Mike Riccardi

Worldliness and the Christian Ministry

When the church ceases to distinguish itself from the world, it no longer has anything to offer the world. Apart from the bare promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ alone, the church has nothing to offer unbelievers that they don’t already have and pursue in what to them are more exciting, self-gratifying ways. A light that conforms to the darkness renders itself useless. Salt which loses its saltiness is good for nothing, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

Among Reformed evangelicals today, the most influential 19th-century Anglican is undoubtedly J. C. Ryle. And that is not without cause. Ryle’s work on discipleship and Christian living has represented a remarkable service to Christ’s Church.
But there is another 19th-century Anglican who I wish was a household name in American evangelicalism: Charles Bridges. My acquaintance with Bridges comes chiefly in the form of his classic work, The Christian Ministry. It is a wonderful manual for pastoral ministry that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone interested in shepherding Christ’s flock.
Particularly helpful was a section he wrote on “Conformity to the World,” and its relationship to the Christian ministry. It’s no secret that many celebrity pastors in contemporary evangelicalism—and, sadly, the many non-celebrity pastors they’re influencing—employ conformity to the world as the modus operandi of their ministries. With a shallow, and rather twisted, interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, these men embrace—with their actions if not with their confession—the philosophy of ministry that Christians must become like the world to win the world.
And the interesting thing is, that kind of uber-cool, hip, innovative ministry philosophy is hundreds—and even thousands—of years old. Bridges’ commentary on the subject proves that this avant-guard, new-kind-of-ministry of the 21st century was alive and doing damage even in 19th century England. I encourage you to read his comments slowly, as the wisdom to be gained from them is extremely profitable for those who have ears to hear.
The Church is to Be Distinct from the World
Bridges writes:
The importance of studying urbanity of behavior in our engagement with the world, is sometimes pleaded as an excuse for avoiding the direct offence of the cross. But let it be remembered, that God never honours a compromising spirit. The character of our profession with the world must not be merely negative. It must be marked by a wise, tender, but unflinching, exhibition of the broad line of demarcation, which, under the most favourable circumstances of mutual accommodation, still separates the world and the church from real communion with each other. – 116
That “broad line of demarcation” that separates the church from the world becomes narrower and narrower and is only blurred by ministry gurus who re-imagine the church as a place where one “belongs before he believes.”
No Servant is Above His Master
Bridges emphasizes that truth with these words:
To have attached the world by adventitious accomplishments to ourselves, while the Master, whom we profess to venerate, is still with them a ‘despised and rejected’ Saviour, to a mind, reflecting upon Scripture principles, is a matter of far greater alarm than of self-complacency. If they could not endure the conciliating attractiveness of the son of God, even whilst devoting himself to their service at an infinite cost to himself—if they could count the great Apostle—(endued with so large a portion of his Master’s loveliness of deportment). – 117
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Christ the Fountain of Cleansing

Boundless compassion—rooted not in any sentimentalism, but in his own blood-stained cross—that ought to make us want to root out every vestige of remaining sin in our lives. We can’t live in the sin he died to free us from. We must be driven, by his own loveliness, to make war on our sin. 

While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.“ And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately the leprosy left him.Luke 5:12-13 (NASB95)

The vile skin disease of leprosy was designed by God to be a picture or a parable of human sin. John MacArthur calls it an “irresistible analogy” of sin. The leprosy of sin has infected all mankind to the core of our being. All our faculties—our minds, our hearts, our wills, our consciences—have all been diseased by spiritual leprosy. Because of that, we all stand in need of cleansing from that great fountain that is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we must come to him alone for cleansing, and we must come to him in precisely the way that this leper comes.
Consider five observations from the scene in Luke 5.
1. The Sinner’s Contamination
A leper, unclean and potentially dangerous to others, had long been commanded to live in isolation according to the law. Because of that, a leper was often a stranger to the comforts and pleasures of any sort of companionship. In some cases, he would struggle to remember what it felt like to touch another human being. The man in Luke 5 who approached Jesus would have been an outcast, a castaway. Not only was leprosy defiling and isolating, it was also eminently shameful. A leper’s uncleanness became his identity, as he was required to cry, “Unclean!” signaling his uncleanness to any passersby.
As we consider the awful corruption of leprosy, we must see ourselves in this leper. How appropriate is the picture leprosy is of the corruption of sin that afflicts each one of us by nature. Like leprosy, sin is defiling. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Like leprosy, sin’s defilement is totalizing. Our entire constitution is infected with sin. Like leprosy, sin isolates. It makes man unfit for fellowship with God. If physical uncleanness couldn’t dwell alongside the manifestation of God’s presence and people in Israel, how much more does our spiritual uncleanness alienate us from the very presence of God himself?
In our sin, we have belittled His glory. We have preferred filth over beauty. Nobody should want anything to do with us, least of all the thrice Holy God of the universe. We are outcasts, fit only for the depths of hell itself. If we had any sense of ourselves at all, we would cry out in grief over our betrayal and for mercy from Him who we betrayed.
2. The Sinner’s Contrition
We can do nothing to rid leprosy from our bodies. Still less can our filthy rags rid the sinfulness from our souls. But the leper in Luke 5 sees Jesus. And when he saw him, verse 12 says, “He fell on his face and implored him.”
This is total brokenness, total humiliation. This man knows who he is. He knows he is undeserving, and so he takes the posture of humility, of reverence, even of worship, as he says in the next word, “Lord.” This man does not try to soft-sell his condition. He doesn’t say “Yes, sure. I’ve got a little leprosy, but on the whole, I think I’m a pretty healthy person.” We certainly hear much of that mindset today as sinners flatter and deceive themselves, convinced their sinfulness isn’t as foul and vile as the Bible says it is.
The leper comes in full confession and acknowledgment of his uncleanness, just as the truly repentant sinner must come to Christ, not making excuses for his sin, but openly confessing that he is totally corrupted, recognizing that he has no hope for forgiveness apart from the mercy of God. And so he falls down, bowed in abject humility, and begs God for undeserved grace.
3. The Sinner’s Confidence
But in one sense, this is not supposed to happen. According to the law of Moses, this leper shouldn’t be approaching anyone, let alone a rabbi. What drives his holy recklessness? Consider the sinners’ confidence. Verse 12, “He fell on his face and implored him saying, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
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The Responsibilities of a Faithful Minister Part 2: The Herald Answers to the Master

“The herald does not express his own views. He is the spokesman for his master. . . He is bound by the precise instructions of the one who commissions him. . . [In] general he is simply an executive instrument. Being only the mouthpiece of his master, he must not falsify the message entrusted to him by additions of his own. He must deliver it exactly as given to him. …” (Friedrich, TDNT, 3:687–88).

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Paul, a faithful minister and an example of how to shepherd the flock of God, did at times have to rebuke false teachers. In 2 Corinthians 2, he calls those preachers “peddlers,” who adulterate the Word of God and water down its message in order to deceive God’s people. In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul specifically outlines the character of a faithful minister—both what he must be, and what he must not be. In our last post [link], we saw that the faithful minister of the gospel cannot be a peddler, but must speak from sincerity.
Moving on in the passage, we find that he also speaks “as from God.” The ESV brings out the sense by translating it, “…as commissioned by God.” The concept of a “commissioning” reminds us that the most common word for preaching in the New Testament (kerussō) means to herald. The minister of the Gospel is a herald—sent by God and under His authority—to proclaim precisely what God his Master has commissioned him to speak.
Heralds “deliver their message as it is given to them. The essential point about the report which they give is that it does not originate with them. Behind it stands a higher power. The herald does not express his own views. He is the spokesman for his master. . . He is bound by the precise instructions of the one who commissions him. . . [In] general he is simply an executive instrument. Being only the mouthpiece of his master, he must not falsify the message entrusted to him by additions of his own. He must deliver it exactly as given to him. …” (Friedrich, TDNT, 3:687–88).
Everything about Paul’s life and ministry is driven by the message that he preaches. God Himself is the origin of Paul’s proclamation. This means that the faithful minister is a steward of the truth, not a manufacturer of the truth. He recognizes that God’s Word alone is the true food that will satisfy and nourish Christ’s lambs, and so he speaks God’s Word, and God’s Word alone.
This must set the course for your own preaching. Don’t follow the example of the evangelical darling preachers, in love with the sound of their own voice, infatuated with their ability to chirp out clever turns of phrase that have some loose connection to Christianity. Preach the Word of God. The clever quips and catch phrases from your own imagination might get made into a meme or go viral on Twitter, but the psuedoscriptural “deep spiritual nonsense” won’t feed Christ’s sheep. The people of God live by the Word of God, and so the faithful minister of God must herald His Word as a man under assignment.
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The Responsibilities of a Faithful Minister Part 1: The Light Reveals All Iniquities

Brother pastors, will you renounce all pretense and hypocrisy? Will you hold yourself open to the people you serve, exposed to the light of God’s Word, that it might be plain that you are sun-tested, who minister “as from sincerity”? By the open statement of the truth, be sincere preachers of the Word, not cheap peddlers. As a faithful ambassador who heralds nothing other than the message he’s received, be faithful to preach the Gospel in its unvarnished purity, and leave the results to God.

 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:17
In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, condemning the teaching of the false apostles, and calling the believers there to faithfulness in gospel ministry. In verses 14 to 16, Paul battles his own discouragement by meditating on precious realities about ministry: that Christ our conquering general has secured the victory, and always leads us in triumph; that God is absolutely sovereign in the salvation of sinners no matter what the results of our labors; and that therefore our great concern is simply to be a faithful fragrance of Christ in our Gospel preaching. Eternal life, or eternal death, must follow the preaching of the gospel.
As these lofty truths stream into Paul’s consciousness, he cries out in the middle of verse 16: “And who is sufficient for these things?” One commentator captures the idea when he asks, “How can any frail and fallible mortal fail to be conscious of his own utter inadequacy when charged with so stupendous of a responsibility?” (Hughes, 82). God has designed to completely overwhelm you with how totally unequal you are to this task of Gospel ministry, so that you would perceive your own insufficiency, be humbled to the dust, and cry out to Him for His sufficiency, for His grace. So, who is sufficient for these things? Paul says, “Sufficient in myself? Not me!” First Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
But his point in this passage isn’t to say he’s unqualified for ministry.
His response is to meet the challenges of ministry by drawing upon the infinite sufficiency of the grace of God.
And he says that in chapter 3 verse 5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as [ministers] of a new covenant.” So, on the one hand, the faithful minister of the Gospel is not adequate in himself. But on the other hand, God has made him adequate by grace.
And then he explains why. “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.” The kapēlos, the Greek word for the dishonest peddler, would add water to the wine that he purchased, diluting it and reducing its quality and genuineness. Dr. MacArthur summarizes the idea simply in his commentary when he writes, “A kapēlos was a huckster, a con artist or street hawker who cleverly deceived unwary buyers into purchasing a cheap imitation of the real thing” (74). Paul is teaching that the faithful minister does not adulterate the Word, by mixing divine truth with human ideas, man-made ideologies and strategies.
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