Our Concept of Service
Glen Burnie, Maryland
Preachers are the most untaught group of brethren in the church. Sounds amazing, doesn't it? Yet it is true. "Untaught" means not that they are ignorant of truth-merely that they are not often taught by others. The preacher is always sensitive to the needs of his brethren and labors to give them the spiritual food they need to grow. He uses every persuasion and ability he has to reach others and is constantly trying to develop new ones. But, did you ever stop to consider that the preacher hardly ever sits in a pew? He does not have one who looks at his life and "reproves, rebukes, and exhorts" him to greater service. His growth is a hard won personal thing obtained by teaching others-and striving to put the same standard into effect in his own life. As Paul put it, "Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" Many preachers, weak and fallible men like their brethren, would welcome the same constructive teaching they try to give to others.
Especially is this true of young preachers. Timothy had Paul, and Mark had Barnabas, but often the young preacher of today has only his own experience and a future of hard decisions (and disastrous failures) to help him reach maturity. It is no little wonder then, that we attach ourselves to men of grey hair and experience in an attempt to copy them in our service. This is as it should be-we are encouraged to emulate the good in others. "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example" (Phil. 3:17). Most older preachers feel this responsibility God gave them quite deeply, and live in Godly fear.
There is one older preacher though, who stands out as a beacon for the young evangelist and "old soldier" alike. This preacher was the most effective and fruitful teacher of truth this world has seen, short of our Lord. His prolific pen gave us the majority of the words by which we live as Christians. Though he wrote concerning just about everything, he still maintained his "care of all the churches" and "preaching the Kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence." He was given revelation from God that is impossible for human words to convey, and to keep him humble God gave him a painful "thorn in the flesh" to constantly remind him that he was mortal (2 Cor. 12). How did this great man, Paul, see his work as a minister? What was his concept of his service? In 1 Cor. 9:15-23 Paul talks about his work. (all quotes from N.T. 26 Translations.)
"But for my part, I have never availed myself of any of these rights, nor am 1 writing this now to claim any such provision. I would sooner die than let anyone deprive me of this, my source of pride." Paul was referring to his financial support as a Gospel preacher. He did not hesitate to teach the brethren their responsibility to support those who taught them, and labored on their behalf (1 Cor. 9:1-14). Paul's work as a preacher had been both faithful and effective (9:1, 2). The very existence of the Corinthian brethren and their relationship with Christ was testimony to Paul's labor. He might have reminded them that they owed him something, "I say nothing of the fact that you owe me, over and above, your very soul"(Phile. 19). But, his right to support was not the reason he wrote. He had not used his liberty lest the Gospel be hindered. His toil had not centered upon the financial return he might expect from those he converted. His attitude was, in other words, "I would rather starve to death than be a possible source of contempt for the message I bring."
"Proclaiming the Gospel gives me no ground of boasting, for I am compelled to do so by order of my master. Yes, woe is me, if 1 do not preach the Gospel" (9:16)! Paul saw his work both as a privilege and as a duty. The first time I found out that Gospel preachers were given money to enable them to do their work I was pleasantly surprised, "Why! Herein is a marvelous thing! Imagine being able to teach the Gospel, and be paid for it too!" The true servant serves his Master for positive motives, that neither gain nor loss can effect. A preacher's support is not a matter of indifference to him, but neither is it the motivating factor in his service unto God. A man of God, supported or unsupported, continues to serve God with all his strength and ability.
There is a story of a young man asking an older preacher when he ought to start full time work as a preacher. The old preacher replied, "Stay out of it as long as .you can force yourself. Preaching is for those poor souls who can no longer restrain themselves from it." This was Paul's argument. He had not chosen his life as an evangelist; he had been chosen by God. He could no more keep from preaching than he could stop eating or breathing. There was no pat on the back coming for him in his estimation. He preached because he had to-was compelled to-and no amount of reward or punishment could compel him to work harder than his own feeling of responsibility to God.
"For were my service of my own free offering, then I might feel like claiming wages to reward my labor, but since I do it because I must, then am I a slave entrusted with a stewardship." Anything Paul received for his work he looked upon as a gift (Phil. 4:17), as an opportunity for others to be sharers with him in the great work he had been given to do (Phil. 1:5; 2 Cor. 11:9). He viewed it as an opportunity for his brethren, not for himself (Phil. 4:16-19). Paul was gracious in permitting those he loved to do` him a good work and he encouraged them to abound in this kind of sacrifice for God's sake (2 Cor. 8:7). But, Paul's reward was not in the money given to care for his needs. The support was incidental to his work.
"What then is my reward? Just this: My pay is presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my preaching free of all cost-and so making but a sparing use of the rights which it gives me." Paul had a return for his preaching. It was the same great moment which comes to the doctor who delivers a child into the world, or that which comes to the surgeon as one whom he has saved from cancer awakens free from pain. Paul's reward was in taking a man lost in sin and leading him to eternal life. No amount of money can produce the reward found in a baptistry holding a wet, weeping new creature in Christ. The preacher who chooses his field of labor for what it will give him has sadly missed the only true reward inherent in bearing the good news.
I am not bound to obey anyone because he pays my salary, yet I have freely made myself the slave of everyone, in the hope of winning more men to Christ. With Jews 1 live as a Jew, to win over Jews. To proselytes I live as under the law, to win them. When with the heathen 1 live as without law (not that I am under no law to God, for I am always under the Law of Christ), that I might win those who have no law. With the over-scrupulous I behave myself scrupulously, to win them as well. Indeed, I have become everything in turn to men of all sort, that I might by every means possible win some to God. But, I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ." Paul's method was to find common ground with those he taught. Paul was not two-faced, but a man who could fit in with any crowd. Paul could talk with anyone and feel their plight. Paul's experiences as a "Hebrew of Hebrews" gave him insight and understanding for his Jewish Brethren. His conversion in Damascus gave him empathy for those enclosed and suffocating in sin. Paul was not bound by empty prejudices, smugness, pride, or snobbery.
I once heard a preacher complaining to other preachers that the brethren where he worked were "a bunch of farmers." Paul would not have been so contemptuous. He would have talked of Hog prices and Soy Bean futures, and compelled his brethren to accept him because he accepted them. Too many times we force those we wish to teach to come see us-talk on our level-find our ground, rather than the other way around.
The result of all this Paul concludes, is that he won men to Christ. It was in his becoming common with all that he was able to lead men to the light. No sum of cash can make a man work like that. The only real reward in his preaching, and in his service, was that on Judgment Day there would be those by his side who might not have seen the New Jerusalem but by his labor.
Truth Magazine XIX: 18, pp. 278-279