(A) The Spirit of a Servant
Reading: Num. 3:13-19; Mal. 3:3; John 13:1-17; Matt. 20:26-28; Phil. 2:5-8.
We now pass on to another thing which is so manifestly connected with the sons of Levi. It is this: that they are seen to stand in a special relationship to God in service. Whenever you meet them the matter of service is involved, "They shall serve Me." They are the embodiment of spiritual service and when we are speaking of Levites we are speaking of spiritual service, and when we are speaking of spiritual service, we are speaking of what a Levite is. To put that in another way, they represent service taking a pre-eminent place on the ground of fellowship with God, which in turn is based upon holiness: fellowship with God based upon holiness issuing in service. This theme of spiritual service brings us at once to the matter of conformity to the image of God's Son. He is the pre-eminent Levite, and if we want to understand what service to God is, we have to understand the Lord Jesus; to see Him, to discern Him in service based upon fellowship with God and that again, based upon holiness.
Spiritual Progress Depends upon Service that is Truly Spiritual
Do you realise that the Levites of old were the secret and key to all spiritual progress? Israel had come out of Egypt, had reached the base of Sinai, the whole journey to God's appointed end of fulness in the land lay before them, and there they broke down and fell away to the natural life (even after a religious kind). And the question for the moment was whether they could go another step forward in that journey. But for the Levites the journey would have finished there; that would have been the end of everything. What the Levites did, made possible a moving on and from that time onwards every forward movement was bound up with them. They were the deciding factor in the journey. The taking up of the tabernacle preparatory to moving on was in the hands of the three families of the Levites. When there was to be a halt and a tarrying, it was they who planted the tabernacle again. The whole matter of this progress was bound up with them, and that means that spiritual progress towards God's end - the fulness of Christ - is a matter of spiritual service. But the important thing is to know the nature of spiritual service, and we need the Lord Jesus to help us in this matter, to interpret service for us.
Spiritual Service Characterized not by Activity but by the Servant Spirit
What do we mean? Well, we are going to be very practical and frank. It means this, firstly and simply, that we have to be characterised not by many things done for the Lord - engagements, activities, works, and suchlike things - but by the servant spirit; and there are very, very few true Levites in that sense. A great many young men and women have left business or their homes to go into the Lord's service because they were already too much in service for their liking: their present life was bondage, irksome, difficult. To get out into 'the work of the Lord' meant for them scope, a sphere of influence, release, position, a title: 'a missionary', 'a minister', 'a Christian worker'. If only they had known their own hearts as the Lord knew them, the motive was not purely and utterly to pour themselves out unto death; I am not talking about the martyr's death on the mission field, but the daily martyrdom of being trodden upon, defamed, rejected. It was not that that moved them; it was desire for a scope of self-expression, self-realisation, in the things of God.
It would not have been put that way, but many have done that, and I believe therein lies the explanation of a very great deal of the fire through which God has had to put many. In the long run they would that they could get back into their old place again.
It is not a matter at all of the form of service. Some will join a society, a mission, an institution, because it gives them position. Some will not go into an organisation because they would only be a cog in the wheel, a servant. They want to be freelances and strike out on their own.
The Servant Spirit is the Spirit of Christ
What is behind this? It is not really the servant spirit, but something else. Really, if it were known, it is the lordship spirit, the master spirit, the reputation spirit, and oh, the most gruelling testing and refining comes on that account. What a day it was for Moses when, with all that zeal and passion and strength, he moved out, as he thought, to do God's service in the deliverance of the people, and they said in effect, "Who are you?" It must have been an awful shock and setback. I do not know what went on inside Moses, but he might well have said, "Why, I am Moses, don't you know who I am? Have you never heard of me?" That humbling is a terrible thing for the servant of the Lord who has a programme, and the Lord brought Moses right down there to discover whether it was the servant spirit or the master spirit that was in him, and sent him into the wilderness for forty years to let him know through that whole time that He was seeking a servant, not a master.
At the end of forty years Moses has the servant spirit, and from that time onwards it is always, "Moses, My servant", "Moses, the servant of the Lord". One of the tragic, grievous effects of organising Christianity has been to eliminate the servant spirit for so many and to give them a sphere, a name, influence and scope for themselves in the things of God. There are few Levites. He who called Himself the Lord and Master said, "A servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him" (John 13:14,16), "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto" - not to be made something of, to be pleased with the attitude and activities of others towards Him - "but to minister and to give His life..." (Matt. 20:28). The Lord Jesus comes at once into view as the true Levite, the true servant. Oh, that thirteenth chapter of John is a marvellous chapter, with a stinging rebuke and a real challenge. "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands... riseth from supper, and layeth aside His garments; and He took a towel, and girded Himself. Then He poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet..." (v.3-5).
How the Holy Spirit keeps the background of things in view! Right out of the eternal glory and fulness, standing in all God's eternal thought concerning Him, knowing that the Father had committed all things into His hands, He began to wash the feet of His own disciples. And the first approach laid bare the thing which was right in the way of His disciples being what disciples ought to be. Why had no one else done what He did? They were standing on their dignity! Peter? "I am Peter, you know; I am one of the first three!" The Lord Jesus did that lowly service in that hour to teach a life lesson to those disciples that, if they were going to be any use whatever, they must be marked by the servant spirit.
The Lowliest Act that Livingly Expresses Christ is Spiritual Service
What is the servant spirit? It is not that gratification of ourselves in being always busy and active and doing things that we like to do for the Lord. It is shown in doing things which are not natural, contrary to nature, in which are seen the difference between Christ and ourselves. I wonder if you see the inside of what I am saying? To me this is a life lesson, something written very deeply, and although the language, the thoughts, the ideas may be elementary, or seem to be, I feel that this is something the Lord wants us to recognise in a new way, that we may be led out to the menial service of God among His people - the menial service. We discriminate between kinds of service for the Lord. We want to be teaching, speaking, getting down alongside of people and talking to them about the Word of God and spiritual things, and we very often fail to recognise that a real ministration of Christ, which is true service, may come along some altogether other line than that. Someone may say, 'I have seen the Lord Jesus in so-and-so and have come to recognise what He is like and to appreciate Him, not because they talk such spiritual things, but because of their selflessness in doing all kinds of things, menial things, for other people - abasing themselves, emptying themselves, making themselves of no reputation.' This is true service - being bond-slaves of Jesus Christ.
As one of those artificial servants, of course you have a Bible in your hand and talk out of it to other people! That is one thing. But to go and do something very menial is quite another - sweep a room, tidy up, make people comfortable. You think I am going down to a low level? No, I am not. It is very often in that realm of things that the Lord Jesus is felt and seen and ministered to others more than in all our talking. The thing is that we have the servant spirit, the spirit of the servant.
Meekness and Lowliness of Heart are Essential for Spiritual Service
That is the Levite, and the Levite is very precious to God. "They are Mine, My peculiar treasure", representing God's thoughts and satisfying Him in a very peculiar way as to His own thoughts; and the Levites are servants. It has been said that the strongest instinct in man is that for power. I am not sure that this is not right. We can put that in another way and say that the greatest revolt in human nature is against weakness. I am not thinking of moral weakness, of course, but of what the Lord Jesus meant by meekness and lowliness of heart. In this world, that is called weakness and is despised, and human nature revolts against it. If that revolt is the expression of the instinct for power, then it is true that the strongest instinct in human nature is for power. We see it today as it has reached this imperial power in the world. Well, the servant in the true sense of a servant of the Lord will be regarded as a poor thing by the world, but as peculiarly precious to God.
Now, do you see that spiritual progress is founded upon that? I am quite sure of this, that if you or I have in us that which is contrary to, or the opposite of, the servant spirit, we are really not going to make spiritual progress ourselves. We may have all knowledge, all information on Divine things, we may have accumulated through the years a tremendous store and we may be thinking of all that we have heard and learned through the years in terms of a ministry which we are going to fulfill, how useful it is going to be, and so on. Oh, beloved, the Lord save us mercifully if that is our mentality! The fact does remain, and we had better look at it squarely, that it is possible to have an immense sum of spiritual knowledge and information and to be ourselves spiritually fixed, never moving, right back where we were years ago. That is a terrible fact to face; but it is true. My spiritual progress and yours will rest upon the servant spirit in us; not the service of others to us, but the servant spirit in us. If we have the servant spirit, the true spirit of the Levite, we shall make progress.
That can be put in other ways. You see the simple, selfless, artless child of God who has no personal interest whatever, no soul influence of his own, nothing that arises from his own natural life to govern him, but just a pure, simple devotion and obedience to the Lord, and you will see spiritual progress. But you see someone who is all the time clinging to the idea of ministry, service, place, and recognition, and no matter how much he knows and has been taught, you will find someone who is 'stuck' spiritually. Forgive the word, but it is a very expressive one.
If the Levites stand for anything of value to God, they stand for this: the spirit of service, the spirit of the servant; not desiring to be the leader and the person seen and recognised, with things coming to us, to minister to us and gratify us; but going out to the simplest, to the most difficult, the most awkward, if only one can be spiritually helpful. That is service to the Lord, that is how Christ is ministered, and that, in our case, is conformity to the image of God's Son.
The Spirit of a Servant is the Spirit of the Throne
There is much said in the Word about our reigning hereafter together with Him, but let us not think of that for one moment in terms of despotism, or lording it over God's heritage. What will be the nature of our reigning? "His servants shall serve Him" (Rev. 22:3), and if I know anything about the kingdom of God now or hereafter, the supreme feature of that kingdom is selflessness, utter selflessness of devotion to the needs of others. That is the kingdom.
I am not going to say any more now. It is an emphasis by the Lord. He must work upon it, apply it, interpret it, and bring us to it. I say again, we need a revolution in our mentality about the service of the Lord. "He that is faithful in that which is least…" (Luke 16:10); those who will get down to the lowly thing for the Lord's sake, to minister Christ, to show the Spirit of Christ, those are the ones who will grow and who will be used by the Lord. He always brings His most useful vessels along that line, bringing them right down first to learn the servant spirit before they reign in any kind of capacity. Moses went that way; Joseph went that way; they all went that way. Think of Jeremiah. Did he count for anything? Yes, he counted for mighty things; "that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that he made a decree" (2 Chron. 36:22), and the Lord's people came out of captivity; but poor Jeremiah - there was not very much for his flesh to glory in. But all these gather round the one central figure who includes in Himself all their spiritual qualities. The greatest Levite took on Him the form of a servant and became obedient unto death (Phil. 2:5,8).
I cannot convey to you what I feel, nor say all that I would like to say on this matter, but perhaps just pointing it out may provide a ground upon which the Lord can do His work. This conformity to the image of God's Son is something rather different from the glowing, romantic ideas we may have gathered. It is this - a servant, "your servant for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). The Lord give us the spirit of a servant.