If the question were asked, “What was it in Paul that made him, with one grand exception, the foremost of the servants of God on earth?” it may be answered, “The grace of God.” That is surely true, for none can serve Him apart from grace; but can we not detect aught in the great Apostle which led him at once, after his conversion at Damascus, to shine so brilliantly throughout his entire career as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? I think we can.
Soon as ever the light from heaven changed, radically, the whole current of his thoughts, showing him that there was One up there who knew him, and all about him—his very name, his murderous mission, and his bitter hatred of Jesus of Nazareth, and to those who followed Him; and Who, by the power of that light, might have destroyed him in a moment, he cried to Him in astonishment and submission: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” In that prayer we find the secret of all his subsequent effectiveness as a servant of that Lord to whose will he then fully surrendered himself. He abandoned his own will in order that the will of Christ should be supreme in his life and ways. That was the chief feature in this servant of the Lord, as it should be in all.
A will surrendered to the Lord is the first qualification in all who seek to serve Him. Having gained the will Christ has gained the man; for the will of God is then paramount. (Study Romans 6 as to this.)
Whatever learning or influence Paul had naturally it was subordinated to the will of Christ. He became a vessel, and only that, in his Master’s hand; and hence his extraordinary usefulness!
If, therefore, we seek to serve the Lord in any way let us sink our will in His, let us take example from this honoured servant, who, throughout his many epistles has presented himself to us in his mode of service, not, surely, in the spirit of egoism nor of self-parade, but as one filled with the Spirit of God and worthy of our imitation.
It would be very interesting in this connection to review such passages as Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 4, Galatians 1-2, Ephesians 3, Colossians 1, 1 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, and others; but we find a summary of them all in Acts 20, where, at Miletus, he addressed the elders of the church at Ephesus, and gave to them, like Samuel in his day, an account of his stewardship. It may have been his farewell address to men in whose midst he had laboured and suffered for long, and by whom he and his work were so well known.
“Ye know,” he says, “from the first day that I came into Asia what manner of man I have been among you at all seasons.”
1. What he had been, not what he had done. The practical life for Christ must precede the preaching. It is the life that tells. If Christ should not absolutely command the life, the preaching, the talk and service are of no real value. What he had been, from the first day and at all subsequent seasons, was the principal part of his testimony, and the elders could bear witness to this. The start was for God, and so, too, was his whole course.
I was going to hold evangelistic meetings in a town on the other side of the Atlantic, and, while in the cars, a fellow-passenger asked me when I purposed beginning my mission. I replied, “In a day or two.” True enough, so far as the preaching was concerned, but the words were hardly spoken when I felt my mistake. The “mission” should have begun, before God, the very moment of my arrival at the place. Our business is with God, and from the first to the last we should be after Paul’s “manner.” God first, service afterward, blessing will follow. Begin every “mission,” every action, by silent prayer to God.
That is, the mission of the servant should be, in the highest sense, chronic and habitual—an “all-season” mission!
2. But beyond this “manner” there was serving the Lord personally—not the church, though surely amenable to it, but recognizing his responsibility to the Lord and to His will. Hence he served not only humbly but with “all humility of mind”; and not only with tears but with “many” of them. He served with a tender heart and one from which the curse of pride, which ruins so many, was wholly absent. He went forth weeping as he scattered the precious seed, and he will come again rejoicing, bringing his golden sheaves. What a pattern servant! And why should we not follow his example?
3. He kept back no ministry that was profitable, which means that he did keep back what was unprofitable—a further example to be honestly pursued; and, from house to house and publicly, to the few or the many, he had the good and the profit of all at heart. To “say little, to serve all and to pass on” is exceedingly good advice. To edify and not to destroy, to encourage and not to dishearten, should be the aim of every true servant of the Lord, in whose perfect ministry there ever rang the note of “good cheer.”
4. He held his life in his hand—he “died daily.” Opposition of every kind assailed him, but in His Master’s service “none of these things moved him,” not even the highly probable loss of his life, so that he “might finish his course with joy and the ministry of the gospel of God’s grace” committed to him. Unswerving fidelity to that royal commission marked his career until it closed in martyrdom and triumph—just as he would, doubtless, have wished. We can surely pray that the same fidelity to the gospel commission may mark our little careers, and that the opposition of an infidel day and cold but intellectual rejection of the “Word of God,” may not deter us from exercising all the greater zeal in its announcement.
Thus he could say that he was “clear of the blood of all men,” like the faithful watchman of Ezekiel 33:4, whose duty it was to warn against the approach of enemy or sword, but who himself was clear if his warning was unheeded. Solemn thought! For the watchman would expose himself to severe criticism, ridicule, contempt, and danger; but, adds the Apostle, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”
It is the declaration of the counsel of God that provokes opposition. No doubt the gospel may also do so; but the truth—the salt of God’s counsel—His plan and purpose concerning those to whom the gospel has proved itself efficacious—that, not only should they thereby be saved, but being saved, they should respond to the will of the Lord as His church, His assembly, and His body, in faithfulness to Him, in separation from the world, and in practical holiness of life, awaiting His return to take them hence to the Father’s Home in Heaven. It is this that stirs up the hostility of those to whom this passing scene is their all.
But response of heart to the will of our blessed Saviour and Lord would lead us to announce the sacred counsel of God, as occasion offers, as it also would to proclaim the gospel, and to illustrate its virtues by a “manner of life” worthy of its holy character.
A thousand times over, after more than fifty years of very feeble service, I would urge my beloved fellow-servants to pay the greatest possible attention to their “manner of life,” to keep constantly near to the Lord, while they, too, cry to Him: “What wilt Thou have me to do?”