But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you. 2 Timothy 4:5 NLT
Undoubtedly due to my Baby Boomer Generation mindset, I prefer lists; you know the kind that delineate six do’s and four don’t’s for choosing a mate, five steps to avoiding joining a cult, three ways to stay out of trouble with God. I like Romans more than Ecclesiastes – the more linear approach than the poetic. This is probably why, over the years, I’ve been drawn to this verse in Paul’s last letter to his young protégé before his beheading. He boiled it down to four things that he thought a young spiritual leader should remember – Don’t lose your head, don’t be afraid, share Christ with as many as possible, and finish what God has called you to!
We talked about the first three pieces of his fatherly advice in Parts 1 & 2 and now let’s discuss the final one.
“Complete the ministry God has given you” (Don’t fail to do everything God wants you to do.)
Only you and God know for sure what ministry he’s given you. You can’t get that from a book, your church’s job description for pastors, or by attending Pastor Steve Stunning’s “How To Succeed in Ministry Conference.” You should know best what your gifts are and what God wants you to do with them. You’re only responsible to complete “the ministry God has given you.” You can’t very well complete something that you don’t know is yours to complete – even less – what is someone else’s to complete! Just because you have the same title (“Pastor”) as the preacher on the other side of the freeway, it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do it the same way he does it! God is a lot more creative than that!
As sort of an aside, in our modern church, we call nearly everyone in vocational ministry “Pastor” –Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor, Teaching Pastor, Pastor of Counseling… My point is that today everybody who has a ministry and gets paid (or not) to it is called “Pastor.” This is the generic term that has pretty much replaced the more antiquated title of “Minister” or, my least favorite, “Reverend.” It’s something to put in front of your name on a business card. Though labels are often libels that may tend to crowd one into a corner; I really don’t care what you call yourself. But have you ever thought that though they call you “Pastor” you might not actually be a pastor at all? Is it possible that you’re one of the other gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11 – Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, or Teacher?
Aside from the fact that the Ephesians passage is the only time in the New Testament where the word appears as a title (the verb, “to shepherd” is used in a couple places), regardless of your title, you can only “fulfill your ministry” if you know what it is. The odds are in favor (as much as an 80% chance) of the notion that most of those we call “Pastor” are probably one of the other equipping gifts. I don’t recommend that you make a fuss about the nomenclature, but in order to “fulfill your ministry” you’re going to have to act more like the gift you’ve been given rather than simply fall into the contemporary rut of what is currently considered “pastoral.” Okay, enough talk about titles and on to a criticism of translation…
The New International Version translates this sentence, “Discharge all the duties of your ministry.” As I’ve indicated, I’m no Greek aficionado, and as much as I love the NIV, this is a pretty lousy translation of Paul’s charge to Timothy here. To my mind, “Discharge all your duties” sounds like, “Do everything listed on the Job Description that the church board made you sign you when you were first hired. They assigned you ‘duties’ to do, so do them – all of them – and do them well!” You might be able to detect that I don’t much like that way of thinking. It reduces a life of service (which is the phrase I generally use in place of the more common: “the ministry”) down to a job, instead of a calling, gifting, or a lifestyle. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up for a profession, but a life of service to God and people. This isn’t my career; it’s what God told me to do with my life. I certainly didn’t get into it for the notoriety or its lucrative possibilities (ha ha!)! And while it’s been my life’s greatest privilege, I was drafted for this! Alright, off my soap box. So then, what does it mean?
I like the New Living Translation term, “Complete” your ministry, but I think “Fulfill” your ministry might be an even more accurate way to translate the Greek term. The word means to fill something up. This is the term used to describe when the time was “full” for Jesus to enter earth (Galatians 4), when he was described as “full of grace and truth,” (John 1) and when the early Christians were “full of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 3). So, when he assigned you to a life of service, I think of it as God giving you an empty cup and telling you to add to it till it’s full. Your assignment is to fill the vessel that he gave you. Only you can add to it because it’s your cup – your responsibility – to fill it to the top. The Holy Spirit fills you to the top so that over your lifetime you can fill your ministry cup to its brim. Fill it a little bit each day and keep filling it until the cup that he gave you is full. And then someday when he asks for it back you’ll be able to offer it him, a full cup!