What a blessing it is that our good Lord doesn’t only answer our prayers, but…
Finish the Race, Complete the Task
More than twenty-five years ago, as Athena and I considered whether to join Allan and Allison Chapple in the ministry of the Perth Centre for Applied Christian Studies, a Perth-based
minister said to me that if we joined this work we would see significant gospel impact within our lifetime.
As I looked around at things then, I was rather doubtful. I was wrong and my brother in Christ was right. The Lord has done and continues to do marvellous things. Churches, cross-cultural mission, schools and workplace ministries, Uni ministries, and the College have grown and multiplied—well beyond what I could have imagined 25 years ago, let alone 40 or 50 years ago for some of us. The truth which we so often forget is that gospel ministry, and training others for such ministry, is a long-haul project. Sometimes, as we spend large
amounts of time, money, and energy on ministries that seem to be making little impact (or that flop!), we forget the 25-,
40-, or 50-year perspective.
So how do we go about serving people with the gospel in our schools, or churches, or youth group, or workplace and keep our eyes on the big picture? The first thing I would say is that 50 years is not long enough as a timeframe. Only in eternity will we begin to fully grasp what the Son gave up for us and made available for us, the scope and size of his reward, and how God will have gained glory through him and by his Spirit.
What does this mean for us day-today? In Acts 20:18-35 Paul prepares the Ephesian elders for his departure to Jerusalem; he knows he won’t see them again and wants them to continue in the pattern of gospel ministry they have seen in him. What struck me here was how frequently Paul uses his own ministry as the basis of his exhortations for their ministry:
“You know how I lived the whole time I was with you . . . I served the Lord with great humility . . . and with tears in the midst of much severe testing . . . You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful . . . I have declared repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus . . . I declare I am innocent of the blood of all of you for I proclaimed to you the whole will of God . . . Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you day and night with tears . . . you know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs . . . in everything I did I showed you.”
How did Paul come to be so transparent about his ministry, so upfront and clear? Is this something only the apostles do? No, listen to what Paul says in verse 24:
“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task that the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Two factors drive Paul’s ministry: to finish the race and to complete the task of “testifying to the good news of God’s
grace.” He wanted to remain faithful to the One who shed
his blood for him and to know that he had exercised his ministry faithfully to his Master’s wishes. He presented
himself openly to others as a servant, and spent himself for
them, because he was completely known and loved by his Master, the Master who had entrusted him with the gospel, the One he longed to meet face-to-face.
I take from all this that we should have gospel goals and aspirations in our ministries. And, we should give thanks to God for the gospel fruit he brings. But, in our reflection about our ministries, our hearts are to be fixed on the One who is in heaven. Interestingly, Paul does not directly refer to the numerical fruit of his ministry in Ephesus. Far more important for him is that the church and its leaders be open in their ministries, hardworking, watchful, prayerful, gospel-centered, always taking themselves and others to the Word of God’s
grace, and ultimately to the Lord Jesus.
May God continue to direct our hearts towards his Son as we serve him this year.