A Perpetual Ministry
(Numbers 8, Luke 12, Matthew 5 & 10)
Introduction: Now that we have come to the last lesson in our study about witnessing and evangelism, we should be asking ourselves, "When do we start?" Instead, it looks like we are studying "When do we stop?" Does "perpetual ministry" mean that we never stop? My habit, every morning I'm in Virginia Beach, is to walk the beach. One fellow I often see on my walk is retired. He spends every nice afternoon with his wife sitting on the beach. Would you like that? I could not stand it. What does the Bible teach about retirement from ministry? What should we do about those who have retired from being a part of the ministry because they are unhappy? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
- Have you ever heard someone say that retirement is un-Biblical? We should not retire because the Bible does not speak of it? Read Numbers 8:23-26. What does the Bible suggest about retirement? (The Levites retired from "regular service" at age fifty!)
- Did they go home and watch television? (They were allowed to assist, but it does not seem to be required.)
- We hear that retirement age should go up because of increased longevity. Read Deuteronomy 34:7 and Joshua 24:29. What does this suggest about the longevity of the people during Moses' time? (It sounds like people lived to be 100 years old.)
- Let's assume people commonly lived to be 100 during the time of Moses. What conclusion should we reach from the 50 year retirement age for Levites? Today, should you be able to retire at 40 years of age?
- Read Luke 12:13-15. In the preceding verses in Luke chapter 12, Jesus taught about hypocrisy and fearing God. This man wanted to change the topic to something he thought was more practical for his life. How did Jesus react to this question? (He resisted it. Then He suggested the man should be more interested in the subject Jesus had been speaking about, rather than the topic of money.)
- Read Luke 12:16-17. Assume you are faced with this "problem." What would you do?
- Read Luke 12:18-19. Is this a reasonable solution to the problem?
- If you originally answered "I would sell my crops and invest the money for the future," is the farmer's solution any different than yours?
- Read Luke 12:20. Why is the man a fool? Because he invested for the future? Because he retired? Because he did not buy life insurance? Because he missed his annual physical?
- Read Luke 12:21. What does Jesus hint is the reason for calling the man foolish? (He built a future focused solely on his own pleasure.)
- Think a bit about the Levite retirement and the dead farmer. What is the Bible teaching us about a "perpetual ministry?" (On the one hand we are not expected to be working full-time in ministry (or anything else) our entire life. On the other hand, we must never come to the point where we focus only on our own pleasure. We need to remain "rich toward God" at every age.)
- Early Retirees
- We all know people who leave the church because they are unhappy with the church, bored with the church, or insulted by church members. Should we go after these "early retirees?"
- Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. What job is given to us? (The "message of reconciliation.")
- What is that message? (That God does not count our sins against us if we are in Jesus.)
- Read Matthew 10:5-6. When Jesus refers to the "lost sheep of Israel," is He referring to those who have heard the message of reconciliation? (While the temple sacrificial system was a message of reconciliation, they had not heard of Jesus, and how He fulfilled the temple service.)
- Read Matthew 10:11-15. What effort is to be made for those who reject the gospel? (If your presentation is rejected, you leave.)
- What does this teach us about going after "retirees" - those who have left the church for various reasons? (It teaches us that our efforts should be directed to those who have never heard the gospel, not those who have already heard it and rejected it.)
- That seems to be a harsh conclusion. Are there any exceptions to it?
- Let's go back to the "lost sheep of Israel" issue. Were they unaware of God? (No. They simply had not gotten the gospel message.)
- Are there former members of your church who did not really receive the gospel message? (Historically, there is a problem with a proper gospel presentation in some churches. Many of the people I knew as a young man are out of the church, and it seems they may be out because they did not get a clear message of reconciliation - God does not hold the sins against those who are in Christ.)
- What does the "lost sheep" instruction suggest to us about those former members? (If they were not given a clear presentation of the gospel of grace, we need to try to educate them about it, rather than shaking the dust off our shoes.)
- Read Matthew 5:23-24. What is our obligation to former members who "[have] something against [us]?" (To be reconciled to them.)
- Do we have to be at fault for this text to apply? (If we are at fault, we certainly need to try to be reconciled. But, this text also applies to those who think they are "innocent" of wrongdoing. Years ago, this text convicted me to try to reconcile with a former member who seemed to hate me, even though I thought I was innocent. My reconciliation efforts blunted her anger, but did not bring her back to the church. However, her children saw what I had done and it reconciled them to me.)
- Read Matthew 5:44. What are we required to do for our enemies? (Pray for them.)
- Should we do anything less for former members?
- Read 2 Timothy 2:1-4. Why does a soldier not get involved in civilian affairs? (That is not the purpose of the military. The people will fear or reject the military if it is involved in civilian matters.)
- Timothy is not in the military. Why is Paul writing this to him? (In part, Paul wants him to stick to his appropriate work and message.)
- How many times are people in the church offended over things that are not central to the work of the church?
- I have some strong political views. While I like to think they are all driven by my religious beliefs, I know Christians who do not share my political views. What is my obligation with regard to my political views and giving offense in church?
- We have recently read this, but let's read it again: 1 Corinthians 9:20-23. What does Paul teach us about the extent to which we should go to avoid giving offense on matters not central to the gospel?
- Friend, the Bible teaches us that we can slow down with age, but we should never turn inward and seek only to please our self. We should always be rich towards God by sharing His message of reconciliation. While we should not be routinely wasting our time chasing after former members, we need to be sure that we are not creating "former members" by giving offense. If people have left over being offended, or being taught improperly, we need to try to fix those errors. Will you commit, today, to intelligent "perpetual ministry?"
- Next week: We begin a new study of the letters to the Thessalonians.