Beloved brethren, Follow the man who follows Christ. Listen to him who hears from God. Serve alongside with the one who serves Christ and the saints. Fellowship with those who are in fellowship with the Father and Son.
In this communion, there are no appointees to posts or successors to perpetuate a ministry, only a fellowship of like-minded brethren. Even among the closest associates, there are no assignments by compulsion [I Cor.16:10-12]. Gospel ministry is a fundamentally spiritual matter that can only be maintained by individual godly integrity.
Brethren, we must not be surprised or stumbled by departure. The Galatians had to be admonished, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” [Gal.5:7]. Though one’s labors have been tirelessly mingled with tears, there will yet arise men to draw away disciples after themselves [Acts 20:30].
Do not forget that there are both rocky soil and thorny entanglements in the kingdom of heaven [Mt.13:20-22]. Even among the zealous and doctrinally sound Ephesians, first love had declined [Rev.2:2-4]. It pained the heart of the aged apostle that all who were in Asia had turned away from him [2 Tim.1:15].
Peter denied His Lord and Judas betrayed his Master. A beloved co-worker noted in Philemon 24 later deserted Paul because of his love for this present world [2 Tim.4:10].
Some in times past have been with us and are no longer. There are those who have drifted [Heb.2:1], others have departed [Jn.6:60,66], a few have turned aside [2 Tim.4:10], and at least one has even slandered and betrayed [Ps.55:12-14].
The pattern of Christ, that great treasure of sound words, can only be maintained by the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God [2 Tim.1:13,14]. When a man’s spirituality wanes, his status as a leader is immediately compromised regardless of his previous attainments; witness Peter in Gal.2:11-14. Do not allow esteem for a man’s prior godliness blind your eyes to his present failure: Remember, it was Christian who led Hopeful astray onto By-Pass Meadow and into the clutches of Giant Despair.
“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” [Phil.3:17-19].
Lest any misconstrue my intentions, I am not promoting myself as Paul was worthy of imitation. I am acutely aware of my failings and inconsistencies and do not recommend that any follow in those footsteps. I do, however, commend to you Christ and the gospel that I preach to you. With them you can find no fault.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” [Heb.13:7].
Have this read to all the brethren. “I speak as to wise men, you judge what I say” [I Cor.10:15].
Love, brother Steve