The Christian Ministry
“Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.”—Matt. 28:19.
1. (a) What impressed the people of Galilee in the first century? (b) When did Jesus’ ministry begin?
WHEN the first-century people of Galilee heard a thirty-year-old man preaching in their territory, they were so impressed by what he said that “good talk concerning him spread out through all the surrounding country.” (Luke 4:14) Never had there been a man among them that spoke with such wisdom and authority. His preaching had begun shortly after his baptism in the Jordan River, at which time God’s spirit had come upon him. The preaching that Jesus Christ began at that time was the beginning of something distinctly new in the long history of the Hebrew people.
2. What was the task of the Hebrew prophets?
2 During the days of the Hebrew prophets that ended with Malachi, there was no attempt to establish a growing body of preachers that would proclaim Jehovah’s purposes and teach the people Scriptural truths. God sent prophets primarily as agents of reformation, not as teachers. Their task was to turn the people back to true worship and to warn of what God would do to them if they persisted in their course of disobedience. For this the prophets were individually inspired by God. No attempt was made by them to assemble a body of preachers. The association called the “sons of the prophets” was an association of prophets who already had Jehovah’s spirit. They were not the product of preaching. But those who followed Jesus Christ were.
3. How was the purpose of Jesus’ preaching a new thing for the Hebrews?
3 Unlike the prophets, Jesus preached with the purpose of gathering a people together who would be preachers. This was something decidedly new. It was his purpose that they would, in due time, form an organization of devoted worshipers of Jehovah who would “worship with spirit and truth” and would preach. (John 4:24) So with the preaching begun by Jesus in Judea and Galilee, the Christian ministry was established.
4. How did Jesus reveal what he had in mind for his followers to do, and what was that work?
4 Very early in his ministry Jesus began selecting those who would become his apostles. Eleven of them were Galileans, but the twelfth, the one that eventually proved unfaithful, was apparently a Judean. What he had in mind for them was revealed when he chose the first two who already were among those who had become his disciples. “Walking alongside the sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, letting down a fishing net into the sea, for they were fishers. And he said to them: ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” (Matt. 4:18, 19) He planned to train them as ministers so they could find persons who loved righteousness and bring them into association with him.
MINISTERS SENT OUT
5. Explain why the Christian ministry needed many preachers in the first century.
5 Since the purpose of the Christian ministry was very different from that of the preaching that was done by the Hebrew prophets, a great many preachers were needed. A teaching work had to be done in order to bring together interested persons. God’s Word would draw them into the new system of things. Through Jesus Christ, God had purposed to replace the old Jewish system of things that had begun with Moses with a new system of things. This new system would be much superior to the old one as it would bring eternal life to those brought into it. Comparing the gathering of people into the new system of things with a farmer’s harvest, Jesus said: “Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:37, 38) This he did by prospering the Christian ministry in that first century.
6. What ministerial instructions did Jesus give his apostles, and to whom were they to confine their preaching then?
6 After a period of training, Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to preach. “These twelve Jesus sent forth, giving them these orders: ‘Do not go off into the road of the nations, and do not enter into a Samaritan city; but, instead, go continually to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” Cure sick people, raise up dead persons, make lepers clean, expel demons. You received free, give free.’” (Matt. 10:5-8) They were to confine their preaching to the natural Jewish descendants of Abraham. At a later time it would be expanded to the nations, or non-Jewish peoples. Being the covenant people of God, the Jews were to be the first to receive the opportunity to make up the Christian congregation whose members would ultimately be privileged to be priests to God and to “rule as kings over the earth.”—Rev. 5:10.
7. (a) Why was the message the apostles were told to preach good news? (b) Explain why they could say that the kingdom had drawn near.
7 The message the apostles were instructed to preach was an upbuilding one regarding Jehovah’s kingdom. For a long time a kingdom of God’s making had been anticipated by the Israelites. The prophet Daniel had spoken of it more than five hundred years before Jesus began his ministry. When Jesus and his apostles announced that it had drawn near, that was good news. Jesus was its King. An angel had identified him as the king before he was born. To Mary the angel said: “He will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:33) Since he was the King of God’s kingdom, his presence brought the kingdom closer to reality than it had ever been before. Because it was represented in him, its head, the apostles could joyfully announce the good news that the kingdom had drawn near.—Dan. 2:44.
8, 9. (a) What evidence did Jesus and his apostles give to prove that they were true representatives of Jehovah? (b) How did Jesus show who authorized his ministry, and what does this reveal regarding religious leaders?
8 As evidence that God’s spirit was upon the apostles and that they were indeed proclaiming things God wanted the Jews to know, they were given the power to perform miracles of healing and of raising dead persons. Although the common people for the most part heard Jesus and his apostles gladly, recognizing that they were servants of God, many of the religious leaders stubbornly refused to recognize their authority to preach despite their miracles. (Mark 12:37) On one occasion these leaders said to Jesus: “By what authority do you do these things? And who gave you this authority?” (Matt. 21:23) Jesus had shown who had given him this authority when he had read publicly from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth. Reading from Isaiah 61:1, 2, he said:
9 “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.” When he had finished reading this, he said to the people: “Today this scripture that you just heard is fulfilled.” (Luke 4:18-21) In this way Jesus revealed Jehovah God as the One who had authorized his preaching. That was much higher than any authorization that might be granted by human religious leaders. With his commission coming from God, Jesus did not have to be a graduate from one of the rabbinical schools of higher learning or have his ministry authorized by high priest Caiaphas or by another member of the Sanhedrin. As he could point to Jehovah God as the One who gave him the authority to preach, so could his apostles.
10. What is indicated by Jesus’ sending out seventy more followers to preach?
10 After the apostles had begun to engage in the Christian ministry Jesus sent out seventy more followers as preachers. By doing this Jesus showed that he intended his commands to preach to apply to more than just the twelve apostles. “After these things the Lord designated seventy others and sent them forth by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come.” He told them: “Go on telling them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:1, 9) Like the apostles, they carried their message to the people, rather than waiting for the people to come to them. By training and sending out these eighty-two persons, Jesus had begun to expand the Christian ministry.
11. (a) What began happening to Christianity at Pentecost? (b) Why was a Christian organization not possible before Pentecost?
11 With the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, Christianity began to have an explosive growth. On that day alone 3,000 persons became disciples. During the days following Pentecost the number of believers increased daily. Unlike those who responded to the preaching done before Jesus died, these were formed into an organization that was distinctly separate from the Jewish religious system of things. This was not possible before Jesus died because the law covenant was still valid, and Jesus could not properly establish an organization that would compete with that which existed under the Law. After his death had fulfilled the purpose of the Law, bringing it to an end, the time had arrived for forming the Christian organization. It began with 120 persons, all Jews, at Pentecost, with the apostles being the governing body.
12. What accounts for the rapid growth of the Christian organization?
12 The rapid growth of this new organization was due to the fact that all who became Christians participated in the Christian ministry and God’s blessing was upon their preaching efforts. “At the same time Jehovah continued to join to them daily those being saved.” (Acts 2:47) When these new followers of Jesus Christ returned to their home countries after Pentecost, they did not remain silent about what they had learned. Like the eighty-two persons Jesus had sent out to preach, they too engaged in the Christian ministry. They let the light of truth shine out just as Jesus had instructed. “People light a lamp and set it, not under the measuring basket, but upon the lampstand, and it shines upon all those in the house. Likewise let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matt. 5:15, 16.
13, 14. (a) Explain how persecution helped in the spreading of Christianity. (b) How did the city of Antioch in Syria figure into the events?
13 The stoning to death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, ignited a wave of persecution that lashed against the infant Christian organization and caused its members to be scattered. This served to spread the Christian faith and to increase their numbers. All of them kept preaching wherever they went. “However, those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (Acts 8:4) Some of these followers of Christ reached Syrian Antioch, where they preached to the Jews and formed a congregation. “Consequently those who had been scattered by the tribulation that arose over Stephen went through as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, but speaking the word to no one except to Jews only.”—Acts 11:19.
14 Among those who were scattered after Stephen’s death some preached to Greek-speaking Jews and proselytes. “However, out of them there were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene that came to Antioch and began talking to the Greek-speaking people, declaring the good news of the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, the hand of Jehovah was with them, and a great number that became believers turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:20, 21) Significantly, after Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus taught there, Antioch became the central point from which Christianity expanded among the non-Jewish nations. It was here also that Christ’s followers were first called Christians.
15. How did Saul of Tarsus regard the ministry when he became a Christian, and how did he manifest his devotion to it?
15 The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was an important factor in the rapid expansion of Christianity. When he was converted, he realized that the Christian ministry was an obligation that accompanied acceptance of the Christian faith, and he did not hold back from engaging in it. There is no indication that he regarded the ministry as the exclusive right of a few religious leaders. After spending a little time with the disciples in Damascus, probably for instruction, he plunged into the ministry with exemplary zeal. The preaching he began there in Damascus, while he was still in what appears to have been his thirties, was the start of a long career of zealous activity in the Christian ministry, a career that lasted for about thirty years. During that time he let the light of truth shine wherever he traveled. The record of his career shows him to have been a very fruitful minister.
16. Explain the procedure Paul followed when preaching in new territory and why it was effective.
16 Whenever Paul entered new territory, he made it a practice to concentrate his preaching in towns that were commercial centers. Ephesus, Thessalonica and Corinth were such places. They were centers to which people in the vicinity came to do business and through which trade routes passed to distant places. Ephesus, for example, was on the imperial highway from Rome to the East, and Corinth was located on an isthmus where ships unloaded their cargo to be transported to other parts of Greece. This was a safer practice than risking a voyage around the storm-lashed capes at the southern tip of Achaia. Such places were ideal for Christianity to establish a foothold in new territory. The Jews and non-Jews in these places who became Christians carried the truth to neighboring cities, to the hinterland and to distant places on the trade routes.
MINISTRY NOT LIMITED
17. What evidence do we find in the first century that Jesus’ arrangement for making all believers preachers was a wise one?
17 The rapid spreading of Christianity showed the wisdom of Jesus’ arrangement for having all believers preach. In a short time Christians could be found all over the vast Roman Empire. The Christian writer Tertullian revealed this when arguing with the pagans of his day. He wrote: “Men proclaim aloud that the state is beset with us; in countryside, in villages, in islands, Christians; every sex, age, condition, yes! and rank going over to his name. . . . We are but of yesterday, and we have filled everything you have—cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges.” That all of them participated in the ministry is indicated by what was written by the pagan writer Celsus. He mocked Christianity because, according to the historian Augustus Neander, “labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men, should be zealous preachers of the Gospel.”
18, 19. (a) How did the early Christians take what Jesus said about confessing union with him, and what did he mean by this expression? (b) What other command did Jesus give regarding the ministry, and to whom does it apply?
18 All who exercised faith took seriously what Jesus said about confessing union with him. “I say, then, to you, Everyone that confesses union with me before men, the Son of man will also confess union with him before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8) To be in union with him a person had to believe the truths Jesus taught and had to follow his example of preaching those truths to others. The person who was unwilling to show by activity in the ministry that he was united with Christ in beliefs and purposes showed a lack of love for him. Why should he acknowledge that person before God and the angels as being a member of his body, his congregation?
19 After Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension, he gave a command to his eleven faithful apostles that was not limited to them alone. It applies to all Christians. He said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) This the apostles and all who became followers of Jesus during the lifetime of the apostles did. They rejoiced in every opportunity to make disciples whom they could train to teach others.
20. Explain how preaching became a rare thing among professed Christians.
20 Some time after the death of the apostles and those who had been close to them, the professed Christians of that time began to become apostate. Ecclesiastical orders were established, and preaching ceased to be the activity of all who professed the Christian faith; it became the exclusive prerogative of a clergy class. Note what the Bible encyclopedia by M’Clintock and Strong says about this: “When ritual ceremonies came to supersede not only the practice, but the very idea of evangelization, it is not surprising that preaching itself became a ceremony, and at length a rare and infrequent ceremony. Not merely laymen, but even presbyters of the Church were inhibited from preaching, except by special permission of bishops; while many of the bishops, who had arrogated to themselves the exclusive right of preaching, either through ignorance or indolence practically abandoned the custom.” The custom today for a clergy class to do the preaching and for the common people to remain silent comes from these apostates rather than from Jesus Christ.—Acts 20:29, 30.
CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITY TODAY
21, 22. Why is it still necessary for Christians to engage in the ministry?
21 Although we are removed from Jesus’ day by more than 1900 years, the Scriptural commands for Christians to preach have not been changed. They are still binding. Being a Christian still means letting the light of Scriptural truth shine out for the benefit of others. The need for the Christian ministry is just as great today as it was in the first century despite the fact that about 30 percent of the world’s population professes to be Christian. The unchristian actions of the greater number of these professed followers of Christ reveal that true Christianity has not touched their hearts. As with ancient Israel, God can say of them: “This people have come near with their mouth, and they have glorified me merely with their lips, and they have removed their heart itself far away from me.”—Isa. 29:13.
22 The professed Christians of Christendom need to be taught the basic truths of the Scriptures. They need to be told the good news of God’s kingdom; they need a hope created in them for world peace and just rule by means of the kingdom of God. They are like the unfruitful Israelites who suffered from a spiritual famine. Although they profess to be Christians, they are in need of true Christians coming to them with nourishing spiritual truths. There are such Christians today who are doing that very thing.—Amos 8:11.
23. Who today realize what a Christian’s responsibility is, and how are they like the early Christians?
23 Realization of the responsibility that rests upon every Christian to engage in the Christian ministry spurs Jehovah’s witnesses to teach the truths of Christianity “publicly and from house to house” as the apostles did. (Acts 20:20) In 194 lands they are following the example of Jesus by going among the people and preaching to them wherever they can be found. Like the early Christians, they train those who respond to the good news of the Kingdom to teach still others. Thus all who come within the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses are encouraged to participate in the Christian ministry. It matters not if a person can spend only a few hours a month in the ministry. He can still obey Jesus’ command to preach. These modern-day Christians take to heart what the apostle Paul said: “For with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.”—Rom. 10:10; 2 Tim. 2:2.
24. How does the preaching by Jesus and his apostles compare with that done by the clergy today?
24 Many professed Christians react unfavorably to the contention made by Jehovah’s witnesses that the Christian ministry is for all Christians. They are content with a clublike arrangement in which a clergyman preaches to them, and they remain spiritually inactive. That is not what Christ purposed for his followers. That is not the Christian ministry. He did not confine his preaching to just his apostles, with their doing nothing but listening. Unlike the pagan teachers of Egypt and Greece who had their groves and porticoes where they spoke to sympathetic listeners, Jesus spoke in public places to people who were not all followers of him. Some were hostile. Later, when congregations were formed, the apostles did not attach themselves to various congregations and confine their ministry to those gatherings of believers. They continued to preach to people outside the Christian organization, setting an example for all who became dedicated Christians. They provided good leadership that helped to maintain the spiritual vitality and health of the various congregations. This pattern of upbuilding Christian activity is just as necessary today as it was in the first century.
25. (a) Why can it be said that the Christian ministry in the form that Jesus began it has not passed away? (b) What is the fruitage of the ministry today?
25 The Christian ministry that Jesus began has been revived by Jehovah’s witnesses. People of all races and nationalities are being given the opportunity to learn of the marvelous things Jehovah has purposed for mankind. Because all in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses are urged to engage in the ministry and because this arrangement has God’s blessing, a great crowd of people is being brought into Jehovah’s organization. These people of good heart recognize the Christian ministry as their responsibility and as a divinely provided means for keeping spiritually alive. They know that it is vital for their salvation as well as for those to whom they preach. By means of it they praise God through Christ. “Through him let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.”—Heb. 13:15; Matt. 24:14.