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An important ministry in the church is the ministry of mercy. This study will discuss various aspects related to this subject.

 

1. Historically the church has recognized the existence of only two forms of ministry: the ministry of mediation and the ministry of mercy. The ministry of mediation includes all those gifts and tasks related to teaching (e.g., preaching, discipleship, counseling, music/worship, sacraments), justice (e.g., discipline, establishing policy, counseling, judgment/JUDCO, sacraments) and operations (security, administration, finances, building and grounds maintenance) whereas the ministry of mercy includes all those gifts and tasks related to caring for the disadvantaged (e.g., poor, elderly, sick, injured and incapacitated) and dying.

Support for this two-fold division is as follows:

1.1. The division of labor practiced by the church of the apostles (Act 6:1-4) = A division between those officers who would oversee the ministry of mediation (“ministry of the word”) and those who would function in the ministry of mercy (“serve tables”; e.g., chaplains).

 

1.2. The charge to Paul by the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:1-10) “remember the poor” = IOW: make sure that in addition to your preaching of the gospel and planting churches (the ministry of mediation) that you make sure those churches also possess ministry devoted to mercy.

 

1.3. The distinction that seemingly exists among the angels between those who report truth and carry out judgment (i.e., mediators or messenger angels; e.g., Gabriel and Michael, the watchers and cherubs – Dan 4:17) and those who help the disadvantaged and dying (i.e., angels of mercy – Luk 22:43-44; Heb 1:14).

 

2. Pastors (the ordained officers) are commanded to spend their time and energy on the ministry of mediation and therefore need the help of others in the congregation to fulfill the ministry of mercy.

 

(Act 6:2) “it is not desirable” = It is not what God wants us to do (Hence v4).

 

3. This was true even in relation to Jesus. Though involved in acts of mercy, His ministry focus was mediation. (Heb 12:24 “mediator of the new covenant”; Luk 4:38-44 = Notice how the people tried to monopolize His time in the direction of mercy).

 

4. Because the ministry of preaching and teaching takes so much energy and time, Jesus prohibited those He recruited to this task, to be involved in mercy-related ministry – including with those who are dying.

(Luk 9:59-60) = Based on Jesus’ charge to this man (a faithful Jew), he is being called to a ministry of mediation – most specifically preaching (“go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God”)[1]. To do so however, this man would need to leave the care of dying saints (his faithful Jewish father) to others – those involved in the ministry of mercy. He was not allowed to do both (“Let the dead bury their own dead”) = Ancient idiom referring to those whose function was to care for the dying in the covenant community (“their own dead”).

A paraphrase of Jesus’ words to this man: “Let those tasked with caring for the dying worry about caring for your dad’s death. Your responsibility is to grow the covenant community through preaching the gospel.”

That this is what Jesus is indeed communicating versus calling this man to ignore the death of his father and condemning anyone involved in the care of the dead (or dying) as spiritually undead (a common way of looking at the phrase “Let the dead bury their own dead”) is supported by the fact that Jesus cared deeply and did not ignore the deaths of those close to Him – including not only family but also friends (e.g., friends – Lazarus, Joh 11:1-15; family – John the Baptist, Mat 14:12-13).

 

 

5. The only time we see pastors involved in the care of the sick, is when it concerns the baptism of those dying.

(Jam 5:14-16) = This person’s sickness is unto death. He is also bed-ridden. Hence why the elders “pray over him. Their prayer is due to his request for salvation. In such circumstances, ancient tradition prescribed a baptism (“anointing”) with oil (rather than water). Since it is only the ordained officers (“elders” or pastors) who possess such authority – i.e., the authority to baptize or “loose” someone from their sins” (Mat 16:19 w/Joh 20:21-23; 1Pe 3:21; Act 2:38), it is their services (or the ministry of mediation) that is necessary (versus the ministry of mercy). Do not miss the fact that the pre-requisite to receiving this death-bed baptism is no different than what is required in normal cases (v15 “prayer of faith” [belief], v16 “confess your sins” [repentance]). Notice also that it is the “effective prayer” (calling out to God) by the “righteous man” (i.e., the elders – Mat 28:19 “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”) that secures the repentant and believing person’s restoration to God and future resurrection (v15 “restore the one who is sick [to God] and the Lord will raise him up [in the resurrection].”).

 

6. Why God has made such a division in the church with respect to these two ministries is no doubt related to:

6.1. The opportunity it provides to every person to be productive for kingdom – something absolutely necessary to our faithfulness and fitness for heaven (Mat 25:14-46).

 

6.2. The equity it establishes in the covenant community. IOW: no one person is doing all the work or carrying all the burden. It is instead an “every member ministry” (1Co 12:14-25 “The body is not one member, but many…[Therefore] the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’”).

 

7. Three conclusions should be drawn from this study:

7.1. Those not laboring in the ministry of mediation, need to give themselves to the ministry of mercy (Luk 10:1-2) “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest = Similar to the twelve commissioned before them, the seventy were most likely also sent out “in pairs” (Mar 6:7) to fulfill the tasks of mediation and mercy (Luk 9:2 “He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and perform healing”). The reason these men were sent in pairs was due to the church’s two-fold division of ministry (mediation and mercy); one would be focused on preaching and teaching, while the other was focused healing and caring for people’s needs.

The POINT NOT TO MISS: Jesus’ plea for additional workers (“beseech the Lord of the harvest…”) is not just in relation to preaching; the kingdom also needs people to labor in the fields of mercy!

 

7.2. Pastors are in the ministry of mediation, and therefore should never be expected to function in those roles related to the ministry of mercy. We must be careful not to confuse the role of pastor with the role of chaplain.

 

7.3. The chaplain is an officer whose focus is overseeing the ministry of mercy in the church (i.e., seeing that the needs of the disadvantaged or dying in the covenant community are being met; e.g., Epaphroditus – Phi 2:25-30 w/1:13).

 

[1] That this man was a Jew and faithful to God is supported by the fact that: 1) the focus of Jesus’ ministry was the Jewish community (Mat 10:6). 2) Hardly would Jesus have attempted to recruit this man to preaching about the kingdom had he been an unfaithful Jew. He would have instead called him to repentance (Luk 13:1-5). Based on the context (vv57-62), each of the men mentioned were more than simply faithful Jews, they were already disciples of Jesus. This includes the third or final man (v62, no one after putting his hand to the plow…”).