Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 13
The Imperative Dynamic of Christian Service
Read: John 21:15-17.
"Lovest Thou Me?"
In reading these verses, it is difficult not to believe that the Lord Jesus had in mind something that happened earlier, and was probably referring to it. I mean the incident recorded in Matthew 26:33: "Peter answered and said unto Him, If all shall be offended in Thee, I will never be offended." "Lovest thou Me more than these?"
There are four main aspects of the Christian life - of course, with many subsidiary aspects. We have been considering three of them, and shall make reference to them again shortly. These three lead up to the fourth, and find their expression in it. This fourth aspect is service. Service is the great inclusive issue of everything. You notice that all four of the Gospels head up to commission and service. Service is the issue, therefore, of the three-and-a-half years of our Lord's ministry, and especially of the relationship subsisting between Himself and the disciples during that period. All that which He had said to them, all that which He had allowed and caused them to see, had this matter of service in view. He was working toward the day when He would have gone to Heaven and would continue His work through them. He was laying the foundation for that service. Everything had testimony in the world in view.
Now that word "service" is greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted. It is usually confined to certain specific forms. People speak of 'going into Christian service,' or 'the Lord's work,' or some such expression, by which they mean some specific activity - either to be a 'missionary' abroad, or a 'minister' at home, or some other particular form of Christian work. But that is a misinterpretation of the 'service.'
In the New Testament, service is contemplated in relation to the Church, individual service is always a related matter. It is the Church that is here to fulfill the ministry, and individuals are never looked upon in the New Testament as having detached, unrelated service. The great comprehensive conception is that of the Church as the Body of Christ. Immediately you contemplate that, your ideas of service must be completely revolutionized. For in a physical body the majority of the functions are not specific at all, but are vital, essential, indispensable. The whole service of the body depends upon them: the comparatively few specific functions can only possibly operate and fulfill their office by way of the countless unspecified functions of the body. And that is the New Testament conception of the Church and the Church's vocation.
We need, therefore, to reconsider this matter of service, because when we relegate the work to certain people only, we forget, or overlook, the fact that it is impossible to be in the Body of Christ and not have a function. Everyone is supposed to be a functional part of the Church. Nothing is independent, unrelated, or separate.
Peter: A Representative Servant
Let us now look at the basis, constitution, and dynamic of service. In this we are going to be much helped by Peter. You notice that the fourth Gospel, the last of all to be written, closes with an incident involving Peter in relation to the matter of service. Peter is a representative servant: he embodies all the essentials of a true servant of Jesus Christ. And in a very real sense Peter represents the Church. We shall therefore all Peter to interpret this matter for us, as we consider him - the man himself, his training, and his dynamic of service.
It is possible, of course, to allow Peter to be completely overshadowed by the Apostle Paul. If that has happened, I would suggest a very profitable piece of work: that is, to collect together every passage in the New Testament where Simon Peter occurs, noting both what was said to him, and what he said. If you put all those fragments together, you will find that you have quite a rich biography, and you will have a very good manual of instruction in the matter of service. Peter was the first of the disciples to be called by the Lord; he always thereafter held the foremost place among the disciples; and here he is the last individual to be mentioned in the Gospels. Peter has a very large place in the New Testament, a very important place. Upon him hung some of the greatest crises in the history of the early church.
The Man Himself
We look at the man himself, because we can only recognize the spiritual principles of service as we are able to recognize the man. You will understand what I mean by that as we go on. If you get a full length portrait of Simon Peter, and watch him with the Gospels in your hand, you will begin to learn a very great deal about the principles of Christian service.
Simon Peter could never be present anywhere without it being known. If ever there was an opportunity to speak or to act, he took it. His tongue, his hands and his feet often ran away with his judgment. His soul on the emotional and volitional side predominated, and very often left his judgment waiting for an opportunity to assert itself, later on, to his discomfiture! Peter was capable of tremendous variations - from height to depth - from the highest exaltation to the lowest depression and despair. This man was never neutral. He never dealt in neutral colors; you could always distinguish him quite clearly. No man of all those associated with our Lord was so often corrected, and yet so irrepressible. His motives were right, his intentions were good; but he was always just saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing.
You notice that with Simon Peter the personal pronouns were much in evidence: and yet with all this there is no trace of vice. When you sum it all up, you have to say some things that may sound unkind; but it is just here that we are on the way to understanding what true service for Christ will mean. The things which stand out in the case of Simon Peter - self-confidence,self-sufficiency, self-assertiveness - are all because of self-ignorance. The Lord Jesus Himself, at the end of this chapter in which our question is found, puts it in three words: "When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself,and walkest whither thou wouldest." Those last three words sum up Peter: 'whither thou wouldest.' That is the man in brief. Such a man, if he were going to be of any use to the Lord, would have to go through a very hard school. If he was to be constituted according to the greatest Servant that God ever had - the Lord Jesus - something very drastic must happen.
(continued with # 14 - Need For Self-Discovery