A substantial proportion of ministry given in the Church today is ineffective. This is quite obvious on account of the fact that those sitting under such ministry undergo no discernible change. Effective ministry always changes those who listen to it. The reason for this poor return can be traced either to a problem with the messenger, or to a problem with those receiving the message.
With regard to the first, it is painfully clear that there are individuals standing up to minister who have no right to do so. They may have been invited to speak, or have invited themselves, but these things are neither here nor there. The vital point is to be “Jehovah’s messenger” with “Jehovah’s message” (Hag. 1: 13).
What is before me, however, is the second reason for ineffective ministry, namely a defect in the listeners. Ezekiel was a prophet of God, with a message direct from the Almighty, but though the people were happy to sit under his ministry and hear his words (Ez. 33: 31), it did not change them. Their attitude is summed up in verse 32: “And behold, thou art unto them as a lovely song, a pleasant voice, and one that playeth well on an instrument; and they hear thy words, but they do them not”. They listened, but, as we say, it went in one ear and out the other. Sadly, this charge could be brought against many of us today. We listen, we enjoy the words, we go home, and by the next day all is forgotten. How great the contrast with the Bereans, who, on hearing Paul, searched the Scriptures to see “if these things were so” (Acts 17: 11). Most of us are not even sufficiently interested to trouble ourselves with checking things out. Yet must not a sermon, by the very brevity of its nature, be only an introduction to a subject, and the responsibility lie upon ourselves to study the thing deeper in private? Furthermore, the reason why many are so easily deluded by false teachers is that they accept more or less anything uttered from the pulpit. They are too lazy to investigate the Bible for themselves. This shallowness in divine things is a mark of the age, and has led to a generation of saints whose grasp of the “faith once delivered” (Jude 1: 3) is frighteningly inadequate.
The root cause of this defect is a lack of appetite for God’s Word. In parts of the world where Bibles are scarce, there is often an insatiable thirst for the Scriptures. This is not abnormal, but as it should be. God’s Word there is valued and reverenced. By contrast, where the Scriptures can be bought cheaply and easily, along with a host of other religious material, there is often only a half–hearted interest in these things. What many of us need is a revival in our hearts like that produced in the two on the way to Emmaus: “And they said to one another, Was not our heart burning in us as he spoke to us on the way, [and] as he opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 32). We need to realise that the Bible is all about “the things concerning himself” (v27). Wonderful subject! I want to know the Lord Jesus more? Then I shall love to study the Wordboth in private and with others. I will love to listen to others speak from the Word, and I will delight to do what God has spoken to me through that word.
Some of us have the privilege of attending gatherings of Christians where the Bible is read and discussed in a mutual way - a “Bible reading”. Sadly, these occasions can lose much of their vitality, and descend into a fairly dull and dreary ritual. Instead of coming together to enquire into the Scriptures, we come together merely out of routine. Where is the eagerness to learn in this - he hunger for Christ and His Word? It is no use protesting otherwise when it is not difficult to point out the disinterested, the day–dreamers and the dozers! If the meeting was achieving its objective, all of us ought to be “sitting on the edge of our seats”. Is the object of the exercise to seek to understand the Scriptures better - or simply to last out the hour without too many pauses? Do you come in the spirit of enquiry - or with a mind full of facts gleaned beforehand from a commentary, which can be trotted out to plug any gaps in the discussion flow? Are you actually prepared to ask yourself (and others) the meaning of a given passage - or do you accept without question the time–honoured opinion of orthodoxy? Sadly, many reading meetings are reduced to rehearsals of long cherished opinions rather than opportunities to develop our knowledge of Christ and the Scriptures. Again, difficult passages are often ignored or skipped over time and time again, with the result that their meaning and message remain forever obscure. Yet should any portion of the Word remain closed to us - and closed because we haven’t the faith to trust God’s Spirit to open it to us? Again, a text may be plucked from a chapter read and used as a basis from which a discussion can be developed. Certainly there is nothing wrong as such with this, and it can prove very informative and helpful, but this should not be a substitute for reading and discussing a section of Scripture from start to finish. There is a difference (though some seem to be unaware of it) from reading and discussing the Scriptures, and using the Scriptures simply as a catalyst to stimulate discussion. The crying need of our day is a careful and methodical exposition of the Word of God - as God wrote it.
The great Christian men of the past - the “spiritual giants” - are long gone, and have not been replaced in our day. Why is this? Predominantly, these were men of the Book - men (and women too), who had a deep and profound love for Scripture. They knew their Bibles, and the reason for that is because they had an insatiable desire to learn more about the Lord. Sadly, that desire is largely absent amongst modern–day Christians. How we need to hang our heads in shame! Our day is a shallow and superficial one - where faith lacks depth, and knowledge of the Word is slight. We are a race of spiritual pygmies, scarcely fit to be compared with our fathers. Whilst they toiled over the Word, we - with our concordances, commentaries, and computers - have everything at our finger–tips. Sadly, it often never gets beyond our finger–tips either! They were men who knew the Bible - we, despite living in a day like never before for labour–saving devices, scarcely find time to read it, let alone become versed in it. What shall we say when we give an account of our course to the One who sweated and toiled for us? So are you prepared to swim against this tide, to be an enthusiastic Christian, in a day when all is Laodicean and lukewarm? The Lord is looking for overcomers - will you be one? The old Bible chorus says “Read your Bible, pray every day” and it is sound advice. And when you meet up with others to study the Word, go with a desire to learn, a readiness to contribute, and a longing to grow in the things of Christ. Let us all be roused from this spiritual indolence - and we may find then that our testimony, both individually and collectively, beams more powerfully in this dark and evil world.