Spending and being Spent
(Urging the serious re-examination of the responsibilities of those who take the lead among the people of God),
IN apostolic times the spiritual care of God's people was taken as a very serious business demanding the utmost attention and vigilance and there is an urgent need to recapture the atmosphere of those days.
With this in mind it will be profitable, if humiliating, to compare the outlook of Paul with the present-day attitude to the things of God and the life of the church, and to ask ourselves what would be the effects if we had leaders with a portion of his spirit.
It is God's normal way to raise up leaders, and people tend to become what the example and influence of their leaders make them. " The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel . . . governor of Judah. and the spirit of Joshua . . . the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people ; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of Hosts, their God " (Hag. 1. 14).
Love. Think, for example, of the depth and warmth of his affections for the Saints. Here was a strong character, a man of iron resolution, and yet he could remind the Ephesian elders of the tears he shed, and could tell the Philippians that he wept as he wrote of those who were the enemies of the cross of Christ. Beneath a manner often made stern by his uncompromising devotion to the cause of Christ there was a warmth of genuine feeling which evoked reciprocal affection, so that the ciders wept at the idea of seeing him no more, and Timothy shed tears as the apostle left him at Ephesus. It is all very well to attribute this to the emotionalism of the Oriental—probably we feel so little because we care so little! Tears beget tears. Could the Philippians have remained unmoved by the loving exhortations of a man who, once a bigoted Pharisee and a despiser of Gentile ' dogs,' could now call God to witness how greatly he longed after (hem all in the tender compassions of Jesus Christ, who could call them his brethren dearly beloved and longed for, his joy and crown ? He was gentle among the Thessalonians with the solicitude of a nursing mother toward her own children, well pleased at having been able to impart his own soul to them because they were dear to him (1 Thess. 2. 8). So much did their spiritual well-being mean to him that intense anxiety as to the effect of persecution upon their faith, relieved by the news of their steadfastness, brought out the exclamation " Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord," Had the news been otherwise some¬thing would have died within him, but now he can say " What thanks can we render again to God for you for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God ?" (1 Thess. 3. 9). When leaders love the saints like that they will wield a moral authority such as we seldom see today, and which no official position will ever impart.
But love is practical—Paul did not welter in a sea of emotion. He was prepared to spend and be spent. For three years he laboured at Ephesus. shewing and leaching publicly and from house to house, warning every one day and night. He suffered beatings, stoning, shipwreck, weariness, pain, hunger, thirst, cold and naked¬ness (2 Cor. 11. 25-27). All for the elect's sake (2 Tim. 2. 10). The partial success of false teachers in Galatia caused him such agony of soul that he travailed again until Christ was formed in them (Gal, 4. 19). Who can enter into what Paul meant when he told the Colossians of his labouring and striving and of his great conflict on their behalf and on the behalf of others whom he had not even seen, of whose faith he had only heard ? (Col. 2. 1).
Prayer. But his affection led not only to patient toil—he gave himself to prayer. And what a prayer-life I If we find it difficult to pray regularly and intensely for the little group with which we are so closely associated, we may well marvel at his labours in prayer, embracing thousands of believers scattered over the wide mission-field. The care of all the churches came upon him daily (2 Cor. 11. 28). They were ever in his prayers, he was full of praise to God on their account; he seems to have been able to remember every individual in some assemblies. He ceased not to give thanks for the Ephesians, making mention of them in his prayers. He could summon before his mind every Christian in 1'hilippi, thank God Upon every remembrance of them, always in every prayer of his making request for them ail, not as a burdensome duty, but " with joy" (Phil. I. 3). Without ceasing he remembered the Thessa-lonians and prayed exceedingly night and day that he might see their face (1 Thess. 3. 10). If he never failed to remember Timothy in his prayers night and day (2 Tim. I. 3) and if he always remem¬bered his friend Philemon (v. 4) we may surely conclude that there were many others he consistently presented before the Throne of Grace,
It may be conceded that the apostles stood in a class by them¬selves, but we are not to imagine that they stood alone in this intense devotion to the interests of Christ's people. Epaphroditus longed after all his Philippian fellow-believers and was full of heaviness at the thought that news of his illness would cause them anxiety (Phil. 2. 26).
That humble Colossian, Epaphras, laboured constantly and fervently in prayer that the believers might stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. and Paul bore witness to his zeal, not only for his home-assembly but also for those in the neighbouring towns of Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col. 4. 12). Fn both cases Paul's particular concern for Philippi and Colossae is so strik¬ingly reflected in the exercises of these two men that it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Paul's very earnestness infected his colleagues. If only, like them, we had Paul's spirit ! Timothy was a young man in whom Paul could confidently rely to make the welfare of the saints his first concern, as he genuinely cared for them (Phil. 2. 20). He worked the work of the Lord, as Paul did (1 Cor. 16. 10). Then there was the household of Stephanas: addicts in the best sense—addicting themselves to the ministry of the saints (1 Cor. 16. 15). Or think of Priscilla and Aquila, who laid down their necks for Christ's servant (Rom. 16. 4).
What explains Paul's Intensity—an intensity which com¬municated itself to his associates ? The spring of his utter devotion to the cause of Christ and His people was Christ's love to him, and his responsive love to Christ. Held fast in the relentless grip of Christ's love he was irresistably impelled along the path of His Master's will. His only object in living at all was Christ. He counted not his life dear unto himself. His overmastering passion was to see Christ glorified—whether this was to be by a life of further toil or by death in some awful form mattered nothing— what mattered was that Christ should be magnified. He who is forgiven much loveth much, and Paul never forgot the signal mercy shown to him. But if we think we have been forgiven so little that we can love Christ but feebly, we have ceased to dwell in the shadow of the cross, where we perceive our guiltiness because our ransom was so great.
It is inevitable that such a man would long to know what was Christ's supreme interest. Christ loved the church and gave Him¬self for it I Very well—he would love Christ in loving Christ's church, he would give himself for Christ in giving himself for Christ's church. He could even rejoice in his sufferings as he filled up that which was still wanting in the afflictions he must endure for " his body's sake, which is the church " (Col. 1. 24).
He had been given a vision of what the church was to Christ and henceforth he saw the church through the eyes of Christ. If the Ephesian Epistle gives us an insight of the glorious vision he had been given of the church as the Body and the Bride of Christ and the Temple of God, his epistles to the Corinthians show how, jealous for God's honour, he laboured to see produced in local com¬panies some true reflections of those same features. " Know ye not that ye are a temple of God ?" " Now are ye a body of Christ." " I have espoused you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Vision I Is that lacking today ? Oh for men who have had a vision from God, to whom an assembly is much more than an organized group of Christians, but an organism instinct with the life of Christ, and who under the thraldom of that vision will feel that they can give no better proof of their love to Christ than by their devotion to the flock committed, at least in part, to their care.
Self-interest. The sad fact is that the spirit of this material¬istic age has infected the souls even of God's people until one would almost think tliat the necessity of " getting on " in the world is part of their creed. It ought to be quite needless to point out how utterly alien this outlook is to the New Testament conception of life, where the uniform emphasis is on the subservience of all else to the supreme claim of Christ to all we have and are.
What is Involved ? It will be apparent from what Paul and Peter say to elders, that the spiritual care of an assembly is a much more serious task than is generally realized. Those who will medi¬tate upon such expressions as :—" Take heed to yourselves and to all the Hock of God " ; " Tend the church of God " ; " Therefore watch " ; " Let us wait on our ministry " ; " Comfort the faint¬hearted, support the weak " ; " Be vigilant " ; " Given to hos¬pitality " ; " Rule well " ; " Labour in word and doctrine " ; " Holding fast the faithful word " ; " Able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers " ; " They watch for your souls as they 1 hat must give account " ; those who meditate upon these expressions will have it borne upon them that the shepherding of a flock is not a service which can be attended to casually in intervals between outside activities. Certainly a father must attend to his family, a business-man to his business and an employee to his job, but a real overseer will find enough in the assembly to engage his full attention when those other responsibilities have been faithfully discharged.
• Reflections. We believe there is a need for earnest young men to consider whether God would have them addict themselves to the ministry of the saints in its many and varied aspects, so that they might begin by prayer and study to prepare themselves for this high task. The call is for men who will be ready to forego the worldly prizes their abilities could win and be content with a modest-sphere in life so as to be free to give priority to all that shepherd-work will involve. We do not for a moment forget that God wishes to have servants in every honourable sphere, and no doubt some are definitely called to find their vocation in some profession where they must concentrate their energies if they are to be a credit to their Christian calling. Here they can adorn the doctrine of God and serve Christ in a special way, but we would nevertheless stress the need for men like the humble but great Carey, who regarded the service of God as his vocation and "cobbled to pay expenses."
Such will be prepared to take to heart the exhortation to Timothy, " Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them " (1 Tim. 4. 15). The sacrifices involved will be considerable but the compensations will be more than adequate.
Realism demands that we recognize the practical difficulties in the complex economic set-up of this specialist age and we can think of many reasons and excuses which may be urged against the practicability of this suggestion. It is an interesting sidelight on the subtle genius of language that we say " Make excuses " and " Give reasons." We will add no more than this—It would surely be well for us to make sure that objections we raise will be found valid at the Judgment-Seat of Christ.