It is a solemn thing to realize that we are all either gatherers or scatterers, even though we may consider our attitude to be one of neutrality. The Lord has declared that there is no mid-way position that is neither for, nor against Him. It is a solemn fact that for any one not to be for Him means that he is against Him:
He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad (Matt. 12:30).
Without attempting to soften or mitigate this serious statement which touches us all whether we will or no, we would add to it another of the Lord's utterances, so that we may not wrongly interpret the first statement in any sectarian spirit:
Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us (Luke 9:49,50).
Although this man was not in manifest fellowship with the disciples (they could say, 'He followeth not with us'), the Lord revealed that there was a deeper unity than this; and we must ever be on our guard lest a mere party spirit should take the place of loyalty to the Lord and His truth.
The work of the scatterer is the work of the Evil One, and is assisted by the hireling:
He that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep (John 10:12).
The work of the gatherer, therefore, is the work of the shepherd. The figure of a shepherd is used freely in the Scriptures as a symbol of service, and will be considered in its own place. We here deal with the general significance of the gatherer. It was the desire of the Lord that He might gather the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings (Matt. 23:37). And He is yet to send His angels and gather together His elect from the four winds of heaven, as men gather in the sheaves into the barn at harvest home (Matt. 24:31; 13:30,39-43). The word is also used for the gathering of grapes (Matt. 7:16).
Let us take stock of ourselves. How far can we honestly say that we are gatherers? Is it our tendency to bring together, or to scatter? Do we spend our strength in building up or in pulling down? Do we manifest the characteristics of the true shepherd or of the hireling?
The second symbol to be considered in this article is that of the guide. While a guide does not necessarily gather, he certainly leads on to the desired haven. The Jew, because of the special position he occupied in the plan of redemption, was peculiarly fitted to be a guide:
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind (Rom. 2:17-19).
The Jew had every qualification for being a guide to the blind except one -- he was blind himself. Among the reiterated 'woes' of Matthew 23 the Lord refers to blindness five times:
Woe unto you, ye blind guides (Matt 23:16)
Ye fools and blind (Matt. 23:17,19)
Ye blind guides, which strain at (out) a gnat, and swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24)
Thou blind Pharisee (Matt. 23:26)
Upon examination it will be found that on each occasion when the Lord called these men 'blind', He referred to ritualism being substituted for reality. To follow such leaders must end in destruction. If a guide mistakes the mirage for the real, must not all who follow him perish? If he feeds his followers upon the husks in mistake for the true wheat, shall they not starve? If he leads them to put their trust in the observance of days, months, weeks, years, sabbath days, meats and drinks (which are but shadows of the true), must they not go astray? 'If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch'. So important is keenness of vision for the eastern guide, that no one is permitted by the Arabs to be a guide who cannot discern certain double stars, which to the ordinary town-dweller appear as one. As guides we need to see our path clearly, to discern the leading of the Lord, and to distinguish the shadows from the substance.
The gatherer, we found, was a title that could be borne by a shepherd. So also a shepherd can be a guide:
But made His own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock (Psa. 78:52).
Looking to the Lord for guidance as we seek to guide others, we observe that He 'guides the feet into the way of peace' (Luke 1:79). If we read the cry of the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Philip's response to it, we shall not be in doubt as to the character of the true guide:
Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? ... Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus (Acts 8:30-35).
This, then, is the essential difference between the blind guides and the true. The blind guides cannot see that all Scripture points to Christ, and so they lose themselves in shadows. The true guide will always 'begin at the same Scripture' and preach Jesus.
Symbols of Service: Ambassador, Apostle, Angel
Having seen something of the nature of, and preparation for, scriptural service, we turn our minds to the consideration of what service involves. We might note the different titles of service, such as 'walk' or 'work', or the different spheres of service suggested in such passages as 'preach the Word', 'fellow-soldier', 'we wrestle', 'sow', 'reap', etc.; or yet again we might note the examples of true acceptable service with which Scripture abounds; and yet once again, we could bring into prominence all who are called 'servants', or who are said to have 'served'. Then it will be necessary to note the spirit that underlies service, and it will not be too far removed from the practical orbit to give attention to the fact that service will be rewarded by the Lord.
The bare summary of possible avenues of approach reveals so much ground to be covered that we shall have to deal with the subject under different heads to avoid confusion. We purpose for the present to bring before the reader's notice a series of symbols of service that we find in the Scriptures. Every reader will not find each symbol of personal help. Service is too wide for generalisation, but we trust that each reader will find his own special calling illuminated as time proceeds. Moreover, there is always room for the reader to remember in prayer those whose service is so different from his own, and this of itself will enable us patiently to consider service in all its aspects, even though our own particular branch be not immediately in view.
The symbols of service that we will consider in this first review are three, viz., ambassador, apostle and angel. While each word has its own distinctive meaning and cannot be used interchangeably with the other two, they have one or two features in common, which may be of help to us in this series.
Firstly, ambassadors, apostles and angels are sent ones. To go at one's own charges, or upon one's own responsibility, would disqualify anyone from the use of these titles. Angels are messengers, and as such must be sent on their errand; 'Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?' (Heb. 1:14).
When we read concerning John the Baptist: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face' (Matt. 11:10), we not only have the word 'send', but in the word 'messenger' we also have the word 'angel', for the Greek word is aggelos.
The very idea of the word 'apostle' is that of a sent one, for apostello is translated 'to send' scores of times. For example:
How shall they preach, except they be sent? (Rom. 10:15).
Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:17).
The same holds good of the word 'ambassador'. An ambassador who did not represent a person or power who sent him is a contradiction in terms:
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us (2 Cor. 5:20).
He sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace (Luke 14:32).
Secondly, ambassadors, apostles and angels deliver the message given to them. This most obvious fact is not, alas, so patent when we begin to take stock of our own service or that of others. The apostle said to the Corinthians:
I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received (1 Cor. 15:3).
The close association of being 'sent' and being told what to 'say' is exemplified in the commission of Isaiah:
Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us? Then said I, Here am I: send me. And He said, Go and tell (Isa. 6:8,9).
Lastly (and this note we hope to strike again and again for our encouragement and for an example) these special features of service are found in all their fulness in the Son of God Himself. Neither Peter nor Paul can claim the title, 'The Chief Apostle', for this belongs to the Lord: 'Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus' (Heb. 3:1). He was pre- eminently the Sent One, and, as such, He delivered the message entrusted to Him:
My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me (John 7:16).
I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak (John 12:49).
If Paul, in his conception of what a true ambassador should be, could say, 'as though God did beseech you by us', how much more could this be said of Christ!
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1:18).
He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father (John 14:9).
Further, the prophet Malachi refers to Christ under the symbol of an angel, saying:
The Lord, Whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger (angel) of the covenant (Mal. 3:1).
Let us learn from these symbols of true service what is essential in our own, so that, however lowly our ambassage may be, or however limited the sphere of our ministry, we shall at least have the comfort and the encouragement of knowing that we have been 'sent', and that He has said, 'Go ... tell'. Jeremiah knew this double aspect of service, and with the Lord's words to him on the day when he was commissioned, we will end this article:
Thou shalt go to all that I shall SEND thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt SPEAK
Symbols of service. Bondservant, builder and burden-bearer
The glorious doctrine of liberty which is characteristic of the ministry of the apostle Paul must ever be ours to maintain against all odds. It is interesting, however, to notice that, while this liberty is sounded out with clarion notes in the epistle to the Galatians, at the close of the epistle the apostle shows that he, the champion of freedom, who stood alone before the Council at Jerusalem against those who would bring the believer into bondage, was at heart the bondslave of Jesus Christ: 'I bear in my body the marks (stigmata, brand marks of a slave) of the Lord Jesus' (Gal. 6:17). Again, in Galatians 5:13, 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another'. Redemption, which sets us free, binds us for ever to the Lord: 'Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price' (1 Cor. 6:19,20).
The reader should remember that in the following passages the word 'servant' in the Authorized Version is the translation of doulos, meaning, literally, 'a slave':
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1).
Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 4:5).
If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10).
He took upon Him the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).
The servant of the Lord must not strive (2 Tim. 2:24).
Peter, James and Jude, equally with Paul, rejoice to call themselves 'the bondslaves of Jesus Christ' (Jas. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1). In the following passages in the A.V. the word translated 'to serve' is, in the original, douleuo, 'to serve as a slave':
That we should serve in newness of spirit (Rom. 7:6).
Fervent in spirit; serving the Lord (Rom. 12:11).
Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Gal. 5:13).
Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9).
The first occurrence of doulos in the New Testament is in Matthew 8:9, and the words of the centurion give us a good idea of what the service of the Lord's bondsmen involves:
For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
The words of Mary might well be the motto for all who would serve thus: 'Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it'.
The second symbol of service that we are to consider is that of the builder. We propose to divide the subject into three sections: the foundation, the building and the materials.
(1) The foundation. Every building needs a foundation. A house 'founded upon a rock' stands; 'built upon the sand', it falls (Matt. 7:25-27). The foundation for all spiritual building must be Christ:
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
All service subsequent to the initial service of the apostle Paul, is related to his work, as the work of the builder is to that of the architect. 'As a wise architect ("master builder": Greek, architekton), I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon' (1 Cor. 3:10). No service that we can render can be acceptable unless we build upon the one foundation laid by God's architect, which foundation is Christ Himself.
(2) The building. Our chief concern is in the building; God Himself has secured the foundation. If we are to serve acceptably, not only must we build upon God's foundation, but we must see that what we build is God's building, for any other erection there is unwarranted:
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building (1 Cor. 3:9).
How much service is rendered useless by the one fact that what is being built is not 'God's building'. Each reader who reads these words of God, should review the work he has in hand, and ask himself whether or not his energies are engaged in 'God's building'. This enquiry must not be limited to social and philanthropic service, for the highest service, even the preaching of His Word, may fail in relation to 'God's building', as did that of those who preached Christ 'even of envy and strife' (Phil. 1:15).
(3) The materials. In any building scheme, quite apart from spiritual things, the material used is of great importance - as can be seen by inspecting the architect's specifications for a large building. Supposing that we are building upon the true foundation, and that we are occupied with God's building, all will be in vain if our material is not according to specification. It is evident from 1 Corinthians 3 that the building material represents the builder's 'work' and that it is to be tried by fire:
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is (1 Cor. 3:12,13).
Enough has been said, we trust, under this head, to throw some light upon service viewed as building. We now close with a reference to the third subdivision:
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Rom. 15:1).
Support the weak, be patient to all men (1 Thess. 5:14).
The first thought is that of burden-sharing. Galatians 6:2 does not exhort that the strong should bear the burdens of the weak, but that each should bear the other's burdens. How far do we respond to this? Perhaps our own burdens would be lightened if we thought more of the burdens of others. A person may feel unwell and very sorry for himself, but an accident to another, happening in his presence and demanding immediate help, will usually enable him to forget his own troubles in the endeavour to share others which are greater.
Some burdens are referred to as 'infirmities' of the 'weak', and, with regard to these, those who are 'strong' must remember that their strength is not for selfish ends but for the common good.
Finally, burden-bearing must be accompanied by patience, and must be devoid of self-pleasing; otherwise the service rendered will lose its spiritual value.
Ambassador, Apostle, Angel, Bondservant, Builder, Burden- bearer -- These constitute the Christian's 'A.B.C' of service. When they have been learned, we shall be able to make further advance.