A Bible college student, anxious to get his diploma and get on with his ministry, went to his professor and asked if there was a way he could take an accelerated course for his class. The professor said, “Well, that all depends on what you want to be. Do you want to be an oak tree, or do you want to be a squash?”
The student asked him what he meant. He replied: “When God wants to make an oak tree, it takes years for it to grow and mature and for its roots to develop deep in the earth. But it only takes six weeks to make a squash.”
Many Christians call themselves ministers who are unqualified and unprepared, but Paul said, “God has made us able ministers of the New Testament” (2Cor.3:6), and there are no shortcuts to becoming an ABLE minister. “And let these also be proved”—put to the test (1Tim.3:10).
Paul’s letters to Timothy are especially pertinent to those who desire to be used of God in ministry and contain numerous admonitions which I take to heart, like this one: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor” (2Tim.2:20).
I will never forget the morning when the Holy Spirit spoke these exact words to my heart: “Extraordinary gifts cost extraordinary prices.” I had been praying about walking in a deeper anointing to have greater impact in ministry. I had been taking spiritual inventory of my Christian walk to see if there was any hidden “leaven” in my life. I thought about my decision to remove any exposure to influences that could damage my soul, such as TV, watching what I call “slime time programming.” Like Job, I had “made a covenant with mine eyes,” and like David said: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” (The Hebrew also means vile thing.)
I felt I had been obedient to the Lord in this matter; yet I wanted to see my intimacy deepen. “What more does the Lord require?” my spirit prayed. Then I heard those words, and I knew the real question was: “What price am I willing to pay to for this anointing?” I am not referring to salvation— It is the free gift of God. Nothing we could ever achieve could procure our glorious salvation. Jesus Christ alone paid the only acceptable price for our redemption, which is free to all. Nor am I talking about self-righteousness, which to God is as “filthy rags” (Isa.64:6). But to the degree that we will consecrate and yield ourselves to His work in us, the Holy Spirit “will perform and perfect that good work He has begun in us” (Phil.1:6).
At the time here in Baltimore, we had stores called Dollar Bills. Not everything in these stores cost one dollar, but everything was cheap. You could come out with bags of stuff for $25, and for $50 you could literally fill the trunk of your car. But we also had a high-end store, Tuerkes, where $50 would barely buy one item. They sold extraordinary gifts. Their wares were not plastic, vinyl, and cardboard, but gold, silver, leather, fine woods, and alabaster. I’d stand at their display window and admire their beautiful gifts, but frankly, I was not willing to pay the price tag to own them. I could be happy with things that were less exotic and less expensive.
But not when it comes to the things of God—I want the extraordinary gifts!
It’s been said, and the Bible confirms: “God uses ordinary people.” That means me and you. But He does so by equipping us with His extraordinary gifts, empowering us with His anointing, so that we are well able to do excellent things for His glory. There are no shortcuts to God’s power and no bargain-basement prices for His extraordinary gifts. Anyone God has ever used in an extraordinary way has paid a high price of consecration, including Jesus.
Paul continued in 2 Timothy 2:21: “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work,” because there is no substitute for preparation. The key to all effective ministry, whether personal evangelism, preaching, teaching, deliverance ministry, and every Christian service, is preparation. If you wait till God gives you a ministry opportunity to prepare yourself, you will not be ready, and you certainly will not be as effective if He does use you.
Paul gave three stages of preparation: Purification, sanctification, and qualification.
First up: Everyone must purge himself of these. The singular “man” connotes individual responsibility, and “these” refer to “profane babblings, false teachers, and iniquity” Paul addressed in verses 16-19. We live in a day of great apostasy: “Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” (1Tim.4:1). Others “having itching ears will turn their ears away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2Tim.4:3-4). There is great danger in not preparing ourselves with the truth of God’s Word to withstand error and to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). In this we dare not be passive.
To the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Cor.7:1). Again, the responsibility lies with the individual to cleanse himself. And this purification is twofold: Fleshly sins, which include sexual sin and inordinate appetites, and spiritual sins, which include pride, envy, unforgiveness, bitterness, coveteousness, false teaching, to name a few. When both fleshly and spiritual sins are cleansed, this constitutes “perfect holiness.”
Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Matt.5:8). The Greek present tense denotes continual, habitual action. In other words, those who are continually purging themselves are blessed. This demands a “standard” for purity. By what standard are we to measure purity? By what valuation is one pure? It is not that of any denomination, or church, or creed, or Bible teacher. The standard of purity is Jesus Himself:
“And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself even as He—Jesus is pure” (1John 3:3). We will spend the rest of our saved lives on earth reaching for this standard. I realize I will never fully attain this in my earthly body, but I am always moving in that direction! Every day I come before the laver of the water of His Word to be cleansed: “Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of the water of the Word” (Eph.5:25-26).
Sanctification is not what you think.
Sanctification is to set apart from and separate unto. While purification is from defilement, sanctification is unto holiness. When we are walking in purity, we are in a position to sanctify our vessels to the Lord. We each have free will to determine to what degree our consecration will be. For instance, how much of our time will we separate from our day to give to the Lord? We are not talking about separating from sin and the world—these are the ABCs of the Christian. Paul commanded the worldly-minded Corinthians: “Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2Cor.6:17).
The term touch means to partake of. Corinth was a mixing pot of idolatry, illicit sex, and debauchery, much like our nation is become. Fornication was so rife, they coined the phrase “to corinthinize.” Christians are commanded to come out from and not partake of uncleanness. There’s no way around this;although some seek to devise a way.
Antioch of Syria was the first church in the New Testament to use the name “Christian.” It was there that the Holy Spirit spoke to the leaders: “Separate unto me Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul) for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2-3). This occurred during a time of prayer and fasting when they were “ministering, unto the Lord”—not the people—but the Lord. Before anyone can effectively minister to others, he must first learn to minister to the Lord.
Later Paul exhorted: “I beseech you, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom.12:1-2).
“Renewing” uses the present tense which denotes continual action. This is affirmed in his exhortation: “But though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2Cor.4:16). Every day I make the choice to rise early and spend time in prayer and study of the Word before my mind is cluttered with the business of life. My flesh would rather sleep, but it is in these times of communion when the Lord speaks to my heart, and I hear Him, because He alone has my ear. This is how Jesus heard from the Father—He rose up early in prayer. The Messiah said: “Morning by morning, He wakens my ear to hear as the learned—disciplined” (Isa.50:4). Not everyone is willing to pay the extraordinary price of giving up sleep to spend time in prayer and study, but for those who will, their reward is qualification.
“...He shall be meet for the Master’s use...” I love the title Master, because it speaks of ownership, and I want the Lord to own me, spirit, soul, and body! Paul said: “Know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1Cor.6:19-20).
In addition to purification and sanctification, we must be meet for the Master’s use—qualified. The best meaning is to be suitable—the right fit for the job, and this requires training. When a person’s training meets the requirements of the job, he is qualified. Some never fulfill their callings, because they have never fulfilled their training. They are called, but not qualified.
God had called young Timothy to the ministry, and he had an anointing upon his life to be a pastor. The office of pastor is actually a dual office, because the pastor must be “apt to teach”—skillful in teaching (2Tim.2:24). Not every teacher is called to be a pastor, but every pastor is called to be a teacher.
Paul said, “He must be able to instruct those who oppose themselves, in order to recover them from the snare of the devil” (vv.25-26). This is not for the brash and inexperienced. People’s eternal souls are at stake. May all who walk in the shoes of pastor/teacher walk softly before the Lord that they may learn well from the Master.
Timothy was admonished: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (1Tim.2:15). In Greek, approved denotes after testing and examination. Just as with any skill achieved in the natural, God tests us to see if we are qualified in order to put His stamp of approval on us. The only way to pass the test is to prepare for it, and for pastors and teachers this means keeping our noses in the Book every day. Scripture is the library of the Holy Spirit,the standard and judge of all controversies. The Holy Spirit will give insight, revelation, application, etc., but He will not do our studying for us! Just as in the natural, those who study more know more—so it is with the Word.
Like the difference between an oak tree and a squash.