by J. David Hoke
"And again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. And they brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they entreated Him to lay His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, 'Ephphatha!' that is, 'Be opened!' And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. And they were utterly astonished, saying, 'He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.' (Mark 7:31-37)
There are some concepts in the Church today which are totally erroneous. For instance, some believe the Church is a building. They refer to "the church at the corner of Fifth and Main." Insofar as they are referring to the church building, they are right. But the church building is not the Church. The Church is people. The Church is the body of believers which meets in that building. This is one of the more popular erroneous concepts in contemporary culture.
Another equally erroneous concept is that ministry is something that only ordained clergy do. When we refer to a "minister," we usually mean an ordained, professional minister, such as a pastor or evangelist. While it is true that God has called some into the ministry as a profession, neither ministry nor the term minister is exclusively theirs. The New Testament teaches that all of us are called to ministry. In fact, all of us are ministers for Jesus Christ. While not all of us are called into the ministry as a profession, all of us are ministers full-time.
You may be an engineer, but God has called you to be His minister - at work, at home, as well as at church. Whatever your job, you are a minister of Christ and are called to do ministry by reaching out to others. Ministry means that we seek to impact the lives of others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ministry means we care for others and share with others and seek to touch others with the transforming power of God's love. If more in the Church would begin to see themselves as called to ministry, perhaps more in the world would be changed by the power of God.
But how are we to engage in this ministry? Is there a model for ministry found in the Scriptures? It would certainly help us if we had some pattern to follow. And we do. In our text today, we see a model for ministry outlined in the encounter of Jesus with the deaf man. As we see Jesus relating to this man and touching him with the power of God, we see what should characterize all Christian ministry. In this case, it was physical healing which was imparted. But whether it is physical healing or spiritual healing, the principles are the same. We will find, if we follow the example of Jesus, that our ministry to others can be both effective and fruitful.
In this encounter, Jesus was very purposeful in what He did. Mark records, in detail, each action individually. It is as if we are being shown a pattern for dealing with others. Perhaps you could call this a blueprint for successful ministry. In the encounter, Christ looked toward Heaven, sighed within Himself, touched the man, and spoke a word to him.
Communion: An Upward Look
Notice the upward look of Christ. This is symbolic of the communion He had with God. As Christ began to minister to this man who was deaf, He deliberately fixed His gaze toward Heaven. It was as if to say to the man, "The source of My power is from God." Jesus' look toward Heaven speaks volumes concerning the importance of prayer and communion with God. Prayer is the foundation for all true Christian ministry.
Jesus Himself modeled the importance of prayer in His earthly ministry. He was always stealing away to pray. Before every major decision, He would spend hours, sometimes all night, in prayer. He was certainly in constant communion with God moment by moment, but also found it necessary to engage in regular, daily seasons of prayer as well. If Jesus had to pray, how much more is it necessary for us to pray?
By this upward look, Jesus indicated that the source of His ministry was from God. For us as believers, prayer puts us into contact with God. Through prayer, we are able to draw close to God, to discern His will, to receive instruction from Him, and to be filled with His power. These are all essential elements to ministry. We can do much after we pray, but we can do nothing before we pray.
John Wesley said, "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth. God does nothing but in answer to prayer."
If there is a clear word in Jesus' upward look, it is that we must pray if we are to be used of God in ministry. Prayer lets us know our own need for God and equips us to be used by Him to minister to the lives of others.
Leonard Ravenhill said, "The church has many organizers, but few agonizers; many who pay, but few who pray; many resters, but few wrestlers; many who are enterprising, but few who are interceding. People who are not praying and praying. The secret of praying is praying in secret. A worldly Christian will stop praying and a praying Christian will stop worldliness. Tithes may build a church, but tears will give it life. That is the difference between the modern church and the early church. In the matter of effective praying, never have so many left so much to so few. Brethren, let us pray."
Let me ask you: How is your communion with God? Do you pray? Do you pray daily, consistently? Do you pray not only for yourself, but for others? Do you spend enough time in prayer to allow God to speak to you as well? Martin Luther said that he had so much to do each day that he must spend the first three hours in prayer if he would accomplish the work. If we would see the power of God unleashed in our lives and in our Church, we must pray.
Compassion: An Inward Caring
In this encounter, Christ not only looked toward Heaven, but He gave a deep sigh. What did this sigh indicate? It indicated an inward caring. Jesus was filled with compassion for this deaf man. Jesus cared. That is what the sigh means.
Over and over in the New Testament, we hear how Christ was moved with compassion as He looked on the lost and hurting multitudes. Christ's heart was broken as He encountered hurting people. He ministered to people because He cared about their needs. And so should we, for that very same reason. If the sigh could preach to us, it would say that we must care.
It may sound strange to say it this way, but Christians need to care enough to care. It troubles me that I find myself at times apathetic and indifferent. We all get caught up in our busy lives, sometimes to the point where it's easy to pass others by. Just the other day, my wife and I were returning from a football game our son had played in. The traffic was heavy. And as we approached a busy intersection, there was a man standing at the entrance to a shopping center. He held in front of him a placard which read, "Will work for food." As I drove by in a hurry to get home, I saw written in the corner in smaller letters, "God's child." I must admit to you that I felt a stirring in my heart which I tried to resist. After all, I was in a hurry. Surely someone would stop and help him. In fact, as I passed by, I saw him talking to someone in another car. I reasoned to myself that that person surely must be helping this man and I should go on. But as I went on, I felt more and more convicted about my attitude. It was a cold and blustery day. How could I just pass this man by? He professed to be God's child. Wasn't I acting like the hypocrites who see true human need and simply say, "Be warmed and be filled?" How could I be so unfeeling. But I wasn't unfeeling. I felt a lot. I was just in a hurry. The choice was clear. I had to go back. I didn't have any work to be done or food to give him but I did have some money. And so I turned the car around and we headed back to try to find the man. In fact, we didn't find him. Someone else must have helped him. But that was beside the point. I needed for God to get my attention because I needed to care.
We need to care for many reasons. We need to care because others need our care, but we also need to care because caring is a repudiation of our own selfish nature. Caring reaches out to others. Caring gives us motivation to minister. Jesus cared and so must we. We must care enough to care. And sometimes, we must care enough to cry. We must be moved with compassion if we would touch others with the power of God.
Contact: An Outward Touch
As Jesus ministered to this man, He touched him physically. He laid His hands on him, and let him know both that He truly cared, and that He desired to do something for him - to heal him. This contact was an outward touch that is necessary for all true ministry.
All too often the church is guilty of adopting a fortress mentality. We put our sign out and think that is all we must do to minister to people. The devil delights in a church like that. As long as we stay within our stained glass boxes Satan is content to let us roar as loudly as we like. After all, what real difference does it make. It is when the church starts being the church that Satan gets upset. And we only can be the church as we reach out to others with the touch of Jesus.
If we would minister to people we must get involved in their lives. We must touch them by becoming involved in their lives. It is not good enough to stand at a distance and pray for them. For ministry to be true ministry, it must be hands-on ministry.
I'm speaking of more here than simply laying hands on people. We do see that there are occasions when we should do that. Certainly as we pray for people, there is biblical precedent to lay our hands upon them. But the laying on of our hands is not some magical thing. It is symbolic of our involvement in their lives to impart blessing to them. We are there to minister in the name of Jesus Christ. We seek to impart His grace. To do so, we must get our hands dirty. We must become involved in the lives of others. There must be contact. There must be a touch. We cannot simply pass by and say, "Be warmed and be filled." We have to do something. That is what the touch is all about. We must pray. We must care. And we must reach out and touch if people are to be the recipients of God's ministry through us.
We must reach out and touch because we are Christ's ambassadors. In a very real way we are His hands. We are His mouth. We are His feet. We stand before the watching world in His place as His representatives. If we do not reach out and touch others, they will not be touched by His ministry.
Communication: A Soulward Word
Finally, we see Jesus speaking a word to this man's soul. It was the last thing He did, perhaps because the man was deaf; but perhaps because He needed to do the other first. Jesus communicated to the man. He said, "Ephphatha!" which means "be opened!" That was the first word this man had heard. It was a liberating word. It was a word of grace.
Even as Jesus spoke the word to this man, so we must speak the word to others as well. And as we do speak the word, especially in the context of this model for ministry, that word will be effective. We must pray. We must care. And we must reach out and touch. But then we must speak. We must share the life-changing word of God if people are truly to be touched by Him.
The goal of our ministry is to encounter people with the life-changing power of God. All too often, one or more of these important components of ministry is left out. Sometimes we only speak to people. We haven't prayed. We're not really concerned. We speak at a distance. There is no human touch. And consequently, there is no divine touch. Sometimes we simply try to meet their physical needs. We reach out and touch, but there is no life-changing word. There is no challenge to their soul. And so, while they may be fed, they go away empty because God has not filled them up with Himself. We need not neglect any of these important principles of ministry.
If we only emphasize prayer, we become guilty of super-spiritualization. If we only emphasize caring and compassion, we become guilty of sentimentalism. If we only emphasize the touch, then we become guilty of offering a social gospel as the answer for man. And if we only emphasize sharing the gospel, we become guilty of spiritualizing the gospel.
True ministry must begin in prayer, be motivated by the divine compassion God gives us, be involved ministry and be ministry that challenges people with the word of God. Only that kind of ministry can be successful ministry. Only that kind of ministry can change the soul of man. That kind of ministry works because that is the kind of ministry we see in Jesus.