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Atlanta, 27 April 2016

Welcome back to our mini-series on Ministry, where we seek answers to 3 important questions. First, Who is in the ministry? As the Bible teaches (and as we were reminded last week) we're all in the full-time ministry.

Today we ask What is ministry? Can we define it? If we're unable to see clearly to a biblical definition, then we don't truly understand. Can you define ministry (concisely)?

What is Ministry?

Unfortunately, the meaning of "ministry" has been obscured by well-meaning Bible translators.

Words and meanings
Time for some etymology. There's a N.T. Greek word, diakonia. It means service. One who serves (a servant) is a diakonos. You will notice that the English word deacon is essentially a transliteration of diakonos -- not a translation. When the N.T. was translated into Latin, diakonos became diaconus in some passages (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8) -- transliteration. Yet in other places it was rendered minister (Phil 2:25; Col 1:1, 23) -- a proper translation at that time, since minister is the Latin word for servant. But how many of us speak Latin today? (Are you with me so far?)

Then it really gets tangled. English Bible translators give us servant in some places (Matt 20:28 is a great example), minister in others (Col 1:7, 23; 4:6), and deacon in still other places (Phil 1:1; 3:8, 10, 13), instead of a literal rendering (servant). In Acts 6, diakonia is service in v.2 but ministry in v.4. English translators also frequently render the word for slave (doulos) as servant. Confused? You should be. Perhaps the translators have felt beholden to traditional renderings (no church leader wants to be informed that his title isn't biblical, after all!). Surely we can agree that a bit more consistency would have been helpful. (For more on this, see Terminology Reinforces Theology.)

Service through gifts
The upshot: ministry is service. Yet a full-orbed biblical ministry isn't just doing things for others, even with a humble attitude. The following passage is immensely helpful:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides...(1 Pet 4:8-11)
  • We have all received gifts from God -- in most cases, before we became Christians. Of course, if we weren't using those gifts spiritually, they weren't spiritual gifts. A gift becomes a spiritual gift when it's used spiritually.
  • We are to minister to others, using our special gifts. Gifts are not for private exercise, but for the corporate benefit.
  • Peter distinguishes two categories: speaking gifts (like teaching) and service gifts (like hospitality). Some gifts fall into both categories (like leadership).
Succinctly put
Thus a compact definition of ministry emerges: serving others through our speaking and service gifts. Next week, combining this simple insight with last week's conclusion about ministry personnel, we'll circle back to the issue of ministry lingo and its enormous impact on church life.

Thank you

Your love for God's word, interest in learning, and support for the teaching ministry are all much appreciated.

In His grip,
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