…Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), John 4:1b-2 

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius 1 Cor 1:14 

Ministers ought to be like the Minutemen of the American Revolution. Always ready to go. Live and die for the church. That’s what they do. Preach in season and out of season. Any time, any place, if a man can minister, he should!

Except…“Jesus Himself was not baptizing.” Neither was Paul, who breathed a sigh of relief he’d only baptized a few people. “Thank God I didn’t do any more!” seems to be a fair equivalent.

Baptizing is a good thing. And by “good thing,” I really mean a commanded thing. It’s part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). It’s part of the responsibility and privilege of a pastor or an evangelist. Think of Philip in the waters with the Ethiopian eunuch. It’s a beautiful picture. It is a high honor to baptize, and to be baptized.

But Jesus wouldn’t baptize. Neither would Paul, at least in Corinth. He started to, but put the brakes on that apparent mistake. Thank God that didn’t go on any longer.

What in the world? Jesus is the Supreme example. Paul told us, “Imitate me.” So where does that leave us? A command to baptize; a Savior and the chief of the Apostles refusing to do so.

The simple answer is this: Don’t ignore the command to baptize. Jesus and Paul didn’t. (aside – I don’t think the baptism of Jesus and Paul was identical, but it was similar enough that they both refrained from doing it, presumably for the same reasons.) So Jesus had his disciples baptize in his place. Paul had someone else do the baptizing in Corinth.

Paul gives the reason he wouldn’t baptize – “so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.” (1 Cor. 1:15) Jesus’ specific reasoning isn’t given, but it’s presumably similar.

Here is an interesting thing then: Our Savior, and His chief Apostle refusing to do a thing they both believe is good, right, and if I may carefully say it, necessary. The reason they refuse to do so is this: because of their stature as Son of God and Apostle, in their case, baptizing would do more harm than good to those they baptized.

So here, finally, is the principle that I wanted to arrive at: There are times when the servant of God must refuse to minister in certain, even essential and commanded ways. It’s more appropriate for the disciples to baptize than Jesus. It’s ultimately for the good of the Corinthian church for their own to perform baptisms than for Paul to do so.

I was in a situation recently where I was presented with an opportunity to minister to a family I formerly pastored. I really love this family, and wanted to let them know I loved them, and to pray with my dear old friend who had lost her husband. Just as a check, to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something, I asked two older pastor friends of mine their counsel. Their 65+ years of combined ministry experience responded reflexively and in unison: Don’t do it. Some other way, some other time. Not here, not now.

I was quite surprised. Here I thought this was a great idea. It’s ministry, for crying out loud! But these two veterans of ministry and deeply intense lovers of God and the church instinctively offered the same counsel. Three days later I sat down with my dear Pastor Fiske over a cup of coffee, and asked him to explain his reasoning to me, as he promised he would do. He opened the Text and laid before me these three things, which I will attempt to faithfully lay before you now, to the best of my memory and ability:

  1. Don’t place yourself in a position where you cannot teach
    1 Timothy 3:2 says an overseer must be “able to teach.” This is referring to an ability to communicate truth, but it is implicit here, and explicit elsewhere, that teaching is a primary activity of a pastor. That’s what we’re here for. We are like the fathers of Deuteronomy 6, we teach standing, sitting, working, playing, in the daytime and at night. We teach because it’s our calling. We teach formally, and we teach informally. We teach from behind a lectern, and we teach in a hospital room. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we bring the truth of God to bear in our given situation. (I’m really tempted to enter into a rant about teaching on the softball field, but it’s too convicting, so I’ll just say it’s outside the scope of this paper!)
    If we find ourselves in a situation where we are, for whatever reason or combination of reasons, unable to teach, we have no reason to be in that place as a pastor. In my case, the combination between the setting in which I was about to enter, and the nature of my relationship with this family at the moment was such that any ability to bring the truth of God to bear in an instructive way was simply lost. Those factors were beyond my creation and my control; they were what they were and I had to deal with them. This was, I think, not dissimilar from Jesus and Paul, who, by virtue of the combination of their status in the eyes of men and the shallow pride of the people to whom they were ministering, simply couldn’t baptize in an instructive way. So they just didn’t.
  2. Don’t allow yourself to be ill spoken of
    1Tim. 3:7 says, “he must have a good reputation with those outside the church.” This is our public persona, if you will. There’s a bit of thinking that needs to go into this, and I’ll just lay it out briefly and move on. Jesus said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when men hate you.” Four verses later, in v.26, he said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”
    It’s hard to be blessed in the eyes of Jesus – hated by men, and qualified in the eyes of Paul – having a good reputation. It’s hard to be blessed by Paul with a good reputation when Jesus curses you for all men speaking well of you.
    Peter, I think, provides the solution: “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” (1 Pet. 3:17) There’s two kinds of suffering in view here: suffering for doing what is right (think of Peter’s martyrdom) and suffering for doing what is wrong (think of the possibility of Peter being arrested and executed for attempted murder in the Garden of Gethsemane). Similarly, there’s being hated for devotion to Jesus (what Jesus is talking about) and being hated for being a public nuisance (what Paul is probably talking about).
    I know of a pastor who got caught cheating in a golf tournament. If you want to have a bad reputation with the unsaved world, that’s maybe the quickest way to do so. That’s an earned bad reputation in the unsaved world; you can’t have that and be an elder of any consequence.
    What my pastor encouraged me to realize is that I must be at least aware of how my presence, as a pastor, is perceived, whether or not the perception is accurate. It doesn’t mean I have to live as a slave to my public perception . My Dad always said, “Son, guard your character, and let God take care of your reputation.” That’s true. We are, to some degree, not in control of our reputation. But what this does mean is I need to be wise enough to recognize situations in which my actions would raise eyebrows or cause a stir. And every case is going to be different. In my particular case, my motives would surely be questioned. I know what my motives were, so far as I’m able to discern them, but it’s far from certain that the perception would have been that I was ministering from purity of heart. And in this case, to cause a ripple among the believers would have resulted in a potential tidal wave among the unbelievers. I just didn’t see it, and I’m thankful for the warning ahead of time!
  3. Do not go where pastoral authority is of no value
    Paul writes to Titus in 2:15, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” If a pastor possesses no authority, he is essentially useless as a shepherd, and useless to his sheep. The rod and the staff, David says, bring comfort. If I’m in a situation where my authority as a minister of God isn’t recognized, I can perform no meaningful ministry, not even a ministry of comfort.
    That phrase “Let no one disregard you” I think, may have two shades of meaning: “Let no one disregard you” because you have voluntarily laid down your authority and the office of pastor has become a meaningless title. You’ve tried so hard to convince the people of God you’re harmless that they actually believe you and start to treat you that way, which means at the end of the day they couldn’t care less what you think.
    The other shade of meaning is “let no one disregard you” by putting yourself in a situation where you will be disregarded. The circumstances may be beyond your control, but they are such that your pastoral authority in the eyes of the people to whom you wish to minister is completely gone. You have been disregarded. It’s not your fault, it’s just the way it is. So don’t go there. Don’t allow the office of pastor suffer abuse in this way.

It is a joy to be a minister for the glory of God and the good of His elect. But in our eagerness to serve in any way we can, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that Jesus didn’t walk into the Jordan to baptize; he left that to others. Paul baptized a small number, and thought better of it, and left it to others. There is a time, the Ancient Preacher might have said, a time to minister, and a time to leave it for someone else. So I wrote a brief note, expressing my love and affection, and trusted God to bring along a man who could minister in the way I wanted to, but couldn’t.

all Scripture quotations from NASB