living.  Uniquely, even within these circumstances, the substance of each chapter of Paul’s epistle to the local church at Philippi was rejoicing (Philippians 1:18, 26; 2:16, 17, 18, 28; 3:1, 3; 4:4, and 10).
1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. 2 I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. 9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:1-9).

Circumstances of life will often put us in perplexing and unpleasant predicaments.  When ministering to try to help people escape the clutches of sin in their lives, we will often experience some of the greatest disappointments.  Often the very people into which we pour our hearts and souls to help will be the very people who will turn and rend us.  It is always the people we love the most who can hurt us the most.  Such people can be very disheartening and discouraging. 

However, perhaps one of the great truths that we learn from Paul’s epistle to the believers at Philippi is to focus upon the successes of ministry, not upon the failures.  Philippi was the first church started after Paul’s miraculous call to Macedonia recorded in Acts chapter sixteen. 

6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, 7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. 8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. 11 Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; 12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us (Acts 16:6-15).

The believers at Philippi were very precious to the Apostle Paul and he was precious to them.  The beginnings of Paul’s experience at Philippi were certainly mixed with great difficulties as well as blessings.  Paul and Silas were beaten by the city magistrates because Paul had cast out a demon from a woman who had been creating great profits for some the leaders in the city.  Then, Paul and Silas were cast into a the “inner prison,” which was most probably what we know as a dark, damp, rat and bug infested dungeon.  As if that horrible place was not bad enough, they were place in wooden stocks with their legs parted to extreme discomfort bent over with their hands and necks similarly fastened making it almost impossible to rest, let alone sleep. 

There are those deep and dark times that can easily bring great sorrow and discouragement in the ministry if we do not control our thought life and what we do in the midst of those times.  Paul and Silas refused to set around feeling sorry for themselves and complaining about their difficulties regardless of how real and painful were those difficulties.  Instead, they decided to be an encouragement to the other prisoners sharing in their discomforts.

“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25).

It is often out of the garden of great difficulties that we reap a harvest of the greatest blessings.  Roses always bloom in the midst of thorns.  This was certainly what happened to Paul and Silas as they sang their midnight praises to God in the midst of the mess of their circumstances for simply doing what was right.  They were beaten and put in prison for delivering a woman from her prison of demonic possession.  Difficulties and trials provide faithful believers with great opportunities to be a faithful testimony to God’s enabling grace.  As is often the case, when you are being a great testimony to the grace of God while in the midst of great difficulties, God provides great opportunities.  It is the wise Christian who expects those opportunities and is prepared to minister when such opportunities arise. 

26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (Acts 16:26-28).

It would be a natural reflect response to flee in fear from a dungeon with its walls and ceiling falling in on you; even more so if the building was your prison.  It is remarkable that Paul and Silas give no consideration to escaping from their unfortunate circumstances.  They were having great influence upon the other prisoners.  This is obvious because out of this very fearful, life-threatening earthquake situation, Paul can tell the prison keeper, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (Acts 16:28).
The jailer was accountable with his life for those under his guard.  He would rather die at his own hand than suffer the consequences and public disgrace to his family for allowing his prisoners to escape.  Since all the prisoners were freed from their bars and restraints, there was nothing keeping them from overpowering the jailer, killing him, and escaping into the night.  However, the influence of the spiritual integrity of Paul and Silas was substantial.  We can be confident the other prisoners knew of the circumstances of why Paul and Silas were in prison.  It is not an everyday occurrence to have someone with power over demons in your presence.  It certainly would have seemed bizarre to these other prisoners to hear Paul and Silas singing praise hymns and psalms of thanksgiving to God after just having been beaten within an inch of death and now put in the torment of tortuous stocks. 

The point is that Paul and Silas had a choice in how they were going to respond to the circumstances in which they now found themselves.  Their circumstances had not changed their purpose as Christians or their mission.  All that was changed was the people to whom they ministered.  They could see their ministry ended or they could see the needy people with which they shared a prison.  They could have become preoccupied with the pain and suffering of their circumstances or they could praise God in the midst of the mess of those circumstances.  Sometimes the curse is overwhelming to our senses and sensibilities.  To overcome and continue to minister in the midst of the mess of the curse, we have to bring the reality of our new existence “in Christ” to the forefront of our thought life.  Doing this can be difficult when life in the midst of the curse of this fallen creation seems to dominate, and it often dominates. 

Paul and Silas had been treated unfairly.  They had been unjustly publicly disgraced and imprisoned.  However, we must not forget that Paul and Silas understood that they were ministering exactly where God had sent them.  “9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:9-10).  When a person understands that he is called to be minister in the midst of the curse, he understands that he does so in the midst of the minions of Deceiver.  Yet, he must also understand that he is being sent to minister to the deceived and the very people who often are the greatest opponents of the ministry God has sent him to accomplish.  

There is no doubt in my mind that God foreknew every single circumstance that was going to happen to Paul and Silas.  God had orchestrated and incorporated every single aspect of these chain of events with the goal of producing a local church of faithful believers who knew that each of them were personally the fruits of the operations of the Spirit of God. 

It is out of this seeming dunghill of contradiction against everything good and right that God’s harvest bursts forth.  When we are consumed with the difficulties of living in the midst of the curse, all we can see and smell is the dunghill.  God sees fertilizer.  If we are going to be part of God’s plan and program in the midst of the curse, we have to see the dunghill of our circumstances as fertilizer too. 

29 Then he {the jailer} called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:29-34).

When sitting in the cold darkness surrounded by the fears of the night, it is always wise to keep a fire of hope burning to remind us that the new day will dawn very soon.  This was the hope of Paul and Silas as they sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God in the midst of the occasional whimpers of pain from their torments.  God had sent them to Philippi to start a local church.  God had provided two considerable households of believers which would be the seed families for the local church at Philippi.  These people did not become believers in a sterile vacuum environment.  They were “born again” out of the dunghill of this fallen creation of deceived people living in their selfish deceptions while creating more hardships for everyone they touch with their cursed lives. 

The answer to this dilemma of life is not to sit in the light and curse the darkness of deception and the deceived.  Ministry is being light in the midst of the darkness.  Ministry lights the pathway with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and leads the cursed out of the darkness of their own deceptions.  Although Paul and Silas were in the same prison as were the prisoners and jailer, Paul and Silas were already freed.  Paul and Silas knew this.  Therefore, they could rejoice.  It was not enough that they could rejoice, they wanted the others to be freed from their bondages of the curse as well.  We may not be able to deliver everyone from the difficulties they have created for themselves by being seduced by their own temptations and lusts, but we can offer them a new life in Christ “by grace … through faith.” 

It is little wonder that the local church at Philippi became such a blessing to the Apostle Paul.  They refused to forget him.  When God uses men to create something precious in the midst of the curse, God must create sanctified building materials out of cursed building materials.  This process of transfiguring lives is often painful and difficult; sometimes torturous.  When the members of a local church go through this torturous process together, they do not forget those that traveled that pathway with them and helped them along the way.

Church planting ministry (missions) can be difficult, lonely, and often done with very limited resources.  When local churches are started, and become self-supporting, the people that come into those local churches are not knowledgeable of the personal sacrifices of the seed families who were part of the original miracle of New Creation.  The seed families’ vision saw the hope of a future for the generations to follow.  New families who later become part of this New Creation simply see a place that welcomes them and provides a counterculture to living in the midst of the darkness of the curse.  These people often do not ever fully escape the corruptions of worldliness because they really do not see the world as the enemy of God and a contradiction against all that is right and righteous.  Therefore, these same people never really become ministers seeking to help others escape the darkness of the corruptions of this cursed world.  Such people certainly would not be willing to face the difficulties of real ministry as we read of in Acts chapter sixteen. 

Perhaps the greatest failure of modern Christianity is the disassociation of the reality of what is actually involved with ministry in the midst of the curse.  Church services are viewed as merely a place to escape to a social safe-shelter rather than to be refreshed and re-munitioned to get back onto the battlefield.  This kind of scenario can be very discouraging to those with a biblical view of real ministry in the midst of the curse.  Real ministry will always take place in the middle of deep and troubled waters.  When you understand that reality, you will not forget the person who taught you how to swim.  This was certainly true of the people of the church at Philippi.  They were one of the very few of the many local churches started by the Apostle Paul who continued to remember him and fiscally support him in his continuing battles to start other churches and preserve “the faith.”  When Paul was imprisoned at Rome, the church members at Philippi had graciously remembered him and sent their pastor Epaphroditus to Rome with a generous gift for Paul’s use.  What a great joy and encouragement this must have been to the Apostle Paul.

10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. 14 Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. 15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. 18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. 19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:10-19).

It is always a blessing to be remembered, but it is no blessing to be remembered if you do know you are being remembered.  Pray for your missionaries and for one another.  Then tell those people that you prayed for them.  The believers at Philippi remembered Paul and his NEEDS in a very tangible way.  People who remember in tangible ways understand the potential for discouragement involved in ministering in the midst of the curse.  Paul had been in prison at Rome for a considerable length of time.  His detractors, those professing Christians that Paul had exposed as heretics through his epistles, were glad that Paul was taken out of the picture.  They hated him.  However, Paul’s house arrest did not end his ministry or silence his voice.  The epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians were all written by Paul while he was imprisoned in his rented home under guard at Rome. 

Paul’s closing comments in Philippians 4:20-22 tells us a lot about ministering in the midst of the mess of the curse.  It is necessary to read the salutation carefully or we will miss the great blessing revealed in these few verses. 

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. 22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Philippians 4:20-23).

The word “salute” is translated from the Greek word aspazomai (as-pad'-zom-ahee).  The central idea of this word is to draw into a loving embrace.  However, the great blessing in this salutation are the words, “chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”  The Caesar, or Emperor of Rome was Nero.  Paul brought the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into every life with which he came in contact.  To be exposed to the Apostle Paul meant to be exposed to Jesus Christ and the offer in the Gospel of escape from the curse upon this world and its citizens. 

Nero was one of history’s most diabolical figures.  He was an evil, murderous, egotistical maniac with no limitations or boundaries to his self-aggrandizing agenda of promoting himself as god to this world.  He was an antichrist equal with Hitler, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek.  However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was given an entrance into Nero’s household with the imprisonment of Paul.  Paul shared the good news of Jesus Christ with every person of the household of Nero of which God provided opportunity.  Many of those guards and servants of Nero’s household were won to Christ through the testimony of the Apostle Paul.  Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that even the Empress Poppaea, Nero’s wife, became a believer.  It is believed that Seneca, the Preceptor (tutor and advisor) to Nero, became a believer.  So, when Paul says, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household,” this includes some of the world’s most elite.  Never under estimate the Light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the extent of its power to touch and change lives.  The Light is the most apparent in the darkest darkness!

Four different times in Psalm 107 out of four differently described scenarios of life within the difficulties of the fallen creation, the Psalmist writes, “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21, and 31).  The scenarios described in the second statements are of pertinent to the understanding of ministering to people living within the spiritual darkness of the fall encompassing their ignorance of God.

10 Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; 11 Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: 12 Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. 13 Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. 15 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! 16 For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. 17 Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. 18 Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. 19 Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. 20 He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. 21 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! 22 And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing” (Psalm 107:10-22).

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 Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/ 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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