True Christian ministry is affectionate affliction for another’s sanctification. You need all three pieces. You must have a genuine love for the person you are serving, not just a “I love them for what they can do for me” mentality. You must be committed to laboring on through suffering and difficulty. True Christian ministry fights against the world, the flesh, and the devil, so you should expect and prepare for strong resistance. And finally, your goal should always be that whoever you are ministering to becomes more like Jesus.
I recently was teaching a Sunday School at my local Church on Galatians 4:12-21. It occurred to me as I was studying that Galatians 4:19 gives a wonderful summary of 3 marks of Christian ministry:
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Galatians 4:19, ESV
In one little verse, Paul lays out the affection inherent to Christian ministry, the suffering that accompanies Christian ministry, and the goal of Christian ministry. I wonder if much of what bears the title of “Christian ministry” actually reflects what Paul describes in Galatians 4:19. I know in my own life, I have found myself involved in “ministry activities” with the wrong heart attitude or the wrong focus. Today, I want to think through what Paul says in this single verse and it’s implications for how you and I “do ministry” in the local Church.
Paul’s words in Galatians 4:19 appear in a unique section of Galatians. Up until this point, Paul has directly addressed the Galatians leaving the true gospel of “justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone” to follow a false gospel of “Jesus and circumcision saves.” Paul defended his apostleship to the Church and laid out in chapter 3 that the Old Testament does not teach a salvation by works. Throughout the first three chapters of Galatians, Paul has expressed his astonishment that the “foolish Galatians” could be led astray so quickly from the true Gospel into error.
In chapter 4:12-19, however, Paul’s tone changes. His tone is less harsh and he addresses the Church more personally. I think in these verses you see Paul’s heart towards the Galatian Church which puts the rest of what Paul says in the letter into perspective. It is in this personal section that Paul gives that great summary of the marks of Christian ministry in 4:19. Paul is sharing with the Galatians both the love he has for the Church and the pain he feels that they are listening to false teachers. So, with that context in mind, how does Paul describe his ministry to the Galatians and what the the implications for Christian ministry in general?
First Mark of Christian Ministry: Genuine affection for those you serve
The first statement Paul makes in Galatians 4:19 is “my little children.” This is the only time in the letter that Paul uses this phrase to refer to the Galatian Church. Contained in this little phrase is a profound metaphor for the affection Paul has for the Church. If you are a parent, then you know the unique, special love a father or mother has for his or her child. Even when your child is misbehaving and needs correction and discipline, as a parent you still love them genuinely and deeply. In fact, even your correction is an externalization of the affection you have for your child.
Paul is saying the same thing here. At the time, the Galatians were listening to false teachers that were making Paul out to be their enemy. Yet even then, Paul still views these believers with a deep love. Even though Paul has been correcting the Galatian Church throughout the letter to the Galatians, this verse makes it clear that this correction came from a place of affection, not anger. Just as a parent genuinely wants the best for his or her child, Paul truly cares for the Galatian’s souls and wants the best for them on a spiritual level.
Implication: Do you serve out of a love for others? or do you serve to “get something out of it” for yourself?
What is the implication for you and I? One of the marks of Christian ministry is a true care and genuine affection for the souls of those you serve. True Christian ministry flows out of a love for others. If you serve in ministry, whether that is at Church or in the home or when you parent or when you disciple or when you teach with an attitude of “I am doing this so I can get something out of it” then you are not involved in Christian ministry. Christian ministry is about serving the other person, not so that you can “get something in return.”
Now, certainly as you pour yourself out for others, you will receive spiritual blessings yourself. However, the starting point of Christian ministry is not you wanting or needing something from those you serve. Rather, you start with a genuine love and affection for the other person. And this love, like it did in Paul’s case, can lead to correction and direct conversation that might not be pleasant. But for the one involved in true Christian ministry, love of others, not of self, will dominate all you do.