The third profitable thing we shall consider is:—
Edifying Ministry (1 Cor. 14:6)
“Now bretheren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?”
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian assembly, he deals by divine inspiration, with many subjects, mostly in a corrective manner, for the believers there had been guilty of many abuses. This was due to their carnality, evidenced by their carelessness and ignorance of the godly order which God desired in the gatherings of His saints (1 Cor. 3:1-3; 4:33-40).
In Chapter 12 he deals particularly with the matter of the bestowal of those spiritual gifts which the risen Lord had given to the members of His Body, the Church, and by means of which each local church was to be edified or built up. In Chapter 14, he speaks of the administration, or exercise, of these spiritual gifts in the local assembly, and shows how they should be profitably used to “edification, exhortation and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3). The intervening 13th chapter is devoted to a description of the atmosphere, or motivating power, in which all these gifts should be exercised in the assembly: namely, in love. Only as love is the constraining and energizing principle will the ministry be spiritually profitable and, therefore, edifying to the saints.
This important matter of edifying ministry, whether oral or written, should be of great interest to those believers who seek to gather together in scriptural simplicity, for assembly fellowship, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, either for prayer, praise, worship or the public reading and exposition of the holy Scriptures. The purpose of all these gatherings is intended by God to make for the mutual edification and the consequent spiritual profit of all present. The Bible puts it thus: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:7). Weymouth renders it: “But to each of us a manifestation of the Spirit has been granted for the common good.” Thus the edification of the people of God is the test by which the profit of all ministry is to be measured.
In 1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul declared: “In the Church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (not understood). An old teacher of the Word used to say: “The test of edifying ministry lies in meeting the challenge of those five words: “What shall I profit you?” (v. 6). This question might well be used to challenge the right of any person to address a company of believers. If what he has to say is not to the profit of his hearers, he would be well advised to remain silent while some other person occupies the time in a profitable manner.
It will surely be agreed that much unprofitable and unedifying ministry would never have been inflicted on a longsuffering audience if this simple test had been honestly faced, and right action taken in regard to it. One thing is quite certain: no person is a competent judge of the value of his own oral ministry, for he is palpably predisposed in his own favor! The hearers are surely in the best position to judge as to its profit, or otherwise. The Scriptures put it thus: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge” (1 Cor. 14:29). An audience is quick to discern whether or not the ministry to which it listens is edifying and therefore profitable.
Let us think of several things regarding this subject of profitable ministry.
1. The Fact Of The Possession Of The Gift Of Prophecy Or Speaking To Edification.
Prophecy, in the New Testament sense of the term, refers not so much to the foretelling of the future events, as to the forthtelling of the mind of God as found in His Word, as led by the Holy Spirit. There is a very illuminating comment as to this in “Notes on Thessalonians” by Hogg and Vine, which reads: “In such passages as 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 2:20, the ‘prophets’ are placed after the ‘apostles,’ since not the prophets of Israel are intended, but the gifts of the ascended Lord (Eph. 4:8,11 and Acts 13:1)… . The purpose of their gifts was to edify, comfort and encourage the believers (1 Cor. 14:3). The effect upon believers was to show that the secrets of a man’s heart are known to God, to convict of sin, and to constrain to worship (1 Cor. 14:24-25). With the completion of the canon of Scripture, prophecy apparently passed away (1 Cor. 13:8-9). In his measure, the teacher has taken the place of the prophet. Compare the significant change in 2 Peter 2:1. The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the message of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures.”
Prophecy, or the ability to minister the Word of God to profit, is one of the spiritual gifts given by the Lord Jesus to certain individuals, by which they are enabled to expound the truths contained in the Scriptures to the edification of their fellow members in the Body of Christ. We read: “He (that is Christ) gave some apostles; and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting (or maturing) of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:10-22). Thus prophecy is a distinct gift and is not possessed by every believer. Each believer is described as being a priest unto God, a servant of God, and a witness for Christ; but not all believers are prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are distinct gifts.
Each believer, however, has been given some gift by the Lord, and it should be each Christian’s ambition to discover what his own particular gift is, and then seek to develop it by diligent exercise, and then discharge it to the glory of his Lord and Saviour. We read in 1 Peter 4:10: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Paul urged the Corinthian believers to “covet earnestly the best gifts,” and also to “desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (1 Cor. 12:31, 14:1).
While this gift of public ministry is to be coveted by the Christian, yet only God can impart it. Once the gift has been imparted, it must then be developed in the spiritual atmosphere of diligent study of the Word of God, earnest prayer to God, and constant and faithful exercise of the gift. There is no royal and easy road to the development of one’s gift. The expert pianist becomes such, not only because he was given a musical capacity at his birth, but by the diligent developing of it by many painstaking hours of practice. The same is true of any other gift and the gift of ministry is no exception. True, some Christians are more gifted than others in their ability to discern and declare the counsel of God, yet each should strive to be his best for God. The reward, in a coming day, is to be given, not to the successful, but to the “faithful servant” (Matt. 25-21).
2. The Purpose Of Ministry.
In one word, it is the edification, or the building up of the hearers in the faith, whether it be in the form of rebuke, comfort, exhortation, or exposition. We are told that: “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men unto edification and exhortation and comfort.” This is geared to meet the three-fold need of the hearer: edification for his intellect, exhortation for his will, and comfort for his emotions. The great aim of all ministry is for the spiritual profit of the hearer. If it fails to accomplish this, it has fallen short in its purpose. Unprofitable ministry has been wittily defined as the attempt to stir up a gift that is not within us, and this results in the stirring up of a lot of objections from around us! Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is pertinent to this: “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:1516).
Gift does not exist for its own sake, but for the benefit and edification of others. Just as every member of the human body exists for the benefit of the body as a whole; so the gifts of Christ to the members of His mystical Body are for the benefit of the whole Body or, as we read in Ephesians 4:12: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ.” Profitable Christian ministry should therefore serve the purpose of waking up, warming up, lifting up, tuning up, cheering up and building up the saints. Such ministry, needless to say, is as much needed today as it was in the early days of the history of the Church.