by T. Austin-Sparks
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 serviceable life.
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,
Dimly and faintly, hidden and afar.
Doth not despise all excellence, beside Him,
Pleasures and 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 God.
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.