STUDY VIII THE CHRISTIAN SERVICE
Scripture references: Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-17; Matthew 25:14-30; 23; 13; John 13:4-17; Hebrews 12:1-3; Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; James 2:14-26.
THE CALL TO SERVICE
All Christian belief must culminate in service or else the belief itself will wither away. Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16); again, in giving His parting instructions to His disciples, He commanded, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19,20). "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead" (James 2:17).
The New Testament rings with an optimistic trumpet call to service; there is not a single pessimistic note sounded. A man expresses his belief and he at once goes to work. To the fact that men were so willing to lead a strenuous Christian life in those early times is due in large measure the marvellous spread of the gospel faith.
The Object of the Call was not a cause but a Person (Acts 1:8; 2:22,36,38; 4:12; 10:43; 16:31); to set forth Jesus Christ as the Saviour of men. The world was full of evil. Society was corrupt. The state was bad. There were many giant wrongs crying out for the reformer. The apostles might have devoted themselves to the causes of social and political reform with splendid success. They might have bought only a gradual and purely friendly approach to the people whom they wished to influence, as we often do now, with some success, but the New Testament writings show that they believed that in the person of Jesus Christ they had a more powerful remedy for bad social and political conditions than any other which they could urge. In Christ they found a supreme object of service; for Him they were willing to give up houses, lands, position, even life itself (2 Timothy 4:6-8); for only through Him, they preached, could the world be truly reformed. Why then potter with temporary and minor remedies when the permanent and great remedy was at hand? Times have changed since the apostolic days, but for any lasting good in reform work Christ is still the great remedy. He must be at the centre of all social, political and temperance betterments or they are destined to fall short of the largest success.
The Place.—Where shall men serve the Christ?
1. In the heart; there is a goodness of conduct on the part of some men which has no relation to their heart's desire and is simply a cloak worn for appearance's sake. With this sort of goodness Jesus had no sympathy and denounced it as hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1-34; 23:27, 28). Christ's service must commence with an inward conformity to the law of God. This necessity for a new heart is very clearly brought out in His conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).
2. In the home. Jesus said to a man whom He had healed, "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee" (Mark 5:19). Anything that strengthens the home strengthens society and the state. Good homes are essential for the bringing up of children and the making of right characters. But it is in the home that the real testing often comes of a professed Christianity; if a Christian life can be lived and manifested here it is quite sure to stand the outward strain.
3. In the community. The disciples of Christ were commanded to begin their first service in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4,8), where Jesus had been the most persecuted and was finally crucified. It was no easy task for them to begin to preach Jesus, where they were the most looked down upon. But the command was justified when the day of Pentecost came with the marvellous moving power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). There can be no clearer teaching from this than that a Christian man should begin to serve Christ, testify for Him and work for Him in the community in which he resides no matter what the adverse conditions are. Here is the sanction for home missions.
4. Abroad. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:18-20). The field of service broadens out from the heart until it takes in the whole world and every class and condition of men. Man under the guidance of Christ is led not only to think of saving himself, his home, his community, but all homes and communities however remote they may be from his own. Here is the sanction for foreign missions.
The urgency of the call is everywhere manifest in the New Testament. In the three years of His ministry Jesus Christ is incessant in His labours, calling upon men to turn to Him (Matthew 11:28-30). He urges watchfulness, prayerfulness, and earnestness in seeking to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12; 25:13; 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 11:9,10). Paul declared, "Woe is me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16), and he urges Timothy to "preach the word" and to be "instant in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:1,2).
A conflict is going on in the world and those who believe in Christ are besought to take every possible opportunity and every means to advance His gospel and cause men to accept Him as their Saviour (Ephesians 6:10-18).
THE PATTERN OF SERVICE
The world of men is frequently more easily moved by the force of example than by precept.
Christ declared Himself to be the great exemplar of the Christian life. He said, "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15; 12:32; 1 Peter 2:21). He practiced what He preached.
Personal Work.—In winning persons to the new life there is an admitted need of a work of the individual for the individual, but it is a task from which many draw back. Yet it is right here that the most effective service may be accomplished. Every man who receives Christ becomes in a certain sense a trustee to enlist others in His service and to give to them the light of life. Christ said to His followers, "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me" (Acts 1:8).
Jesus was no recluse, He went out amongst men and sought them (Mark 10:45) in the market-place, in the fields and by the lakeside. Everywhere He entered into personal conversation, with those whom He met, about the kingdom of God; now it was with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), then again with the woman of Samaria (John 4:4-26) and others. This personal work of Christ with individuals shows the importance He attached to the winning of persons one by one to Himself. Many of the most important teachings are brought out in His personal conversations.
"The win one movement" which has been inaugurated in certain churches is very important. It had its incentive in the narrative of John (1:40-51), who tells us how Andrew won Peter and Philip won Nathanael by personal appeals to follow Christ. If all the followers of Christ in all the churches would each win one soul for Christ every year there would be no more complaints about decadent churches.
Training Others for Service.—Personal work has its limitations in the time and strength of the individual who does it. Jesus thoroughly understood this fact and at the outset of His ministry began to train a band of followers who would carry on His work after His resurrection. Not only did He train a select company of twelve but also other men. We read in Luke, the ninth chapter, that He sent out His twelve disciples to do the work which He had been doing, and in the tenth chapter we are told that "other seventy" were also appointed to carry on a similar work. Careful instructions were given the seventy as to what they should do. The need (Luke 10:2) and the danger (v.3) of the work were impressed upon them. They were instructed how they were to approach the people, what they were to teach and what they were to do in case they were rejected (vs.4-11). They returned from their journey with great joy over its success (v.17).
This multiplication of self through the inciting and training of others to do work in which the individual is interested often leads to far-reaching results. There are many people who desire to advance a cause and are willing to devote themselves to it, but they have no power to set about it themselves. There is any quantity of this usable and helpful material, in our churches, ready to be made of service for the Master. Here is the waste that every professing Christian is not set to advance the kingdom of God. It is not only what a Christian may do himself, but what he can get others to do, which counts.
Teaching.—Many men go wrong from erroneous thoughts about God and the importance of a right character. Too frequently those who have come to a saving knowledge of Christ are content to rest satisfied with it. No effort is made to instruct others in a belief which has helped them. The church believes in a teaching ministry, but has not yet come to fully believe in a teaching laity. The laity for the most part assumes a receptive attitude. Our Bible-schools might be doubled in numbers and effectiveness if Christian men and women, well qualified for the task, could be induced to respond to the strong demand for more teachers. There is no reason why Bible instruction and Christian teaching should be wholly confined to Sunday. It is time that the church made an aggressive move upon the week-days and began the establishment of night schools (for a definite term) for the systematic study of the Bible for adults and short after day school catechetical classes for children. These classes could and should be made auxiliary to the Sunday Bible-school. In them there would be time for that larger instruction which is so much needed and for which no opportunity is found under the present arrangement. Besides, much talent not available upon Sunday, at the time of the session of the Bible-school, might be utilized. This is an age of clubs organized for the study of ancient and modern secular literature, where careful and scholarly papers are read upon subjects given out long in advance. This study-club idea ought to be utilized by the church for the investigation of the best literature which the world knows, namely, that found in the Bible.
Jesus said, "Go teach" (Matthew 28:19,20), and He Himself taught the people in large and small groups (Matthew 5:1,2), on a mountain, in the synagogue (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:21), by the seaside (Mark 2:13), in the temple (Matthew 26:55), as He walked through the fields and when He went to feasts and social gatherings. He had ever in mind His teaching mission. He set an example of persistent and painstaking instruction of the people under bitter opposition and in adverse circumstances. He said, in encouraging His disciples to persevere in their teaching, "Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying they will keep yours also" (John 15:20).
Works of Mercy and Love.—Jesus was the supreme embodiment of mercy and love. Possessed of almighty power He used it not for honour or for selfish purposes, but to heal and help men (Matthew 11:5; 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; Luke 7:13). Modern philanthropy had its origin in Him. All the modern state institutions for the care of the poor, the blind, the crippled, the sick are in existence to-day because of the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Before He came to earth and taught men how to be compassionate towards the unfortunate ones there were no such institutions.
Wherever Jesus went, when He was in bodily form upon this earth, the people thronged Him for the healing touch. This is another way in which the followers of Christ may reach men, namely through the healing touch. In the fierce struggle in the world, for a living and a position, many men are worsted and trampled upon; such men need the brotherly help of those who have been with Christ. There are many sick, discouraged and poor; here is a large field for this service of mercy and love.
Suffering.—There is a ministry of suffering in taking and bearing the burdens of others. "For it became Him (Christ), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:10). This suffering of Christ is represented by the New Testament writers as having an object in the salvation of man and bringing him to glory (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 1:11; 4:13; 5:1; Philippians 3:10).
Isaiah said of Christ, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). We are urged to follow the example set by Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) in His humility and suffering for a great purpose. "In every age Christ's sufferings attract to Him the hearts of men; for they prove the boundless extent of His love, His absolute unselfishness, and His loyalty to truth and principle even unto death. Thus they have power with men." In following Christ, and placing Him in a right light before men, Christians must have a devotion to Him which will endure and stand steadfast through suffering. It is often only through the sacrifice of self that the best things in life are attained. "If so be we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:17,18).
THE JOY OF SERVICE
The Search for Happiness.—How can I be happy? This is the great question with multitudes of people. Men seek joy with the same eagerness that they dig for gold. Yet this world is a sad one, full of care, sickness, anxiety and sorrow. Many are the railers at fate and circumstances which keep them from realizing the object of their search.
The failure to find happiness arises in large part from going wrongly about it. Men seek happiness through relaxation and the lowering of the moral standards. Men ask, why should we obey this or that law of God, man or our moral nature, if it bars the way to our enjoyment? "Let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die"; and eating and drinking they go out into a wild and barren land of sorrow. Again men seek happiness through the abundance of things; as if a human soul, born in the image of God, could be satisfied with mere things.
The Conditions of Christian Happiness.—Christ, as the Great Pattern of life, showed that true happiness must be attained through the mastery of the situation, the victory over temptation (Matthew 4:1-11), and the hardest and most adverse circumstances of life (Hebrews 12:3; Philippians 2:8-10; 2:1,2; Matthew 16:21-27). There is no greater joy than that of the victors in a hard fought battle. Heaven is for conquerors (Revelation 15:2,3; 17:14). It is the man who has gone down into the tumult and uproar of the arena of life and fought and conquered in some good cause who tastes the supreme cup of happiness. The master words of the Christ were, "fight," "watch," "pray"; here is the entrance to the Utopia so long sought by men. The man who has no control over his appetites, passions and temper, and who cannot endure hardness in a service in which he is interested, can never know what genuine joy is. Read the roll call of the heroes in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.
1. A great object in view. There can be no greater object than to serve Christ in all the relations of life (Matthew 6:33; 10:38; 8:22; 16:24; 19:21).
2. Harmony with the will of God (Matthew 6:10).
3. Endurance. Paul exhorts Timothy, "Thou therefore my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:1-3). It was this quality of endurance in service which Jesus sought to set before His followers in the strongest light (Matthew 10:22; 24:13).
Here then are the elements of the greatest human happiness and a divine joy. It is only as the human heart is thus prepared for the reception of the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit that He can be received in His glory, which He desires to impart to men and to bring them into joyous fellowship with the Father and the Son.
What is the call to service? What is the object of the call? Where shall men serve the Christ? How shall men serve the Christ in the heart, home, community, abroad? What can be said of the urgency of the call to service? What is the pattern of service? What can be said of personal work, training others for service, teaching, works of mercy and love, suffering? What is the joy of service? What can be said of the search for happiness? What are the conditions of Christian happiness in service?