Fellowship and Service
Those parts of the New Testament which describe these last days make it very clear that the spheres of fellowship and service are not the same. The Second Epistle to Timothy especially brings this out, and being written for those servants of the Lord who desire, at least, to be “faithful men” it is of exceptional value in guiding us as to these supremely important questions.
The first consideration with the faithful man will be how he stands in regard to the testimony of the Lord, and to God; to be not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, and to be approved unto God will take precedence of all else. Then will come his fellowship with others, and this can only be with those “that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” To be fit for such fellowship he must have purged himself from vessels to dishonour. He must be absolute in his separation from those who are not faithful to the truth as to the Person and work of Christ, or who deny in any way our holy faith.
2 Timothy 2 encourages us to believe that those who do this will not lack company, they will find others who have purified themselves from unholy associations too, and with these they may walk. The bond that will bind such together will be a very positive one—the Lord Himself—they “Call on the Lord out of a pure heart”; but is this possible apart from separation from evil? It is significant that immediately before speaking of the truth of His Assembly for the first time in Scripture (Matt. 16) the Lord warns us against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These leavens are ecclesiastical and doctrinal pride and iniquity, and because they are leaven they must contaminate more or less all who are in association with them. “Evil communications corrupt good manners,” and the truth as to the person of Christ and as to His Assembly cannot be held with one hand while that which destroys the truth is gripped by the other. That which is pure does not purify what is corrupt, but is quickly corrupted. Hence, let “him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Let him purify himself from the vessels of dishonour by separating from them. But the bond that binds such a man in fellowship with others must be a positive one, mere separation from evil is no guarantee that our feet will be kept in the path of truth, our separation must be unto the Lord, or it will have small value in His eyes, and will only tend to pride, and spoil us for both the spheres of fellowship and service.
In addition to this separation to the Lord from evil there must be diligence and energy of purpose in pursuing “righteousness, faith, love and peace.” These were the brightest traits of the church on earth in the freshness of its first love for Christ; they were then the general habit and practice of all; the very atmosphere too in which the disciples lived and rejoiced and prospered; but it is not so now. Worldly principles and aims have displaced these divine qualities in the house of God on earth, and if they are to be practised now they must be pursued; there must be diligence in reaching out after them and holding on to them, and this entails constant exercise of heart and conscience.
Thank God they are not beyond the reach of any or of all, but it is only in separation from evil and in the energy of faithfulness to the Lord that any can hold on to them. The early days of the church were as when all Israel gathered themselves to David at Hebron and made him king. These last days are as when David fled before Absalom; then were brought to light the Cherethites and Pelethites and Gittites, and Ittai and his men and little ones. Their love to David was their bond; they were gladly willing to share his rejection and to be with him in life and death. They did not form a new fellowship, they were but true to that which was from the beginning; to the covenant made more than thirty years before at Hebron. So those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart form nothing new when they walk together, they only go back to that which was at the beginning, to find in the Lord in the darkest day that which He was to His church in the brightest. The Lord is the bond. This is the fellowship, and it demands that we are uncompromising with that which is really treachery to the Lord.
The sphere of service is much wider than this sphere of fellowship, and carries us into chapter 4 of our Epistle. How solemn is the charge with which that chapter opens. “I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and dead at His appearing and kingdom; preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” Not before his brethren must the faithful man serve the Lord, as though they could define when and where he might serve, for that would make him the servant of man and bring him under the yoke of bondage; nor yet before the standard of his own will must he serve as though he were his own judge, for that would lead to loose independency; but before God, the source of his ministry, and before the Lord Jesus Christ who will scrutinize all that is done in His Name according to His own perfect standard when it is finished. Upon what a high plane does this charge lift all true service! In what searching light does it set it! Who with a sense of the gravity of it could serve with levity? Or compromise the truth that he is called to preach? Or pander to the notions of men for popularity? Or bide the truth for fear of men? Or even limit the sphere of his service to meet the prejudices of his brethren? The service of the Lord is sacred; it is directly from God, and everyone who takes it up is held by the Lord as responsible to Him above, and will be called to account by Him in regard to it. The thought, by its very solemnity, brings the exercised servant to his knees. He bows before the God who knows all, and before the Lord who will test all; and men and time sink into their own insignificance, or become simply the objects and opportunities for the carrying out of his great trust that lies outside and beyond their control or criticism.
Our fellowship must be marked by purity, but our service is to be exercised where need is. “Do the work of an evangelist” brings out this latter. No matter how completely those who profess Christianity abandon or oppose the truth; no matter how godless and indifferent to the claims of God the multitudes become; the faithful man will still proclaim the fact that God is a Saviour God, that the precious blood of Jesus is the great proof of His love and justice, and the ground upon which He can justify and bless even the worst of men. Those Christians who slight the Gospel, or say that it is not their interest, or settle themselves down into select and selected circles to study the Word, to justify the position they have assumed, only prove how faithless to their great trust they have become, or how their faith has succumbed to the general pressure. The servant of the Lord must seek the unconverted; if the love of God fills his heart he will. He will meet with disappointments, with rebuffs, and opposition and persecution; prayers and tears and exercise of heart will be his portion, but having received his trust from the Lord he will be sustained by grace from Him, and will not flag; for sin and sorrow and death and hell-fire are the same as ever they were; and the world does not satisfy the souls of men, and their hearts are empty and often broken; and Christ died for them, and God yearns for them, and life is offered them, and heaven is open for them, and “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,” and the very nature of God is glorified in the salvation of every one of them.
There are those who are specially entrusted with the work of the evangelist, let them exercise their gift whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, in season and out of season; but they and all others who serve the Lord as faithful men must address themselves also to those who profess the name of the Lord. They must “preach the Word”; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. This surely means that they must carry the Word into the very circles where it is opposed. They will not be called upon to reprove and rebuke those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart, but they must do this where those are who “will not endure sound doctrine,” and where “they turn their ears away from the truth.” But how shall the servant of the Lord preach the Word to such? They certainly will not come to him to hear it, nor must he expect them to, he is not told to stand and wait for them; he is SENT, for “how shall they preach except they be sent?” He must go to them if he is to fulfil his God-given trust. Could anything be clearer than this? If we dismiss all our prejudices and face the Word as it is, is it not clear that the servant of the Lord, subject to the guidance of the Lord, must seize every occasion, and enter every open door, in making full proof of his ministry?
But what wisdom, what courage will be needed for this! How easy it is for “fools to rush in where angels fear to tread,” and having rushed in to proclaim their own folly instead of the truth of God. How easy, if not sustained of the Lord, to break down in courage, and water the truth to the surroundings, or to be drawn into fellowship with what is hateful to God. But if, according to Jude, while we build ourselves upon our most holy faith, with those who are like minded, we are also to snatch others out of the fire, having compassion upon them; we must go where they are, as the angels went to Sodom to drag Lot out of that doomed city, but the pernicious, soul-destroying doctrines and worldly lusts in which Christendom is wallowing along with the world, and out of which we have to drag souls, will be just as obnoxious to us as the filth of Sodom was to those angels from heaven.
The disobedient prophet (1 Ki. 13) is an example and a warning to us. He was sent to proclaim the Word of the Lord beside a flaming altar of idolatry in Bethel, and so far he was faithful; but when he was drawn into fellowship in that place, even though it was with one who claimed to be a prophet even as he was, his service came to an abrupt end under the judgment of God.
I am not urging the liberty of the servants of the Lord, that is far too low ground for the “faithful man” to take, and it savours too much of the democratic spirit of the day, and may degenerate into every man doing that which is right in his own eyes, but I urge THE RIGHTS OF THE LORD OVER HIS SERVANTS. His rights are sovereign; they are absolute. His servants are bondmen, their only liberty is to be free from every other yoke of bondage to be entirely at His disposal. No man that warreth can obey two captains. He must be free to please only the one who has enlisted him as a soldier. The Lord is outside Laodicea, hence His servants in loyalty to Him will be outside it too; they will find no fellowship in that which excludes Him, but He may use them to knock on His behalf at the closed door, and may send them to say with what long-suffering mercy He waits to restore those who have an ear to hear.
His household is scattered in many strange circles in Christendom, and His faithful and wise servants will be ready in subjection to Him to carry a portion of meat to any to whom He may send them. Ecclesiastical position is not everything, the souls of the Lord’s people must be fed. I fear that this side of the question has not sufficiently engaged our attention; we have talked sometimes of the obligations of the Lord’s servants to. The fellowship: whatever obligations they may have as members of Christ’s body, they have no obligations as His servants to anyone but Himself; let them discharge these faithfully and then they will surely be contending lawfully.
There are religious circles where the truth is not known, but where it would not be opposed; where even it might be readily welcomed; there are others with a measure of truth, who would be glad to know more. Wherever there is a readiness to listen, “an ear to hear,” there is surely a work of God’s Spirit, and the faithful man will recognize it and rejoice in it. He will go on with what is of God wherever he sees it as far as it goes. and be ready to advance it, for how could he expect to be favoured himself by the Spirit of God in his labours if he refused to recognize what He has already done.
The time is short, and the servants of the Lord who trade for Him must put out that which they have received from Him at the best rate of interest, ever subject to His gracious will who in infinite grace has called them to His service.