The Ministry of the Word

Ordination of Steve Roy

Tonight we as a congregation are expressing our consent and approval of Steve Roy's claim to be led by God into the ministry of the Word. We sense God's leading in his life and solemnly set him apart for the fulfillment of this calling. So I want us to ponder for a few minutes the significance of the ministry of the Word.

The Significance of the Ministry of the Word

In Acts 6:1–6 the Greek-speaking Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. This pressing need clamored for the apostles' attention. But the twelve said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables." So they appointed seven men to take care of this need, and the apostles said, "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

So from the very earliest time in the church it was understood that the ministry of the Word required so much time and effort that those called to this ministry should be freed from other demands.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17–18, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,' and 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" In other words the church should value the ministry of the Word so highly that it is willing to pay elders who devote their life to it.

This is an ongoing office in the church, not a temporary function of the apostles. When Christ ascended into heaven, it says in Ephesians 4:11, "his gifts were that some should be pastor-teachers." This is an office distinct from the rest of the people in the church, because it says that the pastor-teachers are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

So we can conclude that the New Testament prescribes for the church that there be some people set apart for the ministry of the Word, and that these elders or pastor-teachers devote their main life-efforts to this ministry and be supported by the church.

Steve Roy has been called to this ministry, and we are now setting him apart for it. We do well to ponder just what this ministry is. Perhaps we will come to value it more highly and pray for it more fervently. And perhaps some among us will feel the call of God this very night into the ministry of the Word.

What the Ministry of the Word Is

I only have time to mention four things:

  1. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of study.
  2. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of prayer.
  3. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of suffering.
  4. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of joy.

1. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of study.

The life of the church hangs on the word of God (Matthew 4:4). And that inspired word has come to us in the form of a book written in Greek and Hebrew. None of us comes into the world able to read, let alone read Greek and Hebrew. These things must be learned. And they must be learned by study.

And even when they are learned, they only become fruitful when used like mining tools to dig out the gold and silver of Scripture. And the only way to dig is to study. The good hand of the Lord was upon Ezra, the Scripture says, because he "had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:9–10). And Paul tells Timothy to be zealous to present himself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed because he rightly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Books About the Bible and the Bible

And let it be emphasized that with all the good and bad books on theology the ministry of study should always remain primarily a study of the Bible, and that in the original languages. Philip Lindsay, a professor at Princeton in the last century used to say, "One of the best preparations for death is a thorough knowledge of the Greek grammar." Which is simply a very pointed way of saying that pastor-teachers should do their duty and that intellectual labor in the New Testament is rewarded with real life and death truth.

Richard Baxter wrote something that could save many young pastors years of regret in misdirected study. He said, "Till at last, being by my sickness cast far from home, where I had no book but my Bible, I set to study the truth from thence, and so, by the blessing of God, discovered more in one week than I had done before in seventeen years' reading, hearing, and wrangling."

We must beware of the temptation to replace the study of Scripture with the reading of good books about the Scripture. If you want to know if a man has studied well, don't ask him to show you his library. Ask him to show you his personal notebooks where he has recorded his own authentic insights into the Word of God.

Reading and Thinking

We make a great mistake when we think that study consists mainly in reading (as commonly understood)—even reading the Bible. Many think they have studied well when they have spent the morning reading through some worthy book of divinity. And thus the measure of our study becomes the number of books that we have read.

But my own conviction is that fruitful study is primarily thinking not reading. My guess is that reading, which was meant to become a stimulus and guide to independent thinking, usually becomes a substitute for it. The evidence for this is how many books we read and how little we write down. Fresh thinking must always be put down on paper to get it clear and preserve it for use. Much reading and little thinking makes for a second-hand pastor. And it is not easy to preach and teach second-hand truths with power.

The ministry of the Word is a ministry of study. And the ministry of study should be devoted primarily to the Bible. And the study of the Bible should consist very much in thinking and writing about what it says.

Relevancy and the Power of Scripture

Nor should such a student of Scripture fret about the cry for relevancy. The faithful study and teaching of God's Word will do more to change the world than anyone imagines. J.C. Ryle wrote, "To the influence of the Bible we owe nearly every humane and charitable institution in existence. The sick, the poor, the aged, the orphan, the lunatic, the idiot, the blind, were seldom or never thought of before the Bible leavened the world. You may search in vain for any record of institutions for their aid in the histories of Athens or of Rome. Alas, many sneer at the Bible, and say the world would get on well enough without it, who little think how great are their own obligations to the Bible."

2. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of prayer.

Benjamin Warfield, a great evangelical theologian who died in 1921, wrote in 1911 about the kind of criticism that comes to those who believe in much study. Someone said to him that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. "What," he replied, "more than ten hours over your books on your knees?" Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.

Study and Prayer

The minister of the Word must not choose between study and prayer. Study without prayer is the work of pride. Prayer without study is presumption. This is what the Proverbs teach: "If you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding (that's prayer), and if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures (that's study), then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:3–5).

Prayer humbles the heart and gives it the tone of Christ and makes it ready and open and sensitive to the truth of Scripture. But it is study that brings in the truth and fills the heart with joy and power.

Meeting the Almighty God

The ministry of the Word is a ministry of prayer because in prayer the minister meets God and has real living dealings with the Almighty so that his preaching and teaching have the aroma of God about them. The ministry of the Word must be a ministry of earnestness and intensity, and where are these to be found if not in our private meetings with God where you learn to know if you are real or just playing games?

One great Baptist pastor, Hezekiah Harvey, put it like this in 1879: "Moral earnestness can never be assumed; it is the attribute only of a soul profoundly feeling the power and reality of divine truth. The man, therefore, who would speak God's word with the pungency and fervor of a Bunyan, a Baxter, a Flavel, or a Payson must, like them, be constant and fervent in prayer. The springs of spiritual life opened in the closet will pour forth never-failing streams of life in the pulpit."

Without much prayer all the study in the world will leave us shallow and lean. Without prayer there creeps in what Richard Cecil called the "low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among us."

E.M. Bounds is right when he says, "What the Church needs today is not more machinery or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use— men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer."

3. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of suffering.

The Bible is God's artillery in the war against sin and Satan. And when you get recruited for the artillery, you can count on being wounded.

Listen to Paul's second letter to Timothy.

1:8, "Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God."

1:11, "For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do."

2:3, "Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus."

Soldiers in the War Effort

It belongs to soldiers to suffer for the war effort. No soldier in conflict expects things to be easy or comfortable. When God calls us into the ministry of the Word, he recruits us into front-line artillery action. It is not a safe place to be.

But strangely enough it is the place Paul wants to be. He said in Philippians that he counted everything as loss that he might "know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and might share his sufferings becoming like him in his death." Paul attained a powerful authenticity in carrying Christ's word because he chose to walk in Christ's way. He said at the end of Galatians, "Henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." When you have been wounded in the service of the Word of Christ and have not gone AWOL or hated your enemy, there comes a new certainty and depth and power.

Therefore every minister of the Word should say with the apostle Paul, "I do not account 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."

4. The ministry of the Word is a ministry of joy.

I sometimes think of the dozens of vocational options that lie open before me. I could go to a professional referral service and take a battery of tests to check my aptitude and then enter some management training course. Or I could go back to school and try medicine where I started, or perhaps law where my freshman aptitude tests said I was supposed to go.

Or could I? Not any more than I choose to dislike Pamela Rowe's Mississippi Mud Cake. I am a Christian Hedonist. I am enslaved to the joy of the ministry of the Word.

I say with Paul, "Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." Paul reminded the pastor-teachers of Ephesus that in the ministry of the Word it is always more blessed to give than to receive. And to the Thessalonians he wrote, "For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy."

There is no better way to spend a brief life on this little earth than to spend it in the ministry of the Word.

  • Because here what you study is the endless terrain of the infinite glory of God.
  • The one you pray to is the majestic Sovereign whose hand no one can stay.
  • What you suffer is for the highest Cause in the universe.
  • And what you enjoy is the very delight of God in his Son and in those he died to save.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org