Am I Called to Ministry? Five Tests
Hello and welcome back. Thank you for making the podcast a part of your week. We started this week, on Monday, looking at flashy pastors who flaunt their wealth. What should we make of them? There Pastor John briefly mentioned a text where Paul says “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17). It’s a memorable phrase. But that whole section is valuable for anyone called to ministry. It offers up five tests to help you discern whether you have been called to be a minister of the gospel. It’s a very high calling— high because ministers are, Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). Gospel ministry is not about becoming a creator. Gospel ministry is not about making content. Gospel ministry is telling sinners, “Come with me and live, or turn away and die.” The stakes are that high. Here’s Pastor John, to paint an especially sobering picture of what the ministry represents.
If you knew that tomorrow you were going to go to Nicollet Mall and walk down among all those people, and as you walked, some would get behind you and walk with you and be saved, and everybody else would drop dead — everybody — would that feel heavy? Would you want to go there?
Cripples Leaning On God
Wouldn’t you be tempted to say, “I don’t think I can do that. Who is sufficient for these things? I’m going to be a divider of the human race in India? Who can bear this?” That’s the question that he asks in verse 16 at the end. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
“There are no sufficient missionaries, no sufficient pastors, no sufficient anybody who’s following Jesus.”
Now, in one sense, of course, the answer is “nobody,” but that’s not Paul’s answer here. He said in 2 Corinthians 1:12 that by the grace of God he had this ministry. He said that also in Romans 1:5. And here in 2 Corinthians 3:5, you see, at the end of verse five, “Our sufficiency is from God.” So no, nobody is sufficient in themselves. There are no sufficient missionaries, no sufficient pastors, no sufficient anybody who’s following Jesus. We all lean like cripples on God.
So, I think one of the most crucial questions now that you can ask yourself as we come toward the end of this service is whether you can do this. “Can I do this? Can I bear the weight of being the aroma from life to life (that would be glorious) and death to death (that would be almost unbearable)?”
So, can you do it? And the answer, I believe, is given in whether you deal with verse 17 a certain way.
Paul gives here five tests to help you know whether you can do this. And I’m going to take these five tests and turn them into questions and close with those five questions. So these are five questions for everyone — and how you answer them, I think, will encourage you that, by God’s grace, you can do this.
1. Will you love Christ over money?
Do you treasure Christ enough so that you don’t peddle his word? “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word” (2 Corinthians 2:17). We don’t sell the word of God. That means we love Christ more than we love money. We don’t love money and use Christ; we love Christ and can let money go. That’s the first question: Do you love Christ more than you love money?
“We don’t love money and use Christ; we love Christ and can let money go.”
Now here, the next four questions come in four phrases, which — strictly grammatically — modify the word speak. So it’s literally “we speak from sincerity,” “we speak from God,” “we speak before God,” and “we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Those are the four next questions. So let’s take them one at a time and turn them into questions, one or two.
2. Will you be real?
Will you speak from sincerity? That is, will you mean what you say? Will you renounce all sham, all pretense, all need to look like what you’re not? Will you be real?
3. Will you speak God’s word?
Will you speak from God — translated in the ESV as “commissioned by God” (2 Corinthians 2:17)? That’s one meaning. Will you speak from God? That is, will you take his word and speak it, not your own word? Will you take his authority and speak it, not your own authority? Will you take his wisdom and power and live in it, not in your own wisdom and power? Will you always look away to his word, power, wisdom, and lean on him, be from him?
4. Will you fear God over man?
Will you speak as before God? Which I think means, Will you count him to be your judge and no man? That is, will you fear no man and know that God alone is the one to whom you give account? Will you play to one audience and not worry about what other people say? Will you not be deterred by the criticism of other people, but only look away to your Father, and by his word discern his approval before God?
5. Will you find your all in Christ?
Finally, will you speak in Christ? That is, will you get your identity from being in Christ? Will you get your assurance before God from being in Christ? I promise you, if you’re wired like John Piper, every day you will go to bed uncertain whether you lived your life the way you should — every day, because I have so many options. A constant, selective neglect of good things is what my life seems to be made up of. Have I made good choices? How can I sleep? In Christ is my only hope for going to bed with any peace at all.
How else can you live? In Christ for your assurance, in Christ for your hope, in Christ for your confidence, in Christ for your courage — everything flowing from the union with Christ.
Sufficient Only in Christ
There are no perfect missionaries. The answer to these questions, I hope, in all of your hearts was something like this: “Yes, inasmuch as I know my own heart, that’s my longing. That’s my commitment. There are folds and contours of my heart where hidden things lie, I know. Cleanse me from hidden faults. But inasmuch as I know my own heart, yes to those questions. Help me to love you more than money. Help me to be real and sincere. Help me to speak your word. Help me to fear no man. Help me to get all I need from being in Christ.”