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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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This article deals with the special sense in which the word is employed in the NT of the office of the preacher of the gospel. (For other senses see Business, Labour.) Popular opinion tends to regard spiritual ministry as the spontaneous activity of a certain temperament requiring no particular effort. The teaching of the NT directly contradicts this notion. It declares that it is only by systematic and severe labour that we can win men for God. This is borne out by the terms used in the apostolic writings. In the Fourth Gospel we hear the Lord speaking of the fulfilling of the ‘work’ which He had been sent to accomplish (John 17:4). This word (ἔργον) was taken up by the Church and applied to the task set before its evangelists. The mission entrusted to Saul and Barnabas is described as ‘the work’ to which they received a vocation from the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2; Acts 14:26).

In the Pauline Epistles this work is said to be ‘the work of the Lord,’ i.e. the definite service which Christ lays upon believers of proclaiming the gospel. All the faithful are called to this. The special charismata of some are bestowed in order that they may be used for ‘the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering’ (Ephesians 4:12). Abundant activity in this office follows a firm belief in the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:58). In 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 the ‘work’ is likened to a building which must be built so as to stand the test of the fire of judgment. It is therefore natural to speak of the Christian minister as the ἐργάτης whose ideal is to produce nothing which will shame him (2 Timothy 2:15). The dignity of his vocation is expressed in the highest terms when he is named a ‘fellow-worker with God’ (1 Corinthians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 6:1; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2 RVm ). The spirit in which the work is to be done is denoted by another word, κόπος, which is ‘almost a technical word for Christian work’ (H. B. Swete, Apocalypse, London, 1907, p. 25), and signifies the weariness which attends the effort required of those who undertake this work. It suggests the idea of an athlete undergoing great fatigue (see J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, London, 1891, p. 161). With its cognate verb St. Paul uses it in this connexion some twenty times. The leaders of the Church are distinguished by it (1 Thessalonians 5:12). It must be endured by those who would be teachers of the Word (1 Timothy 5:17). The Apostle himself had experienced it to the full (1 Corinthians 15:10, 2 Corinthians 11:23).

Literature.-A. W. Robinson, Co-operation with God, London, 1908.

C. T. Dimont.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Work'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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