Letter Heavy… Light on Sufficiency

Image result for Light and heavy“Where God calls he certainly will provide”. Many of those reading have heard this phrase and will certainly shake their head in agreement. All one need do is read Paul’s bold prayer in Philippians 4:19 to have their faith encouraged, concerning God’s sufficiency in our human lack; “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Jesus Christ. AMEN!!!

The above passage is often seen as merely dealing with material need, yet that limits the scope of the truth . Given the context I understand the limitation, but scripture reveals our Father provides for ALL our needs, especially those related to Christian calling.

 (2 Corinthians 3:5-6) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Consider as well…

(2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In regard to II Corinthians 3:5-6, we consider Paul, who in the annuls of human and religious achievement, was 2nd to few if any. Yet none of this training, “know how”, or accolade made him confident he could affect anyone’s life. He writes that his (and our) sufficiency for ministry came from God alone. In the context of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, we understand this sufficiency to be the power of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean “our sufficiency” and we are “sufficient” to be “able ministers of the New Testament”? It means we have complete competency for what we are to minister, from God’s Spirit.

When pairing this with II Timothy 3:16-17 we get a vivid description of how full God’s provision towards us is; In the “inspired” (God-breathed) scriptures, we have all that is profitable for every area of Great Commission ministry. Therefore, in the word of God, we are “complete “, without any lack in performing any necessary work of ministry; so long as we trust Him. WOW!!!

There can be not doubt this is what made the early church so effective in the highly charged religious and pagan world they were born again into. Yet why is it today, that in spite of our professing belief in the two passages above, we seldom see them fleshed out in our experience. In Christian ministry circles today, their is a movement to earn B.A.’s, M.Div’s, Doctorate’s, certifications galore, and training in all sorts of disciplines. In this pursuit of what we feel is necessary to be equipped for the work we do, it appears we are having little impact on the lostness of our culture. It also appears we are seeing less and less of the rank and file in our congregations committing to the Christ life .

The reason… We have become Heavy on LETTER… and Light on SUFFICIENCY

In light of this growing reality, it is fair to ask why we are spending so much time and resource on these pursuits? The answer has less to do with sufficiency for God ordained ministry, than it has to do with our being seen as legitimate in the eyes of men. It also has much to do with a few other uncomfortable realities.

1. We don’t trust God concerning  II Corinthians 3:5-6 & II Timothy 3:16-17.Consider wise King Solomon. Few would dispute his influence on the O.T religion or his grasp of a broad range of topics, with which we can understand the pleasure and pitfalls of life. Yet at the end of His life, he wrote the following passage concerning his pursuit of study for wisdom… “And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of the making of many books there is no end, and much studying is wearisome to the flesh”. Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandment, for this is man’s all…” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13). What was Solomon saying? A man is equipped and useful, if he reveres and trusts God, knowing God intimately through His Word. Therefore, we can see the pursuit of study,  for the purpose of ministerial sufficiency, can wear out our flesh. This leaves us open to temptation (Matthew 26:41).

2. We have neglected the “know” leading to true sufficiency, for “knowledge is power”. In 1597 in the book “Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy’, Sir Frances Bacon wrote “knowledge itself is power”. His philosophy was that the man who is deep and wide in knowledge, is a man who will have great power and influence. His statement is not devoid of truth, albeit his knowledge base is completely different than that of the child of God. Our sole knowledge base is outlined in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him, and the power His resurrection”.

For Bacon, studying to broaden and deepen ones base of knowledge, would eventually lead to power and influence among men. For the follower of Christ, constant pursuit of the Person and presence of Christ, will lead to further intimacy (that I may know) with Jesus, whereby we will experience His resurrection power. This will lead to influence in the lives of men . Although God’s way is not academic, it does take disciplined study of and meditation  upon the word of God. The only problem is that this pursuit of Christ, which produces sufficiency for  ministry, takes solitude and surrender. In our age of “right now”, we find this foreign to patterns of thought and life. We neglect the “know” leading to sufficiency, for Bacon’s “knowledge itself is power”.

3. We forget the criterion for the call of God. It is amazing how effective the early church was, with most of its movers and shakers being unlearned men. They did not seek to legitimize themselves with the elite or populace. The early church simply preached Christ (I Corinthians 2:4-5) and believed for His conformation of their ministry, through miracles, signs and wonders. They epitomized the criterion of the calling for those who are in Christ.

(I Corinthians 1:26-29) For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not may noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised  God has  chosen, and things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

The time has come for us to examine why we commit to the LETTER’s we pursue. If we do not, we may be in danger of being light in Christ’s sufficiency or devoid of it entirely. We also run the risk of “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7). Coming to a knowledge of truth does not mean we grasp only the correct doctrinal affirmations in Holy scriptures, although that is a very necessary element in knowing the truth; or should we say knowing the Truth. The Truth is a Person. Jesus Christ is the Truth.

The word of God brings us to understand the nature and character of Christ, that we can enter into a union of knowing Him. This is what it means to come to a knowledge of the truth. Therefore, any pursuit not aiding in deepening our knowing of the Truth, must become suspect to us, or at least cautiously and prayerfully considered.

Interestingly, we ought to question whether Jesus would even be accepted in our Christian ministry circles, as He was not trained in the Jewish institutions that legitimized the called (the scribes, the pharisee’s or the nobler classes). This is what astounded the populace and religious in reference to Christ “and the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this man know letters having never studied?” (John 7:15)

“Having never studied” means he did not attend what made man scholarly enough to be legitimate. “Letters” does not refer to the scriptures, but the writings one studied concerning the scriptures to legitimize the teacher, usually at a Yeshiva. Matthew 7:29 reveals to us, that Jesus had authority which transcended the authority of the scribes. Who were the scribes? The were those who studied letters, who had titles given by man, which declared them sufficient to teach or exercise authority.

In spite of not being affirmed with title or degree, Jesus was able to minister to all types of people, even though never partaking in their behaviors. Jesus was not Letter heavy, or a prostitute, or a tax collector, or a fisherman, or a pagan, or a Roman. He also did not spend time researching techniques to better meet their needs. He spent His time obeying His Father’s instructions, in the sufficiency of the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore He reached people in all categories. In probing the New Testament, you’ll find the apostles were in the same pattern. Even Paul, who was the epitome of Letter heavy before he meeting Christ, fit Jesus pattern. Although he would have had multiple Doctorates and titles, by today’s jargon, it did not hinder Christ’s sufficiency. How did Paul do this? He chose one over the other.

(Philippians 3: 7-9)

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness,

Once more we must fight the tendency to look at his counting of all things loss, as merely pertaining to material stuff. His counting all things loss, extends to materials, privileges, LETTERS, and the patterns of thought and life which brought Him materials, privileges and LETTERS.

Paul was not merely using poetic license, but speaking the actual reality of his life. He chose to trust God’s word and Spirit for resource and sufficiency.  II Corinthians 2:2-5 reveals that Paul spoke only of Christ and Him crucified. To him Christ was at the center of every action, behavior and need in humanity. Therefore with Christ crucified as his center, he could speak on anything pertaining to life and godliness, seeking no outside knowledge or continuing education; the word and the Spirit made him complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. Therefore, Paul ministered not in eloquence of speech or man’s wisdom. He would strip away human refinement, that God’s power alone would be the deciding factor.

Without fail, I will be accused of being ignorant and anti-academic. So be it! In  spite of my being in favor of proper preparation for ministry and not opposing that training being at an institution of Christian learning, we have taken the pursuit of LETTERS to a dangerous place.

The American pastorate is not longer a biblical calling to shepherd the flock of God, but a professional vocation, where men seek to meet man’s criterion to be approved. Pastor is no longer a titled allowed to simply trust the word of God and His Spirit for sufficiency, but one where we need to be educated on how to deal with humanity, in more culturally appropriate ways. The American pastor is badgered to be concerned with being legitimate in the eyes of his peers, superiors and people, rather than being legitimate from his identity in Christ.

Consider how many young men of God, spend countless hours seeking more education, that they would be better equipped to minister in their context. The word of God commands us to “redeem” the time (Ephesians 5:15-16). Further education takes loads of time, time we can’t devote other places. Is it the best use of our time to weary our flesh in further study, on the happen stance that it may help someone? What of the lost person or the struggling saint we fail to reach or strengthen during that time? More importantly is it God’s will for us as individuals to pursue these further wells of knowledge? Do we even care to ask Him, if it is His will (James 4:13-17)?

The time has come for us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, in this area of LETTERS. Make no mistake should we continue on our current path, we will raise congregations that are ever learning but not ever coming to a knowledge of the truth. We may even find ourselves disqualified. That is without fail a terrible state for His children.

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
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