Growing up, I enjoyed doing things in the house of the Lord, such as singing in the church, serving as an usher and teaching in the Sunday school. By the time I was ten years old, church activities were commonplace. I got born again at the age of twelve, and by the time I was eighteen, I had already served as a teens’ leader. It was fun and impactful, especially since I kept growing in my understanding of scriptures. Then, through the study of God’s word, I found the motivation to serve wholeheartedly in the house of the Lord. Today, in my pastoral service, I have seen many people, both young and old, with an unprecedented zeal to do big things for the Lord.
During our office Bible study on the book of Ezra, the following reflective questions came to mind: Who should serve the Lord? If one is gifted in a particular area yet not a Christian, is serving God in the church still viable?
In Ezra 4:1-3, Zerubbabel gives valuable insights to help us become more objective as we encourage others to serve in the Church. The children of Israel had returned from exile. They were gearing up to rebuild the temple of the Lord their God at Jerusalem. When their enemies heard what they planned to do, they came asking to help in the work ahead of the Israelites. Zerubbabel’s response to their plea in Ezra 4:3 will be our point of reference in this discussion as we seek to delve deep into things that need to be considered for those seeking to join church ministry.
The enemies of Israel claimed that they also worshipped the God of Israel and offered sacrifices to him (Ezra 4:2). Drawing from Zerubbabel’s response to them, he clearly knew that this claim was not sincere: “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our GOD! [emphasis added]” That statement sounds both personalized and contrasting. By being enemies of Judah (Ezra 4:1), they also became enemies of God because Judah was God’s possession by-election (Deuteronomy 7:6). According to Exodus 12:48, any non-Israelite who wanted to be associated with their God needed to go through a proselytizing process (converting or attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another). From how Zerubbabel dismisses the enemies of Judah, it appears that they had not gone through the proselytizing process.
Therefore, our qualification to serve in the Church is not to be based on our ability to sing, usher, collect offerings or organize activities. Instead, the basis for our service should be that we have understood the gist of John 15; that without Christ, we can do nothing. We must understand that relationship precedes service in the Church of Christ. The God of heaven becomes our God not by association but by relationship, and that was the problem that Zerubbabel had with the enemies. In the fellowship of believers, we must help people understand that God is more interested in their hearts above their service to him and his people in the Church. For this to happen, they must first convert from being enemies of God (Colossians 1:21) to his sons (saints/ believers/ born again) (Colossians 1:22).
Secondly, Zerubbabel helps us learn that service to God is born out of an overflow rather than ability. Understanding our identity in Christ means that we (born again/ God’s children) function from the inside out. An empty cup cannot pour out its content because it has none. However, a full cup will show its content without even tilting because of the overflow. Acts 2:1-8 gives evidence of what happens when saints are filled with God’s Spirit; they start engaging in godly service. Preaching and missionary work are stirred up out of the fullness of God’s Spirit. It may be true that the enemies of Judah had the know-how in construction matters, among other expertise. That, however, did not count before God. Zerubbabel knew that splendid ability is not all it took to serve the Holy God he worshipped.
Today, we must establish and help others realize that, like in Acts 2, all who serve in the Church should do so not just because they can, but because of who they are within; transformed and renewed by the Spirit (Romans 6:1-3). It is the fullness of the Holy Spirit through the word of God that gives us motivation and qualification to serve him (Acts 6:3). The question I must ask myself then is this: Am I functioning from the fullness of the Spirit of God or just my abilities? Jesus equates service to him without relationship as a work of lawlessness (Matthew 7:22-23). Therefore, it is better not to serve the Lord at all if we find him unworthy of our complete devotion.
Zerubbabel finally teaches us, in his response, that being unequally yoked with unbelievers should not be allowed in the work of ministry. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14 cautions us from having fellowship with the lawless. We need to see this for what it truly is! It does not mean that we cannot relate or interact with those not in the faith, for that would make our calling futile (to reach out to the lost with the gospel). However, it does mean that we should watch out lest we are swallowed up in their lostness. This is what being salt and light is all about (Matthew 5:13-16).
Scripture reminds us that we become new creatures when we turn to Christ in faith (2 Corinthians 5:17). Whatever we lost in Adam, we gain in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22); identity! This exchange of life enables and qualifies us to serve God through abiding (John 15:1-5), making our service acceptable (Romans 12:1-2). So, let the redeemed not slack in this service. Yes, there is a need for skill but let that not override our need to be more like Christ. As we continually depend on him, he will give us the grace we need to love him as we serve his Bride, the Church.
Oxford languages/ Oxford dictionary