Understanding the sphere of your Ministry
In Genesis chapter 2 God plants a garden in a space east of Eden, He then places Adam and Eve in the garden that He has prepared for them. The word garden could equally be translated allotment! God fills an allotment with plants and then gives Adam and Eve this specific portion of land, for which they have a specific responsibility. They are to jointly steward the planting of God, but within a specific geography. In effect, they become Yahweh’s co-workers within the boundary that he has demarcated and have geographical authority within this boundary. As we read the entire bible we find that people and place remain a key theme throughout the whole of scripture.
Hundreds of years later as the gospel starts to flourish and the church is born, this same principle is at work. God gives ministers of the gospel different allotments and then gives them jurisdiction over those spaces. In fact, one of the issues the apostle Paul covers in his second letter to the church in Corinth is the doubt some had with regard to whether God had demarcated them within his boundary of responsibility. This led to them questioning whether he had any authority over them. Paul had challenged the community of believers in Corinth about their behaviour in a previous letter. It seems that some thought that he’d overstepped his boundary of authority and questioned his credentials as a minister of the gospel and so refused to listen to him.
In the final six verses of chapter 10 Paul explains some principles about understanding the sphere to which God has called you and the authority He gives to administrate the Gospel within His predetermined boundary for that ministry. It’s from these verses that we will draw on Paul’s insights into spheres of ministry that God in his wisdom draws out for us as ministers of the Gospel.
12 For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labours, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, 16 so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. 17 But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. 18 For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends. 2 Corinthians 10:12-18 New American Standard Bible (NASB emphasis mine)
1: Sphere of Ministry – Measure of Authority
‘….but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure…’ The word ‘sphere’ here is the Greek word ‘metron’, literally meaning that you are measured off a portion. As with Adam & Eve, and Paul – so it is with us – the Lord measures off a portion of creation over which he gives us authority. We each have a sphere of ministry and service for which God gives us designated responsibility and authority. The boundaries are not ours to draw! He demarcates, He draws up the sphere and space and therefore there are limitations to the extent of our reach that must be respected. The word apportioned here means to divide and to distribute, so the Father divides things up and distributes them as He sees fit. Our responsibility is not to look for a smaller or bigger portion but to stay faithful to the portion that He has given. However, we must take up the calling and responsibility He has given, for it’s the stewardship of this allotment that we will be held responsible for.
2: Overextending ourselves
…14 For we are not overextending ourselves…’
Some thought Paul was involved in offering advice and guidance where he shouldn’t. This wasn’t the case, but having said that he is clear about the need to be careful not to reshape the boundaries of our ministry on our own initiative. Therefore, we must take care not to overextend ourselves into spheres, and this includes geographies that are outside our boundary markers given by the Lord. Ministry is not defined by our gift or calling alone, both gift and calling have to be understood in the context of sphere, measure, and boundary. Even Paul’s apostolic ministry has a boundary – the gentile world. Peter’s boundary is the Jewish nation. This is alluded too when Jesus says in Acts 1:18 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Holy Spirit alludes to some clear boundaries, spheres of authority for witness. Our reach is not without limitations, but, presumably the Lord can change this at any time He wishes.
There is a difference between overextending ourselves and being enlarged – vs 15 – we are enlarged by obedience but overstretched by pride. God wants to enlarge us not overstretch us. It takes no genius to realise that overextending ourselves can have catastrophic results both for those we minister to and those of us who minister.
4: Enlarged in our sphere
‘….but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,…’
Growth and success (whatever that looks like) comes when we remain faithful in serving within the boundary that the Lord has drawn for us. One of the signs that we are faithfully taking responsibility for the ‘allotment’, the ‘measured off portion’ that He has given us, is that faith grows among those to whom he has given us responsibility as servants of the gospel. This, in turn, results in those who are called to serve being ‘enlarged’. Faith grows in us; we flourish as we see the allotment given by God flourish.
Perhaps the converse must then be true, that if we serve outside our sphere of ministry there is a possibility that we will be diminished as a consequence?
5: Assessing success
Paul exposes the faulty way that ministers and ministries evaluate themselves by using the measuring rod of others. Evaluating themselves by themselves is acting unwisely, and in fact, is harmful. Paul’s key ministry concept that he personally lived by is that he knew his ‘measure,’ his ‘rule.’ The only correct way to measure ourselves is against the sphere–limited calling that God Himself has given us. Trying to make an assessment about my effectiveness compared to another minister in a different area demonstrates a lack of ‘understanding’ about determining value.
This is also true within church streams or ministry streams. One evangelist can’t compare himself/herself with another evangelist.
13 We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority NLT. We cannot chalk up successes that are outside of the sphere over which God has given us authority.
6: Warnings about – Accomplishment and Ambition
The enemy of our soul is always looking for opportunity to steal, kill and destroy. One of his greatest acts of stealth is the lure of pride. Pride creates spiritual fatalities, it’s the spiritual equivalent of a norovirus and it’s always looking for a victim. This whole passage about spheres of ministry is laced with subtle warnings about the conditions which provide the right environment for this virus to take a hold.
6:1 The vain pursuit of success
12 For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
Our obsession with comparison is born out of pride and creates an opportunity for the destroyer. To be deemed or considered less successful than someone else reminds me of the famous 1937 film Snow White in which the queen asks the mirror, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” She can’t bear the thought that someone else is more beautiful than her. The west has an obsessive affair with success and it’s often not about self-love but self-loathing. Somehow success medicates an otherwise fearful soul. The freedom the Gospel brings is that ministry success is not in our hands and never will be, we are to simply faithfully serve within the boundaries He has allocated.
14 For we are not overextending ourselves,
We have already touched on this subject but it’s worth just one or two more comments. Our desire for taking more ground can lead to us overreaching or overextending ourselves. Little do we realise that this is in fact an act of disobedience. We must stay within the confines of the Lord’s given boundary, it’s here that we are most free and indeed most successful.
Our world’s system shouts loudly that bigger is better and new is more exciting and old is; to be at best forgotten, if not despised. Restraint is for the week and visionless; boundary breaking is held in high esteem by a popularist culture. Perhaps the biggest boundary we need to break is in fact not feeling a cultural compulsion and demand to do more, work harder, longer and smarter in the vain hope that we will end up with a larger ‘allotment’.
The call of all ministry is to be satisfied with the boundary that the Lord has lovingly drawn for you.
6:3 Borrowed Esteem
‘…..15 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labours…….’
It’s all too easy to lay claim to another person’s or ministry’s success, to believe that another’s fruitfulness can in some way be attributed to our credit. This is boasting about the productivity of another’s ‘allotment’ as if it were as a consequence of our labour. Disappointment, self-doubt and a host of other internal states can lead us to look for affirmation in another person’s apparent success. Lacking esteem, we borrow from someone else in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Often we are discontent with the portion that the Lord has given us and it seems less than that that others are enjoying.ff
May you know the blessing and favour of God within the boundary that He has given you. Step up and into the area of service that He has made you for. My prayer is that we, as ministers of the gospel, in all our varied spheres, take full responsibility for all He has given, see faith grow and as a consequence be enlarged!