A TITLE OF HONOR
By Pastor Glenn Pease
In the old days when people traveled in coaches the driver would charge three fares. The first class, second class, and third class. All passengers were placed in the same coach and those who paid the first class fare would often complain that there was no difference, and that they receive no better accommodations than those who paid less. The driver would urge them to be patient and they would soon see the difference. When the coach came to a steep hill the driver stopped and announced, "All first class passengers keep your seats; all second class passengers get out and walk; all third class passengers get out and push."
In the journey through life all people still fall into these same categories: The parasites, the passivites, and the pusherites. The tendency of our age is to think that the ideal is to be a first class parasite, but the Bible is clear from Genesis to Revelation that the goal of the believer, and true success, is to be a third class pusherite. Before the Disciples of Christ learned this they were eager to become first class passengers. They debated among themselves as to who was to be the greatest. James and John even asked Jesus outright for seats at His right and left hand in glory. Jesus at that point laid down a principle that made Christianity the most unique and effective movement under the sun. He said, as He pointed out the contrast of the world's values and His own, in Mark 10:42-45, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
Jesus refused to be a first class passenger and a privileged parasite. He came to seek, to save, and to serve. The idea of service was dominant in the Old Testament, and the great prophecies of the coming Messiah portrayed Him as the suffering Servant. Israel was chosen, not for privilege, but for service, and Jesus likewise called His disciples, not to be privileged characters, but to be servants. This is the greatest and highest title available to those in the kingdom of God. That is why you will find the Apostles proud to declare themselves to be servants of God. It was only a handful of men who gained the distinction of being Apostles, but it is of interest to note that when they listed their titles they put the title of servant before that of Apostle.
Paul begins his Epistle to the Romans, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle." He begins Titus, "Paul, a servant of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ." James begins his letter, "James a servant of God..." Jude begins, "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ." Peter begins his second letter, "Simon Peter, a servant and Apostle of Jesus Christ." Servant was the title of honor, the title that even the Apostles chose to put before their unique office of Apostle. Jesus succeeded in teaching them that the way to true greatness is the way of the servant.
This was no easy lesson to communicate. Peter was the most stubborn student of all. You recall the night in the upper room when Jesus washed the disciple's feet? It was customary for a host to wash the dusty feet of guests before they ate, but apparently none of the disciples were going to stoop to this humble task. They sat down to eat with unwashed feet. Jesus, seeing that no one was going to perform this service, rose and laid aside His garments, girded Himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and proceeded to wash His disciples feet like a servant of the house. The others may have been shocked and surprised, but Peter was offended. He said to Jesus, "You shall never wash my feet." He was not going to be party to such indignity. He considered Jesus to be his Lord and not his servant. But when Jesus said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me," Peter yielded. Jesus said that He did this as an example of what they were to do and be. They were to be, above all else, servants.
This concept was the key to their becoming the foundation on which the church could be built. The very essence of the Christian life is found in service. This is an idea that clashes, however, with the value system of the world, and the modern day church has tended to neglect this basic truth. The church has promoted leadership rather than servanthood, and has reaped the reward of reversing the values of Christ. Bishop Stephen Neill, deeply involved in recruiting youth for missions and the ministry, said, "To tell a man that he is called to be a leader, or that he is being trained to be a leader, is the best way of insuring his spiritual ruin, since in the Christian world ambition is more deadly than any other sin, and, if it is yielded to, makes a man unprofitable in the ministry."
It was not by leadership that the church turned the world upside down. It was by service, and the only way the church can regain its powerful influence in the world is by means of service. Not all Christians can be leaders, but all can be servants. The purpose of all the gifts of the Spirit is to make great servants. Former President Dwight Eisenhower said, "The struggle between communism and freedom is a struggle of ideas. To win in such a battle our ideas must be better." The only ideas that can win this battle of ideas are the ideas of Christ, and the idea of servanthood is one of the key weapons for victory. This truth applies to all the conflicts of life. The winner will be the best servant. Joseph and Daniel were lead to high places of leadership in foreign lands because they were willing to be servants to those people.
E. Stanley Jones said, "That religion will hold the world which is willing to serve most and to become the servant of all." Only as the Christian concept of servanthood is practiced by Christians, and made the ideal of our society, can we hope to be victorious. Our ideas of government are based on the Biblical principle of service. Leaders exist to serve the people. In Romans 13 Paul says three times that rulers are the servants of God. Servanthood is the primary virtue of the leaders in both the church and the state. On the other hand, the vice that corrupts both church and state is the power that demands and compels people to serve them. This is why Jesus told us to call no man master. We have one Master and that is Christ. He is the only one capable of being Lord with total power without using that power to oppress. When any man or group seeks to become master rather than servant, anti-Christ is at work.
Probably the most outstanding example of a government that was toppled because it refused to be a servant, rather than a master, is that of Egypt when it oppressed the Jews. God sent Moses to the head of the government, to Pharaoh himself to plead for freedom. His hardness of heart lead to the necessity of threats. One plague after another put the pressure on Pharaoh, but the economic loss was to great, and he would not let Israel go. It took the violence of the destruction of all the first born of Egypt to get Pharaoh to respond to the will of God. The principle here is clearly written in historical events. The government that oppresses rather than serves will certainly not endure, but will suffer the judgment of God.
It is the Christian duty to strive to keep the government of his nation as a servant. The truly great men in American history were great servants. The church has a great responsibility in teaching and in providing an environment in which people are trained to be servants. We can serve God, the world, our nation, and ourselves, all at the same time by practicing what Jesus taught. This involves meeting every need that we are capable of meeting. All men need Christ, therefore, soul-winning is the most essential and universal service we can perform. But nothing is so small that it will go unnoticed by God who scans the world for servants. Jesus said that even a cup of cold water given in His name will not go unrewarded. No service goes unnoticed by Him who is the Servant of all men. Jesus is the only one who ever performed a great service for every human being.
Service is our watchword, service for our King;
Service, fruitful service, daily ours to bring.
Service for the needy, service for the lost;
Self upon the altar, counting not the cost.
Service in the home-land, where'er sounds the call;
Sacrificial service, reaching unto all;
Service pure, exalted; loyal and unpriced;
Loving, loving channels, bearing forth the Christ.
Service o'er the ocean, serving not for gain;
Meeting every duty, be it toil or pain;
Service that is Christly, giving up to God
Every selfish motive; treading where Christ trod.
Jesus spent His life in service. He went about teaching, preaching, and healing. Everywhere He went He met the needs of people, and in his acts of service He was teaching the importance of servanthood. At the wedding of Cana He performed His first miracle to meet the need of lack of wine. You recall that Mary said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you." This is the very essence of service, for service like this makes us the instruments of God's will in the world. The servants could not make water into wine. Jesus never asks anyone to do what they cannot do. He asks them to fill the water pots with water, for that they could do. He asks them to dip out and carry to the steward of the feast, and this they could do. They probably felt foolish carrying water to the steward, but as good servants they took orders and did what Jesus told them. The result was they became partners with Jesus in a miracle.
This same principle is seen in the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus broke the bread and told his disciples to distribute it. He did not ask any miracle of them, but only some service in doing what they could do. When they did what they could do, they became partners with Christ in doing a miracle. Do whatever He asks-that is the secret of success and power. All God wants from us is obedience. He will work in power through our service to accomplish His will. The world does not understand much of what we believe, but they cannot fail to understand service. This is the power that will convince and convict, for in service we become channels of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Without an outlet for service we become insulated and the power of the Holy Spirit will not flow through us. Electricity will only flow in when there is a way to flow out, and the Holy Spirit's power follows this same law. Psychiatrists are discovering that mental disorder is largely due to the lack of an outlet. People are miserable who turn their attention in on their own problems. A life devoted to concentration on one's self leads to depression and loneliness. But when a person concentrates on the needs of others and becomes a servant of those needs, he becomes more alert, happy, and positive. This outlet seems to open and inlet, and he becomes a channel of power.
James A. Magner in Mental Health In A Mad World says that the effect of taking an interest in others is not unlike that of a gambler at a horse race. It makes a great difference to him which horse wins, for he has an investment in the outcome. For the non-gambler who is not financially committed there may not be the slightest concern over which one wins. The comparison he admits is faulty, but it does illustrate the psychological benefits of directing our attention and service toward those outside ourselves. The servant is not only great in the eyes of God, and good for the nation and community, he is a happier person within himself.
The best symbol of the Christian life is that of an ox between an altar and a plow showing it to be ready for either service or sacrifice. E. Stanley Jones in his book Christ Of The Round Table tells of a prominent Indian official who attended one of his evangelistic meetings. He listened to the testimonies of his fellow townsmen of how they have been saved by Christ, and had left their idols, and conquered their evil passions. He finally stood and said that he too was saved, but not by Christ, but by his own religion. He thought that closed the subject, but the evangelist said, "I am glad to know you too are saved. I invite you to join us as we go to the outcast quarters of our village. We will take food and clothing and most of all our friendship for these poor brothers. We will be glad to have you come. The Brahman was very uncomfortable, for if the shallow of an outcast fell on him he would be defiled. So he said, "I am saved. I still say I am saved. But I am not saved that far."
If one is not saved that far, one is not saved at all. We are not truly children of God until we can, like Peter and the other Apostles, be proud to claim the title of honor-servant of Jesus Christ. God forbid that we who profess to be Christians are ever to busy to serve Christ and be servants ready to meet the needs of those about us. It is Christians who are too busy to be servants who are in large measure responsible for the chaos of our contemporary world. The only hope for recovery is for Christians to once again aim for the highest by becoming active servants of Christ. God has given every Christian a chance to be great by being of service to others. All of us can earn the greatest title God bestows on men-Servant, A Title Of Honor.