God's Servant - How Is He Recognised
1. The Servant's Responsibility
The call of God to service is absolutely and exclusively a matter between God and His servant. Moses (Ex.3:10), Samuel (1 Sam.3:19-20), Isaiah (Isa.6:8-9) Jeremiah (Jer.1:5), Ezekiel (Ez.2:3-8), and John the Baptist (John 1:6) all bear clear witness to the same fact that Paul expresses concerning himself in Galatians 1:1, that he was "an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)". If one is to be a true servant of God, he must realise this above all else. It is God who gives him orders, God who provides him with the message he is responsible to give simply and plainly, adding nothing to it, taking nothing from it in any degree. For if one seeks to satisfy men, or to please men, then he is not the servant of Christ (Gal.1:10). Not only did Paul's gift proceed from God, but God too alone had authority as to how and where he used that gift: He did not do this "by men," that is, by man's permission. In whatever sphere one desires to serve the Lord, let it be with this settled sense of obeying him solely and single-heartedly, whether one's full time is so engaged or whether he has other employment by which to pay his expenses. Paul both worked for his own support (1 Thess.2:9) and received help for his support from even an assembly poor in this world's goods, the Philippians (Phil. 4:10-18). On the other hand, he would receive nothing from the Corinthians who were in good circumstances (2 Cor.11:9-12), for there were those among them who would accuse him of making money from them if he did this.
The servant receives his support as directly from the Lord, not from men. If men want to take the credit for this, then the servant ought not to accept it. If it is given in honest affection for the Lord, and as to himself, then the servant is free to receive it as such, with thanksgiving. Let him show no spirit of grasping, nor think at any time of indicating to others what his material needs may be. He is God's servant, not theirs. Let him appeal only to God, and trust God utterly for every need. If God has sent him and he goes in obedience to God, then God will certainly take full care of him, whether it may be by means of his own working or by God's laying it upon the hearts of his people to give to his support. In either case let him accept it as from God and give God thanks.
If it becomes a serious exercise as before God that he should use his entire time in the Lord's service, whether in a foreign country, or whether closer to home, again he is to depend entirely upon God in this matter: he is not to ask or expect anything from man. If it is God who is leading him in this, God will certainly care for all his needs. `But let him be totally certain of God's leading in a matter so serious as this. In Luke 9:57-58 a man who appeared very enthusiastic in his decision to follow the Lord was not at all encouraged by the Lord to do so, but told rather, "the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head." In Luke 14:25-33 the Lord Jesus insists that one should first count the cost before embarking on a path of discipleship. Is he prepared for the persecution, the stern trials of faith, the sorrows and difficulties that must ever attend a true path of service for God? This of course is no mere fleshly preparation involving the natural strength and vigour of the servant, but that of simple, real faith in the Son of God, faith that has learned to depend honestly upon Him.
Also, one may be called of God and yet be mistaken as to the time of his going. Moses made this mistake and in doing so did not serve in the God-appointed way (Ex.2:11-15). This led to his humiliation until God sent him forty years later to do his work, at which time Moses was loathe to go, rather than forward, as previously.
But God delights also to see exercise as to the Lord's work shared with others who have such concern. Paul mentions in Galatians 2:1-10 his going to Jerusalem and communicating to the other apostles the gospel God had given him, with the result of whole-hearted fellowship together in the respective work God had given to each. Such fellowship, too, is seen in Acts 13:2-3. Paul was called for a special work and others had no difficulty in discerning this. This is important. It is always wise to communicate with brethren close at hand, and of course specially the local assembly with which one is connected, as regards his exercise in some special service for the Lord. If they are not free to express fellowship in this case, then he ought to seriously consider this; for if they truly seek the mind of God, they should have some discernment as to the fact of his being called of God for that which he proposes.
Not that they decide the matter. It is God who decides this; but God may use the reservations of an assembly as a means of further exercising the servant. Of course it is possible that an assembly may be mistaken in either approving or disapproving of a servant's intentions. If in spite of an assembly's doubts, the servant embarks on the service he proposes, let it be in true humbleness of mind before God and with settled confidence in God alone. He must be prepared for the fact that his assembly will not likely contribute to his support and that this too may influence others in their thoughts of his service. But if God has sent him, God will sustain him. If not, then he must expect the shame of having to give up that which will then have proven to be the effort of self-confidence. If he proves diligent and faithful in his work, it is this that will gain the confidence of his assembly and of others in recognising that God has sent him.
Finally let every servant pay closest attention to his own personal character and conduct. He must expect this to be watched by both believers and unbelievers, but above all by God. For instance, "the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all, apt to teach, patient" etc. (2 Tim.2:24). 2 Corinthians 6 is a chapter that should be thoroughly impregnated in to his mind and heart.
2. The Servant's Recognition By Others
The viewpoint of the servant and that of the assembly must be kept fully distinct in this matter. While the servant is to be entirely God's servant, and not man's, yet the assembly is called upon to discern as to whether it can have fellowship with him in his work. We have observed that it is only right and considerate that the servant should communicate to his assembly the exercise he may have as to any field of service to which the Lord may call him.
Then it becomes a concern of the assembly as to how fully it may be free to express fellowship in this work. They must above all look for the evidence that it is God who has called him. In this is involved the principle mentioned at the time of Timothy's first going forth with Paul, that he "was well reported of by the brethren" (Acts 16:2). There were those who knew him well.
In giving such a report it is necessary that the brethren know:
- That his moral character and conduct are consistently Christian and above reproach.
- That he has a working knowledge of Scripture equal to the carrying on of the particular work he proposes.
- That the Lord has evidently qualified him for the type of work he desires to do and that he has already manifested some diligence in such work.
- That he shows convincing evidence that it is God who called him. This involves a faith that does not look for support from men, nor ask from men, nor ask for their commendation, but has a serious sense of dependence utterly upon God.
The assembly is not in any way to assume the responsibility of sending him: This is God's prerogative. They may however wish to express their happy fellowship in his proposed work. Other assemblies may inquire as to him, and his home assembly should be prepared to give the information that will be helpful to them, expressing whatever measure of fellowship they are free to, before the Lord. If, as an assembly they are not free to express such fellowship, then they must of course communicate information to this effect.
They may point out to the servant the reason their doubts or hesitation, for his consideration exercise of soul, though they make no decision as to his work. Yet his consideration of them and their exercises will certainly have some bearing on question of their confidence in him.
The assembly is at all times free to minister temporal support to the Lord's servants or to withhold support, as they are exercised of the Lord. They ought not to consider it a settled matter to minister a certain amount at stated intervals; but be always concerned before the Lord to minister as and when He directs. If the servant is called to walk by faith in dependence only upon the Lord, the assembly, on the other hand, should exercise constant faith and dependence upon the Lord in all their ministering. They give as to the Lord, not to men; and the servant is to receive as from the Lord, not from men.
The genuine exercise of the blessed principle of faith is both of great importance and that which makes for the greatest simplicity in all of these matters. Problems and complications will be reduced to minimum where faith is in true exercise, whether on the part of the servant or of the assembly. There will be no need of men seeking means of putting any service under proper control as they see it. For God will be in control, as is the only scriptural principle in every case.