QUESTION.Matthew 20:27 reads, "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." Is it a proper desire to be chief among the Lord's people, and are we to understand that the positions in the Kingdom of Heaven will be assigned entirely on the basis of the amount of service we render here?
Answer.The Lord had been pointing out to His disciples a certain weakness on their parta desire to be the greatesta desire that is general in the human familyan ambitious spirit. The context says that amongst the Gentiles there are some who exercise a lordship and have others to serve them in a menial way, but that this was not to be the case amongst the disciples of Jesus. They were to be actuated by a different spirit. With the followers of Christ there is not to be a spirit to dominate, to rule others, but a spirit of love, which seeks to serve others, to do for others, a spirit which is willing to sacrifice personal interest in the service of others.
On this basis we consider further the words of this text. There will be some among the Lord's people who will be chief. It is necessarily so in any company or class or association where people are not all equal in talentswhere some are born with more talents and some with less. Some one is bound to be chief. An absolute equality is not possible.
It is advisable, too, that there be some among the saints of God to guide the Church. What, then, is to be the standard as to who is to be chief? Shall it be the one who would browbeat the others? No; this is not the standard. Shall it be one who will have a masterful influence and pleasant words, who will dominate merely because of some talent, or because of superior education or wealthsomething of this kind? No; this could not be the standard. What, then, will be the standard as to those who will be recognized as chief ones in the Church?
We reply, We should look for those who have most of the spirit of service. He who renders the greatest amount of service and brings the greatest spiritual blessing to the Classthe one who tries most to truly serveconsider him your chief. While our Lord's words were addressed to all the Apostles, and not merely to one individual, yet they are applicable also to the individual. The thought should come home to each of our hearts, that if any of us have ambition for service in some special capacity, we are not to do like worldly people. We should take the opposite track, and leave any honor of men out of the question entirely. We should leave God to attend to that matter as shall seem to Him best, and be content merely to be a servant to the brethren. Let the Lord see how willing you are to serve in any manner.
The person without any ambition never amounts to anything. We need to have ambition if we are sowing or plowing or whatever we are doingwe need ambition to spur us on to do whatever we do in a satisfactory manner. And so if we have the opportunity of serving the Truth, we should seek to serve it in the most capable manner possible. Otherwise we should not be capable servants of the Lord.
But we are to lay aside any desire to be chief so far as ambition for personal glory is concerned. We are to seek to serve the Lord the best we know how. If you can serve the Lord in some respects better than I, and I can learn something from you, well and good. And if afterwards you can learn something from me, so be it. True, we should be patterning after that which is especially commendable and doing all we can to further the [R5793 : page 327] Lord's Cause. And this service should be prompted by love. Any service not prompted by love is not acceptable in the sight of the Lord.
The Apostle Paul says that those who desire the office of a bishop are desiring a good thing. It is a noble service. This office in the Apostles' day was not the exalted official position it is understood to be in the nominal church systems of today. A bishop then was a humble, untitled servant of the Church, caring for the interests of the sheep. Every servant of the Church should seek to be efficient, should love to be, as far as he is able, a caretaker over the flock of God. Amongst these Elder brethren, pastors of the congregation, there will be those of different natural abilities. Each should seek to use his talents, his opportunities, in the service of the Lord, of the brethren and of the Truth.
It is a pity that any of the Lord's people today forget the standard which the Master is here setting up. These seem to think that the office of Elder has become theirs by right, instead of realizing that the appointment to this office is by vote of the Ecclesia, the company of the Lord's people, and is to be the voice of the Church. We believe that the attitude of each one should be to be willing to accept the voice of the Ecclesia, the Church, implicitly. If he has become a member of the congregation by casting in his lot with the others, he has thus become subject to the rules that represent the controlling majority, whether it be a majority of one or of a larger per cent. Having done this, he should seek to continue in this attitude, whether chosen an Elder or whether another is chosen.
Very frequently a congregation makes the mistake of selecting for Elder a brother who does not have the proper qualifications. This sometimes means dissatisfaction on the part of some of the Class, and leads to the breaking away of some to form another Class. We think this is not the wise course. We think that if the Class made a mistake, the Lord is able to overrule it for good; and that therefore those who withdraw lose some experiences which would be valuable to them.
We are not always sure, however, that the Class made a mistake. How can we know but that the Lord has some lesson in this matter? If we have asked the Lord's blessing on whoever would be the choice, we should abide by that choice. If the one not chosen has ability for properly presenting the Truth and knows a number of places where he can be used and useful, we think that the brother should take advantage of whatever opportunities may present themselves. He need not leave the Class, however. He could perform whatever service came to his hand. Perhaps he could use his time and talent in Class Extension worknot feeling restricted in this direction because he was not elected Elder. He might go out and find opportunities for service. So the change in Elders might mean to the brother not elected or not reelected that the Lord was indicating to him another field of usefulness. The Lord's providences might be leading out for wider influence and usefulness for him.
We should not be influenced by what men of the world shall say or think of us. This is immaterial; and it is immaterial what the Church shall think. We should seek to please the Lord. We should not esteem ourselves too highly, but rather give a preference to others in our estimation. Positions in the Kingdom of Heaven, we understand, will be awarded according to the degree of the development of the fruits of the Holy Spirit; and this means a love which will lead to zeal in the Lord's service.
It was not our thought there to lay down an invariable rule on the subject. The Bible gives none, and no one else has a right to establish such a rule. Our suggestion was that whenever possible the election should be unanimous, and unless seventy-five per cent. of the Class, or more, favored a brother's election, it would be rather unwise for him to accept the officethe service. We did not by this mean that a minority of twenty-five or thirty per cent. should be encouraged to obstruct the Class and hinder an election.
Strictly speaking, a majority of one in a Class would decide any matter except as love might come in to urge a consideration of the sentiments of others. If for instance, a Class numbered one hundred, fifty-one would have a right to decide respecting who should be the servants of the Church, and the other forty-nine should very quietly acquiesce, recognizing the fact that they constitute only a minority, and should loyally strive to support the will of the majority.
Only the spirit of love and the best interests of all in the Class suggests more than fifty-one per cent. Love should strive for a unanimous vote. But how might this be obtained? We will offer a suggestion.
Suppose that in a Class of one hundred, six Elders were considered as necessary for the service. A, B, C, D, E, F, would represent available candidates of more or less ability. A might have a hundred votes; B, ninety; C, eighty; D, seventy; E, sixty; F, fifty. Under a strict voting on the lines of preference only two would be selected on a ninety per cent. basis; but our thought would be that the entire six might be unanimously elected, if they were on the average as good material as the Class possessed, and if nothing were known derogatory to their moral character.
It is a mistake to think that the standards established by St. Paul are to be taken literally, for no one would be found fully up to all the requirements. The Apostle has stated what the ideal Elder would be. Each voter should have this ideal before his mind in thinking of the will of the Lord; but the Class is not to be left without an Elder unless there are serious blemishes.
Our Lord similarly set a perfect example before us when He said, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48.) Who is perfect in the sense that God is perfect? "There is none righteous; no, not one." (Romans 3:10.) The Master evidently meant that we should not measure ourselves by a low standard, but by the perfect standard, that thus we would be assisting ourselves up to the grandest ideals in respect to our own lives and characters and in respect to those chosen to be Elders and examples to the Flock.
Be it always remembered that none are to vote except those professing full consecration, manifested by the usual symbolimmersion in water. Such as have not symbolized their consecration, are not to be disowned as brethren, but should be considered so immature as not to be competent to express an opinion in respect to who would be qualified to serve the Church, and, of course, would not be qualified to be servants themselves.
Another question which here and there is obtruding itself is, Should any one be chosen as a servant of the [R5794 : page 328] Church who has not taken the special Vow which so many of us have found very helpful, and which has been recommended to all?
We cannot make this simple Vow a test of brotherhood; for, even though we believe that the Lord has especially brought it forth at this time and that to a certain extent He intends it to serve as a test amongst the consecrated, nevertheless the Bible does not authorize us to make this a test of brotherhood. It is a matter of judgment rather than of Divine direction, just as the candidate's misuse of the English language, or uncouthness of manner might properly enough be taken into consideration, although not mentioned in the Bible amongst the qualifications for eldership.
It would rejoice us greatly to know that all the dear Elders and Deacons amongst the Lord's people everywhere could see eye to eye with respect to the reasonableness of the Vow, and its harmony with the Divine Word and with our consecration Vow, to which it is, as it were, a blue fringe, or border and finish. One can scarcely refrain from wondering what objection any Christian brother or sister could have to that Vow. To some of us it seems as though it would imply either something wrong as respects their heart intentions or something defective in their reasoning faculties. However, we are not competent to judge so closely. The Master said, "Judge not."
Our thought is that in selecting Elders or Deacons a preference might well be given to those who have taken the Vow and who see eye to eye on this subject. Nevertheless, if the brethren who are competent to lead Classes are acceptable in every other way and are not opposers of the Vow, they might be chosen. This would be especially true of those who declare that they are living up to all the requirements of the Vow to the best of their ability, and merely decline to take it because of fear that somehow or other the taking of this simple Vow might injure them while helping others. We may not understand the processes of their reasoning nor the attitude of their hearts, but we may under such circumstances pass over what we cannot understand nor appreciate.