These simple studies are prompted by a deep and
long-existing conviction that much of the painful failure in effectiveness in
the service of Christ is due to the fact that there has been an altogether too
inadequate realisation of-
1. The nature of Christian Service, and
2. The meaning of being the Lord's servant.
This conviction naturally lays great constraint upon one to
seek Divine enablement to minister to the ministry of the House of God.
Many there are who have become very weary in well-doing if
not discouraged altogether from the work. This may be because the work is not
according to the New Testament conception or it may be that the worker is
lacking in the basic conception and dynamic of their holy calling. Or it may
be that the two co-exist. It is our intention to keep the worker most in view
and allow the nature of the work to be seen mainly through the New Testament
view of him (or her).
There are so many - to our painful knowledge - who have
"taken up" work in churches, Sabbath-schools, and various departments of
Christian activity who really have no vital, heart-burning, soul-travailing,
connection with the "Eternal purpose" of God in Christ. The result is seen and
felt in the spread of disappointment, disillusionment, the "handing-in-of-resignation-spirit," and an epidemic of "the malady of not
wanting." Later on we shall have much to say to those who are not of this
kind, but who nevertheless are wearied in the greatness of the way.
Here we begin with one submission, namely that for all the
disease of inertia; for all the pain of failure; and for all the cries
concerning powerlessness, ineffectiveness, and the baffling problems of the
work, one of the supreme, fundamental, and indispensable principles and
requirements is a right conception of our calling and of that in which we are
called to serve, if we are truly God's "born again" ones. Thus, to try and
help the discouraged; to renew vision for those in whom it has faded; to raise
the level for those who labour without love; and to generally raise the
standard of work and workers; these elementary messages are passed on.
In choosing a model of a servant of Christ we instinctively
turn to St. Paul. He seems to us to be the most outstanding in every way, and
from the greatness of his achievements, the success of his methods, the
amazement of his endurance, and from his dominating objective, we must get
back to his own conception of himself as a worker.
He has given us that conception in many significant and
suggestive phrases, some of which we select at once. Not once only, but
frequently he refers to himself as "the Servant of Jesus Christ."
Now, I venture to say that a right understanding and
apprehension of that word "servant" as Paul used it, is, without other
designations, calculated to revolutionise all of our work for the Master.
The actual word used by Paul was "bondslave," and by it we
are thrown back into the social conditions of the world in those days. Slavery
was a part of the social life of that time, and the readers of Paul's letters
were all quite well acquainted with the ideas and customs connected with that
system; indeed some of those readers were slaves themselves. Paul looked upon
himself as having been bought by Christ. He gloried in that ownership, and
whenever opportunity presented itself he boasted that he was Christ's. To him
that ownership was permanent. The slave was bound for life, and there could be
no termination of the relationship or obligations.
The transaction has been permanently marked by branding; "I bear in my body
the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). Professor Mahaffy says: "In the
numerous records of manumissions found at Delphi and at other shrines in
Greece we have learned the legal process by which a slave gained his liberty.
He did not bring his master his earnings, and obtain his freedom with his
receipt for the money; but went to the temple of the God, and there paid in
his money to the priests; who then with the money bought the slave from his
master on the part of the God, and he became for the rest of his life a slave
of the God. If at any future time his master or his master's heirs reclaimed
him, he had the record of the transaction in the temple.... If he travelled
from home and were seized as a runaway slave, what security could he have?
Paul gives us the answer. When liberated at the temple the priest, branded him
with the "stigmata" of his new master, Apollo. Now Paul's words acquire a new
and striking application. He had been the slave of sin; but he had been
purchased by Christ, and his new liberty consisted in his being the slave of
Christ. Henceforth, he says, let no man attempt to reclaim me; I have been
marked with the brand of my new master, Jesus Christ." This will also throw
light on numerous other utterances of Paul when such words as "Servant,"
"Freedom," "Liberty," etc., are used.
On the one hand this Pauline conception of the absolute and
indelible proprietorship of Christ throws much of our modern "service" into
striking contrast. Rather than being in willing, full, and free servitude,
vassalage, and slavery, to Christ, we often regard our service as a kind of
religious V.A.D. affair. [Editor's note:
Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) in the UK provided
medical assistance in time of war.]
We may be interested, we may be philanthropic, we may be condescending or we
may be dutiful, but we are certainly not under any compulsion. We can do
pretty much as we like about it, and if things do not suit us, we can either "throw up" our work altogether, or go where we shall be more appreciated, or
where things are smoother sailing. So today, the "worker" too often makes
the cause serve him or her instead of being the servant of the cause. Paul
took his directions as to sphere, time, and kind of work from his Master,
Christ, and relegated every concern to Him. He was not his own, and he could
not use either his powers or his time as directed by the flesh. But on the
other hand he was fully aware and convinced that this "slavery" to Christ
was for him the greatest thing in the world. He had caught the true
significance of the Master's invitation to "Take my yoke... and you shall
find rest unto your souls." That to Paul meant control and direction for the most
The stream rushes aimlessly, frivolously, and noisily on,
until it is yoked by a water-wheel, and then by its arrest it grinds the
grain to feed mankind.
The wind blows wildly to no purpose on the sea until the
mariner yokes it with his sail, and thus it is harnessed to bear the enriching
cargoes from shore to shore.
To capture the electricity which would otherwise
be lost, we suspend our telegraph wires, and direct it intelligently along
them, bringing the whole world into an intimate association. And so, as in
these and many other ways, the yoke is the symbol of useful control, and
serviceable direction, Paul knew that the yoke of Christ's service and
association would make his life more fruitful than his own independence.
There is a liberty which leads to havoc, ruin, uselessness, and remorse. But
the supreme element in Paul's abandonment to Christ was a strong, clear sense
of what Christ had done for him, and a perpetual consciousness of what Christ
was to him. There is nothing
which makes slaves of us more than love, and it is an ecstatic and sublime
slavery which never wants release, and only dreads that a breach might at
some time come. In the captivity of Christ's love, Paul would ever be found doing everything which would preserve it from suffering hunger in his life,
and he would over be found praying that the "marks" might be burnt more
and more deeply into his soul.
Who that one moment, has the least descried Him,
faintly, hidden and afar.
Doth not despise all excellence, beside Him,
powers that are not and that are.
I am persuaded that nothing shall sunder
Us from the love that saveth us from sin,
Lift it or lose hereover or hereunder,
Pluck it hereout or
strangle it herein.
In summarising what we have said, let us clearly point out
that for effectual Christian service and the more powerful corporate testimony
of the Church, it must be realised that the Divine calling and equipment for
the prophetic, or pastoral, or teaching, or evangelistic, or apostolic work is
not centred in one man in any given community, but that these personal gifts
are distributed over the whole Church. Every true disciple of Christ is called
to be a "servant of the Lord" and should prayerfully seek to know in what
specific capacity He calls them to serve; not taking up work at random, but
having sought His guidance, they should give themselves earnestly, devotedly,
and vigorously to their special ministry, and regard their calling as from
The "marks" of Christ must be seen upon His servants
whether in the place where the Lord's people assemble, the business, the
home, or the social circle, and he must ever be proud to say of Him, "whose
I am, and whom I serve."
A vital relationship with Christ born of a deep personal appreciation of
what He has done for, and daily is to our souls, and a clear understanding
with a profound conviction of what He wishes to do through our instrumentality; these covered by a complete and utter abandonment to Him, are the only
legitimate grounds for His service. Of such servants the world and the "Church" stands in tragic and pathetic need, and by such all problems of
ineffectiveness and failure are solved. Such never take up the work lightly,
and therefore never give it up easily - if at all. I am more and more convinced
that the problems of the untouched masses, the leakage of young people, will be
solved most lastingly and fruitfully; not by social organisations or
increased machinery, but by the type of workers for Christ who have this work
committed to them. Every Christian must conceive of himself or herself as
being definitely called by God into the "Fellowship of His Son" and as "Workers together with Him," and that this calling is a solemn and irrevocable ordination to "the work of the ministry." (Read
carefully Ephesians 4:12 R.V.)
To be Christ's own purchased possession; and to be
Christ's own controlled, directed, and equipped servant, is to have the
strength of a great assurance that nothing can separate you from Him; that you
work under supreme authority; that all the resources of Christ are at your
disposal; and that while doing His work there can be no ultimate failure,
unless He is to ultimately fail, which is impossible. This is a service which
is eternal and supreme, and is only the probation for "higher service," where
and when "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face."
Christ! I am Christ's! and let the name suffice me,
Ay, for me, too, He greatly hath sufficed;
Lo, with no
winning words I would entice you,
Paul has no honour and no friend but Christ.
Yes, through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning,
He shall suffice me, for He hath sufficed;
Christ is the end,
for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.