Who Are God’s Ministers Today?
“We . . . sent Timothy, our brother and God’s minister in the gospel of Christ.”—1 THESSALONIANS 3:1, 2, AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION; SEE ALSO AUTHORIZED VERSION, NEW WORLD TRANSLATION.
1, 2. (a) Do all who claim to be ministers of God seem to be fulfilling their ministry properly? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) (b) Why is it important to be able to recognize God’s true ministers today? (2 Corinthians 5:18)
RECENTLY, in Central America, ordained ministers of religion helped to organize a revolution that toppled a government. In the Far East an ordained minister led an ambush that resulted in two deaths. In southern Asia ordained ministers organized landless laborers in their struggle against the “oppressors.”
2 These men all claimed to be Christian ministers, but were they? Is this the kind of thing a minister of God should be doing? This is an important question, since it is largely through the activity of God’s true ministers that people learn about him and gain the opportunity for everlasting life. (1 Corinthians 3:5; John 17:3) We need to be able to recognize who God’s real ministers are. But how can we? Only the Bible can help us.
“Minister” in the Bible
3. (a) What are some uses of the Greek word di·aʹko·nos? (b) What is the most elevated kind of ministry?
3 First of all, what is a minister according to the Bible? In the original language of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word for “minister” was di·aʹko·nos. Though there are various ideas about the origin of this word, the meaning is well known. Basically, it means “a servant.” In the Gospels di·aʹko·nos and related words are often used with reference to serving those reclining to eat a meal. (Luke 4:39; John 2:5, 9) However, in the Greek of Jesus’ day the word often had a more elevated association. In non-Biblical documents it was used with reference to religious officials, and in the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek it was used to describe court officials and attendants of the Persian king Ahasuerus. (Esther 1:10; 6:3, Septuagint Version) Of course, the most elevated ministry that a human can share in is the service of the Most High God, Jehovah.
4. How does a genuine minister of God view himself?
4 Since being a minister of God is such a high privilege, how does a genuine minister view himself? He should not be proud or feel self-important. Certainly, he does not accept flattering titles such as “Holy Father” or “Reverend.” (Matthew 23:8-12) Rather, Jesus showed that a genuine Christian minister would be humble. He said: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”—Matthew 20:26, 27.
5. Whose commands do God’s ministers obey, and who benefit from their ministry?
5 A minister obeys his master’s commands. However, in doing so, his work may benefit someone else. For example, if his master has guests, then the minister obeys his master by caring for the needs of the guests. Christian ministers, being “God’s ministers” and “ministers of Christ,” obey the commands that God gave through his Son, Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 6:4; 11:23) But the work they do benefits other humans. For example, Paul was a minister to “people of the nations.” (Ephesians 3:1-7) His ministry brought great blessings to those who responded favorably. And it brought honor to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, whose commands he was obeying.
The Greatest Minister of Religion
6. (a) Who was the greatest minister of religion? (b) Whose orders did he obey, and on behalf of whom did he minister?
6 But what should a minister actually do? We can answer this by considering the activities of the greatest minister of religion who ever lived, Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) As a minister, whose orders did Jesus obey? To whom did he minister? And how? Jesus obeyed the orders of his heavenly Father. (John 8:28) And, to start with, he ministered to the Jews only. (Romans 15:8) But, ultimately, his ministry was for the benefit of all right-hearted persons.—John 3:16.
7. (a) As a minister, what did Jesus do? (Mark 1:38) (b) What did Jesus not do?
7 What did Jesus do as a minister? One thing he did was avoid getting involved in politics. On at least two occasions he had the opportunity to take a political stand, but he refused. (Mark 12:13-17; John 6:15) Why? Because his ministry was above politics, and the benefits it offered, including everlasting life, were much greater than those offered by political action. Besides, a minister of God cannot be a minister of this world. (Matthew 6:24) Hence, Jesus remained “no part of the world.” (John 17:14; James 4:4) So, what Jesus did was preach and teach. He publicly declared God’s name. He preached that God’s kingdom was the only hope for mankind. He taught his disciples God’s high moral standards and trained them to follow him in the ministry. Finally, he climaxed his ministry by sacrificing his life for mankind. —Matthew 4:17; 5:27-32; 20:28; John 17:3-6.
8. Why do true modern-day ministers of God closely examine Jesus’ ministry?
8 Jesus is a model for all “to follow his steps closely.” (1 Peter 2:21) Only those who closely imitate the ministry of Jesus Christ can honestly call themselves God’s ministers today. If we examine the activity of Christian ministers in the years following Jesus’ death we will see what this involved.
The Christian Minister
9. How did both Jesus and Paul qualify to be ministers?
9 First, how did a servant of God in those days qualify to be a minister? Today, most ministers in Christendom receive from some seminary or college documents proclaiming their status. These are their qualifications. However, Jesus did not have such a document. He was a qualified minister because God anointed him to be one. (Luke 4:18, 19) Similarly, the apostle Paul said: “Our being adequately qualified issues from God, who has indeed adequately qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant.” (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6) Thus, God qualifies his own ministers. How?
10. How did Timothy receive his basic training to be a minister?
10 Consider the example of Timothy, who was “God’s minister in the good news about the Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 3:2) Paul wrote to him: “You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and that from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.”—2 Timothy 3:14, 15; see also 2 Ti 3 verses 16 and 17.
11. Who assisted Timothy to qualify for the ministry?
11 Does this mean that Timothy merely read the Bible and thus became a minister? No. First, he was “persuaded to believe” by other ministers. Who were these? Since he had known the Scriptures “from infancy,” he must have received at least basic instruction from his mother and grandmother, his father evidently not being a believer. (2 Timothy 1:5) Additionally, when Paul first met Timothy he was already “well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:2) Hence, his faith had been further developed by his association with fellow Christians in these congregations. Additionally, in those days various prominent brothers, and especially the governing body of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem, used to write letters to the different congregations to strengthen their faith, and traveling overseers used to build them up by their visits.—Hebrews 10:23; Acts 15:22-32; 1 Peter 1:1.
12. When did Timothy become a minister, and how did he keep making progress after that?
12 At some point Timothy’s faith, made strong by such study and association, moved him to be baptized in symbol of his dedication to God, to spend the rest of his life serving Him. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Hebrews 10:5-9) Logically, at that point he became a minister of God. But his progress did not stop there. His ministerial ability was further strengthened by a special spiritual gift and by personal instruction and training from the apostle Paul. And Timothy continued making progress by his personal study and by association with other Christians. (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 2:2) Thus, Timothy was a ‘minister of the good news.’ As such, what did he do?
13. What were Timothy’s ministerial responsibilities?
13 He had special duties, since he was a traveling companion of Paul. Being an elder, Timothy worked hard at teaching and strengthening his fellow Christians. This was a part of his ministry. (1 Timothy 4:6) But the central part of his ministry, just as it had been with Jesus, was preaching the good news. (Matthew 4:23) The apostle Paul told Timothy: “You, though, keep your senses in all things, suffer evil, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.”—2 Timothy 4:5.
14. How do the Scriptures show the relationship between faith and the ministry of preaching?
14 Who, though, besides Timothy and Paul, were expected to share in the Christian ministry? Merely the elders or the special traveling representatives? No. The apostle Paul pointed to the fact that the preaching of the good news was motivated by the faith that all Christians are supposed to possess. He said: “With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.”—Romans 10:10.
15, 16. Who had the responsibility of sharing in the Christian ministry, and why do you so answer?
15 Does this mean that all those who genuinely possess the Christian faith should be Christian ministers, sharing in the preaching of the good news? Yes. Paul’s words were addressed to the whole congregation at Rome, not just to the elders. (Romans 1:1, 7) The whole congregation at Ephesus were to have their “feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15; 1:1) And all those who heard the letter addressed to the Hebrews were to ‘hold fast the public declaration of their hope without wavering.’ (Hebrews 10:23) Remember, too, that on the day of Pentecost everyone, men and women, joined in publicly declaring “the magnificent things of God.”—Acts 2:1-21; 1:14.
16 Moreover, shortly before his ascension to heaven, Jesus had said to his followers: “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.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Those who responded in all the different nations were not to become mere listeners. They were to be disciples, with all that this involved.—Luke 10:1; 14:27, 33; John 13:35; 15:8; Acts 1:8.
God’s Ministers Today
17. What are some important things included in the Christian ministry? (Matthew 22:37-39)
17 So far, we have seen that the true Christian minister avoids politics and is separate from the world. He is humble and maintains the high moral standards that Jesus taught his followers. He is God’s minister, imitating Christ. Hence, he should not follow his own ideas or water down truth so as to make it more acceptable to others. Nevertheless, his ministerial work benefits fellow humans, both believers and nonbelievers.—Matthew 20:28; 26:39; 1 Peter 4:8-10.
18. Who are God’s true ministers today, and why do you so answer?
18 As with Jesus and Timothy, a vital part of a present-day Christian’s ministry is the preaching work. What does he preach? Well, salvation is still on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. And those who wish to be saved still have to call on Jehovah’s name. (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13) Moreover, the kingdom is still the only hope for suffering humanity. Hence, Jesus prophesied: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) God’s true ministers are the ones who fulfill this prophecy and teach these truths. And who are doing this God-given work? Only Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Isaiah 43:10-12.
19. What different things are involved in a person’s being a minister of God today?
19 How does one qualify to be a minister? In the same way that Timothy did: By building up a firm faith in God’s purposes, based on a study of the Bible; by strengthening that faith through association with other Christians; by undergoing water baptism in symbol of a dedication made in prayer directly to God to serve him from that point on; and by accepting guidance and direction from the Governing Body of the Christian congregation. (Hebrews 10:23-25; Matthew 24:45-47) Who shares in this ministry? All who have a sincere, active faith in God’s purposes, based on accurate knowledge. The sharing in the ministry as Christian witnesses of Jehovah is a proof of the genuineness of that faith.—James 2:17.
20, 21. (a) In view of what failures of Christendom’s ministry is it good that God has raised up ministers today? (b) How widespread is their ministry?
20 In these last days, many ministers of religion in Christendom are busy preaching a “social gospel,” mixing in with politics or questioning the existence of God and the relevance of the Bible. And Christendom’s laity shows little interest in acting as ministers. Hence, we are thankful that God has raised up ministers who keep his name before mankind and help honest-hearted persons to learn the vital truths of God’s Word, the Bible. There are more than two million of these ministers around the world and with God’s help they are ministering to all mankind.
21 But how can an individual prove that he is one of them? The next article will discuss this more fully.
What do the following scriptures tell us about the Christian ministry?
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Is this what God’s ministers should be doing?
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Ministerial work may involve teaching in the congregation
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All who have genuine faith should serve as Christian ministers