This morning, I read a fantastic sermon from Jonathan Edwards which has recently been rediscovered and published. It is entitled, “Deacons to Care for the Body, Ministers for the Soul,” and it treats the subject of church officers. I thought it was very instructional and inspirational. I wanted to serve Christ and his people better after reading this sermon. Consequently, I have chosen to completely plagiarize and reorganize his material that it might be of some immediate benefit for you. I trust this short meditatie thought will be encouraging to you, whether you are serving as a steward in Christ’s household, or if you are one being served by an elder or deacon in one of Christ’s local families.
First, we have all been created as physical and spiritual beings. Unlike the angels, we are beings constructed with bodies and souls. Our souls are throne and our bodies are his temple.
Second, we have been given good laws to teach us how to wisely worship him — spiritually and materially. We are to love God with all our hearts, souls, and mind. We are to love him with all our strength as we love our neighbors. We have been given the first table of the Law largely treating our spiritual responsibilities. The second table focuses more on our material or physical duties. With our souls and bodies we are to worshp him, and this matters not whether one focuses on the Old or New Testaments. Whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, it is all to be done for the glory of God.
Third, we need to understand we have kept neither components of God’s Law, and as a consequence we been cursed in both soul and body. Because of Adam’s original sin, our souls are dead and our bodies are in the process of dying. Therfore, at the appointed time when Jesus came to perform his substitutionary work, he was required to suffer in both soul and body. And this horrid but just curse continues in this life and the next. Let us not forget there will be a bodily resurrection of both the just and the unjust, and both will be relocated – body and soul – to either the Lake of Fire or the Paradise of God.
Fourth, in the Old Covenant of Grace, as God cared for his distinct redeemed community, he provided prophets, priests, and kings to minister to both soul and body.
Fifth, as Jesus came to be the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King, he showed his love, mercy, and grace by ministering in both spheres. Jesus proved himself to be the Great Teacher and the Great Physician. He showed himself to be both Elder and Deacon by caring for both the souls and bodies of his friends. He was the Good Shepherd, and he supplied bread — physical and spiritual – for his flock.
Sixth, as Jesus sent forth his fellows, in his name, clothed with extraordinary gifting, they were empowered to minister after the manner of their Master. Like Jesus they were granted Spiritual power to prophesy, preach, teach, and feed men’s souls. Along with their verbal and proclamatory gifts, they also received Spiritual power to exorcise demons and heal a host of diseases and disabilities. Like the Good Shepherd, they were miraculously gifted extraordinary ministers called and equipped to care for both the souls and bodies of those in the household of faith.
Seventh, as those with extraordinary apostolic gifts passed on, those with ordinary gifts took the forefront, and those ministries which were formerly joined together in one man were separated. Ordinary ministers seemed to focus on either ministry of Word or deed, and they were called to labor together. We see this in the following passages:
Acts 6:1–4 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Romans 12:4–8 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
1 Timothy 3:1–13 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
In the words of Jonathan Edwards, “And now he is gone to heaven, yet he has taken care that the same two sorts of work should be continued in his church and has therefore appointed officers to that end.” The heart of Christ, shown through extraordinary apostles, was to be shown through ordinary elders and deacons.
Finally, what do we know of the end? This we know – when the redemption of Christ is finally complete, all his children will be found perfect in both soul and body. Spiritually we will washed, nourished, and fed, and physically we will be found clothed, housed, and dining about the table of the Lord in the house of the Lord. He will finish that which he has begun. He who used elders and deacons to care for us on earth, will be the Ultimate Elder and Deacon caring for us in glory.
Friends, how important is such a well-rounded ministry to Jesus? He is the one who set the vision, laid out the objectives, and ordered his structure to see that all his people were ministered to in Word and deed. We are his household. We are his family. We are his children. We are his bride, and he is committed to caring for us spiritually and physically. Serving and being served by good elders and deacons is good worship.
How important is such a well-rounded ministry to you and me? There are times when spiritual sin affects us physically, and there are times when physical sin affects us spiritually. Therefore, we are not called to be churchmen focusing on one aspect or the other. All of us are either in need or in the presence of friends in need. Someone or some group must organize the love we have been called to display to one another. In our church, solid elders need solid deacons, solid deacons need solid elders, and a solid household needs both. Let us rejoice in the leadership gifts God has given to us. Let us honor, support, and make life easy for those ministers serving us in Word and deed.
Finally, how important is such a well-rounded ministry to our community? Jesus said in effect, “All men will know we are disciples by they love we show one another.” (John 13:34-35) As the world sees our house in order, they might just stand back and be amazed. They might long to be a part of our spiritual family. As they see the care we show for Christ’s sheep, perhaps they will come to know the Good Shepherd and prove themselves to be one of his own. Our eldering and deaconing is both worship and evangelism. Let’s recommit to ministering in Word and deed, both within and without the walls of Christ’s house.
Therefore, in this church-season when members are nominating, being nominated, being assessed, being trained, being tested, being selected, being ordained, and being installed, let us all be happy, serious, gracious, and diligent in our efforts. Let’s us pray and then go to work. Let us seek out the right men, with the right gifts, and put them in the right places, so they might serve us rightly.
And those of us who have been inwardly called by God’s Spirit and outwardly called by God’s church, let us rejoice in the sweet calling of our Savior. Then, let us labor together – happily, seriously, graciously, and diligently – that we might worship our God, look like our Savior, and bless his people both spiritually and physically. Let us worship well as the fellows of our Good Shepherd.