Are you in the ministry? You say, “No, I’m just a lay person.” But according to Scripture, if you know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you are in the ministry. You may not earn your living by the ministry, but neither did the apostle Paul, for the most part. But every believer is gifted for ministry or service and is accountable to God to use those gifts for His glory as His servant or minister.
Suppose I were a wealthy businessman who owned several franchises and I hired you to manage one of them. Several months later I stopped by to see how things were going. You were not at the place of business. In fact, it was locked up and it didn’t look like anyone had been there for some time. Cobwebs crisscrossed the doors and windows. When I finally tracked you down, I asked, “How is the franchise doing?” You said, “To be honest, I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to tend to it lately, because I’ve been so busy. Work has been hectic, the kids are in soccer, I’ve had several projects to do around the house, and I’ve needed to get away for a few weekends so that I didn’t burn out.” You can see how the owner would rightly be concerned about his franchise!
And yet so many Christians view their ministries just as that manager viewed his franchise responsibility. It’s not all that high on the priority list. If you get a little time once in a while to dabble in it, that’s fine. It’s a nice hobby. But when push comes to shove in a busy schedule, ministry isn’t very high on the list.
In Luke 8:1-3 we get a behind the scenes glimpse of how our Lord and the twelve were able to devote themselves full time to the ministry of preaching and evangelizing: Some women whose lives had been transformed by Jesus traveled with them, serving in practical ways and giving generously out of their private means. This passage is what I call a window-shade passage in Scripture. In the Bible are many passages where the shade is always up. These are the great themes of the Bible that run through it, visible to anyone who will pick up the Bible and read. But then, occasionally, you come to these passages where the window shade goes up and is quickly pulled back down. You can easily miss it, or you blink and ask yourself, “What did I just see?” It jumps out at you because it reveals something that is not a major theme throughout the Bible.
For example, in Genesis 15, God explains to Abraham the prophetic future of his descendants. He tells Abraham how his people will be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years before they return to the land of Canaan and then He adds, “For the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). When I read that, I say, “Whoa! God knows in advance how much evil He will tolerate before He sends judgment on a wicked people. He is willing to keep His own people enslaved in Egypt for four centuries while He patiently allows the Amorites to fill up the cup of His wrath. Then He commands Moses to lead the people out and Joshua to exterminate the wicked Canaanite nations.” There is a wealth of theology packed into that brief window-shade verse!
In Luke 8:1-3, the shade goes up and we see the ministry of these women to Jesus and the twelve. The women in this story, like the woman in the previous story, had been forgiven much and so they loved Jesus much. They teach us that …
Those who have experienced the Savior’s mercy have the privilege of serving Him out of love.
It is crucial to understand that you cannot rightfully serve the Savior until He truly is your Savior. One of the most frequent gripes leveled at the church is, “They’re always after my money.” One reason people feel that way is that many churches wrongfully try to solicit funds from people who attend the church but who may not yet be believers. But giving to the Lord’s work and other forms of ministry are the privilege of believers only. A person who is not yet a believer may wrongfully think that by giving or by serving, he can earn his way into heaven. But the Bible is clear that no one is saved by good works (Titus 3:5). All good works, including giving, should follow salvation and be motivated by grace.
Note the theme we have seen in earlier studies, of Jesus’ emphasis on preaching and teaching God’s Word. “Proclaiming” is the word often translated “preaching” which means to proclaim as a herald. The herald announced to people the word of the king. He never made up his own message, but rather relayed what the king wanted his subjects to know. The word “preaching” (NASB) is literally, to evangelize or proclaim the good news. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God, that God had fulfilled His promises and had sent Jesus as His Messiah and King, the one who would reign on earth and suppress all unrighteousness. Thus at the heart of Jesus’ message was His own lordship and right to rule over the lives of others.
The kingdom of God has both a present and a future aspect. Presently, Jesus reigns from heaven over all that willingly submit to Him as Savior and Lord. But in the near future, Scripture clearly teaches that He will return bodily to rule over the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15; Ps. 2:6-9). But whether in its present or future aspect, the kingdom of God is built around the lordship of Jesus Christ. Central to the very idea of becoming a Christian is that you have come to know that Jesus is God’s anointed Messiah and King and you submit your life to Him as Lord. The commonly heard notion, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, but He is not my Lord,” is appalling. If Jesus is not your Lord, then you are under Satan’s domain of darkness. If Jesus is your Lord, then you are in His kingdom, possessing redemption and forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14).
The point is, Jesus preached specific content, that God is King, that Jesus is His Messiah, and that men must submit to His rule. Becoming a Christian is not just a matter of knowledge, but neither is it devoid of knowledge. At bare minimum, you must know that you have rebelled against the King of the Universe and that Jesus, who is God in human flesh, came to reconcile rebellious sinners to the Heavenly Father through His sacrificial death on the cross. To trust in Jesus as Savior cannot be divorced from submitting to Him as Lord.
These women, along with the twelve (except Judas), had heard Jesus’ preaching on the kingdom of God and had personally responded to that message by submitting their lives to Him. Judas is a warning to us that it is possible to profess Jesus as Savior and even to serve Him, but not to truly believe. But the rest, in spite of their shortcomings, had truly believed. We have already seen how Peter (5:1-11) and Levi (5:27-28) had responded to Jesus. But Luke now mentions these women, three by name and many others unnamed, who had responded to Jesus and were following Him.
Some, such as Mary Magdalene, had been delivered from evil spirits. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no evidence in the Bible that Mary had been an immoral woman. When Luke states that seven demons had gone out of her, he probably means the number literally. But, also, seven is the number of fulness and so he probably means that her life had been completely dominated by evil spirits. The gospels show that evil spirits can inflict both mental and physical infirmities on people in varying degrees. The worst recorded case is the demoniac in the tombs whom we will encounter later in Luke 8:26-39. But we don’t know any more about Mary’s past than is recorded in this passing reference. We do know that her life had been miserable because of this horrible affliction and that because she personally came in contact with Jesus Christ, she was set free.
The second woman mentioned who had personally met Jesus Christ was Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. Her husband probably was responsible for managing Herod’s vast personal assets. We do not know if he, too, had believed in Jesus, but we can surmise that he did not object to his wife’s traveling with Jesus and His disciples. If he had objected, surely Jesus would have told Joanna to return to her husband and be a witness through her godly behavior. We do not know how she came to hear about Christ. Perhaps she heard through John the Baptist’s witness at court after his arrest. Or, perhaps she suffered from some illness and had gone to where Jesus was ministering and had been healed. Some have suggested that her husband may have been the nobleman whose son Jesus healed (John 4:46-54), but that is unlikely. We encounter her only one other time, as one of the women who went to the empty tomb on that first resurrection morning and reported back to the apostles what she had seen (24:10).
The third woman mentioned by name is Susanna. This is the only reference to her in Scripture. Perhaps she was well-known in the early church and that is why Luke gives her name here. Besides her, there were many others who are left unnamed. But they all had responded personally to Jesus Christ.
Thus to come to know Christ, you must know the content of the good news: who He is and what He came to do. Then, you must respond personally to Him.
There was a marked difference in the eleven and in each of these women that hinged on their meeting Jesus and responding to Him. The main difference is that previously their lives had been dominated by the curse of sin, but after meeting Jesus, they were set free from sin’s devastation. When you are in a public place, do you ever look at people and wince inwardly at the devastating effects of sin? Many people show its effects on their faces. Others have bodies that are crippled or in some degree of impairment. Death is the curse of sin written over the entire human race. We’re all in the process of dying. You would think that dying people would long for the deliverance that only Jesus can bring. But Satan has blinded them to their true condition and their fallen minds are darkened to the light of the gospel.
But when Christ powerfully breaks into a life with His good news of salvation, the captive sinner is released from bondage. The gospel always makes a demonstrable difference in the life of the person who has responded to it. The disciples left their nets and followed Jesus. Matthew left his lucrative tax collection business and followed Jesus. These women were delivered and healed from the afflictions that had dominated their lives. Now they, too, followed that ragtag band. Imagine the gossip that must have surrounded Joanna back in Herod’s court! It would be like one of the Kennedy heirs leaving her mansions and social circles to join an itinerant bunch of evangelists in Mexico! But Joanna’s entire value system was transformed. Formerly she had lived to enjoy the good life of the wealthy and famous. Now she lived to serve her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. So, the prerequisite for serving the Savior is to come to know Him personally.
A non-ministering Christian is a contradiction in terms. Every person whose life has been changed by Jesus Christ is a servant or minister of Christ. By ministry, I am not so much referring to a task as I am to a mindset. We should constantly remember, “Jesus changed my life so that He can use me to affect others for Him.” Just as there are no spare parts on your physical body, so there are no spare parts in the body of Christ. Every passage that deals with spiritual gifts makes the same point, that every believer is gifted for service (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph. 4:7-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). None are exempt. Let me fill in the sketch given in our text with some basics on spiritual gifts from the rest of Scripture:
All spiritual gifts fall broadly into two categories, serving gifts and speaking gifts (1 Pet. 4:10-11). Jesus called the twelve to train them to carry on His preaching and teaching ministry after His departure. These faithful women were gifted to serve in practical ways, perhaps preparing meals for Jesus and the apostolic band, and in giving financially to support their work. Jesus and the twelve were free to devote themselves to the speaking ministry because these women were faithful in their serving ministry.
In a similar vein, the apostle Paul instructs that some elders in the local church are to devote themselves to the ministry of the Word and that they should be supported financially so they can do this (1 Tim. 5:17-18). In 1 Corinthians 12, he makes it clear that all of the gifts, speaking and serving, are essential for the proper functioning of the body. None are better than others because they are all interdependent.
One of the emphases in Luke’s Gospel is the elevated position Jesus accorded to women. He shows the unique way God used Elizabeth, mother of John, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. He shows the privilege of the godly Anna, who held Jesus in the Temple. Later we will see the close friendship between Jesus and the sisters, Mary and Martha (10:38-42). All the gospels record the faithfulness of the women during the crucifixion and their privilege as the first witnesses of the resurrection. It is interesting that no where in the gospels is a woman recorded as being an enemy of Jesus; all His enemies were men. The prevailing Jewish attitude toward women was less than exemplary. The rabbis refused to teach women and restricted them to the outer court in the temple, along with the Gentiles. They did not regard the testimony of women in a court of law. But Jesus showed personal concern and respect for women. He healed them, forgave them, taught them, and accepted their ministry on His behalf. When you view it in light of the cultural context, Jesus’ treatment of women was nothing short of radical.
But while the Bible clearly affirms and elevates the role of women, it also maintains distinctions between men and women regarding the roles they are to fulfill in the home and in the church. Clearly, Jesus chose no women apostles, although He easily could have done so. Paul makes it clear that elders in the church are to be men, not women. He stipulates that women are not to teach men (1 Tim. 2:9-15). He also stipulates plainly that the husband is the head of the wife and that the wife is to submit to her husband, while balancing that with the observation that both genders are interdependent (1 Cor. 11:3-16; Eph. 5:21-33). Every time that Paul sets forth these principles, he appeals to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, not to cultural norms. Thus while we should welcome and affirm the ministry of women, as both Jesus and Paul did, we must be careful to follow the biblical principles on the proper roles for men and women.
Sometimes when the subject of spiritual gifts is discussed, people become obsessed with discovering what their gift is and, once they think they’ve found it, they refuse to do anything else. They think that they can’t help clean up after a social because they’re not gifted in serving! It is useful to have some notion of what your gift is so that you will know where to focus your time and efforts. I think that I am gifted as a pastor-teacher, so I focus on shepherding the flock and preaching and teaching God’s Word. But that does not mean that I do not serve, show mercy, evangelize, give, and do other things that are not my gift. We are all commanded to do just about every spiritual gift. Even if you’re not gifted in teaching, if you have children you are required to teach them the ways of God. Or, God may put you in contact with a new believer who needs instruction in the faith. Even though it’s not your gift, you’re on! Your gifts just show you where to focus.
One way of determining your gift is to do a number of things and discover what you enjoy doing and what God seems to bless. I don’t know if these women were gifted in giving, but they had sufficient personal means to give generously and I would not be surprised to learn that they greatly enjoyed being able to help support Jesus and the twelve. While developing and exercising a spiritual gift is not effortless (I work hard at preaching and teaching!), there is a sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from doing it.
By the way, there is no record of Jesus or the apostles ever soliciting funds for their ministries. I am not saying that it is wrong to let people know about your ministry and the financial needs that exist. But I do think that as givers we have been wrongly conditioned in our day so that we assume that if someone doesn’t loudly advertise that he has a need, he must not have a need. I am suggesting that the biblical pattern is that the donors should take the initiative in seeking out the needs of faithful workers, so that the burden is not on the workers to make their needs known. These faithful women could see that Jesus and the disciples were not getting rich off the gospel. They saw the needs and took the initiative to give without being pressured.
There should never be any competition or conflict between the various gifts, but rather cooperation and joy in diversity as we work harmoniously for the same cause. Do you ever chuckle at the diverse people the Lord draws together into His church? Among the twelve, you have Matthew the former tax collector and Simon the Zealot who used to plot how to kill tax collectors! Among these women, you have Mary Magdalene, a former demoniac, and Joanna, a woman of high culture and wealth. It brings great glory to the Lord and the gospel when people of different racial and social backgrounds, and with different personalities and gifts, come together as one body to serve Him.
But we have to be careful! As Paul points out, it’s easy for the eye to say to the hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:16). But it would be ludicrous if the whole body were an eye or if the ear said, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body.” These faithful women were not preaching the gospel along with the apostles, but they were just as important in the cause of Christ. Without them, humanly speaking, Jesus and the twelve would have had to spend time working to support themselves and would not have been free to preach the gospel.
Luke does not say this directly, but placing the example of these women right after the story of the woman who loved much because she had been forgiven much, the point is clear. These women had been healed of evil spirits and various sicknesses, and so they now served Jesus out of love and gratitude. Joanna was willing to give up the comforts of palace life and endure the hardships of following Jesus on His travels because of what He had done for her. God’s grace as shown to you at the cross of Christ is always the supreme motive to serve Him with all your might.
Again, we must be careful: It’s easy to serve Christ for the wrong motives. We like the recognition people give us. We like seeing the results. Or, perhaps we wrongly think we can work off our guilt through our service. But with Paul we should be able to say that God’s grace is what causes us to labor long and hard for Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:10).
So let me come back to my original question: Are you in the ministry? I hope that everyone here who has tasted the grace of the Lord Jesus in salvation will answer, “Yes, Jesus is my Lord and so I am under loving obligation to serve Him with all my life.” As Paul put it, “He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor. 5:15).
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation