The Good News - Home
The Ministry of Life
By David A. DePra
For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor. 3:9-17)
What is TRUE MINISTRY? True ministry is the issuing forth, through a minister, of the LIFE of Christ – in various forms and manifestations -- in order to produce more of the life of Christ. This is done through teaching, example, and the other gifts. The end product will be that which is ETERNAL.
True ministry of the Holy Spirit adds to what the Bible calls, "the measure or fullness of Christ." This isn’t magic. It does require a hearing and surrender. But true ministry has nothing to do with numbers, money, or religious empires. It has to do with the multiplication of the life of Christ – the building up of Christ – in believers.
The Issue of Ownership
It would be impossible to understand true ministry unless we understand God’s mind for those who MINISTER. What is a minister, and what is a minister NOT?
One fundamental characteristic of a true servant of God is that such a one does not take OWNERSHIP over the things of God, or over the people of God. Indeed, the relinquishment of ownership over to God, replaced by the seeking of only God’s will for God’s glory, is the very definition of FAITHFULNESS. If you are faithful to God, you cannot take ownership over people, even if you THINK you know what is best for them. You were bought with a price and so was everyone else that is in Christ. Nothing belongs to you – not even your own ministry! Indeed, if a person is truly a servant of God, they GOT THAT WAY by relinquishing ownership over themselves and any ministry.
This does not mean that a minister fails his responsibility for his flock, or that he will not need to stand in the Truth without compromise. But he does those things, not out of pride, or a sense of personal ownership, but because He loves God and wants to glorify and honor Him – not to mention help people know Him.
Having said that, this issue of ownership cannot be overemphasized. If you read the book of Acts you will find that the very first sin against the Holy Spirit in the church was that of Ananais and Sapphira. And what was that sin – at it’s root? Well, they tried to use a moving of God – they tried to use what God was doing – for their own purposes. According to Peter, this was not simply a matter of lying to HIM – it was really a false position – a lying position against God. This is exactly my position if I try to take ownership over what God is doing. In one way or another, I will end up trying to glorify myself, and profit from God’s moving. This will be a living lie.
This has always been one of the great sins of the church – which is certainly why it is front and center as the first sin in the book of Acts. People in ministry have been chiefly guilty, but it is possible to be guilty of it if you were never in the ministry. For thousands of years, people have used Christianity as a means of getting rich, as a means of gaining power and prestige. Many have simply used the things of God to feed their pride. Others use it as an appeasement of their guilt. Some have NO relationship with Christ. But they use Jesus as, "fire insurance."
I have known people who use their ability to give Bible insights as a means of gaining admiration from others. This is nothing more than taking ownership over what belongs to God. I have also known some who have no interest in financial profit, but who are absolutely geared to controlling the lives of others – because they want to be a big spiritual leader. Today there are many who are claiming to be apostles and prophets, and who expect obedience from others solely on the basis of what THEY say is their calling. But even if there were more apostles and prophets today – and there are NOT! – but even if there were – God would want no one to obey them unless they were walking in the Truth and speaking the Truth. Remember Paul’s rebuke to Peter?
Here is what Paul said about his own ministry:
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. (1 Cor 4:1-2)
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
Paul knew that he had God’s backing only to the extent that he was faithful to God. The idea that believers are required to follow leadership regardless of what they teach – simply because they are supposedly, "called of God" – is heresy. This heresy has always plagued the church. It popped up in the 1970’s in the, "shepherding movement, has been practiced in home fellowship groups and communes, and is really the basis for the false doctrine of Papal infallibility. It is emerging again today. The truth is, anyone who claims that you are required to obey them because they are called of God, or because they are, "your authority," or, "God’s covering," or, "God’s anointed," is a FALSE PROPHET or teacher. This is NOT maybe. It is a fact. And you need to get away from them. TRUE servant hood never leads us to make such claims. If you are a true servant of God you take your hands off of people and get them into business for themselves with Jesus Christ. You realize you are nothing. Christ is everything.
Examples of those who teach this heresy today are C. Peter Wagner and his new apostolic movement, Bill Gothard and his legalistic institute of basic life principles, and many of those who claim that because they are, "God’s anointed," or, "a man of God," on Christian television. The fact is, there is only ONE Person who is God’s anointed, Jesus Christ – the name CHRIST means, "God’s anointed." Any real servant of God is going to point others to HIM as their ONE MEDIATOR to God. (I Tim. 2:5)
Ministry is LIFE – His life working in us and then through us. It is not OURS. We have no rights here. We have no ownership. Thus, if we are to serve God, all ownership must be relinquished in favor of God’s will to His glory. And God’s will to His glory will be that others become rightly related to Jesus Christ for themselves.
Indeed, Paul states that the PROOF of true ministry would be that others would become living epistles of God:
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? YOU are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: (2 Cor 3:1-4)
Paul did not try to make others into living epistles of HIMSELF – or even into living epistles of what he thought they ought to be. He continually pointed them – not to laws and rules – but to Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can make the individual into a living epistle. A faithful servant will teach that, and direct others to the Master of us all.
The above quoted passage from I Corinthians 3 is one of the places in the NT that tells us the nature of true ministry in the eyes of God. True ministry produces that which is ETERNAL. "If any man’s work ABIDE" – that is, passes through the fire that exposes the Truth about it – then that work has produced something ETERNAL. It abides through all testing and exposure. Thus, it is the product of the Holy Spirit. But if, "any man’s work be burned," well, then, by definition, that work – that product of ministry – is NOT eternal. Paul is telling us that the real nature of everything is eventually going to be exposed – as to whether it is eternal, or temporal.
Once we see that only that which is ETERNAL can abide, and pass through unto the eternal ages, the question becomes: What makes ministry – or what it produces -- eternal? The answer is actually quite simple. When we start talking about that which is eternal, we are really talking about that which is the product of death and resurrection. Only that which has passed through death and been raised is incorruptible. Everything else is temporal.
But before we continue, please take note of this important point: Paul is NOT talking about the things we DO – the activities that we call, "ministry." No. Rather, he is talking more about the ETERNAL OUTCOME of the things we DO. He is talking about the END PRODUCT that is built upon Christ – by the things we DO. That end product passes through the fire, and is exposed as to whether it be eternal or temporal. He is talking about whether the FRUIT, if you will, that is produced by ministry is spiritual or of the flesh. We must see the difference between what we DO, and what is produced by what we DO. For what is produced by what we is what Paul says passes through the fire -- is either eternal or temporal.
If you spend six weeks building a house, you will do a lot of planning, measuring, excavation, hammering, and actual construction. But when you are finished, the excavation, planning, measuring, hammering, and construction is NOT your building! No. Those are the necessary things you DO to get a building. What remains at the end of all that work is the building itself! THAT is the end product of all your work. If you did a good job you will have a strong building that is able to stand against the elements. If you did not go a good job, in time this will become more than obvious.
Paul is saying that WE are God’s building – we are individually, and we are, as a corporate Body, God’s own building, or temple. MINISTRY is all of the activity that is constructing this building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. But the REAL NATURE of the ministry is going to be seen in the kind of building that it produces. If the ministry was of the Holy Spirit, then the building that is constructed shall be ETERNAL. But if the ministry was NOT of the Spirit of God, then the building shall be TEMPORAL. The fire will expose it.
So we see that whether our ministry is of the Holy Spirit ultimately will determine the nature of what is built. What is built will be that which is tested – long after the ministry is done. Thus, even though what is built is going to be the real issue and final testimony of our ministry, whether our ministry is now of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from it. The two are as one – the ministry determines the building. Just as is the case with a physical house, the spiritual house we built is going to be the sum total of our ministry – the final embodiment of it.
That which is eternal will pass through into the eternal ages – that which is eternal has already become part of God’s spiritual house, and has edified in Christ. But that which is not eternal is going to be burned. Indeed, if we read the passage from I Corinthians 3, God is not neutral about that which is burned. He says that it is burned because it, "destroys God’s temple," and therefore must itself be destroyed.
And so right off the bat, if we see nothing else from this passage, we see that only that which is eternal and spiritual is going to abide. It doesn’t matter how BIG a ministry is, or how popular it is, or how seemingly successful it might be in the eyes of people. All that matters is whether it is of the Holy Spirit. When everything is said and done, all that is going to remain when God is done with this age, is what is of CHRIST. The rest is going to be burned.
Now in case it still escapes you, I want to reiterate what we are being told in this passage. We are being told that what we DO is absolutely important – but only unto what it produces. All of our ministry – our doings, and comings and going, and preaching, and teaching, etc. – all of those things we DO – they will all pass into history. But what will be left standing there and pass through the fire is that which we have BUILT through what we did. Is it eternal? Or is it merely of the flesh? – even though it might be, "religious?" The fire will expose it. And the ramifications will be eternal.
The Work that Abides
Only that which is of God – only that which is eternal – is going to abide eternally. This should not be a surprise. It is a principle given many other places in the Bible:
See that you refuse not him that speaks. For if they escaped not who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:24-29)
God has promised that He is going to, "shake the heavens." He is not talking about merely shaking a PLACE called, "heaven." Rather, He is talking about shaking the heavenly realm – the spiritual realm. And if you read the passage, He is going to do this so that all that will remain when He is done is that which CANNOT BE SHAKEN, that is, what is of Him, and eternal. God is going to do this, not because He is angry. He is going to do it because this is the only way in which He can set us free, and glorify Himself.
Don’t think that this is going to happen, "someday." No. It is happening NOW. God is NOW shaking the heavenly realm. He is shaking everything every thing out of His kingdom that doesn’t belong there – including everything IN US. How terrible if we continue to build up that which God wants to shake down! No. Let God shake us to bits. Then we will have only that which is OF HIM.
Therefore whosoever hears these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hears these sayings of mine, and does them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
Note again that what is tested by the storm is the HOUSE – that which is the result of doing and working. You could work yourself to death and still do bad work. You could even build a wonderful house, but built it upon a wrong foundation. That which is built will be tested – not only THEN, but NOW. Right NOW God is testing the true nature of what we are building.
Christian people don’t believe these words, or think that they could apply to them. We just march along, thinking that God is obligated to bless whatever we want to do for Him. We think that if we are doing something in the name of Jesus that God must bless it, and us. But the Bible tells us that we have no business doing ANYTHING in the name of Jesus unless Jesus is doing it. In fact, as we are going to see, the very definition of that which is eternal is Christ.
Jesus Himself said that with the wheat there would be many tares. God has already assured us that there would be heresies, and false apostles, and MUCH error in the midst of His people. But the greater assurance is that all that is not of Spirit, or of Truth – all that is not of Christ – is going to be shaken loose, burned, and will NOT pass through to His throne. It will NOT. The question is whether we have invested our lives in that which is eternal, or have wasted our time with that which is of religious flesh.
God’s Building is Christ
God is building Christ in people. THAT is what the Holy Spirit has come to do, and consequently, THAT is the goal of all TRUE MINISTRY. Of course, Christ is not a literal building, but a Person. But God gives us these pictures so that we might be able to relate to the Truth therein.
The fact is, if the outcome of my ministry is not that Christ is being built in people, then ministry is NOT of the Holy Spirit. In John, chapters 14 through 16, Jesus gave us seven works that the Holy Spirit would do when He came. I submit that this is what the Holy Spirit IS seeking to do. Thus, if the outcome of my ministry is not these seven works, then my ministry may be religious, and may even be highly successful in man’s eyes, but my ministry is NOT of the Holy Spirit.
What are the seven works of the Holy Spirit? Read them in John:
1. The Holy Spirit will abide IN US forever – as a constant witness and comforter.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (John 14:16-19)
2. The Holy Spirit will teach us all things and apply them to our practical lives.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)
3. The Holy Spirit will validate Jesus as Lord and Savior. But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me: (John 15:26)
4. The Holy Spirit will convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment – illuminate us as to God’s mind on those issues. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:7-11)
5. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all Truth – reveal to us the Person of Jesus Christ. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth. (John 16:13-14)
6. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us the eternal purposes of God. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come… He will show you things to come. (John 16:13-14)
7. The Holy Spirit will always make Jesus Christ central in our lives. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come…He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.
I submit that if these are what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do when He came, that since He has come, these are the works He is seeking to do. And yet, if you listen to Christian television, or even your local church, is this what is taught? Clearly, if these are the works of the Holy Spirit, then if a ministry is OF the Holy Spirit, should not that ministry – and every congregation -- be a vehicle unto these very same works?
Even the charismatic movement, which claims to be the depository for the supposed end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit, does not focus on these works of the Holy Spirit. There are exceptions, of course, but what do you hear on television? I hear about a THING called a, "movement," and a THING called, "the anointing," and I hear a message about how God wants you to prosper, and a message about how God wants to deliver you out of trouble, and I hear about how God is using these TV preachers for great ends, and I hear about supposed miracles that are happening, and all the power we are supposed to have as believers, and I hear about how we need to support these preachers to save souls, and I hear about how to get blessings from God. And I also hear much error and heresy. But I hear almost NOTHING about the works of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised. I hear almost NOTHING about the need to know Jesus Christ, the Person. Seems to me that if the charismatic movement were THE MOVE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT for the end times that in THE MOVE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT for the end times that I would hear and see operating the works of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised. Seems to me that where the SPIRIT OF TRUTH is moving that I ought to see the most Truth and the most works of the Spirit. But I don’t.
Christians need to get away from the notion that God is in, "movements." He is not. There is only ONE movement of God – it is the one that He started in Acts 2. It is the movement of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Lord of us, and to reveal all of Him to us and in us. Any REVIVALS that have taken place over the last two thousand years have not been new as to purpose – they have not added to that original purpose. Rather, if those revivals were of God, they were intended to be exactly what that word, "revival," means – a REVIVAL of an original purpose that had been ignored. And any revival that is of God is going to contain the seven works of the Holy Spirit. Revival is always going to be about JESUS CHRIST – and that will begin with repentance.
Today we have MOVEMENTS that have become things unto themselves. We are being told that God has, "anointed," ministries and movements, and that they cannot fail no matter what they do. Nonsense. The moment that a ministry departs from having God’s will, unto His glory, as the goal, God is no longer moving in it. God does not commit Himself to a movement. He commits Himself to Christ. And when a movement departs from Christ, the Holy Spirit does not follow.
When will we get it through our heads that ministries do not drag the Lord around with them? – because God has, "anointed," them? No. Ministries do not lead the Lord! The Lord leads ministry – indeed, He births ministry! And when any ministry – any person – doesn’t follow the Lord, God is no longer in it! Read the Bible. It is filled with examples of exactly this principle.
The fact is, it is entirely possible to have a worldwide ministry with millions of dollars, but for it to be completely OUT of the will of God. Indeed, how else could true apostasy and end time deception become a reality? What could deceive millions except it LOOK like God has anointed it and except it try to pass itself off as REVIVAL? The only way in which apostasy can deceive millions is if those millions think it is revival. And the only way we can know the difference is by reading the WORD OF GOD! Is the supposed revival carried by the works of the Holy Spirit?
All of those works of the Holy Spirit are about JESUS CHRIST. But not just objectively – but subjectively. The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to us and IN US! That is what He does.
God is building Christ in us – the Holy Spirit will always take all that is of Jesus, and make Him real in us, to us, and through us. The Holy Spirit will always make Jesus our personal Lord. This is Christianity – it is what God is doing in His people:
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, (Gal 4:19)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: (Eph 4:11-13)
These Truths are so clear, and so simple, and yet so many professing Christians are blind to them. For example, why do people get excited about their church? Usually because the church is growing bigger. They interpret this to mean that God is blessing their church. But nothing could be farther from the Truth! In the first place, instead of getting excited about our church, we ought to be excited about Jesus Christ. Secondly, a church is only getting bigger – in the eyes of God – if Jesus is getting bigger. A church is coming alive only if Jesus is coming alive in the individuals in that congregation. And yet you almost never hear such a thing taught.
The fact is, God is never going to bless a congregation unless those people make Jesus Christ – His will and His glory – their goal. And if they do, the first thing that might happen is that things will die, get smaller, and seem to be falling apart. Sure. God always has to, "weed the garden," before He can plant and grow one on the right basis. Furthermore, if God is to bless, He must bring the people involved to the place where they take their hands off of HIS property and let HIM work. This cannot be overemphasized. If you still have as your goal numbers and money you are not in God’s will. Make Jesus your goal. God can take care of numbers and money. The fact is, if you want God to bless your congregation, then things must come to the place where if God Himself doesn’t do it – the church will die. It has to be that simple – either God must do it or it will die. And I say, "Amen!." What? Do we want to build where God doesn’t want to build? Are we able to take our hands off and let God decide? If not, we have already lost. God will not bless our ministry.
You and I have no business starting a church or ministry, handing it to God, and expecting Him to bless it. God is quite capable of initiating a church or ministry. He can use us. But His word to us is to give OURSELVES to Him. Ministry cannot fail to happen on some level. But if we are in ministry because of ambition, or because we like it, or because we want to be popular, forget it. God won’t bless this. Our goal in that case is not Christ. It is more for what we can get out of it.
Ministry that is of the Holy Spirit is always going to glorify Christ. It will actually have, "a life of it’s own," (not ours, but God’s), because IT IS LIFE. True ministry is the LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST being reproduced out of one person to another – through the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you and I actually think we can make this happen through human effort? No. The only way it can happen is if the life of Christ is living and moving through us. Ministry will be there. It is the ONLY way it will be there.
Ministry is LIFE
Therefore seeing we have this ministry…but we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor 4:1-12)
Ministry is not the feeding of each other information about Bible verses, or even feeding each other facts about Jesus Christ. This is, of course, necessary – but is a means unto an end. Doctrine teaches us HOW to live. But doctrine is not LIFE. Doctrine is not relationship.
True ministry is the result of life in ONE PERSON feeding the life of Christ in another. This is really what it means to EDIFY in Christ. Through ministry the MEASURE OF CHRIST is built in each other.
If ministers, and if congregations, would seek to edify others in Christ – and leave everything else to God – God would bless. There would come a move of God, really a revival, that would change lives. People would actually be getting set free to know Jesus, because the seven things the Spirit wants to do would actually be happening. Into the lives of believers, there would be built that which is ETERNAL, and ABIDING. It would be to God’s glory and our benefit.
Where does one begin? By obeying Romans 12:1 and putting YOURSELF on the altar. As was the case with Paul, only through our death can His life be made manifest. This is not bad news. It is good news if people would have ears to hear. Indeed, presenting ourselves to God for whatever it takes to produce in and through us the life of Christ is exactly what true ministry IS.
The Good News - Home