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Measuring Ministry Success - Vikram Ordination Service

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2020-11-01 PM
  • Sermons


Well, tonight, it is our joy to step away from our study of Daniel, which we will finish shortly. But tonight, is a special occasion. We have the opportunity to ordain Vikram Pimplekar, who has served among us, to the gospel ministry. And that's a special treat for us. But I want to direct my message tonight to that issue and specifically to what constitutes ministry success. Now let me just say that, while this message is going to be directed at Vikram and others in this room who serve in ministry, it's directed at all of us. We're going to look at a passage that has a lot to say to each one of us. So, I hope, even as we go through it together, you will look at yourself and your own life in light of what we discover in this wonderful text.

There needs to be some sort of a standard for evaluating success in ministry. As we ordain Vikram tonight to the ministry, we need to see what the standard is for when he reaches the end of his life and ministry. What does success look like? Governments understand the importance of having one standard for the weights and measures that are used in commerce. In the case of the US, our constitution gives power to Congress to "fix the standard of weights and measures". Interestingly enough, it wasn't until 50 years after the constitution was put in place, that Congress actually created a uniform set of standards. Fifty years! You can only imagine the confusion and the significant differences in the way things were measured and weighed during that interval.

In recent years, with the globalization of manufacturing, that problem of differing standards of measurements and weights has returned again. One of my favorite examples has to be just simply shopping for a shirt. Now, you know, I don't know if any of you guys feel my pain here. I'm sure you ladies do in your own categories as well. But you go out to buy a shirt...I mean this should be like a simple thing. You're just going to go buy a shirt. You look for your size and you buy the shirt, it fits, and we're done. That's how it seems like it used to be. But it's interesting because shirts I bought several years ago, still fit me well. So, now if I go to try on shirts that are supposedly the same size, I find that in fact the fit varies wildly. Now, understand I always avoid those shirts that are marked "slim fit". I mean who are those even for? I don't understand. But some of the shirts, even outside of that category that are supposedly my size, were so tight that it felt like they'd been painted on my body. Others hung off my shoulders like I had lost even more weight than I have. Almost bought one of those just for the encouragement. But it seemed like every manufacturer has his own standard.

The same problem, unfortunately, exists in the Church of Jesus Christ. There are countless standards used to measure ministry success and most of them are terribly flawed. There are really, when you end up with it, I think, three primary sources for the wrong standards, today, for measuring ministry success.

The first of those is the standards of the world. There are a lot of churches who are measuring themselves against the world's expectations. And so, therefore, if you accept what the world accepts, if you accept alternate lifestyles, if you accept whatever the cause of the day is, the cause du jour in the culture, then you're accepted. If you have an inclusive gospel rather than an exclusive gospel, the world is fine for us to believe in Jesus Christ. Just don't say He is "the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him." If you want to be accepted by the world, then you have an inclusive gospel. And it's okay to enjoy and appreciate the Bible as a great work of literature. Just don't interpret it as God's inspired word, as literally God's breath, the product of His breath. And so, if you take those sorts of standards that the world imposes on the church, and you follow them, then guess what? You are successful by the standard of the world, regardless of what else you may do or not do in the church. Another wrong standard for evaluating or measuring success in the church is even the standards of the Christian community. There are relentless, contemporary ministry trends. I get a number of publications and it seems like every couple of months there's a new idea to do church, to reinvent church, to reinvigorate your church. Here's the secret that, you know, for 2000 years the Holy Spirit is hid from us. And often those standards are terribly flawed, but we can follow them, and if we do, then the contemporary Christian culture will say you're successful. Another wrong standard for measuring success is just the standards that we determine. I decide for myself what the definition of success is when it comes to ministry.

Now if those are the wrong sources, what is the legitimate source for defining true success in ministry? Obviously, the question is: what does the Bible say? God must define the success in ministry in His Word. But where exactly in Scripture is there a yardstick for measuring success in ministry? Vikram, as we ordain you to the gospel ministry tonight, what is the standard by which you evaluate your ministry moving forward? Well, it's found in 1 Corinthians. The fleshly attitudes of some Christians in the church in Corinth that caused them to exalt their leaders unduly, and then to rally behind those leaders, whether it was Paul or Apollos or whomever, as if they were rivals, as if they were competitors. And, apparently, some of the leaders were even tolerating, perhaps even encouraging, that kind of partisan politics. And so, Paul wants us to understand, and he wanted the Corinthians to understand, what ministry should look like. So, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul introduces two metaphors to teach them and us the attitude and mindset that we should have about leadership.

The first of those metaphors is an agricultural metaphor. It's found in verses 5 to 9. He talks about planting, and watering, and God causing the growth. And he ends by saying in verse nine that you, the church, are God's field. The second metaphor begins at the end of verse nine and goes down through verse 17. Let's read it together. You follow along in your copy of God's Word - 1 Corinthians 3. I'll begin reading at the end of verse nine and then will pick up the second metaphor that Paul uses for understanding ministry leadership. At the end of verse 9 he says you, you believers in Corinth, are "God's building". "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are."

Obviously, this second metaphor is an architectural one. Paul was the son of the city. He was born and raised in Tarsus, one of the largest cities in the ancient world, and then he was trained in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. Paul spent 18 months in the City of Corinth, on his second missionary journey. And he probably wrote this letter during the nearly three years he spent in Ephesus. And Ephesus was home of one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world. So, it's no wonder that he chose this metaphor. In fact, this whole passage we just read is an illustration. The church he says is "God's building" and its leaders are, in fact, fellow workers on God's massive building project.

It's in that context that Paul issues this sobering imperative. Look at verse 10. "But each man must be careful how he builds on it.". "But each man must be careful how he builds on it." In context, it's clear that this command is directed primarily to the leaders of the church. In the first metaphor, believers are the field and the leaders of the church in Corinth are the workers. That same distinction exists in the second analogy. Believers are the building, and the leaders are those who build. Now, while this passage can be applied to all Christians, legitimately so, and I hope before we're done, you'll see the application for every person here, Paul is primarily addressing the leaders of the church. He's addressing those who serve as its pastors and he says, "Be careful, be careful!" This is the common Greek word for "seeing". In this context, it means to contemplate, to weigh carefully. It's a command for every leader to be constantly reassessing how he is building the church. This is a warning, but the good news is this is more than a warning.

Paul, in this passage, lays out the blueprint for the building of the church and he gives us three foundational instructions for how to build the Church of Jesus Christ, how to build this church or Vikram, if in the days ahead, God has you somewhere else, how to build in that church and wherever you and I may be. So, let's briefly consider these instructions together. How do we build the church?

The first instruction is: build on the right foundation. That's the message of verses 10 and 11 - build on the right foundation. Notice verse 10. "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it." Paul, here, likens his role as an Apostle to that of a skilled, master builder; a Greek word that occurs only here in the New Testament. The Greek word is architektón. You recognize it in English. It's been brought over into English. It's the word from which we get the word architect. An architektón, in the Greek culture, was the craftsman who had the greatest experience and skill, and who was therefore responsible for the entire construction project. Plato said that the architektón contributed knowledge rather than labor. He was the construction manager. Paul is arguing that God, in His grace, had chosen him to oversee the building of the foundation of the church. Notice what he writes: " a wise master builder [skilled architektón] I laid a foundation..." In the ancient world, the foundation was crucial because if you want to build this massive building of limestone or marble or granite, then you started with the foundation. Large stones were meticulously cut and then they were laid in place. They were trued and made sure that they were square. And then they were laid and the rest of the building, every other stone in the building, was laid and trued against those foundation stones. Paul laid the only legitimate foundation for the church. Notice verse 11: "For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Now don't misunderstand Paul. He is not saying that it's impossible for a church leader to try to build on a different foundation. That happens all the time, sadly. What Paul meant is that if you build on a different foundation, it will not be the church or at least it will not be the church of Jesus Christ. It's crucial, then, to know what this foundation is. Notice, here, he simply says it's the "one which is laid". In other words, it's the foundation Paul says, "I laid when I planted the church there in Corinth." And the foundation that he laid was Jesus Christ.

But what does that mean? Well about six years after Paul wrote this letter to Corinth, he wrote a letter to Ephesus. And there he uses the same metaphor, but he fills it out a little bit. Turn with me to Ephesians 2. Ephesians 2 and notice verse 20. He's talking about the church, here, and he says in verse 20 of Ephesians 2, the church has been "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." So, you can see he's sort of fleshing this out a little bit. It's not just Jesus as the foundation. It's Jesus as the cornerstone and the rest of the foundation is the apostles and prophets. Verse 21: "in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit." So, here, Paul fills out this idea of the foundation, gives us greater insight into what he means in 1 Corinthians. The apostles and prophets, of course, refers to those through whom revelation came in the early days of the church. And, of the foundation, Christ is the cornerstone. He was the foremost stone placed at the very corner that determined the rest of the foundation and all of the building. So, when Paul says in 1 Corinthians that he laid Jesus Christ as the foundation, listen carefully, he means that all of the truth that God revealed through Christ and about Christ, through His apostles, must be what any authentic church is built on. Let me say that again. When he says that the foundation is Jesus Christ, he means that the church, any authentic church, must be built on the truth that God revealed through Christ and about Christ through His apostles.

Now, put this in the context of 1 Corinthians and particularly chapters one and two. The Corinthians, you remember, were tempted to build the church on what? On human wisdom, human ingenuity. And Paul wanted them to see listen, there are only two possible foundations. Either you will build your life and ministry on human wisdom or you will build it on divine revelation. Can I say that's not only true of those who minister and serve? That's true of you as an individual Christian. You will either build your life on human wisdom - either your own wisdom, or the wisdom of the culture, or the wisdom of something or someone else - or you will build your life on divine revelation. Those are the only two choices. To build on another foundation is to build on anything that is not revealed in Scripture. And Paul says to the Corinthians, if you want to build a true church you must build on the foundation that has been laid: The New Testament revelation that came from Jesus Christ, through the apostles and prophets, and is about Christ and His work. If you build on a different foundation, it's not the church.

When I lived in Los Angeles, about 25 miles north of my home, there was a monument marking the second worst disaster in California history. The St. Francis Dam, when it was built, was 200 yards long and 60 yards high. It was completed in 1926. Just two brief years later, on March 12th, 1928 the dam failed. And a wall of water, 60 yards high, came crashing down San Francisquito Canyon. And by the time the floodwaters had reached the Pacific, five and a half hours later, nearly 500 people lay dead. But it was the second worst disaster in California history in terms of lives lost, second only, to the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. This dam was designed and built by Mulholland, the famous architect. When he learned of the disaster, he was personally devastated. In fact, historians say he never really recovered personally from this. But how did it happen? How is it that just two years after that magnificent structure was completed, it failed? Well, the dam was structurally sound, but it was doomed from the beginning because it had a bad foundation. As it was later discovered, the ground beneath it was fatally flawed. It couldn't support the weight of that dam.

Same thing can happen in ministry. If you're even slightly off on the foundation, everything you build is at risk. Notice in verse 10 Paul adds, "I laid a foundation, and another is building on it." "Another", here, refers to the leaders of the Corinthian church, and by application, to the leaders of any church including the leaders of this church and, ultimately, to every Christian. The picture behind this text is that of a massive, ancient temple that took multiple generations to complete. It took the Ephesians 120 years to build the Temple of Artemis that stood in Ephesus. It took the builders in Herod's lifetime and beyond, 90 years to complete the temple project in Jerusalem. So, there's this multi- generational, massive structure to be built. The same is true of the church. When it comes to the church of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone has been laid. The master builder has completed the foundation. The apostles and the prophets have given us the truth about Jesus Christ, and he's given it to us as well. That foundation is there, and we have to build on that foundation. Everything must be squared to that, for the generations before us workers have followed the plans and they have continued to build on that foundation. We are simply the latest generation of workmen called to follow the plans and true everything to the foundation that's already been laid - the New Testament revelation.

We minister as elders in this church, as pastors, in a day when there's an endless array of options of how to do church and how to build the church. You doubt that? Just drive around. Just check out the internet of the churches in our area. A new approach comes along every couple of years promising new and amazing results. Well, Vikram, it's not our prerogative to decide what we want the church to be. We are called just to build by the blueprint. Just stick with the plan! Build a church on the foundation of God's revelation. This is the greatest priority of a New Testament elder. Elders were told, in the pastoral epistles, are to guard the truth, proclaim the truth, live the truth, and pass the truth on to the next generation. Paul even calls it, in 2 Timothy 1, the "good deposit", the "treasure". That's the truth that's been given to us. It's the treasure and we're to guard it, to proclaim it, to live it, and pass it on. It is this focus on the truth that marks a true church. Martin Luther wrote, "The only mark of a Christian church is following and obeying the Word. When that is gone let men boast as much as they please, 'Church! Church!' There is nothing to their boasting. Therefore, you should say, 'Do the people have the Word of God there?' and 'Do they accept it too?'. Wherever one hears the Word of God, there is the Church of God. We build and must build the church on the right foundation, the revelation of God in and through His Son. So, if you want to be careful how you build, if you want to build correctly, then you must first build on the right foundation.

Paul's second instruction for us is to use the right materials. Use the right materials. Verse 12: "Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw..." What are these materials? Well, let's separate them a little bit. In the 1st century, gold and silver, they were not the primary building materials. Instead, gold and silver were often used as decoration on important buildings, even as can happen today. The other four materials however, that Paul mentions, were the main building materials of the time. You have precious stones. That probably refers to what we still consider the stones to build with - granite, marble, and limestone - the stones that were often used for ancient, public structures. Wood was used in lesser structures for the walls and for framing. In other buildings, hay was mixed with mud to form the walls, in really cheap buildings, and hay and straw were often used for thatched roofs. Now, what is it with these materials? Now, clearly, there is a decline in value through this list of six materials. But Paul is not focusing primarily on that. He is contrasting two different kinds of building materials. There are not six kinds of materials. Instead, there are two groups of material. There's gold, silver, and precious stone. And there's wood, hay, stubble. There are these two groups. There are a couple of key differences between these two groups of materials. And the first one is obvious, and that is that the first group has more intrinsic value. The second difference is that the two groups of materials are appropriate for different kinds of buildings. Wood, hay, and straw were all used in 1st century buildings but, primarily, they were used in lesser buildings, in less important public buildings and in residences. But if you were going to build a great public building that you intended to be a focus of that city, to be sort of the pride of the city, then you would primarily use valuable stone - both granite, and marble, and limestone - and then you would decorate the building with gold and silver. But the most important difference, really the key difference between these two groups of materials, is that the first group won't burn. It is noncombustible. You see, the greatest threat to buildings in the ancient world was fire. The people who lived in Corinth they understood this very well because, in the year 146 BC, Rome had burned the City of Corinth. And it wasn't rebuilt until 100 years later. In fact, in Paul's time, they were still rebuilding - almost 200 years after Rome burned the City of Corinth. So, if you were going to build a great important building that would endure for generations, you had to build with materials that were not combustible - with gold, silver, granite, marble, and limestone.

But in the metaphor, here, what do these materials represent? Well, the best way to determine that, is to examine the context here in 1 Corinthians. Because what we learn, here, is there are specific ways, in fact in the immediate context, I would say that there are two primary ways that God will evaluate His servants. You want to know if you're building with the right materials? There are two primary ways. Look at 1 Corinthians 4. In 1 Corinthians 4, just shortly after our text, Paul comes back to the the issue of a future judgment and he describes how it is we're going to be evaluated - how we're going to be judged. First of all, he says God is going to evaluate, in terms of these materials, He's going to look, first, at the character of our teaching and preaching; the character or quality of our teaching and preaching. Look at verses one and two of 1 Corinthians 4. Paul says, "Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards [stewards of what?] of the mysteries of God [that is of what God has revealed, God's Word. We are stewards of God's Word]. In this case [in this stewardship of God's Word], moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found [what?] trustworthy." Trustworthy in how we handle God's Word. We will be judged as those who teach God's Word. If you teach God's Word in any capacity in this church whether it's to kids, or to adults, or you're one of the elders, or Vikram as you're ordained tonight, understand this: that God will judge us on how we handle His revelation. It is required in those who are stewards of the mysteries of God, of what God has revealed, that we be trustworthy, that we be faithful. It's interesting to note that throughout the New Testament, "to build" most often refers to preaching and instruction. So, building with quality materials has to do with quality teaching. The wood, hay, and straw don't necessarily refer to outright error or heresy but, rather, to inferior, poor quality, teaching - sermons with inadequate work in preparation, making a passage say what God never intended it to say, sermons that contain more of what we think and less of what God thinks. We're to be faithful, trustworthy stewards of the mysteries of God. It's the same thing Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy. He says guard the treasure, guard the treasure.

But we will not only be evaluated on the character of our teaching and preaching, we will also be evaluated in the content of our heart, specifically, on our motives. Stay here in 1 Corinthians 4 and notice how he goes on in verse 3. "But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court [that is by other Christians, or by the world at large]; in fact, I do not even examine myself [He said, I'm not the one to ultimately decide my faithfulness]. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted..." That's a good principle by the way. How many times do I hear somebody say, "Well, I don't think I did anything wrong!"? Paul says, "Listen, you're not always the best judge of that." He says, "I'm not the best judge of that but the one who examines me is the Lord." Now watch verse five. "Therefore do not go on passing judgment before [the time [that is the time of judgement], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness..." And, by the way in context, that's not negative. That's positive. We're getting a reward for things that other people don't see but God sees. And He will "disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God." So, understand, building with the right materials not only means watching the character of our teaching and preaching. It means watching our motives; making sure that the motives are not to elevate ourselves but rather to exalt our God, to be faithful to Him, to show our love to Jesus Christ. Motives are an essential part of what determines reward.

But don't miss Paul's big point. You can build the church on the right foundation of God's revelation and still use worthless materials - weak, inferior teaching - or do it with heart motives that are all about yourself. And, someday, Christ will evaluate the materials you've used. Look at verse 13: "each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work." This is the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is an evaluation before our Lord. Notice the extent of the evaluation - each person's work, every leader's work. And, by the way believer, in Paul's other letter to the Corinthians he makes it clear that you individually will stand before the Bema Seat of Christ as well. Each man's work. This judgment, here, will be of every church leader. Every person who leads in this church will stand before Jesus Christ and given account for what we've done in the leadership of this church. What is the basis of the evaluation? The quality of each man's work based on the things we just saw. The nature of the evaluation is in verse 13. The "work will become evident". How? The day will show it. The judgment will show our work in its true character, for what it really is. The work will be revealed. All that hides the true nature of our ministries will be unveiled and uncovered. And the fire, itself, will test the quality. It's a powerful picture. Christ's evaluation of our ministries will be like a fire sweeping through a building. Fire represents, here, the penetrating, all-searching omniscience of Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment as He evaluates the quality of our work.

Notice there are only two possible outcomes. Verse 14 is the first one. "If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. It's interesting. Paul uses, in this text, a number of references to building contracts of the ancient world, language that was used in those building contracts. Here, in verse 14, this is the ordinary language of work and wages. What he essentially says is this: if your work passes the owners inspection, you get paid. Now, he doesn't mean that we earn a reward in the true sense, because, he elsewhere says that any reward we gain will be pure grace. 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says, "I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." It was just God's grace that enabled me to serve. But at the same time, Paul wants us to know that there is a real connection between our work, here, and our future reward. You ever thought about that, Believer? There is a real connection between your ministry and service, here, and your future reward. What exactly will the reward be? You know I think a lot of believers have the idea that you know it's going to be this literal crown you wear on your head. At some point will study the crowns that are revealed in the New Testament. They are not literal crowns, in the true sense. It's the Crown of Life, that is, the crown which is life and so forth.

So, what is the reward that we're going to receive? Well, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 seems to teach that our reward as believers, will consist primarily of two things and I love this. First of all, our Lord's praise. And that's what's even in 1 Corinthians 4, remember? "Then each man's praise will come to him from God." Can you imagine what it will be like to stand at the judgment and hear Jesus Christ say, "You did well. You fulfilled the role I gave you and you did so faithfully. Well done!"? The Lord's praise and, secondly, the second part of the reward is a greater capacity for service, the parable of the talents seems to imply. In other words, your faithfulness here will be rewarded by greater opportunity for service and a greater capacity for service in eternity. That's one possible outcome at the judgment.

But there's a second possible outcome at the Bema Seat. Verse 15: "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." The Greek word translated, "suffer loss", was often used in ancient building contracts. It was used to denote penalties that were levied against workers for various offenses including shoddy work. Workmen had their wages reduced for poor work. I mean that's built into modern contracts, right? If you don't live up to the contract, then you don't get paid as much as you were supposed to get paid. In the same way, the Christian leader who builds with poor materials doesn't get paid. He suffers the loss of reward. But he, himself, will be saved. His work will be lost but his ultimate spiritual rescue from God's wrath is in no way at risk. He will be saved "yet so as through fire". What does that mean? A lot of Christians read that, and it's a frightening thing, and some of the even built false doctrines like that of purgatory on a passage like this. What does it mean, "yet so as by fire"? Again, you've got to remember the metaphor here. The picture is of a builder who has done shoddy work. He's cut corners, he's used inferior materials and, suddenly, fire breaks out in the building that he's constructed. And as he runs from that building, as it collapses around him, he barely escapes with his life. As one writer puts it, "As one who dashes through the flame safe but with the smell of fire upon him." Six months after my family and I moved to Texas, lightning struck my neighbor's house two doors down. I stood with him and watched his house burn. That night, the fire evaluated every material that it touched. We cannot forget, believers, that someday we will stand before Jesus Christ and he will evaluate us and, as the leaders of the church, he will evaluate the character of our teaching and the motives of our hearts. And if He decides that we didn't use the right materials then everything, that we have given our lives to, will be burned up and we will get into heaven as one who barely escaped the fiery collapse of the building we built. But if we build a church on the right foundation and if we use the best materials, we will receive a reward - the praise of our Lord and a greater capacity to serve Him for all eternity.

There's one last instruction that Paul gives us and that is: as you think about ministry success, remember the rightful owner. Remember the rightful owner. Don't just build on the right foundation, don't just use the right materials, but remember whose project this is. Remember whose building this is. It's not yours. Verses 16 and 17. Look at verse 16. "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" The church that we're building together is nothing less than the temple of God, the sanctuary of God. Now in other texts, even in Corinthians, Paul refers to each individual Christian as a temple, "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit". That's true, but that's not what he says here. Here, he uses the plural pronoun "you". You, all of you Christians in this church, you are the temple. The entire church is compared to a temple. In Old Testament Israel, you remember, God specifically manifested His presence in the Tabernacle and later in Solomon's Temple. But in the New Testament, God manifests His presence in the church. It's where God dwells on earth, in His spirit. The church is the modern day Holy of Holies, not this building. I'm talking about us, the people of God. As the leaders of the church, we're not building a house for ourselves where we get to decide what materials we're going to use, and we get to decide what it's going to look like. We're building a temple for God.

Verse 17: "If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are." Now Paul, here, is still primarily talking to leaders although the application is universal. All of us better be careful how we treat the church. But here he's talking, as I said, primarily the leaders. The Greek word translated "destroy", here, can mean to destroy outright or it can mean, and is used in ancient building contracts, of injuring our marring the work. This word was used in ancient building contracts in the context of a worker's personal liability if he damaged work that had already been done to the building. I worked in construction for many years as an electrician. And it was very common for workers to carelessly damage the work of the other trades. If you work in construction, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Paul's point, here, is that if you are careless with the church and you harm the work that's already been done, in other words if if it comes your time to pick up on that great building project that is the church, and you harm the work that's been done by previous generations, God takes that very very seriously. And Paul, here, says He'll deal with you in kind. Basically, he says this, "You harm God sanctuary, and God will harm you!" Perhaps nowhere else in the New Testament does God make it clearer how important the church is to Him.

Can I say this to every one of us? Be careful what you do to your brothers and sisters in Christ. This group of people is important to God. In fact, let me just say something to you as we anticipate the election this week. Of course, God is sovereign over history. He's going to direct. He raises up whom He will, puts down whom He will. That's going to happen this week. But can I put it bluntly to you? God is far more concerned this week about what happens in churches like ours then He is what happens in Washington, DC. He will take care of that. But what God is doing on this planet is saving a people for His Son and that matters more to Him than the next regime in the White House. And basically, He says here, "Listen, you better take the church really seriously!" Damaging the church comes with a serious penalty. In the Old Testament, you remember, the penalty for defiling the temple was death and God is just as jealous of his spiritual temple.

How do we damage the church? D.A. Carson in his book on this passage gives a list. It's a longer quote but I want you to listen to it. Here's how we damage the church. "Raw factionalism, rank heresy, taking your eyes off the Cross, and letting other more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it. Building the church with superficial conversions and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God, entertaining people to death, but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism - all of these things and many more can destroy a church and to do so is dangerous. It is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God."

Vikram, as you're ordained tonight, I would just say to you don't ever forget that what you're building doesn't belong to you, doesn't belong to me. It's God's Temple. That's who the people of God are. If you're new to the responsibility of leading in the church, if you're involved in some leadership capacity, you can be tempted to think that leadership means the church and your ministry is yours to mold and fashion however you choose. For those of us who've been in ministry for many years, have more experience, there's a different danger. And that is, we can begin to think that we built the church by the force of our personality, by the strength of our leadership, by the power of our gifts. But if Paul were here, he would tell all of us exactly the same thing. He would give us all this sober warning. Be careful how you build! Build on the right foundation - God's revelation. Use the right materials. The character of your preaching must show that you are a faithful, trustworthy steward of God's mysteries. And the motive of your heart must be about God and His glory. And through it all, remember whose building it is.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, thank You for these wonderful and yet sobering truths that we've examined together tonight. Lord, help us each individually whether we are in ministry or not, whether we are serving in this church as leaders, or whether we're simply using our gifts in this church, Lord, help us all to take our responsibility to Your church very, very seriously, as You obviously do. And Lord, now, as we have the privilege of ordaining Vikram to the gospel ministry, I pray that You would enable us to do so in a way that honors You and honors the temple, that is the Church, that we're all involved in building, Your people, the place where you dwell. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen!

Well, this is a wonderful and yet at the same time, serious occasion. Ordination - let me just explain it to you briefly before we do it together. Ordination is a formal ceremony in which a biblically, qualified, and tested man is set apart for a lifetime of full-time ministry. In the New Testament, there are three groups who ordain - the Apostles ordained elders, the close associates of the Apostles such as Timothy and Titus ordained elders, and in the third phase, existing elders in a church ordained other elders (1 Timothy 4:14). Today, of course, there are no longer Apostles and there are no longer close associates of the Apostles, and so, the responsibility falls on the elders of the church. And that's what we do tonight. And we're going to do this with the practice of laying on of hands. Let me explain that to you. In the New Testament, the laying on of hands is connected with ordination. But it has its roots in the Old Testament. It's connected to the practice of laying hands on a sacrificial animal in order to identify with it. You're not a sacrificial animal, Vikram, I just want to make that clear! It's a picture. To lay hands on someone, in the context of ordaining them, is to affirm their suitability for and acceptance into public ministry. It's for us to express our identification with him. And it's to imply the granting of the same authority that's been given to us, to him, to serve in Christ's church. To lay hands on someone, then, it's just set him apart for ministry. It's not to be done hastily. 1 Timothy 3:10 says don't let that happen. Instead, there must be thorough investigation that precedes ordination. To fail to do so leaves the church liable, to share in the responsibility for the sins of those hastily ordained. Vikram is not being hastily ordained. He has been through a lengthy process of testing where his faithfulness has been measured. We have looked at his testimony, his character, his call to ministry. We've evaluated his ministry skills. We have quizzed him, at length, on his theology and on his biblical knowledge. And in all of those ways, he has surpassed our expectations and the requirements of demonstrating that he has, in fact, been called and gifted. Now, let me just say that at this point, he is not becoming an elder in our church. Rather, we are acknowledging his call to ministry, his qualifications, his gifting for ministry, and we are formally ordaining him to pastoral ministry. But we do have the full expectation and plan that, in God's good time, he will become an elder in our church.

So, that's what we do together tonight. I'm going to ask Vikram and Esther to come and stand here in the front. I'm going to ask the elders to come as well. If you guys would come ahead, the elders that are able to be here this evening, if you'd come on down as well. I'm going to ask Vikram to kneel right here in the center aisle and Esther you can stand there nearby. And then we're going to lay hands on him. And three of the elders are going to pray. I'm going to ask... you can go ahead Vikram over here. I'm going to ask Jonathan to pray for his personal holiness, for Terry Tyler for his family, and then I'll pray for his ministry.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are so thankful for Vikram we're thankful for the work that You have done in his life, in drawing him to Yourself. Thank You for the good gift of salvation that You have given him, that his faith and trust is in entirely in Christ and His work. And, Lord, we're thankful for the work that You have done in him, conforming him increasingly to Your character. Lord, we pray, that would only continue in the months and years ahead, that he would be a godly man, that before he is concerned about shepherding others and whether that be his family or those under his care that he would be focused and concerned with shepherding his own heart. Lord, we pray, that he would be faithful to be loving You consistently, that he would be faithful to be a diligent student of Your Word, again not simply for the sake of ministry, but so that his own mind is renewed and so that his own character is shaped by those truths. Lord, we pray, that he would be faithful to You in his conduct. Lord, as You say in 1 Timothy, that he would be an example in his speech, that the words that he uses would be words that display Your truth and that they give grace to those who hear. We pray that in his conduct, in all the ways that he lives, that he would be an example of Christ's likeness. We pray that, in his faith and the way that he responds to the circumstances of life and the way that he believes and trusts in You, that he would display that consistently. And that in his love for others, that he would be sacrificial, that he would be kind, and tenderhearted, that he would be eager to forgive. And Lord, in his purity, that he would be holy in thought and mind, that he would consistently pursuing the standard of holiness that You display in every aspect of his life. So, Lord we pray that, ultimately, You would continue to grow him and refine him into the image of Your Son, that He would truly be above reproach as one who is faithful to You. Lord, we're thankful that You have begun that work in him. We're thankful for the testimony that He has of faithfulness to You and we pray that would only continue, that You would protect him from the temptations of this world and of his own heart, and that You would keep him humble and soft to sin in his own life. Lord, might he grow daily in his love for and devotion to You. We pray these things in Christ's name.

Father, as we affirm and pray for the calling of Vikram to the gospel ministry, we also affirm and pray for his calling as a husband and as a father. Lord, we first of all, thank You for Esther, for this godly woman that You have given Vikram to be alongside him. Lord, we pray for her. We pray for her ministry and the many ways that she will come alongside Vikram and support him and pray for him and be with him as Vikram carries out what You have called him to do. Father, we pray that You would protect their marriage, even in the difficulties of life, as of ministry, as 2 Timothy speaks about how ministry is spiritual combat. There will be difficult days. Lord, would You protect their marriage and guard their relationship? Father, would You strengthen Vikram in being a godly husband always, always cherishing his wife that You have entrusted to his care? Lord may he model Christ's love in caring for Esther. Lord, we thank You for their children - for Mukthi, for Kimiya, for Ashray. Lord, thank You for these precious children and I pray that You would grow them in their faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray for Vikram who is entrusted along with Esther in their spiritual care. Lord, give him wisdom and consistency in caring for the spiritual needs of these children. And Lord as Vikram continues to be the spiritual leader of his home, Lord may You cause him to be a man of integrity, a man who models Christ, who puts the gospel on display that draws his family in desiring to be more like Christ.

Our Father, we thank You for the fact that You give gifted men to Your church, that Your Son has granted that even this day church and the men who serve here. And Lord I thank You for Vikram. I thank You for the ministry he's already had among us and tonight, Lord, as we ordain him to the ministry - a life of full-time ministry in Your church - Lord, I pray that You would use that gifting to its fullest in his life. Lord, I pray for his teaching ministry, that You would help him, even as we've been reminded tonight, to be a faithful steward of the mysteries that You have revealed to us in Your Word. Lord, may he always devote himself to understanding Your Scripture - to reading it, to explaining it, and to applying it. May he never insert himself. But Father, instead, may his greatest desire, his heart, always be to simply be a faithful steward of what You have revealed in the Scripture. Lord, I pray that You would help him to preach Your Word, to do so when it's popular and when it's not, and to do so relentlessly throughout his life. And, Lord, may You see fit to use that to bring people who don't know Your Son, to the faith, to life in Jesus Christ. And, Lord, for those who do, that You would build them up, that You would edify them, strengthen them through His ministry of the Word. Use his faithfulness in this way. Lord, I pray for his shepherding role. As he interacts with people, give him as he already has manifested among us, give him an increasing love for Your people. Lord, may he manifest his love for Christ by loving the people of Christ. And I pray that he and Esther, both, would continue what they have so powerfully begun among us and that is a life of service to Your people. Lord I pray, as well, that You would make him a guardian of the truth, that he would take the truths that he's received from so many influences in his life, the things he's learned. And may he be faithful to proclaim them, to live them, but also, Lord, to pass them on to the next generation. I pray that he would take the treasure, the good deposit, of sound doctrine that he's received, and shepherd it through his life and pass it on like a baton to the generation to come. Lord, make him faithful throughout his life in the ministry that You have called him to. May he build on the right foundation, Your great revelation in Scripture. Lord, may he use the right materials. Lord, may he be consumed with being a trustworthy steward of Your Word and doing so with the right motives - out of love for Christ and a love for Your people and Your glory. And Father may, in the process of his ministry, may he always remember what it is that he's building, that it's not his to build but, rather, it's Your church. Lord, remind us all that we will one day stand before our Lord, Jesus Christ, and be evaluated. May we live for the joy of hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" We pray in Jesus' name. Amen!

Now, Vikram, I want you to stay here just a second because I want to share this with you. This is his Certificate of Ordination. It simply says, "We, the undersigned, hereby certify that after a full examination of his Christian experience, call to ministry, gifts for teaching and preaching, and knowledge of Scripture and Biblical doctrine, Vikram Pimplekar was solemnly and publicly set apart and ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry by the authority and order of the Board of Elders of Countryside Bible Church at Southlake, Texas, on the 1st day of November 2020." Congratulations, Vikram!