The Purpose of the Church is Ministry
Tonight I want to continue discussing the purposes of the church. A couple of weeks ago I talked about the first purpose of the church being worship, being grounded in what Jesus stated as the greatest commandment, found in
Luke 10:27a You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind…
If you recall, I told you that worship was the primary purpose of the church, that worship must be focused on God and that we must always strive to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. Tonight I want to talk to you about the second purpose of the church, which I want to sum up by the word ministry which is based on the 2nd greatest commandment Jesus gave us in
Luke 10:27 You shall love…your neighbor as yourself.
The purpose of the church is to be a community of people who love others as we love ourselves. I want you to explore with me what that means first in general terms, and then in terms of how that works in the local church.
Our culture tends to limit the word “ministry” to the work of a pastor or preacher or evangelist or missionary. But actually the word “ministry”= serving the needs of others. Ministry is not just the job of professionals—it is the high calling of each member of the church of Jesus Christ.
To help us understand this I want to begin by hiring a firefighting team.
I need to get 4 volunteers to help me out.
First, I need a fire truck driver. __________, would you be my driver?
I need somebody to be in charge of the water hose. ____________
Now I need somebody to carry the ax. _____________________
OK one more person I need to be sure everybody has their helmets.
______________ Now remember what I asked you to do, OK?
Next, I want to take a closer look at how ministry works as individual Christians and as the Body of Christ by looking at an important question you have to answer before you can minister the love of Christ. The question is asked in
Luke 10:29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
The man who asks this question is looking for a loophole. He doesn’t want to feel responsible for every Tom Dick or Harry that comes along needing help. So he asks Jesus just who do you have in mind when you use this word, “Neighbor”?
Jesus answers with the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus connects loving your neighbor with ministry. This story is a perfect illustration of the principles of what “loving your neighbor ministry” is all about. Let’s read the story and then let me point out some things. (Read Luke 10:30-37).
What is “loving your neighbor” ministry all about? First ministry begins with a heart of compassion. (v. 33)
A tramp was looking for a handout one day in a picturesque old English village. Hungry almost to the point of fainting, he stopped by a pub bearing the classic name, Inn of St. George and the Dragon.
“Please, ma’am, could you spare me a bite to eat?” he asked the lady who answered his knock at the kitchen door.
“A bite to eat?” she growled. “For a sorry, no-good bum—a foul-smelling beggar? No!” she snapped as she almost slammed the door on his hand. He knocked again on the kitchen door.
“Now what do you want?” the woman asked angrily.
“Well, ma’am, might could I have a word with St George this time?” [i]
Sometimes people aren’t very good at being compassionate on the needs of others. But if you are going to love your neighbor, you first have to begin by keeping a heart of compassion.
This poor traveler needed somebody to care about him, to have compassion enough to stop and help.
The Levite and the priest see the poor beaten man, but they don’t really care about him. Maybe they’re just in a hurry; perhaps they were scared of being robbed themselves. Either way they have no concern about his needs.
But the Samaritan has compassion on him. His heart goes out to this poor, helpless man.
This is more than a little unusual. You assume the man who was robbed was a Jew, one who despised Samaritans. In this culture there was a deep hatred between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus uses a Samaritan as the hero of this story for a reason—he would have no reason to care at all about a dying Jew.
Yet this Samaritan’s compassion is stronger than his prejudice, stronger than his fear. He looks down on the beaten, bloody body and perhaps thinks to himself if that was me, I would want somebody to help me.
Mt 7:12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Loving his neighbor meant caring about the needs of his neighbor. Ministry doesn’t begin with what you do—it begins in a heart of compassion.
But it doesn’t end there. Ministry involves doing something. The Samaritan’s compassion went beyond just a feeling—it translates into action.
This compassionate Samaritan gets busy bandaging wounds, pouring out expensive medicine, taking the time to load the poor man on his own donkey, carrying him to the nearest Holiday Inn, paying for his stay and even offering to pay more if necessary. The Samaritan uses His own resources to minister to the need of this wounded stranger.
Thirdly, don’t miss an important point Jesus makes by using a Samaritan as the hero of the story. Jesus is telling us It doesn’t matter who you are---all of us should be involved in ministry. His last question and command sum it all up in v. 36-37 (read.)
Who did I ask to be in charge of my waterhose?
Do you see what Jesus calls us to do? When He commands us to love your neighbor as you love yourself, He isn’t just saying have these warm feelings for others. Loving your neighbor involves having compassion for the needs of your neighbor, and then serving your neighbor by using what you have to meet their needs. This is what ministry is all about.
Haddon Robinson relates a conversation he had with his young son about the parable of the Good Samaritan. After his son retold the story, Robinson asks, "Son, what was the spiritual lesson of the story?" It was obvious I had taken him by surprise, and he thought for a minute and said, "That story teaches that whenever I'm in trouble, you've got to help me."[ii]
The Biblical term for loving your neighbor as you love yourself is ministry-caring about and then serving the needs of others. The Bible sums this ministry up in
Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Who did I ask to be the driver of the fire truck?
Now let’s talk about how this loving-your-neighbor ministry applies to the church.
First of all, it means each of us should be sensitive and compassionate about the needs of each other. The Bible calls us the Body of Christ, and tells us in
1 Co 12:12, 25-26 12For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ…..25that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Just as a human body is bound together so closely that one part affects another, so also the Body of Christ is to be so connected that we are sensitive and compassionate to the needs of one another. We ought to be developing caring relationships with one another.
The word I like to use here is family. Just as a family cares for one another’s needs, so also the church is God’s family which cares for one another’s needs.
Who did I ask to carry the ax?
But you cannot stop there, because this parable speaks not only of being sensitive to the needs of other church members, but having compassion on those who are outside God’s family. The Samaritan was an outsider to God’s chosen people, yet he had compassion on this poor man on the road. We who are on the inside must also have compassion on people in need who aren’t Christians.
Ministry—loving your neighbor—begins with a heart of compassion. But it has to go further and translate into action. Ministry is not just about what you feel—it’s about what you do.
Like faith, love shows up in our works. How do we show our love for our neighbor? By doing what we can to meet their needs. This can take many forms.
Ministering in our church family involves using the gifts and talents God has given you to serve each other. This kind of ministry is outlined in Rom. 12:3-8 and Eph. 4:11-16.
Paul says God gives each of us spiritual gifts to minister to the Body of Christ. Notice the wide variety of gifts listed here—teaching, giving, leading, pastoring—all given to edify, to build up one another in our faith, to help us grow to become like Christ. Please don’t miss this point- you and I cannot become the Christians God wants us to be without each other.
You have at least one talent, a gift, an ability that the Holy Spirit gives you to be able to minister to other people here in this church. The purpose of this church is to be a community where each of us ministers to one another to help us become what God wants us to be. We are called to be, according to Eph. 4:12 the saints who do the work of the ministry of the church.
What is it that strengthens the church, makes it grow, draws others to be a part—it’s love. Not just warm fuzzy feelings, but people who care about one another, who serve one another, who are willing to put feet to their feelings and do what it takes to meet one another’s needs.
But the ministry of the church must not be limited exclusively to the members of the church. The purpose of the church is also to reach outside our group just as the Samaritan stepped out of his group to help a neighbor in need.
Mt 25:44-45 44“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
The people of our community need to know that the people of God care about them. They do not need to see us an exclusive club where we only care about the people who are part of our group. Our mission is to surprise people with concrete expressions of God’s love that make them ask why would you do this for me? So that we can answer them in all honesty because Jesus loves you.
Who did I ask to be in charge of the helmets?
No—we cannot help everybody. We don’t have the resources to feed every hungry person, or pay the bills of every poor person. I cannot meet every need you have as your pastor, and you cannot meet every need of anyone else in this congregation. You cannot do everything for everybody. But here’s the key: you can do something for somebody.
As individuals, we should be praying, asking God to show us who we can minister to. As a church, we should be praying and asking God what we can do to minister to the needy of our church family and the needy of our community.
We must not be like the Levite or the priest—walk around needy people and ignore them. We must be like the Samaritan—when God puts somebody in your path, do something to help them. Our purpose as a church is not only to serve God, but to serve one another, and to serve our neighbor—to let the love of God flow through us to make a difference in somebody else’s life.
An old man, walking along the beach one dawn, noticed a young man picking up starfish that had washed up ashore and flinging them into the ocean. The boy explained he was afraid the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.“But the beach goes on for miles,” said the man. “What difference will it make? There are so many starfish that nothing you can do will matter.”As the boy picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, he said quietly, “It matters to this one.” [iii]
I want to add as your pastor that I am thrilled at the ministry that goes on at Gray’s Chapel. Just this week I heard about a group of ladies that carried food to somebody that had surgery. I know of several men who have, on their own initiative, visited the hospital and showed how much our church cares. Our VBS team has put in some long, hard hours this week preparing for all the kids and adults that will come for this week’s program. I don’t know if it’s proper to feel this way but I cannot help it—I’m proud to be pastor to a group of people who do so much to reach out to others with the love of Christ. In so many ways, so many of you are fulfilling the purpose of the church.
But there are still so many needy people, people who need Jesus to use you and I to make a difference in their lives. This is why we exist—not just to bask in God’s blessing, but to share His blessings with others, to use what we have to help others.
Who’s the driver of the fire truck? What’s your job?
Who’s in charge of the ax? What’s your job?
Who’s in charge of the helmets? What’s your job?
Who’s in charge of the water-hose? What’s your job?
Every one of you is a fireman. What is the job of a fireman? To put out fires.
The job of the church—the purpose of the church- is ministry: to love your neighbor by caring enough to minister to their needs.
You don’t have to preach to be a minister—all you have to do is care about somebody’s needs and use what God gave you to meet their needs. That’s the purpose of the church—to be a place where we live out Jesus’ command to love others as you love yourself.
Let me end tonight’s message with something I’d like for you to think about:
A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. “Your son is here,” she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened.
Heavily sedated, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand.
The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement. The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed.
All through the night the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength.
Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused. Whenever the nurse came into the ward, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises of the hospital – the clanking of the oxygen tank, the laughter of the night staff members exchanging greetings, the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words.
Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned.
She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her. “Who was that man?” he asked.
The nurse was startled, “He was your father” she answered.
“No, he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before.”
“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?”
“I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me. I stayed.”
Somebody needs us to stay, to be there to do what we can to help them when they need us. That’s what loving your neighbor is all about. The purpose of the church is ministry.
[i]David Augsburger, The Freedom of Forgiveness Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other
[ii] Haddon Robinson, "A Case Study of a Mugging," Preaching Today, Tape No. 102.
[iii]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: