Monday, April 20, 2009

Following Stephen?

What is success as regards to ministry? What is good fruit? What's the test of glorifying God?
There seems to be a major array of answers to these questions, yet only one covers them all.
The test is by the word of God. The test is NOT a great church, and it's NOT a small church.
Though many can say 'amen' to this in word, there seems to be a major disconnect when it comes to practice. What preachers do you listen to? Only popular ministries with several thousand members?
The reality we must face is that whether a church is small or great, whether the response is great or weak doesn't give us enough proof as to whether a preacher has been faithful!
The real test of success, the only thing that brings glory to God in ministry is FAITHFULNESS!
The question should always be, 'was he faithful?' or 'was I faithful?'.

Faithful in my motives and desires
Faithful in proclaiming the truth

Let us then take a look at one example of a faithful ministry: Stephen!
(the whole chapter 7 covers his sermon)
But here is the closing of his preaching and it's effect:

44 “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. 45 Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, 46 who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,
49 “‘Heaven is my throne,and the earth is my footstool.What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,or what is the place of my rest?50 Did not my hand make all these things?’
51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Now let me ask you when you read of this account does the thought 'what a failure' come to mind? Then why would you think that when it happens before your eyes? This is what I call an example of SUCCESSFUL preaching. Stephen preached boldly the truth of God and he gave NO thought to what was in the minds of his hearers. Stephen was preaching for the glory of God, he preached with unwavering fierceness. It is God who gives the increase and that as He pleases, be very slow to look down upon ministries which God has not allowed to see much numerical growth, who's to say whether a church has been a great means of sowing seed and yet others have reaped from their hard labor?
Now wait before you adopt the equally erroneous thought that if you preach sound truth you won't see many numbers, you'll start and stay small. The prophet Ezekiel was told to preach no matter what the effect. Is it possible to judge Peter against Stephen, was Peter preaching a water-downed message when 3000 were added to the church? Could there be another reason behind a always small ministry? Could it be that you simply don't want converts, that you'd rather a church under a hundred because you don't want to deal with more people, with more trouble, you'd rather a nice, tame, predictable, and clean church? Yet if you would find instruction or comfort from this passage then you must take a closer examination. Notice then the attitude of Stephen, it's not the persona of a raging manic, an angry and bitter minister just throw fireballs at his hearers. Why do we know this, what gives us a look at his motive and desire? The RESPONSE! Stephen was LOST in worship of his great King, his heart was exploding with grace and at the very HEIGHT of persecution, Stephen cries out for MERCY on behalf of his murderers! There you have faithful preaching, a burning for the truth, the truth of the person of God and AND AND AND a burden for your listeners (the lost and believers). Without that you have no gauge for success because you have been unfaithful as a minister!


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