1 Peter 2:9-12
If you crawl under a pew of one of the magnificent European Cathedrals, you will find carved there four letters: "AMDG." You may find the same four letters etched onto the cathedral's stained glass, stitched on its tapestries and altar cloths, and hewn into cathedral stone. You will not find the name of the artist there; only those four letters: "AMDG." The letters stand for the Latin phrase, "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam": To the Honor and Glory of God. Despite the difficulty of their creative tasks--since they were all done by hand, a man could spend an entire lifetime carving the decorations for one tower, or carving and joining the woodwork of a chapel--the artist asked no recognition. Their grand creations stand, but their names are unknown. Every chisel stroke, every pass of the plane, every stitch of the cloth, was a prayer, offered wholly to the honor and glory of God. How would our attitude change if everything we did was done, consciously, every moment, "to the honor and glory of God?"
We began a discussion last week – how we are all ministers – not professional, just surrendered. You may never have thought of yourself as a minister before – it can be kind of intimidating, because I’m sure when you think of a minister you have a picture in your head of someone who stands up and preaches, or spends a lot of time in Bible study or counseling or visiting in the hospital. But that’s not the picture of a minister in the Bible.
In its simplest definition, ministry is using whatever gifts and talents God has given us to serve him and tell the good news of Jesus.
We all have a stake in that – it is built in to every Christian’s job description – no Christian is exempt. While we have many gifts, we have one mission.
Centuries ago, the monastic movement began – and it sounded like a good idea – separate yourself from the world so you can’t be tempted and can focus solely on God. But after several months, one hermit came back to society and rejoined the church – in spite of the distractions, in spite of the frustrations. Why? He found that while he might be able to focus on God, what he could not do was fulfill Jesus’ commands to love and serve his neighbor – he could not wash a brother’s feet – he could not tell others of Jesus.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:15-19).
God did not take us out of the world when we became Christians, but instead sent us back into the world – and he sent us back with a purpose.
That purpose is as ancient as the purpose God gave Abraham – “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:2-3).
That purpose is as focused as Christ’s own purpose – “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost”
We are not isolated, protected away from the world – we are sent back into the world – we are made for ministry.
Every day when you walk out your front door, God is sending you out into the world as his ambassador, his representative. And the world is watching you – and listening. They want to know – do you live what you believe? Do your words and your life match up, or do you say one thing and do another? They are looking to see if your God really is in control of your life, or are you just like everyone else – controlled by the same fears and driven by the same priorities?
We can say all the words we want to say about proclaiming Christ to the unbelieving world around us, but they will have little effect unless there is something behind the words. We can never win back with our words what we lose with our lives. Credibility is destroyed when our words are betrayed by our lives. When our lives are ineffective and powerless, we can’t talk a good enough game to reclaim it. It is simply unthinkable that Christ lives in our lives and nothing be different or distinctive about them.
But when we live genuine, authentic lives – lives that are themselves a testimony to the power of God to transform – lives that are consumed in imitating the servant life of Christ – then not so many words are needed. But if there is no life behind those words, then all the words in the world will have little effect , and may do irreparable harm to the cause of Christ.
Peter addressed this relationship between life and words in his first epistle – 1 Peter 2:9-12 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
What he reminds them of over and over again, is that when you are in the world, lead with your life – let your life be the testimony to the truth of your words. St. Francis of Assisi said this about our role in the world – “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
It is a theme that permeates the words of the NT. We are never called to be mere spectators. Our baptism is not a retirement, but a call to put our beliefs into practice – to live the life, not just talk about it.
Listen to how the apostle Paul describes it:
Phil. 2:14-16 “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”
2 Cor. 3:2-3 “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
1 Thess. 4:11-12 Paul tells Christians to live their life in such a way “that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.”
In the 2nd century, Christians would gather on the outskirts of Rome at dusk. They would watch shadowy figures from the town deposit small bundles at the edge of the forest – unwanted children (often female or deformed) who would be left to the elements or wild beasts. The Christians would rescue these infants and raise them as their own sons and daughters. The church had an important role to play in shaming popular culture into abandoning such practices.
In the 3rd century, Tertullian, a church leader in Africa wrote about the world’s view of Christians: These contributions to the church treasury are the trust fund of piety. For they are not spent on banquets, drinking parties, or dining clubs; but for feeding and burying the poor, for boys and girls destitute of property and parents; and further for old people confined to the house, and victims of shipwreck; and any who are in the mines, who are exiled to an island, or who are in prison merely on account of God’s church – these become the wards of their confession. So great a work of love burns a brand upon us in regard to some. “See,” they say, “how they love one another.” (Apology xxxix.5-9)
The gospel has always been a “social gospel” – aimed at changing society around us. When Jesus called us “salt” and “light” he was telling us that our presence in the world changes it for the good. Jesus had a heart for the poor and the outcast. James said pure religion is caring for orphans and widows. We should be on the forefront of confronting the ills in the world and working toward solutions. We should be defenders of the unborn and the orphan, the helpless and the oppressed. We should be the ones who challenge injustice and unrighteousness.
We can’t retreat into isolation and pretend the world doesn’t exist. We are sent out as ambassadors into this world representing the kingdom of God. We live in this world, but not of this world – but we do live in the world. God does not save us and then remove us from its contamination. Instead he sends us into the world to begin to change it from the inside out.
Esther faced a momentous decision that could save her people or cost her her life. Her uncle Mordecai had these powerful words for her – “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Ministry begins with the realization that our lives belong to God to use to accomplish his purposes in the world around us. He puts us within a circle of people – a group unique to us – that only we can impact.
Your ministry begins with these people – your family, your friends, your co-workers, your casual acquaintances. How is your life touching their lives? How is your faith impacting their eternity?
If God were to give you a specific assignment: “John, you have five years to make a significant, an eternal difference in the lives of these ten people” – how would you go about it? Where would you start? That folks, is the essence of ministry. That is exactly what God is calling you to do. God takes you where you are, who you are, with what you have and calls you to ministry.
We must view differently our place and our purpose in this world. We are not here for personal satisfaction and self-gratification. We are called to be ministers to others – to be invested in the priorities which Jesus counted most important.
Do you believe that your life has real power and purpose? If everything else were stripped away except your life, what would your Christianity look like? Are you an open letter, known and read by all men?
Available to God
Jesus spoke 13 parables of judgment. He never condemned someone for any sin like adultery or stealing or murder. He didn’t condone those sins – but the ones he condemned were those who did absolutely nothing – he condemned the sin of uselessness.
God doesn’t need more church members – marking time, warming pews. He needs ministers – he needs men and women who have committed themselves to being available servants of God.
If you’re guilty of being lukewarm and indifferent – if you have felt satisfied because you never do anything bad – but when you’re honest with yourself – you really never do anything for God.
You’re like a bucket of gasoline – you have the potential for a spectacular explosion! – but you’ve never been on fire so instead of doing anything risky, you’re just slowly evaporating away.
There is an incredible story in Exodus 3. You remember the story of Moses – a Hebrew baby, raised by royalty, brother to Pharaoh – and then things go bad and he flees into the wilderness, a fugitive from justice. And he takes up the life of a shepherd – he resigns himself to finishing his life in anonymity. 40 years pass. And then we find him on one of those dull, ordinary days in a life filled with routine – and suddenly, Moses’ life is turned upside down by a burning bush and the voice of God. Moses tries to wiggle out of it with excuses and refusals – but then God speaks – and the pronouns are telling: I have seen... I have heard... I am concerned... I have come down... the cries of the Israelites have reached me... I have seen... NOW I am sending YOU.– but I will be with you, I will tell you what to say, I will empower you.
And let me tell you that God has a bush lit and a job for you to do – and his promise is the same -- I will be with you, I will tell you what to say, I will empower you.
Let me close with a story: In a small Jewish town in Russia, there was a rabbi who disappeared each Friday morning for several hours. His devoted disciples boasted that during those hours their rabbi goes up to heaven and talks to God.
A stranger moves into town, and he's skeptical about all this, so he decides to check things out. He hides and watches. The rabbi gets up in the morning, says his prayers, and then dresses in peasant clothes. He grabs an axe, goes off into the woods, and cuts some firewood, which he then hauls to a shack on the outskirts of the village. There an old woman and her sick son live. He leaves them the wood, enough for a week, and then sneaks back home.
Having observed the rabbi's actions, the newcomer stays on in the village and becomes his disciple. And whenever he hears one of the villagers say, "On Friday morning our rabbi ascends all the way to heaven," the newcomer quietly adds, "If not higher."
What we do with our lives will either confirm or betray what we say with our words. Let’s be people who practice what we preach.