By Daniel H. King
When John the Baptist was approached by those who inquired as to his place in God’s plan, the great prophet immediately corrected any wrong impression they might have had: “He confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ” (Jn. 1:20). When they pressed him further with whether he might be Elijah the prophet, he rejoined: “I am not” (v. 21). Truly John was a great man. His place in God’s scheme for human redemption was a secondary one and he was able to accept it. The place of Jesus was primary: “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (v. 27). In God’s selection of John, it may be said without any question that he picked the right man for the job!
How often has human pride gotten in the way of humble service in the Kingdom of the Lord! Sometimes it is best for us to take the second seat, or even to sit on the back row. Yet it is the inclination of sinful pride and ambition to put ourselves out before others. The Lord advised: “Go and sit down in the lowest place; that when he that hath bidden thee cometh, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher” (Lk. 14:10). John was such a man as this.
In several respects, it would be helpful if we were to learn this valuable lesson. This is not to suggest that we ought not try to improve ourselves or increase our skills and abilities. But Jesus said of John, “There hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). The fine human quality of knowing one’s limitations and working within those strictures is a trait sometimes hard to find among men. Let me suggest several areas wherein they should be considered by us today.
I Am Not A Preacher
God did not intend that everyone be a preacher, at least in the sense of addressing the congregation as a public speaker. We all must spread the Word of God (Acts 8:4), but this does not always entail a public proclamation. Some do not possess the ability to communicate ideas in this way. Others may have some disability which makes it impossible. Still others have no desire to do this particular work. We must not give the impression that there is something spiritually or morally wrong with persons who do not take up this vocation. The Lord gave unique talents to every one of us. Each should use his own abilities in such a way as to glorify God: “if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth” (1 Pet. 4:11).
Occasionally we meet someone who feels a deep need to preach publicly, but who does not recognize that it wells up from within as a result of pride. They seem not to have the ability for one reason or another. Perhaps they possess traits of personality which cause brethren not to want to hear them. Or, their manner of speaking does not elicit interest in their hearers, even after a sufficient period of time for normal development. We need to have the good sense to know when we are not accomplishing our mission in the pulpit. If we cannot present lessons that are instructive and interesting, we need to examine the motives for which we continue to do this work. If we do not present interesting lessons for reasons of laziness or lack of skill, then we need to get to work and sharpen our skills and spend more time in preparation for preaching. On the other hand, for a few there must finally come the realization that we are not cut out for this work. We must say to ourselves, “I am not a preacher.”
I Am Not An Elder
The Lord has given very specific qualifications for the eldership. They are contained in Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 3:1ff; Tit. 1:5ff). It is plain that God did not intend that anyone serve as an elder who is not fully qualified to do so. For most unqualified people, these Scriptures are sufficient discouragement for them. They do not aspire to that for which they are not qualified. It must be remembered though, that the eldership is a position of leadership. One cannot lead the church unless he serves in this capacity: “Obey them that have the rule over you and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Unfortunately, in every age there are those who must have pre-eminence among the brethren, as did Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9). The quickest and easiest route to preeminence for these folks is through the eldership. They will have the office no matter what. It is a matter of power. Very often they feel that unless their personal views are followed the church will go to the Devil. Seldom can they recognize their own pride for what it is. When such men come by the office by whatever means they can contrive, often ignoring all the qualifications, it is almost impossible to unseat them from their throne (and that is what it becomes). If men of this ilk would save their souls from Hell, they had better give up the office and repent, for God gives his grace only to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5,6). They must be man enough and Christian enough to say, “I am not an elder.”
I Am Not A Bible Teacher
“Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment” (Jas. 3: 1). James refers in this text to those who wanted to show how smart they were by teaching the church in a public way. Later in the chapter he attempts to channel their energies into other good but less harmful things: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom” (v. 13).
While God requires that we all eventually grow to the point where we can be teachers (Heb. 5:12-14), he does not want us all to teach publicly. Of course, women are not allowed to do so, since they are not permitted to speak in the public assemblies (I Cor. 14:33b-36). And, they are not to be placed where they will “teach and exert authority over” men (1 Tim. 2:11-12).
There are men who should not teach either. Men who do not possess the talents or will not develop the skills necessary to be an “apt teacher” (1 Tim. 3:2) in no case should be encouraged to take on the task. Those who are opinionated or quarrelsome need to stay out of teaching. Men who do not love the brethren should never be asked to teach. And, men who are ignorant and unlearned or do not love the truth, should not be positioned where they may lead those who are weak into error. If they cannot say, “I am not a teacher,” then we must say it for them!
Here are several cases which show the greatness of John the Baptist. He was not the Christ and he could never be the Christ. He was the one sent to prepare the way for the Christ (Matt. 3:3). But for him to please God and go to heaven, it was not necessary for him to be Christ. In fact, if he had pretended to be Messiah he would have displeased God and missed heaven! Let us today recognize our circumstantial and God-imposed limitations and work within those limits so as to please the Lord and reach heaven. We need to “be all that we can be” and not frustrate ourselves and the brethren by attempting to be what we were never intended to be.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 16, pp. 499-500
August 16, 1990