Joy in Ministry
28 December 2014
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Joy in Ministry
Squirrels have been busy burying acorns in our yard. They’ll return to these throughout the winter when food is scarce. But they always miss a few. In late spring little oak trees pop up around the yard. It’s easy to tell that they are baby oak trees because the acorn is still attached. Over time, the little tree will draw all the nutrients it can from the acorn and the acorn will shrivel and drop off.
Even if that original acorn was a particularly attractive acorn, its purpose was not to be admired but to produce an oak tree. I’ve been protecting one of those oaks in my back yard. I don’t recall what the acorn looked like, but one day that tree will provide shade, beauty and acorns of its own.
Your ministry can be pictured by that acorn. The purpose of your ministry is not to bring you attention or to make a name for yourself. In fact, one day, your ministry will be completely over when you pass from this life. And yet, your ministry should still be cause for joy.
Ministry will often disappoint. Is it possible to have joy in ministry? If it is possible, how can you have lasting joy in ministry—joy that will carry through periods when it is disappointing? What about when your ministry begins to wane or undergoes a major change? John the Baptist faced similar questions and shows us how to have lasting joy in ministry. Follow along as I read Jn 3:22-26.
Everything that the writer has recalled so far happens prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry in the other gospels (Mk 1:14). He fills in some details from those very early days of Jesus’ ministry. From Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples go out into the Judean countryside.
For a while, the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus overlapped. This must have created quite a stir, seeing God working again in Israel. The prophets had been silent for 400 years and now there are two prominent prophets on the scene. The timing is right for Messiah’s coming.
Some teachers were expecting two Messiahs: one kingly and one priestly. John the Baptist was the son of a priest. Jesus was the son of David the king. So some Jews are possibly thinking, “Might these two men be the two Messiahs?” Both men had disciples and both attracted large crowds. Both were baptizing people prior to John being thrown into prison.
Of course, we saw in our study of Hebrews that there was only ONE Messiah who would bring together both offices of priest and king. The passage before us supports that as we’ll see.
We’re not sure exactly where Aenon near Salim was located, but it most likely a place where springs of water were located since Aenon means ‘many waters’ or more likely ‘many springs.’
Apparently, a Jewish man was arguing with John’s disciples over some issue related to purification and the disciples couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer. Different groups within Judaism promoted various purification rites. He may have asked, ‘Why do we need another one promoted by John?”
It also seems that the man saw John and Jesus as competitors. Why should he join John’s disciples when it seems that everyone (all, hyperbole) was joining up with Jesus? John’s disciples don’t take this well. They may be resentful over Jesus’ popularity and jealous for the Baptist’s popularity and wish for better days when everyone went out to John (Mk 1:5). They rightfully saw John’s ministry as being from God. They’ve seen how many people have been brought to repentance. They hated to see that end. ‘Surely if God is using this ministry, He’ll want to keep using for a long time.’ In their protective zeal, they take this issue to John himself. John teaches them four things about ministry. First,
I. Remember that God is sovereign over our ministries (John 3:27).
We must be content with the ministries God has given us. God gave John his ministry. God did not give John the ministry of ‘Messiah.’ And we must be content with God’s sovereign will for our ministries. God will expand them according to His plan. And God may even cause them to wane according to His plan. If He so desires, He can take a ministry away from us altogether. Never think in terms of “such and such is my ministry and it’s all I will ever do.”
Taking away a ministry isn’t always the result of failure on our part. Sometimes God has other plans for us. God may use the circumstances of our situation to change our ministries. Like John, we need to have the mindset of a servant in God’s house. The Master will appoint our work for us and our only concern is to perform it faithfully. If the Master gives us a different ministry to do, then we should take it up with as much joy and zeal as with our previous ministry. I’ve seen my primary ministry change many times since I was born again. Look now at John’s second point ].
II. Rehearse what is true about the nature of ministry (John 3:28).
John reminds his disciples about what was true about his ministry. John was not the Christ or Messiah. He was the forerunner, sent ahead of the Messiah. Disciples moving from John to Jesus was the plan all along.
For us, we can be encouraged by this by taking into consideration what Scripture says about the nature of ministry. Let me suggest a few points to show you what I mean.
1) Each of us has a ministry. Your ministry is a unique blend of spiritual gifts that God’s Spirit empowers and energizes for the building up of God’s church (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4, 1 Pet 4:10 “employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
2) God ordains the fruit from our ministry. Scripture points out that it is God, and not us, who causes people to turn to Him (John 6:65) and it is God who causes our ministries to grow (1 Cor 3:6). So if we are tempted to despair due to a lack of growth in our disciples, converts or ministries, remember that God controls those things according to His own schedule. Even Jesus will experience a drastic, rapid shrinking of His ministry twice (John 6:66; 18:8).
3) Sometimes ministry will be difficult. Scripture promises that we will suffer (Acts 14:22; Phil 1:29). This applies to our ministries too. We will suffer trials in our ministries: disappointments when things don’t turn out as we had planned, discouragement from lack of progress; persecution; the loss felt from major change in our ministry.
4) The purpose of our ministry is to bring glory to Jesus. This point is obvious from John’s comment. We saw last week that God’s overall purpose is to bring Himself glory. That ought to be our overall purpose too (1 Pet 4:10-11; 2 Thess 1:11-12). Look now at John’s third point .
III. Rejoice in any ministry that brings glory to Jesus (John 3:29).
John’s disciples experienced jealousy over Jesus’ success. By contrast, their leader found great joy in Jesus’ success. If your ministry shrinks and another expands, rejoice that Jesus is glorified. Remember that the Master of the house appoints jobs for His servants as He wills. We are not working for our own recognition or reputation. I’m not saying that we should rejoice when false teachers grow big ministries. I’m talking about those who live righteous lives and are devoted to the truth of God’s word. John the Baptist was a godly man with a Christ-centered ministry.
The friend of the bridegroom made the arrangements for the wedding on behalf of the groom. The best man was only there to get things ready then step back and let the groom take center stage. The best man went on ahead to the bride’s house and made sure everything was in order. Then, he stands waiting until he hears the groom’s coming. When the groom arrives, the best man’s work is done and the groom takes over. This brought great joy for the best man even though his job was finished. He had faithfully served the groom.
John testifies that his joy had been made full as he beheld all men going to Jesus. A wedding is not the end but the beginning of something new and wonderful. John doesn’t see the waning of his ministry as something ending but causing something else to begin. Like a best-man, John stood eagerly listening for the bridegroom’s voice because it signaled the beginning of a joyful event. Each of us is like John the Baptist. Our ministries give way to Jesus’ glory. That leads to John’s last point:
IV. In our ministries, we must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30).
John was not the point of his own ministry. His ministry served something greater than his own reputation. Every ministry is to serve God’s glory, now our own. Our success should be measured by two things: our faithfulness to the task we are given and by how much of the glory goes to Jesus. If you find that people think less about you and more about Jesus, then your ministry is truly on track. As sinners we are born with self-love—agape that is driven to promote ourselves. Our deep-seated drive was “I must increase.” But when we are born again, the agape in our heart becomes other-centered where God is the primary “other.” Jesus must increase and I must decrease.
This is our Master’s overall plan in every one of our ministries. John pointed to the determined will of God: “He must increase, but I must decrease”. Do you see how John corrected that popular idea in their day that there would be two Messiahs? John would make way for the one Messiah who will embody all that the OT promised as priest and king. That One Messiah is Jesus!
Joy in ministry comes as we fade and Jesus shines. That really is the whole point anyway, isn’t it? We experience the greatest joy when our ministry makes people think more about Jesus than about us. Faithfully serve in the ministry God has given you. And rejoice when you point people to Jesus, step back and let them behold His glory!