(B) The Spirit of a Little Child
Reading: Deut. 10:1-3,8; 2 Cor. 3:2,3; 4:6,7; Luke 9:46-48; Matt. 18:1-6;10,12-14.
We have seen that the Levites, the sons of Levi, were of old, among other things, the embodiment of the spirit of service. In this present dispensation they are not a class or a caste, they are spiritual men and women who in the same way embody the spirit of service. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to say here that all the Lord's children in this dispensation are called into that place which was occupied by the sons of Levi in the past dispensation. We want now to face again this matter of spiritual service. We have already, in an earlier message, sought to see the real nature of such service, but we return to it as being a matter on which the Lord is laying much emphasis at this time.
All True Service Proceeds from a Work Wrought in Us by God
Let us recapitulate a little. The sons of Levi, if they are the embodiment of the spirit of service, are the personal expression of a work which God has effected in them. What you and I have to recognise, if we are really going to serve the Lord, is that all true service to Him proceeds from the work which He has effected in us. And when we look again at the sons of Levi, we see that a basic work was done in them out of which their service proceeded, or because of which they were entrusted with the service of the Lord; and that basic work was an inward separation between the natural and the spiritual. The Levites, as the serving company in Israel, came into that position in the day when they took the sword against their own brothers, neighbours, and friends who had broken loose at the mount and given place to the flesh. They stood apart from all the rest and with the sword they hewed down their nearest and dearest because they recognised the supreme place which the spiritual had as over against the natural, even in the realm of religion.
You know that the New Testament is very largely occupied with dealing with the flesh of believers that is brought into association with the things of God; with dividing between what is spiritual and what is carnal in the children of God. The whole of the first letter to the Corinthians is concerned with that one thing, and we may say in greater or lesser degree every other letter is occupied with it.
So the Levites came into their place to minister to the Lord because by the sword they made that clear and sure divide between the flesh and the spirit and they did it at tremendous cost to themselves; they had to deny themselves and lose their own souls in their stand for what was purely and wholly of God. That was a work wrought in them of God, by which separation was effected in an inward way between what is of nature and what is of the Spirit. As the letter to the Hebrews puts it, "dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Heb. 4:12). The Levites do say most clearly that spiritual service is the outcome of something which God has effected in the life deep down at the centre of the being, by way of setting things apart in their place, dividing between the flesh and the Spirit, between what is of man in us and what is of God through grace and new birth. The mixing up of those two things has brought all the confusion among the Lord's people and in the work of the Lord, and brought much death and limitation. The purifying of the sons of Levi simply means the bringing of them back to that pristine position of the great divide between nature and the Lord.
Childlike Simplicity of Spirit is Basic to True Service
We now take up one particular thought in that connection. You noticed, as we read from Deuteronomy 10, the reference to the very earliest construction and use of the ark of the testimony of the Lord. It is in very simple terms. The description of the ark as commanded to be made for the Most Holy Place was very much more elaborate. It was of acacia wood but it was to be overlaid with gold, with the mercy seat above it and the cherubim. These details contain a fuller conception of God's thought, an altogether more glorious thing than in the passage before us. Here this ark is described simply as a wooden box, an ark of acacia wood, and the tables of stone were to be placed in it. And at that time the Lord set apart the Levites to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord. It was very simple, but therein is a Divine thought. Whenever you get the first reference to a thing in the Word, you may take it that you have got the essence of a Divine thought. That will be expanded presently; what is involved will be revealed and elaborated. You will get the full ark later, but it begins in a very simple way.
The fact that in this first appearance of the ark it is mentioned as a chest of acacia wood, without any embellishments, speaks so clearly, so precisely, of human weakness and humility. It is the Lord Jesus coming in the first instance in all His human weakness, humility, and simplicity. Yes, the testimony of God is in Him even at Bethlehem, and through the thirty years and the three and a half years. But what we see there is His human weakness, His humility, His dependence, His meekness; and it was in the first place in relation to that that the Levites were set apart. I wonder if you catch the thought. In type the Levites were brought immediately into association with the testimony of Jesus, to be responsible for it, to be entrusted with it, to bear it all the days of Israel's earthly sojourn. But they were brought into that association on the basis of His weakness and His humility; and it is a vital association, not an official and legal one. They were to partake in their own beings of that very weakness and humility; as among men to be nothing.
Now we are brought to these passages in Luke and in Matthew. Here are the disciples of the Lord and on the two occasions referred to we find them in an association with Him, but pre-eminently concerned with the matter of position, greatness, status, and so on. They questioned within themselves who should be greatest and they came to Him and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" The Lord Jesus acts His answer as well as speaks it, by setting a little child in the midst. He says, in effect, "You are My disciples, you are going to be entrusted with My testimony, a testimony unto Me; the thing that is necessary in you is the cutting clean in between Myself and all this mentality of yours about position and influence and power. I am not that. I am among you as He that serveth". "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life" (Matt. 20:28). In a word, the law of the Levite is the law of the little child. The Levite comes in, not with the great elaborate thing. God's deeper thoughts about His Son are wonderful thoughts and they will come out in due course, but we do not begin on that high level.
Childlikeness of Spirit is Contrary to Nature
Let us be quite practical right away. Many have the idea that to be great and effectual servants of the Lord they must start high up in the matter of much teaching and knowledge, be fully informed on the things of the Lord, know the mysteries of Christ, and enter right into the innermost wonders of the Lord, and that when they know those things, they will be effectual servants, able to fulfill ministry. The Lord does not refer to the ark in all its glory and meaning and mystery in its first association with the Levites who were to minister, but to its simplicity, its humility, its nakedness, its real meekness of Christ. He says, "That is how you are to be - like little children". That is where ministry begins; as having everything to learn, everything to know, not as knowing everything; and that position is not a natural one at all. Nature is just the opposite of that.
Oh, how we love to know, and how we love others to know that we know. The platform is the most perilous place imaginable to human nature. Why? Because it is the place where you exercise influence. And I say again it is the most dangerous thing to have people under your influence. No one ought ever to aspire to that kind of public ministry without their heart being gripped with fear, not wanting to speak unless the Lord wants it, and not daring to do so unless the Lord takes the initiative in the matter. That is the opposite of nature. Nature delights in having influence, in knowing, in being in a place of power. We want knowledge. But why? Because knowledge is power, it is said; and it is true. If we know, we have at once gained the advantage over people who do not know, and there is a certain gratification to our own souls in knowing what other people do not know. There are very few people who know what others do not know and can refrain from saying it. There is something about such people that speaks of humility - unless of course they be awkward and cantankerous; but we are not thinking of that type.
What I am trying to emphasise is this. It is not natural to put back your influence, your power, to hold it under the hand of God, only to be exercised as the Spirit leads and not to be used by yourself. That is contrary to nature. The spirit of the little child in the grown disciple is also the contradiction of nature. It is the work of grace. In a word, it speaks of something having been wrought inside, the sword having cut right in between nature and the Lord, the flesh and the spirit. That is the Levite, and that is the nature of spiritual service. Again, it is the fruit of something deeply done within, where all that life of nature in its ambition, self-assertiveness, desire for self-realisation and quest for influence has really been put under the sword and slain. Now it is a matter of the Lord Himself alone, what He is, what He gives, what He does, and apart from the Lord there can be nothing. Not out from ourselves, but out from Him - that is spiritual service.
That is the realm in which the purifying of the sons of Levi has to take place. And so, in an inward way, these disciples needed a separation between their natural ideas of greatness, power and influence, and what is Divine strength and influence, and the little child is taken. I like that first passage, "He took a little child and set him by His side." He took a little child and said, in effect, 'This little child and I are one; if you see this little child, you see Me inwardly; if you see Me inwardly, you see this little child. Now look at yourselves: great big fellows, great ideas of place, position, influence, power, the greatest in the kingdom - that is you; I am this. Until you have learned this lesson, and come over onto this ground and become as little children, there is no place in the kingdom for you.' "Of such is the kingdom" (Luke 18:16). That is the Levite; the little child represents the Levite spirit.
All Divine service is based upon that work effected within us. Organised Christianity makes servants of God by academic training, it makes something of the person - now you may be the finished article, and you use the church laws; you are a servant of the Lord, you are the ripe product of the school. You are something, you have been made something, you are trained, you are efficient. The Spirit of God makes nothing of the servant, and when He gets to work upon any life it is to empty that life of itself. If ever we are going to be of any use to the Lord, we are going through that school for the emptying of all this mentality as to greatness. Whether or not we have framed it in word or even in thought, let us understand that it is in us all: "Who shall be greatest?"
The point is this: the purifying of the sons of Levi. We have been concerned with being of value to the Lord, but perhaps the greater part of our mentality about serving the Lord has had to do with something being effected outside, that is, the number of people we have touched, or who have been brought into something through our instrumentality, how many meetings we have addressed, and so on, along the line of outward activity in Christian work. What we have found has been the hand of the Lord resting heavily upon us, taking us through the depths of suffering and trial with very little of that outward realm to which to point; maybe one or two here and there who thank God that they have met us, and to whom we have been able to pass on something helpful; but it is so small. The far greater measure of our experience has been an awful going through the fire, an undoing, an emptying out, being brought under arrest. The Lord has not allowed us to have a free course and go right on in outward activity. He has been holding us and trying us, we have been in the fire. That is the purifying of the sons of Levi and that is service.
Usefulness is Limited in the Measure of the Lord's Work in Us
What is the Lord after? Here it is again - real value to the Lord is, and is only, the product of something inwardly wrought. We may take it as a settled thing that the measure of our usefulness to the Lord is just the measure of what has been done in us, not the measure of what has been told to us. We said earlier that it is possible for people to have attended all the conferences for years and yet they may be no further on today than they were at the beginning. That is the awful possibility. They may be just as limited and bound in their real usefulness to the Lord as ever they were. It is not the measure of that kind of familiarity with Divine things that is the measure of our value to the Lord. And so we find with many of us that the Lord is always at work in bringing us back. He is, in effect, saying, 'Don't advance beyond your measure, don't advance in talk, in thinking that you know.' The realm of mental knowledge of Divine things is a false, artificial one. The Lord pulls us up in experience on things which are, after all, very elementary. He is bringing us back and laying the foundation deeply in us.
Oh, friends, do remember this. It works both ways. The measure of spiritual service, the measure in which we are the Lord's servants, is only the measure in which He has effected something in us. And it works the other way. If He is working with all things to effect something in us, we may take it He is ploughing with a harvest in view. He is ploughing deep because He purposes something. It may not come out in those former ways of work, Christian activity, organised service, being officially called ministers and missionaries and workers and so on. It may come out simply in our having something for deeply needy souls which they cannot find anywhere else; and I say to you that that is all I want. Is that not all you want? What more do you want? You might be the Archbishop of Canterbury so far as position is concerned, and yet have very little indeed so far as some hungry child of God is concerned. And you may be a nobody, a little child in the midst of God's people, and yet have something of the Lord to meet a need which the Archbishop could never meet. I am not saying he cannot, I am merely making a comparison.
It is not position, official status, and so on; it is what the Lord has done in us that counts. So, take comfort. Remember that this inward work has got to be done. We go right down to the place where there is found in us the spirit of the little child, of meekness, dependence, humility, where everything is of the Lord and nothing of ourselves. That is true Levitical service, but it is very precious and very valuable to the Lord. May He find in us sons of Levi and give us grace to endure the purifying fires.