We should urge ministers of the gospel to be faithful in the basic duties of their ministry: godliness, truthfulness and hard work. More than this, we should urge them to fulfil these duties with great concern and diligence: to strive to grow in godliness, to do their best to be a master workman who correctly handles the word of truth, to speak boldly and persuasively and to work with wisdom and skill. And we should pray that ministers of the gospel be moved by deep and earnest desire to see God glorified through the gracious salvation of as many sinners as possible through the preaching of the gospel, and as many Christians as possible built to maturity and mobilised in ministry.
The Scripture clearly teaches ministers are responsible for their faithfulness to the task: in godliness and truth and zealous endurance. We are even responsible for the quality of our work. But to what extent is a minister of the gospel responsible for the results of their ministry? It is right for them to consider themselves somehow accountable for the fruit of their efforts? If we believe this is true in a qualified way — ‘to some extent’ or ‘under God’ — then how is this responsibility qualified exactly? To what extent are ministers of the gospel responsible?
Section 1: Comments on power, accountability responsibility
- The limits of our power and so of our responsibility
- God is ultimately the only one who can grant new life, and so we can’t make people become Christians: this is ultimately God’s work.
- Even on more everyday level of life in this world — encouraging Christians to attend a conference, selling vacuum cleaners, parenting children — humans have their own conscious life, and we cannot fully predict, let alone control their beliefs and behaviour.
- In fact, even when it comes to the inanimate world — of farming or basic health care for example — this world is not only complex and unpredictable but also fallen and disordered.
- So we should acknowledge see the limits of our power and our responsibility to say ‘If God wills’ (James 4). It could lead to despair and discouragement, or pride and boasting, if we assumed that everything was in the scope of the power of our will.
- Our words and actions have influence on the world
It nevertheless remains true that we are able to have influence on the world:
- We can choose to act or not to act, we can move physical objects, persuade and coerce people, preach the gospel and pray.
- The Bible commands us to be godly and pure in all our thoughts and actions, exhorts to many and varied acts of worship to God and love to our neighbour. We are responsible for these outcomes in our own hearts, minds and lives.
- With regard to the work of the gospel, we are commanded to share in the preaching of the gospel with the goal of that many might be saved, that the church will be built, that we might save ourselves and our hearers. We are also exhorted to make the most of every opportunity, and to follow the example of the apostle Paul who does all things by all means, to serve this work.
- We are accountable to the commands and exhortations of God
And we are accountable to God for our actions:
- We will be judged for our lives lived in response to the gospel — to expose a false profession of faith, expose where we fell short of the calling of our genuine conversion, to give further evidence of the genuineness of our conversion and even to provide grounds for rewards of God’s pleasure and glory and our honour and joy.
- We will also be judged for the faithfulness of our service in the kingdom — whether we build with the good materials of sound doctrine and godly conduct, whether we diligent in the work entrusted to us — and such judgment will be to our glory or shame. We are therefore in some sense responsible for our intentions and actions.
- More still, we will be praised for our part for the good results that come because of our actions — it is right for us to rejoice and receive glory and rewards in heaven for those who are converted and matured through the work of our ministry and for those whom we fed and clothed when they were hungry, cold and naked. There is a fitting praise, glory and reward attributed to us for our limited role in these outcomes.
- And we will also be judged in part for the results of our actions — for causing Christ’s little ones to stumble or for destroying Christ’s temple, the church. Even though we are not entirely responsible for the sins of others, we contribute to their temptation or deception and so are rightly condemned for our limited role in these outcomes.