The Church, which is the body of Christ, ought to be ‘perfectly united in mind and thought’ (1 Corinthians 1:10). But currently, divisions are rampant. Beginning with the various denominations, differences occur begging the question, ‘Is Christ divided?’ (v13). When we talk of unity in the Church, the focus is usually directed to Believers. Little discussed and yet widely affecting the Church is the relationship between Ministers and Believers. In the Bible, the relationship is analogized as that of a shepherd and sheep. However, it is only shepherds appointed by God, and not those who have appointed themselves or by others, who are considered eligible. One of the main reasons that the relationship between Ministers and Believers has been fractured is because of the many false Ministers arising, marring the Gospel’s foundation – Jesus Christ. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, ‘I promised you to one husband, to Christ so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:2-3). He continues to explain, ‘For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you received a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up easily with it’ (v4).
False preachers preach a different Jesus other than the One described in the Bible because they are not called by Jesus. All true Ministers are chosen by God Himself. It is not a matter of desire, experience, oratory abilities, or attendance of theology school. In fact, most false preachers ‘think that godliness is a means of financial gain’ (1 Timothy 6:5). They are in it as business and so falsely label themselves with whatever title they think suits them. But when it comes to His disciples, Jesus ‘chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles’ (Luke 6:13). They did not just label themselves Apostles simply because they walked with Jesus and knew the Word. They were designated by Jesus Himself. Likewise, Paul says ‘that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation’ (Galatians 1:11-12). Paul was appointed by God and no wonder he began most, if not all his epistles by saying, ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’ (Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1). All his letters begin with similar wordings that state clearly that it was God’s will and appointment that he was a Minister of the Gospel. ‘But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves’ (2 Peter 2:1). In fact, Jesus warns that in these last days, ‘many false prophets will appear and deceive many people’ (Matthew 24:11).
Thus, before even establishing the relationship between a Minister and a Believer, one should ensure that they do not easily put up with anyone declaring to be a Minister of God, for ‘Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness’ (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). A true Believer is to test and see if the doctrine they hear is in accord with the Bible, like the Bereans who ‘examined the Scriptures every day to see if Paul said was true’ (Acts 17:11). This is not to mean that a Believer should be doubtful, paranoid, or oppose all Preachers and abandon church-going altogether, but that it is their responsibility to ensure they are feeding from the right spiritual source. It is only by knowing the Scriptures for themselves can they discern who a true Minister is. In most cases though, many people are simply Church-goers and not Believers. Some even end up in cults and drink Kool-Aid to their literal deaths ‘because of lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6). That is why true Believers should ‘not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1). ‘For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food’ (Job 34:3), so should we listen and weigh out what we hear, with the Bible as the standard. Jesus even warns, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves’ (Matthew 7:15), and adds, ‘By their fruit you will recognize them’ (v16). It is therefore the duty of every Believer not to judge, but to watch out for false prophets and avoid their teachings. Jesus is the only and best way to discern false prophets, because apart from Him, one cannot bear fruit.
Once true Ministers and Believers have been identified, their relationship can now be discussed. The ultimate work of a Minister is not to lord it over Believers, but to first share the Gospel, ‘not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’ (1 Thessalonians 1:4). The message passed across by Ministers should be solely based on the Gospel of Christ with the Bible as the only reference, and not allow their own opinions or accounts to overshadow the Message. Paul asserts, ‘For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel’ (2:v3). He continues, ‘You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or from anyone else’ (v5-6). Hence, sharing an undiluted Gospel to Believers is the top way Ministers relate to Believers.
Closely important is the Ministers’ role in equipping Believers with the truth of the ENTIRE Gospel, no matter their age, race, gender, or social standing. No one topic should be neglected over another. Sharing the full gospel and the mysteries of God as entrusted, ensures maturity among Christians. Paul could say of the mature Believers in Corinth, ‘We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v3). These Believers were equipped so much that they could spread the Gospel in their own capacities, keeping with the Great Commission. In equipping Believers, Ministers should not shove down the Gospel or force an idea upon Believers, but simply dispense the Truth with the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that Believers can be ‘matured, completely convinced of the entire will of God’ (Colossians 4:12). At the end of the day, it is only the Holy Spirit that convicts and not a human being.
On the other hand, Believers should relate to Ministers, not as super-apostles, super-humans, or their Master. They should instead revere God first, knowing that Christ is ‘head over everything for the church’ (Ephesians 1:22). This will ensure that they are not only ‘holy’ on Sundays because they will be in the presence of a Minister. In revering God, Believers will also know His will, and not need to consult a Minister on things clearly written in the Word. Paul tells the Church in Thessaloniki, ‘Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other’ (1 Thessalonians 4:9). Elsewhere, Paul says, ‘Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night’ (5:v1-2). Foundational principles such as love,and understanding of the doctrine such as salvation, justification, future occurrences such as the coming of the Lord, and how to carry out oneself should be known by every Believer, because they are already written in the Word. However, when a true Minister relays a message, a true Believer should receive it as God’s very word, because in essence, true Ministers speak God’s words. So, every Believer should receive the Word of God with awe, interest, newness, and as if God were personally speaking to them. Paul commends this Church and tells them, ‘And we also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe’ (2:v13).
Ministers and Believers also relate with each other outside of the relaying of the Gospel. Many Ministers however unnecessarily burden and control Believers, while many Believers fear Ministers out of context. The relationship thus becomes that of a master and a slave. Jesus even cautions the Apostles, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that’ (Luke 22:25). Thus, in keeping up with righteousness, respect should be mutual. A Believer should revere, not fear, a Minister. We are to ‘respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them with the highest regard in love because of their work’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). While being esteemed by Believers because of their work and not because of themselves, Ministers should then abase themselves and view themselves as servants. Jesus says that ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:26-28). Paul kept with this directive and reminds, ‘we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children . . . we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed’ (1 Thessalonians 2:7,9-10). So the Minister, just like the Believer, has their Master as God. This common Denominator brings the relationship of a Minister and a Believer to a perfect unity.
‘That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready to do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked’ ~ Luke 12:47-48