How to speak of Christ's servants
It is because I agree with you so fully on evil-speaking that I write again so soon. Lamentable instances of false reports—and even slanderous ones—have been brought before me again and again of late ; and I truly believe that the readiness with which these are received and circulated is fast becoming a crying iniquity, and one which the Lord will be compelled to step in and judge unless we repent. For a long time past I have been driven to refuse to believe a report unless I have verified it for myself. Exodus 23:1 — marginal reading — binds this responsibility upon us."
To the letter containing this extract the following reply was given: It is by upholding the good name of the ministering brethren that fellowship is promoted. I wish there were more "using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." I wish sincerely that all labouring brethren would learn of the Lord and His holy apostles to think affectionately, and write and speak appreciatingly, of one another, and thus show their superiority to everything affecting self, and their supreme occupation with the Lord, and the Word and work the Spirit is carrying on for His glory. I am sure we have been sadly lacking in this—the servant coming before us in his personality as a man, and not in his connection with the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God has glorified with Himself in the heavens—maintaining His good Name there against a world of blasphemers and detractors. Every time I turn my eyes to the Son of God upon the Father`s throne I see, for one thing, God`s determination to clear His Name —"Of righteousness because I go to the Father" and, knowing how near and dear His ambassadors of the heavenly legation of reconciliation are to Him, it must be peculiarly offensive to Him when the success of their ministry is hindered by raising against them an undercurrent of private calumniation; and it must be gratifying to His heart when His ministers are so bent upon the advancement of His glory and so full of regard for one another, because they belong to Christ, that they are sensitively careful on all occasion to uphold their character, and discountenance all tale-bearers, insinuators, and evil-speakers.
It must have a very evil influence among the saints when a servant acts so as to set himself up by putting others down, while all the time he is preaching in the highest strain of Christ-exaltation. I am sure that the private intercourse of labourers of this sort with the saints, when contrasted with the ministry of the highest things of the Christian system which they hear from them in public, must have a most ruinous effect; for the high things are neutralized by the low things, and the mind of the believer is set a-quetioning whether there can be any reality in heavenly things when those who are the ministers of them are so very earthly—if not worse. The moral discrepancy between the public ministry of heavenly things and the private absorption in reporting and listening to evil and calumnious things must be very stumbling to souls who are tremendously sensitive for the honour of Christ`s "worthy Name," and the good name of His servants.
The Lord`s way of speaking of His servants is seen in the notable instance of John the Baptist: "He was a burning and shining light, more than a prophet . . . Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." He had been the witness of "the true Light," and now the Lord becomes a witness to him. The greatest preacher of his day, who was now in prison, has the Lord assuring him by means of his disciples, and witnessing to him before the people as the greatest born of women. "He must increase, but I must decrease," and when "that Light" was shining in meridian splendour Jesus began to say unto the multitude concerning John, "He was a burning and shining light." He increased, not by depreciating John, but by His own intrinsic excellence and wonderful works witnessed to from heaven, earth and hell!
He did not leave the world until He restored His fallen disciple, Peter, and expressed His confidence in him before them all by the work He gave him; and openly gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven on the day of Pentecost, and maintained him in his primacy among the twelve, notwithstanding his terrible fall. He did not set him aside because of it as one who could not be trusted because he had so grievously failed. And this same Peter, forgetting the smart of Paul`s open rebuke given him at Antioch, writes of him as "our beloved brother Paul." This is the Christian style of a true servant formed on the model of the Lord.
Then Paul is a grand pattern. Time would fail to notice all the instances in which he speaks kindly and affectionately of others, and commends his fellow-labourers. One thinks of such lists as in Rom. 16; 1 Cor. 16 ; Col. 4. But to select a few examples. Think of his confidential and private communications to younger brethren in the letters to Timothy and Titus, and the courteous epistle to Philemon. These show the father in Christ, and the true Christian gentleman. "Whether any do inquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow-helper concerning you, or our brethren be inquired of, they are the messengers of the churches and the glory of Christ." Of Timothy he writes, "I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:17); again, in the close of the letter he adds, "Now if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you "without fear, for he worketh the work of the Lord as I also do. Let no man, therefore, despise him, but conduct him forth in peace that he may come unto me; for I look for him with the brethren. As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren, but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time" (1 Cor 16:10-12). He does not add: "Apollos is an impracticable man, always angular; I am sorry I called upon him at all." No, Apollos was the Lord`s servant and was not serving under Paul, but under the Lord; and Paul recognized this, and owned his liberty to go or stay. If there was will in Apollos that was his matter, but there was neither will nor temper on Paul`s part.
Paul has such confidence in Timothy that he couples him with himself in writing six of his epistles, (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1 ; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1: 1; 2 Thess 1:1 ; Philemon 1). Writing to the Philippians lie says, "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, for I have no man like-minded who will naturally care for your state; but ye know the proof of him that as a son with the father he hath served with me in the gospel." And to the Thessalonians he writes: "And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and comfort you, concerning your faith." When he writes to himself he addresses him, "Timothy, my own son in the faith. ... To Timothy, my dearly beloved son" (1 Tim. 1:2 ; 2 Tim. 1:2). Such is the gracious, affectionate way the Spirit teaches us, by example, in His Word, to think, speak and write of the Lord`s servants. They arc dear to Him, and it must give Him peculiar pleasure to hear them well spoken of. As a domnestic servant may be ruined by giving her a bad character, so a true servant of Christ may have his moral reputation and good character and ministry destroyed by detraction and slander. How sad, and how unchristian! If the wells of Christian integrity are poisoned, moral death is inevitable.
I believe that it is just here, and in this very thing, that any recovery we may expect of the condition of the Church must begin. "Know them that labour among you . . . and esteem them very highly in love for their works` sake " (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Let every labourer think kindly and lovingly, and speak and write favourably of his fellow-labourers, and thereby unity will be promoted at its source, which is the ministry of the Word. If instead of proclaiming faults, making grave accusations, receiving and propagating baseless or venomous reports, every one carried with him the mantle of charity that covers a multitude of sins, and he were to receive no evil tales regarding the Lord`s servants, but, on the contrary, discourage all tale-bearers and evil-speakers, and cultivate a generous Christian love and care for his brethren`s good name, there would soon be a revival of grace in the ministry and moral recovery in the Church.
It is told of the mother of a blessed servant in the Lord`s work in Scotland, within this century, that when any person, on calling, came out with some evil tale about a neighbour she said, "Hand down ray bonnet, and we will go together to the person about whom you have told me this, and we shall see about it, and find out if it be true." By this faithful dealing she so frightened all the evil-speakers that she was not long troubled with their defaming stories! Her son`s life was characterized by the truthful nobleness of his mother, and when by God`s grace he knew the truth of Christianity, he became the centre of that great spiritual movement which led not merely to the accomplishment of a great ecclesiastical event, but to the salvation of an untold multitude of souls. Let truth in the inward parts have such commanding effect as in this truth-loving mother and truth- commanded son, and this would work a moral revolution: for the labourers being set free from the supposed necessity of calumniating one another, and self-righteously bemoaning the course of this one and that one, would have their whole mind, time, and tongues in readiness to be entirely occupied with Christ and good, and not with the failings, or supposed moral deliquencies, of one another. All evil-speaking among the Lord`s labourers would soon cease if the effectual cure of making the accuser meet the accused were adopted. But this might produce only an outward cessation from fear of exposure; the radical cure must be inward, and in the spirit—practical righteousness and practical love to the brethren, and the Spirit producing these, are the divine proofs of being born of God in 1 John 3.
It is sad to think that there should be a necessity for writing a word on this subject; but have we not been all guilty, more or less, of this unkind and destructive conduct which the Spirit has emphatically condemned? I remember a quaint old Puritan book I used to hear my mother reading aloud in the family circle on the Lord`s Day afternoons, called "Dyer`s Golden Chain," and though I was very young (only thirteen when she died), and could not take in the teaching of it, there was one singular expression that has stuck to me all my life, and acted as a beacon. It is this remarkable one; when speaking of the "angel of the Church," he says in his quaint, but striking way, "Ministers are called angels because of their dignity: but when angels fall they become devils" (1 John 3:8-10). "Wherefore putting away lying, speak truth every one with his neighbour, because we are members one of another . . . Let no corrupt word go out of your mouth, but if there be any good one for needful edification, that it may give grace to those that hear it. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God by which ye have been sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ`s sake hath forgiven you" (Eph. 4:25-32).
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