Among the many titles that pertain to ministers is that of witness. The Lord gave the apostle Paul this title when He called him into His ministry. In Paul's account of his conversion, the Lord tells him. "But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee" (Acts 26:16).
A witness tells of those things he has actually seen and heard. Now the Lord uses another term--one very familiar to us. He tells Paul: "I will make thee a minister." We sometimes think of a minister as one who preaches the gospel. But the word has a much more important meaning than that. A minister is one who serves and who loves with tender regard. The word really carries with it the thought of ministering to the sick and suffering, of visiting the poor and those in prison. In other words, to follow in the footsteps of the Master.
Christ spent more time in His work of healing and ministering to the poor and needy than in preaching. He had compassion, we are told, on the multitudes. His heart of love overflowed for them, and that type of ministry is one of the most important.
A few years ago I served as division Missionary Volunteer secretary in South Africa. On one occasion I was visiting Nyasaland, and there the brethren told me of a certain chief who would not allow our work to be established in any of his villages. He had been prejudiced against us by reports from other mission societies, and he would not allow any of our teachers or young evangelists to enter his territory. We discussed this on the committee. I suggested to the brethren: "Don't attempt to preach or teach. Just send our young people into his villages to do good—to visit the sick folk, to chop wood and get water for them." And so the MV's took that responsibility upon themselves. They went over to those villages and sought out sick folk. They hauled in wood for their kitchen fires. They hoed their gardens, and ministered to them.
The young people carried on this work for some months. Finally the old chief came over to the mission and said: "What shall I do? I have tried to drive your teachers away. I wouldn't allow any of your schools in my villages. And you send us people who are so good. You help my people. What can I do? I want a teacher. I want to know more of your work." Those young MV's were ministers of the Lord, and they opened a closed door. This is the thought of that word ministers.
Stewards and Servants
I find the term ministers used in connection with another title: "Stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). In Luke the Saviour uses the same word: "And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?" (Luke 12:42). Then the Saviour introduces another title in the forty-third verse: "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." The same thought is expressed in the thirty-seventh verse: "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."
The two titles steward and servant are very familiar. Now, a steward is one who has been entrusted with some portion of his master's goods, or who looks after his master's property, and when his master returns he must give an account of his stewardship. Just so, the Lord has made us stewards of His goods—of His people.
The thought of servant is a little different. A servant is really a slave, but not subject to a ruthless taskmaster. The relationship between the slave and his master, spoken of here, is beautifully expressed in the Old Testament. In Old Testament times every seventh year was a year of liberty and all slaves were set free. But if love and fellowship grew up between the slave and his master, and the slave should desire to remain with him and love and serve him forever, he was entitled to do so even after the day of liberty. As a sign of this desire a hole was bored in the ear of the slave with an awl. What then was the basis of his service? It was love—unity and love. It was the delight of the servant to do the will of his master and of the master to look after the well-being of the servant. He was just like a son in the family.
This is the type of service, of slavery, that has grown up between us and our Master, Jesus Christ. We have had, as it were, our ears bored with an awl, and now there is an eternal union between us. And although still called a servant, we have the rights of a son.
The Lord uses that beautiful term in the setting of the Scripture. The disciples called themselves slaves or servants of the Master: "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ" (Jude 1). James expresses it in the same way, and Peter also calls himself a servant of the Lord. 0 may it be our privilege to be such a slave as that—born into His family, accepted into His family, with the rights of sonship.
The Lord has purchased us just as slaves were once purchased. He has bought us with a great price. With His own blood He purchased us. We are not our own. We belong to the Lord Jesus. That beautiful relationship of Master and servant exists between us.
Now there is much counsel in the Bible about servants. The apostle Paul says, "Obey . . . your masters," and masters were to love their servants. This is our relationship with the Lord—His love for us, and our obedience to Him.
Let us consider another title: "Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord" (Eze. 34:7). This is a meaningful title—a shepherd of the flock. The Saviour also spoke of the shepherd of the sheep. He said: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). What is the door? The Saviour Himself is the door to the sheepfold, and the true shepherd will enter into his work through the command and counsel of his Lord. "To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name. . . . And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice" (John 10:3, 4).
Sheep, as you know, have a habit of following the leader. And that is true of the people of the Advent Movement—of all those who are sheep in the Lord's flock. So the Lord would have us as shepherds show the way.
A shepherd cares for the flock. He seeks out good pasture for them. He warns them of danger. He leads them beside still waters. He lives with them. He carries the lambs in his bosom. He nurses the sick or afflicted, and if there be one lost sheep he will go into the mountains to seek that lost one. This is the picture that the Lord describes of the true shepherd of the flock.
Returning to Ezekiel, we read: "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; therefore, 0 ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord" (ch. 34:8, 9).
That is a very sad picture! The shepherds were more interested in their own personal comfort than in caring for the needs of the flock. They did not even search for the wandering ones, and the flock was left without a leader. (Refer to Eze. 34:10-16.) Surely the Lord gives us a warning here that we should all heed, for our great love and our greatest care should be for the flock of God.
I have been very much impressed with the reports of some workers about conditions in their fields. When I saw the pictures of men who had been in prison for the Lord, a statement in The Desire of Ages came to my mind: "And of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor."—Page 225. How different is God's evaluation of men from ours. We often think that the higher the position of a man the more worthy he is of honor, but this statement says that the highest honor is bestowed upon those who suffer for their Lord. Then a shepherd should never flee from his flock and leave them to become meat for every beast of the field; but he should stay with the flock, suffer with the flock, be their leader through all such experiences, even though it may mean prison and death. There is no more beautiful title given to the minister than that of "shepherd of the flock."
I have reserved the highest title for the last. Let us study it. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20). Why do I call this the highest title? Think for a moment what an ambassador is. When one nation sends a representative to another nation, that man is the mouthpiece of the nation he represents in the foreign country; and surely his nation would select only a trusted man who they know speaks the words of his government when he is in a foreign land. He cannot speak his own words there. He must at all times and in all places speak for his government, and when he speaks to the people in that distant land they know that the country he represents is speaking through him.
When I was living in London, just before World War II, the United States had an ambassador to Britain by the name of K—. It was easy to see that the war was looming up. At that time America was trying to keep neutral, and the American Government expressed itself very definitely as being neutral in this coming conflict. But Mr. K_______ was very pro-British.
He could hardly keep from saying so. On one occasion he was asked to make a speech in London before a certain group, and in the course of that speech Mr. K— assured the British people that America would stand back of them, and he elaborated upon the thought. The next morning newspapers came out with the report of Mr. K—'s speech, and the next morning he received a cable to return to Washington. There he was called in question by his Government for that speech. Why? Because he had not spoken for his Government. As an ambassador, he had no right to speak his own thoughts or his own words unless they were in harmony with the administration in Washington. Mr. K— came back a subdued man. He was very careful from then on as to what he said.
We are ambassadors for the Lord. We cannot speak that which we might think unless it is what our Master would have us speak. Paul said, "For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:20). Paul had spoken boldly for his Master even though he was in prison. Nothing could quench or destroy that witness.
There is another aspect of an ambassador that we should consider. The ambassador's residence is territory that does not belong to the country in which he is living, but to the nation that he represents. You know that sometimes political enemies of the state take refuge in an embassy, because they know that the government under which they may be living cannot reach them there. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are only ambassadors here, and our homes should be a little heaven on earth. We are pilgrims and strangers here. We are looking for a better country. May it be that where we dwell Heaven may reign and that those who may be persecuted or tried here among men may flee to us and there find refuge. I believe this is the highest responsibility that can possibly be placed upon the ministry. We are ambassadors for Christ, and our message should be a message of reconciliation to God. He is counting on us to represent His government aright, and that is the responsibility of an ambassador.
Let us review these wonderful titles:
- We are witnesses for God, and He is depending on us to witness aright.
- We are ministers of the Lord—ministers of loving service for the Master.
- We are stewards of the Lord, and He has made us His slaves or servants to serve Him forever.
- We are shepherds of the flock.
- Last, we are ambassadors of the Lord.
We have been called into one or more of these lines of service, and we should study to show ourselves approved unto God.
We are not serving men. The Lord is our leader. His Word is our guidebook. His truth is our message. His love is our constraining power. When we are thus united, whatever the future may hold, we will be one in His service. There will be unity of doctrine and fellowship.