Tim Keller on Every Believer as Prophet, Priest, and King
Tim Keller, in his new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, writes about the triperspectival New Covenant nature of Christians united with Christ.
Jesus has all the powers and functions of ministry in himself. He ha a prophetic ministry, speaking the truth and applying it to men and women on behalf of God. Jesus was the ultimate prophet, for he revealed most clearly (both in his words and his life) God’s character, saving purposes, and will for our lives. Jesus also had a priestly ministry. While a prophet is an advocate for God before people, a priest is an advocate for the people before God’s presence, ministering with mercy and sympathy. Jesus was the ultimate priest, for he stood in or place and sacrificially bore our burdens and sin, and he now brings us into God’s presence. Finally, Jesus has a kingly ministry. He is the ultimate king, ordering the life of his people through his revealed law.
Every believer, through the Holy Spirit, is to minister to others in these three ways as well.
1. The Bible refers to every believer as a prophet.
In Numbers 11:29, Moses states, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” and in Joel 2:28-29, this blessing is predicted for the messianic age. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter declares that in the church this prophecy is now fulfilled. Every believer is led by the Holy Spirit to discern the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). Each believer is directed to admonish with the word of Christ (Col. 3:16), as well as to instruct (Rom. 15:14) and encourage other believers (Heb. 3:13).
Christians are also called to witness to the truth before their nonbelieving friends and neighbors. In Acts 8:4, all of the Christians who “had been scattered” out of Jerusalem “preached the word wherever they went” . In 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul states that “the Lord’s message rang out” from the new converts all over Macedonia and Achaia. Paul exhorted the Corinthian Christians to imitate him in conducting all aspects of life in such a way that people come to salvation (1 Cor. 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1). In Colossians 4:5-6, Paul tells all Christians to answer every nonbeliever with wisdom and grace, and in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter charges all believers to give cogent reasons for their faith to non-Christians.
Behind all these exhortations is the assumption that the word is dwelling richly in every Christian (Col. 3:16). It means that every believer must read, ponder, and love the Word of God, be able to interpret it properly, and be skillful in applying it to their own questions and needs and to those of the people around them.
2. The Bible calls every believer a priest.
Just as every believer is a prophet, understanding the word of God now that Jesus has come, so every believer is a priest, having access in the name of Christ, the great High Priest, to the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16). Believers, then, have the priestly work of daily offering themselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and of offering the sacrifices of deeds of mercy and adoring worship to God (Hen. 13:15-16). The priesthood of all believers means not only that all are now active participants in joyful public worship (1 Cor. 14:26) but also that they have the priestly calling to “do good and to share with others” (Heb. 13:16). As prophets, Christians call neighbors to repent, but as priests they do so with sympathy and loving service to address their needs. This is why Jesus calls us to live such lives of goodness and service that outsiders will glorify God (Matt. 5;16).
3. The Bible calls every believer a king.
All believers rule and reign with Christ (Eph. 2:6) as kings and priests (Rev. 1:5-6). Although elders and leaders have the responsibility of church governance and discipline, the “kingship of all believers” means that believers have the right and responsibility to discipline one another. Christians are supposed to confess their sins not only to a minister but to one another, and they are called to pray for one another (Jas. 5:16). They are not to rely only on the discipline of elders but are to exhort each other so they don’t become hardened by their sin (Heb. 3:13). It is the responsibility of not only elders and ministers to discern sound doctrine; all believers must rely on the anointing the Spirit gives them to discern truth (1 John 2:20, 27).
The kingly general office is one of the reasons that many denominations have historically given the congregation the right to select its own leaders and officers, with the approval of the existing leaders (Acts 6:1-6). In other words, the power of governing the church rests in the people. Though pastors and teachers are uniquely called to build up the body into spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-13), every Christian is called to help build up the body into maturity by “speaking the truth in love” to one another (Eph. 4:15). The kingship of ever believer also means that every believer has the authority to fight and defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. Eph. 6:11-18; Jas 4:7; 1 John 2:27; 4:4; 5:4).
Summarizing Prophet, Priest, and King
All of these facets of ministry are brought together in 1 Peter 2:9. Here we are told that followers of Christ have been made kings and priests–”a royal priesthood”–that we “may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness,” which is the work of a prophet. The Spirit equips every believer to be a prophet who brings the truth, a priest who sympathetically serves, and a king who calls others into accountable love–even if he or she lacks specialized gifts for office or full-time ministry. This Spirit-equipped calling and gifting of every believer to be a prophet, priest, and king has been called the “general office.” This understanding of the general office helps prevent the church from becoming a top-down, conservative, innovation-allergic bureaucracy. It helps us understand the church as an energetic grassroots movement that produces life-changing and world-changing ministry–all without dependence on the control and planning of a hierarchy of leaders.
- Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 344-46.