Thesis:The exercise of "ministry" is "particular" and "particularly important".
Introduction:In our last study we began a consideration of Paul's insistence that the people of God get specifically involved in serving God by serving one another. In that beginning I started where Paul started -- with the "grace-gift" of "prophecy" -- and immediately set up a rather significant road-block: my claim that this particular "gift" is no longer functioning because it's functional purpose has been fulfilled. Whether that is actually a fact, or not, the fact that I made the claim makes it pretty difficult for anyone in this group to actually apply Paul's words to themselves. However, this is not as big a deal as it might look on the surface for this cause: even when Paul wrote the words and "prophecy" was an active gift in the churches they did not apply to everyone. Thus, that I made the claim that they currently do not apply to anyone is less significant than might appear on the surface. This issues involved here are two: first, the "principle" of Paul's instruction regarding "prophecy" is greater than that specific "gift" (i.e., exercising one's gifting "according to the measure of faith" that one has); and second, anyone who thinks I am incorrect because they have the ability to reveal secrets about God, or men, must be able to validate that claim to the group wherein they hope to function.
This evening we are going to look into the second of Paul's listed "grace/faith-functions". It is identified by our translators as "ministry" and is distinct from "prophecy" in an important respect: it is not said of "ministry" that it will "cease" as it is said of "prophecy" (1 Corinthians 13:8).
I. Beginning at the Beginning: the Definition.
A. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the word, in contrast with its "synonyms" has "a stronger approximation to the concept of a service of love." (Vol. 2, p. 81).
B. There is, in the background of the word, a sense of "service" to "lesser" needs.
1. In the order of importance, "needs" that are specifically tied to "Life" are greater and "needs" that are tied to "life" are lesser. [Note Acts 6 where "deacons" were chosen to take care of issues that were "lesser" than "the ministry (same word) of the Word".]
2. In the description of the service of "deacons" to the church, the character requirements are not as rigorous as those of "elders" -- implying a process of growth that must be allowed to produce its long-term fruit.
C. There is, in Paul's use of the term in Romans, some indication of his own understanding of the word as the title for a "grace/faith-function".
1. In 15:31 he used the word to identify the material gift he took to Jerusalem for the relief of the saints after he had used the verb form in 15:25 (the only instance of the verb in Romans).
2. In 11:13 he used the word to identify his activities toward the Gentiles.
a. In this text, the translators of the Authorized Version missed the boat by translating it "office".
b. The issue in this context is Paul's "T"heology that God was sufficiently "gracious" to reach out to the Gentiles.
3. There is a significant difference between 15:31 and 11:13 that also existed in Acts 6: the "ministry" of 15:31 was clearly "lesser" and the "ministry" of 11:13 was clearly "greater" just as the "service of tables" in Acts 6:2 was "lesser" and the "ministry of the Word in 6:4 was "greater".
a. This means that the background sense of "lesser" service does not "hold", though it does sometimes "exist".
b. This also means that Paul's use of the word to identify a "grace/faith-function" for the Body of Christ could signify the entire range of "need" from temporal to eternal.
D. Therefore, for a "definition" we must conclude that the "grace/faith-function" called "ministry" is an ability to meet "needs".
II. Moving On to the Function.
A. The absence of a verb between the accusative case of the word and the following dative case of the same word means that we have to "supply" some kind of "verbal idea".
1. The translators opted for "let us wait on" -- whatever that meant in their minds.
2. However, Paul's "verbal idea" in every case has already been given in general in 12:4-5: exercise the "praxis" of the specific "member of the body" that that member possesses.
3. Thus, we should understand Paul to be saying, "If you have the "grace/faith-function" of "ministry", exercise the "praxis" of "need-meeting".
B. The presence of the definite article before the dative form of the word is instructive.
1. In a sense, "need-meeting" is what gave rise to the existence of all of the members of the Body.
2. Since all of the various "grace/faith-functions" are "ministries" in the sense of meeting needs, why would Paul identify a particular function with this word?
3. The answer is in the definite article.
a. There is no point to making "ministry" a function unless it stands apart from the other functions.
b. Nor is there any point to saying "the ministry" unless Paul is pointing to a "specific" ability to meet needs.
c. Therefore, we must conclude that "ministry" is "actual need-meeting" in areas not covered by the other functions and that "the ministry" points to a specific area of expertise.
d. As such, this is the large umbrella of functions that has many individual skills in mind.
III. Moving On to Paul's Placement of This Function At This Place in His "List".
A. Paul puts this function between "prophecy" and "teaching".
1. These two "gifts" are two of the most important for the meeting of the most important needs.
2. To stand between the revelation of the secrets of God and an adequate explanation of those secrets to that people can "Live" is significant.
B. Paul's placement indicates a potent theological understanding.
1. Since "Life" is "by grace, through faith", there are few matters more important than "believing".
2. One of the greatest obstacles to "faith" is hypocritical posturing by "believers".
3. That "ministry", as the meeting of real Life/life needs, stands between the revelation of the secrets of God and the explanation of what they signify indicates that there can be no "allowance" of a lack of application of Truth in the Church if others are to be brought into the "Life" of the Church.