Distinctions In Service
From Grace & Truth October 1997
God makes every Christian different from all others, whether in gift, personality, capacity, capability, or in the work He may give to do. For instance, God gave Apollos and Paul each their own particular gifts. Distinctions of this kind in every believer magnify the greatness of God's glory and His wisdom. He is a God of infinite variety. We must remember constantly that we are only servants responsible to faithfully use all God puts into our hands.
We are but vessels willing to be used in the way He directs, or to be laid aside by His sovereign hand. We should be glad to see another used in true submission to God's blessed will, never allowing a spirit of rivalry or of envy to raise its evil head and work havoc in our own souls or the Church. As to the respective value of each servant's labour, we are warned not to judge. Paul would not judge, but left such discerning judgment entirely to the Lord Jesus. (See 1 Cor.4:1‑7)
Paul, who urged this upon us, had several gifts. His labours were "more abundant" (2 Cor.11:23) and his ministry was remarkably balanced. Yet, as with every servant, his ministry was limited and its characteristics differed distinctly from that of others. While his ministry may be considered attractive to some, others thought it repulsive to be deliberately and intelligently emphasizing the heavenly character of Christianity in contrast to an earthly Judaism. His ministry was supportive or corrective, objective or subjective, positive or negative, as circumstances required. How blessed to see a superior intellect like Paul's completely submissive and devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. If a servant is blessed with a bright mind, let him pay close attention to the lowly, self‑effacing devotion of this apostle to the Gentiles: "I am the least ... not worthy to be called an apostle" (1 Cor.15:9).
Another ministry was given to Peter, whose place also no other could take. This energetic, fervent, bold, impetuous man was chosen to be the most public witness to Israel, even after his heart ‑ rending denial of the Lord Jesus. What an illustration of the grace of God that uses the redeemed child of God in service! If his ministry did not have the depth of Paul's ‑ himself admitting that Paul wrote "some things hard to understand" (2 Pet.3:16) ‑ yet his is most direct and simple, stirring hearts to walk subject to the gracious government of the Father and in attachment to the Lord Jesus. How good to see this, when naturally Peter was of an independent, self ‑ willed nature as the Lord told him, "When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished" (Jn.21:18). If one's ministry is like Peter's, we ought to thank God for it!
Another servant may be more like John, the evangelist, whose five books show a calm, meditative, reflective character. Here was a follower of Jesus who quietly entered the high priest's house, while the more bold Peter was fearful of even being identified with the Lord. Simple, real affection enabled John to do this with no fleshly confidence (Jn.18:15‑18). He was given the ministry of presenting the personal glory of the Lord Jesus, the Son of the Father, the Eternal Life come down for every believing sinner. And beside this, in the Revelation, John was privileged to present the coming of the Lord in glory. Though John speaks of the life, light and love, of such glory revealed, he speaks also in strong condemnation of all that opposes it ‑ death, darkness, hatred, and the falsehood of antichrist. Let us likewise be properly balanced in faithfully declaring the Word of God.
James was a strict disciplinarian who showed evidence of disciplining himself, and who pressed the same discipline on his hearers, urging that works must accompany faith, not for God's eye, but for evidence before men. He does not belittle faith, but insists upon it, showing that works must be works of faith, for true faith will certainly produce fruit (Jas.2:14‑26). This ministry is elementary, yet it is continually necessary and must not be despised. We should thank God for those called to minister this way.
Jude's character is not easily deduced from his epistle, but let us notice that he desired to write concerning "the common salvation" ‑ a most pleasant task ‑ but the Spirit of God gave him instead a message of serious exhortation, with warnings of the awful apostasy to develop within the professing Church. Could we dare say we prefer something different from this? Shall we object because we feel it is not as objective or positive as we think it ought to be? This would only show our insensibility to the needful ministry of the Spirit of God. How important to recognize that the servant must say and do what God gives him, though it may not be what the servant himself desires, or what pleases others. Let us all be willing to accept such ministry as coming from "the Master of assemblies" (Eccl. 12:11).
Timothy is one of the Lord's servants whose character is as evident as the ministry he was given. Though young, he was called a "man of God" (I Tim.6:1 1), and commended to the Philippians as being the only man Paul could send who "will sincerely care for your state" (Phil.2:20). He was evidently sensitive and deeply affected by the adverse treatment Paul received at the hands of believers (2 Tim. 1:8‑18). Paul encouraged him to stir up the gift that was in him and to stand for the truth Paul had taught (2 Tim. 1:6,13). If he did not bring new things, Timothy did bring to remembrance the truth that had before been spoken by Paul (I Cor.4:17). This is true pastoral work, and the need for it is as real today as it was then. Certainly there is good work for every Christian to do. Let us not shrink from that which God enables us to do. Moreover, if one's ministry is like that of Timothy, let us heed Paul's admonition to the Corinthians, "Therefore let no one despise him" (I Cor.16:11).
In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul encouraged him in his service by describing "a vessel of honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim.2:21). May we likewise be encouraged, and may we encourage every servant to do his Master's will in the ministry he has been given, with the gifts he has been given.