This weekend at Mount Olive we are welcoming in two new teachers who will be serving in our grade school. Nicole Beglinger and Amy Cain were trained at our college of ministry in New Ulm, they’ve taught in a number of schools in our Synod, and they bring that training and experience with them as they begin their work here among us. I wonder though… if I asked each of you here today what you would look for… what qualifications you would want in someone who will teach in our school… how would you answer?
I suppose it depends on who is answering the question… if I asked the Kindergarteners and Third Graders what they want out of their new teachers I might get a different answer than if I asked their parents or grandparents… Remember that scene in the movie Mary Poppins when the children write up an advertisement for a nanny that sounds just a little different than their father’s ad? But regardless… whether you will be sitting in their classrooms, or sending them your kids or grandkids, or simply if you recognize that these women will be working to train the next generation of Christians at this congregation… we all, I suppose, have some expectations for them.
I think back to when I went through school and remember some of the great teachers I had… my Kindergarten teacher who not only taught me how to skip and do simple math, but lovingly combed my hair when I came to school looking like I had a bird’s nest growing on my head. Or my 5th grade teacher who cared enough about me to take me outside of the classroom and talk to me when I didn’t have my homework done or when I acted up in class. I think of the teachers I had in high school and college who would stay for hours after class to work with me and other students who just didn’t get algebra, or who’d be so passionate about the subjects they taught that even I became interested in ancient Near Eastern metallurgy.
I suppose if I asked, most of you could give me an example or two of teachers who made a difference for you as you went through school… But are those the things we measure the success or failure of a teacher by? And what about when it comes to those who teach in our Lutheran schools? Are they qualified… competent to serve… if they measure up to our expectations as students, or parents, or members of this church who pay their salary? What is it in the end that makes them fit to serve… competent for this ministry?
In God’s Word today we are going to see that when it comes to being a minister of God, there is really only one qualification God seeks… and it is one God gives. The Lord tells us that Confidence in Christ leads to Competence in Ministry. Let’s consider this concept as we explore our sermon text today from 2 Corinthians chapter 3.
This was the second letter the Apostle Paul wrote to a congregation he had established in the Greek city of Corinth. In the first letter Paul wrote to them he addressed a number of difficult issues that had come up in the life of this congregation. Fighting and bitterness and open sin and false doctrine were plaguing these people and Paul addressed the issues head on. In this second letter Paul has to do a bit of damage control because there were maybe some misunderstandings about what he had written… and in fact, not only his intentions, but his ministry was being called into question by false teachers that were in Corinth and trying to discredit Paul and those who served with him.
These false teachers tried to get the Corinthians to question Paul’s competence and qualifications for ministry. And in response to this we have this section of the letter which is our sermon text. Paul wrote: 4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.
If someone came to the place where you work… your office… your home… your factory or school… and they began questioning your qualifications you might point them to your diploma or degree… you might cite the years of experience you had on the job or the personal qualities that made you fit to serve… but notice, that’s not where Paul begins. In fact he freely admits that he and his fellow workers were not competent to claim anything for themselves… their competence in ministry was something that came from God… and to be more specific, that competence came out of the confidence they had before God through Christ.
When it comes to being a public minister of God… someone who serves God in a congregation by sharing his Word… there is nothing in us that makes us qualified for the work. In fact there are many things about us and in us that should utterly disqualify us from serving. For a few of you here today who were or still are called workers in the church you know the things in your heart and in your life that cry out against you and seek to condemn and discredit you every day. But it doesn’t take being a called worker to see those things. Every member of this church has probably at one point or another seen a pastor or teacher or staff minister do or say something that was less than God-pleasing. You’ve seen the moments of weakness… you’ve seen the habitual struggles… you’ve been let down by their actions or their failure to act…
Yes called workers know their faults and those they are called to serve know them too. Martin Luther knew this truth well and wrote a prayer that he used before serving his people in worship.
At the end of this prayer Luther wrote: Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service. Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will certainly bring it all to destruction. (Luther’s Sacristy Prayer). And if that is all there was… if we were left to ourselves… then not a one of us would ever be fit to serve. But that’s precisely Paul’s point in this text. We are not fit to serve… we are not competent… not qualified… not on our own.
Look again at what Paul wrote: 4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. The only source of competence in ministry is the confidence we have through Christ. Because what is true for each and every Christian is also true for those called to minister in the church. Christ’s perfect life and innocent death cover every sin and imperfection… and they qualify the unqualified. Jesus Christ lived perfectly for each of us… and he also ministered perfectly for each called minister of God. That means when we falter and fail in life or in ministry, Christ’s perfect faithfulness covers that mess in the sight of God and we are able to stand again and serve once more without fear. It means that when we let down those we love or those we serve, Christ’s perfect service stands in our place and is credited to our account in the sight of God. Christ is our confidence before God. As Christians… and as those who minister to Christians.
And this confidence in Christ not only motivates and qualifies those who serve… Confidence in Christ is also the heart of the message that is shared by those who serve. Paul goes on to write: 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. You see, those whom God calls to serve him in ministry are competent because of Christ and they are also called to proclaim Christ. This is what Paul means when he says he was a minister of “a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit.” This is talking about the difference between God’s law and God’s good news – his gospel.
The law of God, or as he calls it here, “the letter”, is something every person needs to hear to be made aware of their sin and need for a Savior. But it is only the gospel – the good news that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose for us and our salvation – only this message can bring spiritual life to those who are dead in their sin. And that is why God’s servants in the church are called ministers of the gospel, and not ministers of the law. Because the law only and always brings death… but the gospel only and always brings life.
Jesus’ forgiveness brings joy to those who are troubled by their sin. Jesus’ perfect life brings peace to those weighed down by their failures. Jesus’ resurrection brings hope to those who have lost believing family and friends to the sting of death… to those waiting as their loved ones struggle with cancer or heart failure or dementia… The good news about what Jesus has done gives Christians confidence in this life and qualifies them to share in the eternal life he won for them.
And for all of you here today I want you to know this is one of the major things that sets apart those who teach in our schools. Many fine teachers work in non-Christian schools, but only in schools like ours will you find teachers whose main goal is to prepare children for eternity… and this goal is not something privately hoped for but is publicly stated and practiced. And it means that when our teachers serve… when they minister to the children of this congregation… they do so as ministers of the gospel. They do not use the law as their primary tool. Nor do they use the law to try to bring about real and lasting change for our students. No they let the gospel predominate in everything. Not only in what they teach in Bible classes, but in every class… they make the most of every teachable moment to point to our children to a loving and gracious God who made and redeemed this world. And this spills over into how they teach our children as they discipline them… using the law, yes, but only as a servant to bring them to the knowledge of their sins and their need for Jesus. And what a joy to know that when our children sin they won’t just be told: don’t do it again… but they will hear: I forgive you and Jesus forgives you… and armed with that confidence they will rise again – as each of us do daily – to go and leave their sin behind as they serve Jesus in love.
This is why we can be so happy this weekend as we welcome new teachers here at Mount Olive.
Not because they are so wonderfully qualified on their own… not because they will never let us down… but because they know firsthand the joy of forgiveness and the hope of heaven… and this confidence in Christ has equipped them for a ministry in which they will equip students with that same confidence in Christ… that joy we all have through Jesus.
And so if you sit here today as a called worker I pray that you would be daily reminded of the confidence you can have before God through Christ. That you would regularly be fed by his Word and Sacrament so that you are able to feed others… that you would be so filled with joy in your forgiveness and so firmly convinced of your Savior’s love… that your life could not help but spill over in gracious words and actions as you share the good news with others.
And for all of you listening today who are being served by called workers I pray that you would also find daily reminders of God’s grace in his Word and be refreshed often by the called workers God has sent to serve you. I pray that you would look for ways to support your ministers beyond simply paying their salary through your offerings. Pray for them. Ask God to give them wisdom and patience and love. Ask God to guard them from sin and temptation and to restore them when they fall. Encourage them with words and deeds that remind them God’s people love those whom God has sent to serve them. Stand behind them when they make difficult decisions in the church and classroom. Talk with them and not about them if issues arise that need to be addressed. And remember that ultimately they are here not to serve themselves or even just to earn a living, but to share the hope of eternal life with you and your children as they share the confidence we all have in Christ Jesus alone.
So whether you are a public minister of God or not… you can trust that your God has given you all you need through Jesus Christ… and he’ll continue to do so as he sends us men and women who will serve the church knowing that only confidence in Christ can lead to competence in ministry. Amen.