by T. Austin-Sparks
If it is difficult to avoid misunderstanding when
writing to discriminate in the matter of salvation, it is even
more so in the matter of service. There is so much, and there
are so many ways which claim to be "God's service" and "mighty
works in the Name of Jesus." Thank God, however, that we have
not to judge and decide what is and what is not true service to
God. It is, nevertheless, given to us to recognise and emphasise
basic principles by which all who claim to serve Him must judge
themselves in this matter.
It must be observed at the outset that, while the Lord makes even antagonistic elements and persons - even the wrath of man and adversity of circumstances - and while there is even such a thing as irreligious solicitude for God, His direct and elect means and method is by chosen and consecrated members of His spiritual household. Now, of this service there must never be a judging after the seeing of the eyes or the hearing of the ear! This is a matter into which the senses cannot come without the peril of deceiving and misleading the whole life. The service of God, like every other thing in relation to Him, is essentially an unmixedly spiritual thing.
There are two things at least which are basically wrong and inevitably disastrous from the standpoint of true spiritual value: one is the regarding of the work of God as a set system, just as any other commercial, industrial, or professional system is a vocation or calling. So much is heard about "entering the ministry," "taking up Christian work," "becoming a missionary," etc., and this as static, organised, systematised. The other is going into service on the basis of an external appeal to the senses; the intellect, the emotions, the volition, by or reason of a presentation to the ears or the eyes. We do not say that these means have never been overruled by God to something more, but in themselves as such they are both inadequate and perilous. Both of these things are not according to the principles of the Divine order, and the Word of God - read with spiritual insight - proves it up to the hilt. Moreover, every man and woman who has come up against spiritual realities in the service of God knows that it requires something stronger than hot air, electric atmosphere, vivid pictures, romantic conceptions, idealistic visions, mental impressions, and occasional stimulants for the will, to make them able to continue indefinitely and be spiritually effective. No, in every way, the senses are an insufficient basis and a dangerous criterion.
The service of God, being spiritual, will always have an element of mystery about it, and this mystery is thus: the greater the degree of real spiritual effectiveness and value, and the more spiritually accountable a thing becomes, the less is it a thing that can be seen and handled by the senses and by the flesh; the less the elements and forms of human demonstration and natural appreciation. Again and again we have marked the grievous tragedy of ministries - personal and otherwise - which were mighty in spiritual significance at length taking on human significance and assuming forms of natural impressiveness at the expense of that essential value to God. Yes! It has grown, big, expansive, famous. Yes! He, or she, has a name, a reputation, a following, a fame, and a position, but so often, oh so often at a cost of accountability amongst "principalities and powers" (this is where spiritual values are judged) which makes it all poor gain, and makes God's heart bleed.
Without seeming to judge of this ourselves let us state a further principle or two - or re-emphasise in definite form: All inclusively, only what God does Himself is God's service! This is basic to the entire revelation of the purposes of God in the whole scriptures. The Lord Jesus is most insistent upon this Himself, "The Son can do nothing of Himself." "The Father doeth the works." "The Father speaketh the words." "My Father worketh until now." "It is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaketh in you," etc..
This principle was well recognised by the Apostles. In fact it is the primary object of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: "The Holy Ghost said." "The Spirit suffered them not." Only as all service is brought within the limits of this Divine ordering by a positive witness within the sanctified and quickened spirit of the "chosen vessel" can there be "The works of God" which alone count. This, on the other hand, rules out all our works.
Motive, good intent, laboriousness, enthusiasm, "in the name of Jesus," "for the Kingdom," "in the interests of mankind," etc., these do not count in the realm of "the eternal purpose in Christ Jesus," if they are our own activities with our own natural resources. It must be "God who works within."
We have yet to know the nature and immensity of the works of God, and how His ends call for His infinite energy, and when we have a little light on this matter we shall see that all our works are "dead works" indeed.
The flesh cannot enter into the works of God; hence the measure of spiritual effectiveness is the measure in which the Cross of Christ has slain our flesh experimentally. Not what appears to be successful Christian work, but what is done - not by men - but by God through crucified men. We must be content to have our fruitfulness and spiritual value registered in the unseen, and not be dominated by the scales of values as set up by men on the earth.
One sign of counting beyond mere flesh and blood is the malice and fury of the oppressor and his persistent efforts to get one out of the fight. Finally, we can only get into the true service of God as we are put into it by the Holy Spirit. This is not as from the earth, but as from above.
Men cannot make these appointments or ordinations! To press into this service of oneself is to meet the fire of God breaking forth. To touch this "ark of testimony" with our hands is to die.
Even after Moses had been chosen, received the revelation, and been commissioned, "God met him and sought to kill him." Why? Because the circumcision of the flesh had been neglected, and no flesh can serve the Lord.