Who Are God’s Ministers Today?
“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.
1, 2. What responsibility did all first-century Christians share, but how did things change?
IN THE first century of our Common Era, all Christians shared an important responsibility—the duty to preach the good news. All of them were anointed and were ministers of the new covenant. Some had additional responsibilities, such as teaching in the congregation. (1 Corinthians 12:27-29; Ephesians 4:11) Parents had weighty obligations within the family. (Colossians 3:18-21) But all shared in the basic and vital work of preaching. In the original Greek of the Christian Scriptures, this responsibility was a di·a·ko·niʹa—a service, or ministry.—Colossians 4:17.
2 As time went by, things changed. A class developed, known as the clergy, who reserved for themselves the privilege of preaching. (Acts 20:30) The clergy were a small minority of those calling themselves Christians. The great majority became known as the laity. While the laity have been taught that they have certain obligations, including the making of contributions for the upkeep of the clergy, most have become little more than passive listeners in the matter of preaching.
3, 4. (a) How do individuals in Christendom become ministers? (b) Who is considered a minister in Christendom, and why are things different among Jehovah’s Witnesses?
3 The clergy claim to be ministers (from minister, a Latin translation of di·aʹko·nos, “servant”).a For this, they graduate from colleges or seminaries and are ordained. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: “‘Ordain’ and ‘ordination’ ordinarily refer to special status accorded ministers or priests through officially sanctioned rites, with associated emphasis on authority to proclaim the Word or to administer sacraments, or to do both.” Who ordains the ministers? The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “In churches that have retained the historic episcopate, the ordaining minister is always a bishop. In Presbyterian churches, ordination is conferred by ministers of the presbytery.”
4 Hence, in the churches of Christendom, the privilege of being a minister has been severely restricted. Yet, this is not the case among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why not? Because it was not that way in the first-century Christian congregation.
Who Really Are God’s Ministers?
5. According to the Bible, those serving as ministers include whom?
5 According to the Bible, all Jehovah’s worshipers—heavenly and earthly—are ministers. Angels ministered to Jesus. (Matthew 4:11; 26:53; Luke 22:43) Angels also “minister for those who are going to inherit salvation.” (Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 18:10) Jesus was a minister. He said: “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister.” (Matthew 20:28; Romans 15:8) Therefore, since Jesus’ followers were to “follow his steps closely,” it is not surprising that they too must be ministers.—1 Peter 2:21.
6. How did Jesus indicate that his disciples should be ministers?
6 Shortly before his ascension to heaven, Jesus said to his disciples: “Go . . . 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) Jesus’ disciples were to be disciple-makers—ministers. The new disciples they made would learn to observe all the things Jesus’ commanded, including the command to go forth and make disciples. Man or woman, adult or child, a true disciple of Jesus Christ would be a minister.—Joel 2:28, 29.
7, 8. (a) What scriptures show that all true Christians are ministers? (b) What questions are raised about ordination?
7 In harmony with this, on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., all of Jesus’ disciples present, men and women, joined in telling forth “the magnificent things of God.” (Acts 2:1-11) Further, the apostle Paul wrote: “With the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.” (Romans 10:10) Paul addressed those words, not to a restricted clergy class, but “to all those who [were] in Rome as God’s beloved ones.” (Romans 1:1, 7) Similarly, all ‘the holy ones in Ephesus and faithful ones in union with Christ Jesus’ were to have their “feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace.” (Ephesians 1:1; 6:15) 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.
8 When, though, does a person become a minister? In other words, when is he ordained? And who ordains him?
Ordination as a Minister—When?
9. When was Jesus ordained, and by whom?
9 As to when and by whom a person is ordained, consider the example of Jesus Christ. He did not have a certificate of ordination or a degree from some seminary to prove that he was a minister, and he was not ordained by any man. Why can we say, then, that he was a minister? Because Isaiah’s inspired words were fulfilled in him: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news.” (Luke 4:17-19; Isaiah 61:1) Those words leave no doubt that Jesus was commissioned to tell forth good news. By whom? Since Jehovah’s spirit anointed him for the work, Jesus was clearly ordained by Jehovah God. When did this happen? Jehovah’s spirit actually came upon Jesus when he was baptized. (Luke 3:21, 22) Therefore, it was at his baptism that he was ordained.
10. By whom does a Christian minister become “adequately qualified”?
10 What of Jesus’ first-century followers? Their status as ministers also came from Jehovah. 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) How does Jehovah qualify his worshipers to be ministers? Consider the example of Timothy, whom Paul called “God’s minister in the good news about the Christ.”—1 Thessalonians 3:2.
11, 12. How did Timothy make progress toward becoming a minister?
11 The following words addressed to Timothy help us to understand how he became a minister: “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) The foundation of Timothy’s faith, which would move him to make a public declaration, was knowledge of the Scriptures. Was personal reading all that was needed for this? No. Timothy needed help to gain accurate knowledge and spiritual understanding of what he read. (Colossians 1:9) Thus Timothy was “persuaded to believe.” Since he had known the Scriptures “from infancy,” his first instructors must have been his mother and grandmother, his father evidently not being a believer.—2 Timothy 1:5.
12 However, more was involved in Timothy’s becoming a minister. For one thing, his faith was strengthened by association with Christians in nearby congregations. How do we know? Because when Paul first met Timothy, the young man was “well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:2) Additionally, in those days certain brothers wrote letters to the congregations in order to strengthen them. And overseers visited them in order to build them up. Such provisions helped Christians like Timothy to progress spiritually.—Acts 15:22-32; 1 Peter 1:1.
13. When was Timothy ordained as a minister, and why would you say that his spiritual progress did not end there?
13 In view of Jesus’ command recorded at Matthew 28:19, 20, we can be sure that at some point Timothy’s faith moved him to imitate Jesus and be baptized. (Matthew 3:15-17; Hebrews 10:5-9) This was a symbol of Timothy’s whole-souled dedication to God. At his baptism Timothy became a minister. From then on, his life, his strength, and everything he had belonged to God. This was an integral part of his worship, “a sacred service.” However, Timothy did not then rest on his laurels. He continued to grow spiritually, becoming a mature Christian minister. This occurred because of Timothy’s close association with such mature Christians as Paul, his own personal study, and his zealous preaching activity.—1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 6:1.
14. Today, how does someone “rightly disposed for everlasting life” make progress toward being a minister?
14 Today, ordination for the Christian ministry is similar. One who is “rightly disposed for everlasting life” is helped to learn about God and his purposes by means of a Bible study. (Acts 13:48) The individual learns to apply Bible principles in his life and to pray meaningfully to God. (Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 2:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18) He associates with other believers and takes advantage of provisions and arrangements made by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47; Proverbs 13:20; Hebrews 10:23-25) Thus he makes progress in a structured process of education.
15. What happens when a person gets baptized? (See also footnote.)
15 Eventually, the Bible student, having developed a love of Jehovah God and a strong faith in the ransom sacrifice, wishes to dedicate himself completely to his heavenly Father. (John 14:1) He makes that dedication in personal prayer and then gets baptized as a public symbol of that private act. His baptism is his ordination ceremony because that is when he is recognized as a fully dedicated servant, a di·aʹko·nos, of God. He must remain separate from the world. (John 17:16; James 4:4) He has presented his whole self “a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God” without reserve or condition. (Romans 12:1)b He is God’s minister, imitating Christ.
What Is the Christian Ministry?
16. What were some of Timothy’s responsibilities as a minister?
16 What did the ministry of Timothy include? He had special duties as a traveling companion of Paul. And when he became an elder, Timothy worked hard at teaching and strengthening fellow Christians. But the central part of his ministry, as was the case with Jesus and Paul, was preaching the good news and making disciples. (Matthew 4:23; 1 Corinthians 3:5) 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.
17, 18. (a) In what ministry do Christians engage? (b) How important is the preaching work to a Christian minister?
17 It is similar with Christian ministers today. They engage in a public ministry, an evangelizing work, pointing others to salvation on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice and teaching meek ones to call on Jehovah’s name. (Acts 2:21; 4:10-12; Romans 10:13) They prove from the Bible that the Kingdom is the only hope for suffering mankind and show that even now things are better if we live by godly principles. (Psalm 15:1-5; Mark 13:10) But a Christian minister does not preach a social gospel. Rather, he teaches that ‘godly devotion holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.’—1 Timothy 4:8.
18 True, most ministers have additional ways to serve, which may differ from one Christian to another. Many have family obligations. (Ephesians 5:21–6:4) Elders and ministerial servants have duties in the congregation. (1 Timothy 3:1, 12, 13; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 13:7) Many Christians help to construct Kingdom Halls. Some have the wonderful privilege of working as volunteers in one of the Watch Tower Society’s Bethel homes. However, all Christian ministers share in the preaching of the good news. There are no exceptions. It is sharing in this work that identifies one publicly as a genuine Christian minister.
The Attitude of a Christian Minister
19, 20. What attitude must Christian ministers cultivate?
19 Most of Christendom’s ministers expect to be given special respect, and they take such titles as “reverend” and “father.” However, a Christian minister knows that Jehovah alone is worthy of reverence. (1 Timothy 2:9, 10) No Christian minister claims such lofty respect or aspires to special titles. (Matthew 23:8-12) He knows that the basic meaning of di·a·ko·niʹa is “service.” The verb associated with it is sometimes used in the Bible with regard to personal services, such as waiting at tables. (Luke 4:39; 17:8; John 2:5) Even though its usage in relation to the Christian ministry is more elevated, a di·aʹko·nos is still a servant.
20 No Christian minister therefore has reason to feel self-important. Genuine Christian ministers—even those with special responsibilities in the congregation—are humble slaves. Jesus 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) When showing his disciples the right attitude to cultivate, Jesus washed their feet, doing the work of the lowliest slave. (John 13:1-15) What a humble service! Hence, Christian ministers humbly serve Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 6:4; 11:23) They show lowliness of mind in serving one another. And when they preach the good news, they unselfishly serve their unbelieving neighbors.—Romans 1:14, 15; Ephesians 3:1-7.
Endure in the Ministry
21. How was Paul rewarded for enduring in the ministry?
21 For Paul, being a minister took endurance. He told the Colossians that he suffered much in order to preach the good news to them. (Colossians 1:24, 25) Because he endured, however, many accepted the good news and became ministers. They were begotten as sons of God and brothers of Jesus Christ, with the prospect of becoming spirit creatures alongside him in heaven. What a glorious reward for endurance!
22, 23. (a) Why do Christian ministers today need endurance? (b) What wonderful fruitage comes from Christian endurance?
22 Endurance is necessary today for those who are really God’s ministers. Many struggle daily with sickness or the pains of old age. Parents work hard—many of them without a mate—to raise their children. Courageously, children at school resist the wrong influences that surround them. Many Christians face bitter economic struggles. And many suffer persecution or face hardships because of today’s “critical times hard to deal with”! (2 Timothy 3:1) Yes, the almost six million ministers of Jehovah today can say with the apostle Paul: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much.” (2 Corinthians 6:4) Christian ministers do not give up. They are truly to be commended for their endurance.
23 Moreover, as it did in Paul’s case, endurance brings wonderful fruitage. By enduring, we preserve our close relationship with Jehovah and make his heart rejoice. (Proverbs 27:11) We strengthen our own faith and make disciples, adding to the Christian brotherhood. (1 Timothy 4:16) Jehovah has sustained his ministers and blessed their ministry during these last days. As a result, the final ones of the 144,000 have been gathered, and millions more have the confident hope of enjoying everlasting life on a paradise earth. (Luke 23:43; Revelation 14:1) Truly, the Christian ministry is an expression of Jehovah’s mercy. (2 Corinthians 4:1) May all of us treasure it and be grateful that its fruitage will last forever.—1 John 2:17.
a The Greek word di·aʹko·nos is the source of the word “deacon,” an official in the church. In churches where women can be deacons, they might be called deaconesses.
b While Romans 12:1 applies specifically to anointed Christians, the principle applies also to the “other sheep.” (John 10:16) These ‘join themselves to Jehovah to minister to him and to love the name of Jehovah, in order to become servants to him.’—Isaiah 56:6.
Can You Explain?
• What responsibility did all first-century Christians share?
• When and by whom is a Christian minister ordained?
• What attitude should a Christian minister cultivate?
• Why should a Christian minister endure in the face of difficulties?
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Timothy was taught God’s Word from infancy. He became an ordained minister when he was baptized
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Baptism symbolizes dedication to God and marks one’s ordination as a minister
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Christian ministers are willing to serve