Qualification for Effective Ministry

Text: Isaiah 6
Date: Sunday June 11, 2023


Every follower of Christ is a minister of the Gospel. What I mean by that is that every Christian has been commissioned by God to be a part of seeing the love of Christ and the Kingdom of God go forward. No Christian is off the hook. You were elected by God for a reason, and that reason was not so that you could be consumed with building your own little kingdom, but so that you might be consumed with furthering His Kingdom.

Many Christians struggle to be an effective minister however. There is a desire, but no real practical steps being taken. No real life change bringing all of life into alignment with God’s call and commissioning. Today we are going to look at what makes an effective minister of the gospel, by studying the life of Isaiah the prophet. In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet receives a vision that forever shaped his entire ministry. It was his call into ministry. And through his calling, through this vision, we will ask ourselves about our own calling, and what makes an effective minister of the gospel.



A.  What is Meant by Otherness: First, from this passage I want reveal the otherness of God. Perhaps we might speak of the holiness of God, the infinity of God, the mystery of God, or the transcendence of God. There a handful of throne room visions of prophets throughout the Scriptures, this is one of them. Both Ezekiel and John also had visions. Every time, we get the sense that the prophet is straining for words to describe heavenly realities. Wherever he is, is someplace that operates according to different rules and different expectations than his normal dwelling on Earth. 

B.  Text—Imagining the Scene:Imagine the scene with me. 

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up.” Perhaps some of you have been on trips where you have seen ancient throne rooms, where the King sits high above the others, in a symbol of his preeminence. The one who is lifted up has the higher authority. This is a supreme authority.

The train of his robe filled the temple.”  This is an awesome scene. Many of you perhaps woke up early a few months ago to watch the crowning of King Charles in England. You saw the special golden robe that he wrapped himself in during the ceremony. Here, the train of the Lord’s robe is so magnificent that it is stretched out across the room as far as the eye can see. This is the indescribable one.

“Above him stood the seraphim.” A powerful king will be surrounded by his faithful servants, guardians and protectors. In the throne room of God are particular forms of angelic beings that are entirely other-worldly. They exist. By our own definition we would call them monsters. But in reality they are wonderful, marvelous, beautiful creations of the master. The word ‘Sereph’ means to burn, these are the burning ones. In fact, with two wings facing upwards covering their face, and two wings facing down covering their feet, they might have looked like flames. The wings covered their face because even these serephim are unworthy to glance upon the King. Their feet are covered because these mighty creatures are servants.

Holy, Holy, Holy.” These creatures sing in an angelic heavenly choir. Very often in scripture we will find words repeated twice to make a point. “The bowls were gold gold,” refers to certainty of the quality of the metal. Only one time in all of the Bible is a word repeated three times. And it is here, in the echoes of the angels. It is to say that the holiness of God is so far above and beyond anything the human mind can comprehend. It is exponentially different. His holiness is what sets him apart from all of creation. From this point onwards in the book of Isaiah, Isaiah’s favorite name for God is, “the Holy one of Israel.”

The whole earth is full of his glory.” This expresses both what is true and what they desire. This being, this holy being, is the creator and sustainer of all things. Every square inch of all of creation is His, entirely. 

The foundations of the thresholds shook.” As the Lord began to speak, his voice was wholly other. There in that heavenly temple, the foundations of the floor rumbled in resonance with his voice. The room itself conformed to His Words. It is one thing to experience an earth quake. It is another entirely to stand before a being so powerful, that when he speaks Heaven shakes. “The room itself was seized with reverential awe (Keil).”

C.  Doctrine—The Holiness of God: If this were our only text before us, we would have a sense of what is meant by the Holiness of God. But I would like to expand on this text in such a way as to attempt to tap into the hidden recesses of our soul, which whether we realize it or not, have been crying out to experience this holiness from the moment we were born. AW Tozer commenting on this says,

“The yearning to know what cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man.”

AW Tozer

Otto’s Mysterium Tremendum: Rudolph Otto, a theologian of a previous generation, wrote a book called ‘The Idea of the Holy.’ In this book he attempted, with some philosophical speculation, to understand holiness. He coined a latin phrase, ‘mysterium tremendum,’ or the “awful mystery,” to describe what happens when a regular person encounters holiness. On the one hand its mysterious and frightening because it is other-worldly, and on the other it is tremendous, for the sheer power and size make a common man like you or I very quickly realize our insignificance. Otto writes:

The truly “mysterious” object is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently ‘wholly other’, whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb.”

Rudolph Otto

Ottos’ Graveyard at Night: Otto was attempting to describe something that is wholly beyond us, that we cannot understand. He gives us glimpses throughout the book. He describes that sense of holiness as a young teenager who on a dare snuck into a graveyard at night. He knows he is somewhere he is not supposed to be. His fear is one of edging towards something entirely other. That sensation, for Otto, is a small glimpse in a direction that mirrors understanding true holiness.

He is Totally in Control: Our lives are utterly in His hands! He is totally in control.

Colossians 1:16 ESV For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

D.  Our Heart: I am doing all I can to inspire in you a sense of the awful mystery of the holiness of God. The Western Church for far too long has propped up visions of God that are not accurate. They have made God out to be a pitiful being. Nothing about the image of God strikes a person numb with fear. Again, AW Tozer says it this way

“To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of our reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries: this requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage him.”

AW Tozer

Has God’s Holiness penetrated your being to the point that it is changing you? Until we begin to grasp his holiness, we cannot begin to understand the Christian faith. Isaiah had a vision that surely had an impact. But we have the Holy Spirit. Isaiah longed to see our day, says the Scriptures.

1. Do you find yourself at times caught off guard by the majesty of God. Are there regular moments where God’s vastness & infinity make you stunned, and lead you to worship?

2. Do you have a curiosity of God? An inward sense that were you to spend eternity future getting to know God in all of his intricacies, you still would not know everything.

3. Do you have a fear of God? A sense that when you engage with God you are engaging with the one holds the fabric of reality together? Does that fear cause you to tremble?

If the answer to these questions is, “no,” it may reveal in part perhaps why you are not experiencing an effective ministry. And if that is the case I invite you to finally see God on his terms. He is not pet that can be tamed. He is Holy, Holy, Holy! 


We have examined the otherness of God. I now want to look briefly at the lowliness of man. We have set our eyes heavenward and have attempted to understand the holiness and transcendance of God. But now we look down and see the place that we hold. Only one verse is given to describe Isaiah’s response at the vision. 

A.  Text—Isaiah’s Response: We read,

Isaiah 6:5 ESV And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

“Woe is Me! For I am lost.” Immediately, Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” The term lost can also mean “ruined” or even “undone.” One translator paraphrased the idea by saying, “I am coming apart at the seams. Isaiah recognizes that creation is standing before creator. He is in a place of supreme holiness. His being cannot survive in such a place. It would like suddenly finding yourself appearing in the center of the sun. The human body is not capable of surviving in such heat. Human beings, in their sinful state, are simply unable to bear the weight of glory

“I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell…” And what is the reason. Isaiah knows he cannot in such holiness because he is a man of unclean lips. Isaiah is a man of sin. Great as Isaiah was, a prophet anointed by God. A holy man who had dedicated his life to the Lord. And yet, when he stood before the Holy one, who saw through Him, all of motivations, there was only one thing he could say. “I’m coming apart at the seams.”  What must it be like to stand utterly transparently before the one who can see every motivation of your heart you’ve ever had? What must it be like to stand before the the judge who has the power to place a person in heaven or in hell for all eternity and know that nothing is hidden from his sight.

Hebrews 4:13 ESV And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

“I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” In this moment Isaiah is not only aware of his own sin, but he’s looking at his nation, and he’s saying, “Oh no! Oh no! We are guilty. We have permitted far too much sin in our ranks. We have let a wayward culture shape the Church. Their guilt is in some way on me.” In this moment of truth, Isaiah knows one thing. I am a dead man. I am hopeless. I deserve the wrath of God and the judgment of God coming my way.

B.  Culture—False Religion: Before a person can come to Christ he must realize the complete and total hopelessness of his condition before God. He must come to the realization that He is guilty before a Holy God. That is destiny is set for Hell, and God would be perfectly just to do so. Only then can the gift of forgiveness that is offered us in Christ be properly understood.

Religion Made Easy: There are false teachers and pastors who will sell you a ‘religion made easy’ down the street. In their recipe for religion-made-easy they will demand very little of you. They will promise you that God delights in you as you are with no strings attached. They will promise that you are free to worship God however you please so long as you remain true to yourself. They will you a vision of God that has no demands on your life, a God that who has no rules of morality. These teachers will do you no good when you actually stand before this God one day, as Isaiah did.

God Is Not a False Doctor: The wonderful thing about the real God, God as he actually is and not as some religious salesman told us, is that he does not lie to us. He is not a spin doctor. Imagine if you went to a doctor’s office concerned about a pain in your stomach. The doctor runs the tests and discovers that you have a cancer that if not treated upon will take your life very shortly. But imagine if this doctor was afraid to tell you your condition for fear of upsetting you. What if he took the truth and hid it away, and simply said, “You’re fine. Go your way.” As you lied on your deathbed would you not have anger towards the doctor who lied to you.

Repentance Before Atonement: God is a true physician, and he does not lie. He does not hold back the truth for fear that it will hurt us too much. God in his mercy will offer Isaiah a miracle. But first, he permits Isaiah to see the depth of his own depravity, and the great need he has for help to come to him.

C.  Practical—Personal Examination: Jesus told a story of two men who both prayed. He said,

Luke 18:10–14 ESV “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The seed of false religion is self-righteousness. The seed of man-made religion is a person looking inside themselves and discovering all the qualities of the kind of person that belongs in heaven. But the seed of the godly is the exact opposite. The seed of true religion, is the regular seeing of oneself in the mirror of truth, and recognizing the depth of their own need of a savior. I could offer many, but let offer you four simple checks on the soul to examine if the seed of self-righteousness is in you, two spiritual in nature, and two very practical

1. Do you rightly evaluate sin in your life? Whether it is sin of action, of thought, of affections, of your conscence, do you see it and hate it?  Do you understand that God will not permit his honor to be mocked. Of course, we may run to Christ, but first we must see our sin for what it is.

2.  Do you have a regular practice of grateful repentance?  Repentance is simply going before God in prayer and confessing your sins to him. A self-righteous spirit might have many things to pray, but repentance for emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions that are unChrist-like often is not one of them.

3.  Do you delight in taking the lowliest of duties? Do you delight in taking the lowliest of responibilities wherever you go? One sure sign of self-righteousness is that there is some work, some tasks, some helping hand that is beneath you. But a spirit of authentic humility never considers themselves above the lowliest job.

4. Do you easily forgive others?  Those who are self-righteous see themselves as morally capable and expect the same from others. Forgiveness is then often attached with strings and air of smugness.

Transition: Do you see, the way of Christ is far different from the way of the world. The way of Christ is marked by an accurate assessment of God in all of His glory, and an accurate of ourselves in all of our sinful misery.


Third and finally. We have seen the Otherness of God and the Lowliness of Man. We now turn to the Wonder of Atonement. The word atonement is an important word. It means to appease, to make ammends, or to remove. We read,

Isaiah 6:6–7 ESV Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

A.  Text—The Sereph & the Coal:  Notice that Isaiah does not plead for mercy nor does he make some kind of rash vow if only God would deliver him. For Isaiah, his vision of reality had left him hopeless. He knew his condition. He expected nothing but death.

Burning Coal & Altar: The sereph (who’s name means to burn) now goes to the altar in the center of the temple. Upon that altar was burning coals which previously we read were burning and producing smoke that filled the room. This altar is the heavenly altar of sacrifice. It looked forward to the final sacrifice that would be made by the Son himself.

Touched My Mouth: The sereph took the burning coal from the altar, and using tongs, placed the coal on the lips of Isaiah. In this moment God is applying atonement to Isaiah. He is cleansing Him. This scene comes near the beginning of the entire book because it is important for Isaiah to preach as a forgiven man himself. His book is to be read through the lens of one sinful man to another, speaking about the holiness of God.

Your Guilt is Taken Away. Your Sin Is Atoned For: When the coal touches his lips, we are told Isaiah’s guilt is taken away, and his sin is atoned for. The penalty of sin was paid in full, by a substitute offered in the sinner’s place. The angel of the Lord then applies the burning substitute to the needy sinner. And the cleansing fire of God cleanses Isaiah of all of his sin and of all of his guilt. The atonement is instantaneous. The moment the burning coal is applied, Isaiah is made right with God.

B.  Christ the Final Sacrifice: Oh Church—In this passage we have a clear and compelling picture of the majesty and mystery of the gospel. This scene points us forward to Christ the final atoning sacrifice. The King in all of his glory has made a way for guilty sinners to be pardoned of their guilt. There was only one possible way for this to take place. The King Himself got up off His throne. He left the serephim behind, and stepped into the human story, incarnating himself as a human child in. the womb of Mary. Consider this reality. That King, that mighty and great, and holy King, took on flesh and dwelt among us. That King displayed as a humble servant committed the greatest act in history by embracing the cross. He did. not run from this task, but willingly submitted himself underneath that altar, in order that he might become the final sacrifice for sin.

Christ has become the lamb that was slain on our behalf, when he was crucified on the cross. Christ saw our lowly estate. He saw our destitution, and he moved towards us. Jesus offers atonement whereby our guilt is cleansed. It is an instantaneous act where Christ places the burning the coal upon our souls and cleanses us of all our corruption and all of our guilt. 

No Greater Confidence: There is no greater confidence you can have in this life than to know that your soul, as it stands before God, has been hidden in Christ. There is no greater contentment you can have in this life than to bear Christ upon your soul, and to be fully awakened to the reality that on account of Christ’s wounds, God has called you friend. Like the old hymn, “Be still my soul, Christ is on my side.”

“Oh to get the cross into one’s heart, to bear it upon one’s soul, and above all, to feel the glory of it in one’s whole being, is the best education for a Christian missionary whether at home or abroad. May you have such a sense of the streaming wounds of Jesus that you may hate your sins and loathe yourself, that you should have crucified such a blessed friend, and may you with eyes suffused with floods of penitential tears, declare that for Jesus and for Jesus only you will live and die.”

Charles Spurgeon

C.  Redeemed & Commissioned: How are we to respond to such a love? See Isaiah’s response

Isaiah 6:8 ESV And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Isaiah after having his soul cleansed of guilt, immediately responds in the only way he could. He offers himself as a cheerfully and willingly as an ambassador. Isaiah is not choosing God, but God has chosen Isaiah, and Isaiah knows it, and delights in it. It is God who applied the anointing coal to Isaiah’s lips. It is God who lifted him from his face. And it is God anoints for ministry.

The Natural Impulse: Church, Christ stands today asking this same question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” This was the question in Isaiah day. The natural impulse a person who has seen the holiness of God, understood the depravity of their soul, and been blessed by the riches the atonement, cannot but joyfully accept the commissioning of Christ upon their life. If you were elected by God to receive grace, then you were elected by God to be an ambassador for Christ. No Christian can keep silent about their Christian faith.

What Should Your Heart Feel: If you are understanding this, what should be being produced in you right now is an overwhelming sense of gratefulness. A profound awareness that you are not worthy to carry the message of the gospel. A deep and abiding sense that this level of honor—to be an ambassador of God Almighty—ought not be bestowed on the likes of you because of your history of rebellion to God. Right now, your souls ought to be leaping. 

Do you find yourself..?  Do you feel, in your heart of hearts, that you are sent by him? Not sent to Iraq or the Philippines, but sent to the streets of Chicago, the condominiums of South Loop, Pilsen, University Village, the Loop, Chinatown. Do you often find yourself thinking strategically about the unique mission God has assigned you in your few years on this Earth, how you can make the most of it? Do you find yourself considering how precious this responsibility is to witness of Christ to our friends and neighbors? At times in your prayer life do you find yourself overwhelmed by God’s grace saving you from sin, that you cry out like Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.” 


Every true Christian is a minister sent by God, equipped for every good work. Not every true Christian is an effective minister. But effective ministry flows from authentic Christianity. If you want to be effective it begins in the heart. You must be overwhelmed by the holiness and otherness of God. You must see reality accurately—your own depravity, your deadness before Christ got you. And you must melt with joy at Christ’s atonement for your sin. It begins in the heart.


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