The Privilege of Serving the Lord
K. T. C. Morris, Southampton
What a privilege it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ! He Himself assures us, "if any man serve me, him will my Father honour". The apostle John similarly says that in the coming day, "his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face". John is speaking of slaves bought with a price and who have served their Lord out of love responsive to His. They will have two privileges. They will continue to render Him priestly service, and will also have the high honour of unrestricted access to the holy presence of the King; cf. Esther 1.14.
The word "servant" is first used in the Scriptures in connection with the curse upon Canaan: "a servant of servants shall he be". What is implied is a place of inferiority to his brethren, and a lack of liberty as a result of sin. To the Creator every creature must necessarily be inferior, and the liberty which God gives must necessarily be limited to the doing of His holy will. The Lord Jesus says, "If the Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed"; that is, free to follow Him, free to serve Him. To serve the living and true God is not slavery, but true liberty; it is not a thing of shame, but an outstanding honour. Consider how God appreciates His servants. When appearing to Israel He promises him blessing "for my servant Abraham's sake". Reproving Aaron and Miriam He says, "wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?". He promises protection to Jerusalem "for my servant David's sake", and exclaims, "Thou art my servant, 0 Israel, in whom I will be glorified", Isa. 49. 3.
"Behold My Servant". To enable us to serve God acceptably, the Scriptures give us not only explicit instructions but picture after picture of the perfect Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ. "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth", Isa. 42. 1-4. As our attention is directed to the perfections of God's Servant, we find in the fourfold description that is given us an example for all who would be acknowledged by God as His servants. First we read, "I have put my spirit upon him". Christ did not embark upon His public ministry until He had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. So our service, like our Lord's, must be directed by, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus promised that after His glorification everyone who believes in Him would be given the Holy Spirit within him to flow out like a stream to others. This is enlarged upon in later scriptures, John 7. 38-39; Acts 1. 8; 2 Cor. 1. 21 -22; Eph. 1.13. But the fact that we have been anointed with the Spirit is not sufficient. We must be careful that there is nothing to grieve him in our private life or in our business life, particularly in our feelings towards our fellow-men, Eph. 4. 30. Then, having "no confidence in the flesh", we can count on the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
Secondly, "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street"; Matthew 12. 15-21 explains this. It shows that the Lord was careful to avoid anything that might lead to excitement or popular acclaim. We, too, must be careful to avoid, not only the emotionalism of the crowd or large congregation, but the temptation to vanity. The man whose service is of a public nature is always open to the danger of self-display and pride. But the man who serves consciously in the presence of God breathes the spirit of continual self-effacement. He learns from the seraphim who cover their faces and their feet before flying at the behest of the King.
Thirdly, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench". This suggests the meekness and gentleness of Christ as He deals with sinners and with saints today, and as He will deal with the remnant of Israel in the future. We are often like bruised reeds ourselves, found unreliable both by our Master and by those who look to us for help. And as for our testimony, our light is often dim, like that of an oil-lamp whose wick emits little else but smoke. Yet the compassionate heart of Christ moves Him to exceeding patience with us. So the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all, apt to teach, patient. In view of our own failings how sympathetic and humble we should be in seeking to reach the lost or to shepherd the saved.
Fourthly, "He shall not fail (i.e. burn dimly) nor be discouraged (i.e. be bruised), till he have set judgment in the earth". The Lord Jesus is called, as we are not, to set justice in the earth and to rule from sea to sea. The lesson for us is that, although He is amazingly gracious with men, He never lowers God's standards; He always has righteousness in view. May it be so with us at all times! Insofar as we follow His steps, we too may count on the support of His and our unfailing God.
"If any Man Serve ... let him Follow". It is certainly not the business of the servant to choose his service. He must await his master's instructions. This is particularly important when certain forms of service seem to us more urgently necessary or more attractive than others. We must cultivate the dependent and teachable spirit of the Perfect Servant. He was ready for God to open His ear morning by morning, and ready to listen as a learner. He was not rebellious nor turned away back, however difficult the pathway was to which God called Him. His service involved repeated shame and loss. But He was assured that it was the path that God had chosen for Him. So He could say, "the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed", Isa. 50. 4-7. Then as the cross loomed immediately before Him, He said to those who desired to serve Him, "if any man serve me, let him follow me". He explained that this meant following Him in a path of suffering and self-sacrifice. He was prepared like a grain of wheat to fall into the ground and die, in view of a future harvest. So we also must be prepared to forego the comforts of "life in this world" with a view to "life eternal". There is no acceptable service without true discipleship. He who desires to serve must first learn to follow, John 12. 24-26.
Robert Murray M'Cheyne had this in mind when he urcod a fellow-servant, "Go brother, leave the ninety and nine; go after the one sheep that was lost. Leave your home, your comforts, your bed, your ease, your all, to feed lost souls . . . Study universal holiness of life. Your usefulness depends upon this. If Satan can only make you a covetous minister, a lover of pleasure, or a lover of praise, or a lover of good eating, then he has ruined your ministry for ever". Service for Christ involves the self-denial and the self-sacrifice that we see supremely in Himself.
Three Aspects of Service. Three aspects of service are suggested by three of the words most often used by the New Testament writers for serving the Lord. There is the unquestioning and undivided service of the purchased slave for his master. There is the service freely rendered by a man to his fellow-men or to God. There is also the priestly service or worship that a man is privileged to render to his God.
First there is the word that Paul uses when he speaks of "serving the Lord with all humility of mind", Acts 20.19. This is serving as a slave or bondservant. To such the Lord refers when He says that no servant can serve two masters. We could not imagine a slave having two masters, two owners, at the same time; he clearly would not be able to give his absolute obedience to more than one. A slave is not his own, and he dare not choose his work or assert his own will in his master's service. Yet Paul, John, James, Peter and Jude, are all happy to call themselves bondservants of God and of Christ. Should not we be glad to be bound to such a Master and to submit to His will? Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they had turned to God from idols to serve Him as bondservants. Before our conversion we were slaves to various passions and pleasures. Now we are to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord as slaves bound to a new and infinitely better Master. This word is used in 1 Thessalonians 1.9; Titus 3. 3; Romans 12.11; Colossians 3. 24; Matthew 6. 24; Luke 1. 38.
Secondly, there is the word that Luke uses in recording the statement of the Lord Jesus, "I am among you as he that serveth", Luke 22. 27. It views the servant, not as bound to his master, but as waiting upon his service, whether the "ministration" to poor widows, or the "ministry" of the Word of God. This word, meaning to wait at table, occurs first where we read of Martha being "cumbered about much serving". The noun is usually translated "minister", though in Philippians and Timothy it is just transliterated "deacon". It is used in the Lord's saying, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant", Luke 22. 26-27; Acts 6. 1, 4; Rom. 15. 25.
Thirdly, we have the word which Paul used for serving God with his spirit "in the gospel of His Son". It is the word for the priestly service or worship carried on in the tabernacle, Heb. 8. 3; 13. 10. It is used both for our worship and for our service in the gospel, Phil. 3. 3; Rom. 1. 9. We are called, not to offer animal sacrifices as of old, but to present our bodies a living sacrifice. This is called our reasonable, intelligent, spiritual service to God. It is incumbent upon us all, Rom. 12. 1.
To sum up: We must serve the Lord with the undivided devotion of a slave, with the diligence and deference of those who wait at table, and with the dignity of privileged priests.