The Spirit of Service

The service of God in this world has always been attended with difficulty and opposition.

In Old Testament times the servants sent to the Lord's vineyard all came back disappointed, beaten, or stoned; some never got back at all, but were put to death by those from whom they sought fruit for Jehovah.

In the New Testament service, the one who was chiefly used in carrying the gospel of God's glory to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile, had to feel not only the cruel opposition of the world at large - the scourge, stones, and bonds - but to lament, at the end of his course, the desertion and neglect of the greater part of those who had received the truth from him.

There would be enough to deter even an active and zealous man in such a course; and I well remember the words of an old servant of the Lord to one who was discouraged by the ingratitude of those he had endeavoured to serve: "Christianity is not shown forth in seeking anything upon earth, not even the gratitude of Christians, but in bringing into the earth power from another sphere."

The spirit of service in Christianity is love, and love that is willing to spend and be spent for others (as we see in the apostle quoted above), with no reward, but even ready to love the Corinthians all the more the less they loved him. (2 Cor. 12:15:)

It must have been very trying to carry on this service to the Corinthians. There is indeed a pleasure in working for others who show a little gratitude and interest in return for the service; but what must it have been to the heart of the devoted apostle to receive nothing but unkindness and ingratitude from those for whom he had suffered and laboured so much? If in natural things it is so much more painful to have a thankless child than to feel the serpent's tooth, what is it in spiritual things where the active care and service, the fruit of true Christian affection, is slighted?

The motive and reason for continuing thus to serve the ungrateful is found in the love itself, and not in its objects. This is exactly the character of love, the divine nature; there is nothing self-seeking in it, and if the eye be single, the most gifted servant will be quite content to be misunderstood and ill-requited in carrying out the service towards the Church of God.

We should notice the self-denying way in which the apostle met the needs of the weakest; being free from all, he made himself the servant of all, that he might gain the more: "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

The spirit of service in Paul was evidently the spirit of love; there was that true seeking the good of others, though at his own expense, and the perseverance in it that is peculiar to love.

In 1 Corinthians 13 love is insisted upon by the apostle. The gifts are found in chapter 12, the use of them in chapter 14, and the thirteenth chapter comes between as being the preparation for their use.

I suppose, to make a very simple illustration, a number of tools of steel; before using them they must be tempered in oil. Gifts must be tempered in love to be used in the assembly of God; and at this point I would ask my reader to go through 1 Corinthians 13 before proceeding with this paper.

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The sedulous care, as that of a nurse with her children, the watching and praying, the warning every man with tears - all these things flow from the true spirit of service. Paul would never have used his superior knowledge to startle the weak and poor (though I have no doubt his spiritual and vigorous ministry often startled the careless), but have condescended to the youngest, most uninterested saint - as he would have borne with the most ignorant heathen who showed any sign of seeking after God.

But we have a far more glorious and touching impression of love than that which was seen in Paul. We have the perfect love of God shown forth in the service of Jesus Himself, and we must not close these few remarks without looking at Him of whom it is said: "Behold My servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth; I have put My spirit upon Him: He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth." (Isaiah 42:1-3.)

No doubt this service is not yet fully accomplished, but I wish to keep to the aspect of self-denying perseverance in a path where nothing but ingratitude from man was found, and the condescension that could come down to the feeblest objects. This is divine love.

"The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned."* (Isaiah 1. 4.)

*Some prefer to read here "as those who are taught," "as the learners."

We shall never have fully understood what that love was, and is, that could descend from supreme glory to the place of the dependent man, who learned obedience by the things which He suffered, so as to be able to help and serve the weary and heavy laden. But it is a happy thing for us that we have the Lord Himself as the pattern and model of service.

"I am among you as He that serveth," He said, at a time when all the sufferings of the cross were before Him, and when there was but little response from those who were the objects of His care. If we wish really to fulfil our mission we must be near Him whose blessed life here on earth was spent in perfect service to God and man, who never sought anything for Himself, but always the good of others.

I recollect it being said of one whose life was spent in serving the Church of God, that he had worked "behind the world"; that is, not as a prominent popular teacher, but rather keeping in the background whilst seeking the good of souls. And I think that love would produce this.

This might form a kind of sequel to the question of the use of gifts in our day; for the gift and responsibility of using it being ascertained, I think that the true spirit of service must be known, and it is known in the persevering love of the perfect Servant who is Himself the resource, the object, the beginning and the end of all true work.

It is an interesting thing for those who desire to serve the Church of God through grace to examine all the passages in Scripture where "serve," "servant," occur; and I think that, numerous as they are, the sum of them all will be contained in love. I am speaking of course of true service to the Lord and to His own.

With this there need be no fear of coming short. Difficulties disappear before love, distances are spanned, obstacles vanish. If it be true that your resources are in the Lord Himself - no matter what your gift or service may be - you shall accomplish it with a heart happy in Him, sustained by Him, in what is otherwise impossible, to the very end. Sustained, I will say, until that day when His servants shall serve Him in His own glorious sphere; when they shall see His face, and bear His name in their foreheads - for love shall never fail; no, never, through the endless ages of eternity. E. L. Bevir.

"All that belonged to the Father belonged to the Son, and all that belonged to the Son belonged to the Father. What a bond between the Father, the Son, and the disciples! They belonged to the Father, the Father had given them to the Son, and it was in: them that the Son was to be glorified."