Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—" The servant of the Lord must not strive." In searching for some last word that would meet your needs, this one has presented itself to me. It has the advantage of being a word of God, and like all God's words it is full of instruction, admonition, encouragement. Listen to it once more: "The servant of the Lord must not strive."
That does not mean that the minister of Christ is not to put forth most earnest effort. The whole Christian life is a life of effort: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate "; "Fight the good fight of faith." The ministry is especially a struggle and conflict against the powers of evil and for the triumph of righteousness: "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities" of darkness; we are to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." It is no easy going indifference to matters of right and wrong, no passive acquiescence in the evil-doing of others, no fatalistic composure when men are running into iniquity and ruin—it is none of this to which we are urged, when we are told that "the servant of the Lord must not strive."
What sort of striving, then, is forbidden? The word used, the immediate context, the position of Timothy, each throws some light upon the matter. The word used is the same as that used by James: "Ye fight and war, yet have not." The context indicates that it is the combative, wrangling, quarrelsome spirit which Paul has in mind: "Foolish and ignorant questionings refuse, knowing that they gender strifes. And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all." The position of Timothy is that of a young man with quick wit and quick sensibility, but with quick temper also; amid the many crude and arbitrary people he meets with, there is danger that he may be drawn into ignoble strifes, and into the heartburnings and estrangements that follow them.
Now you are all Timothies, or, at least, you have something of Timothy in you, and it will be well for you too to listen to Paul. He does not forbid the large, noble, unselfish striving that belongs to genuine Christian warfare. But he does forbid that opinionated and cantankerous striving that delights in strife for the
sake of strife, and that gives no peace either to friend or foe. Have you ever seen Christian ministers who had a genius for finding points of difference with others, who prided themselves on detecting the weaknesses of their fellows, who were impatient, censorious, contentious, partisan, bound to have the last word, to get the better of you, to have their own way, to rule or ruin? Ah, have you not seen such, and have you not seen that such a man can do more harm than seven godly successors can repair?
I hardly need tell you that this spirit of arrogance and contention is no more Baptist than it is Christian. We are Congregationalists in our polity. The minister is only primus inter pares,—first among equals,—and then first only because of the free choice of his brethren. His rule is only a moral rule; his influence only the rightful influence of truth and character. And back of all his utterances and claims must be the plain word of God, or he is an arrant impostor. He is not the church, he is only the teacher of the church. He has no business to browbeat the church, he is to persuade the church. Even when he knows the terrors of the Lord, he is to persuade men. Therefore the servant of the Lord must not strive, but must be gentle toward all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting them that oppose themselves. Here is the description of a true Baptist minister.
But it is Baptist because it is Christian. How gentle, how considerate, how courteous, how tender was Jesus' own treatment of honest inquirers! With what calm and lofty sincerity did he commend the truth to Nicodemus! And even to enemies, like Caiaphas and Pilate, there was pity for their weakness as well as clear assertion of his divine dignity and righteousness. In every dispute with hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, the disputatious spirit was all with them, not with him. Never does he seem more majestic than in his controversies; there is no personal, petty, selfish element there; he is absorbed in his message, he and the truth are one.
We can have this superiority to self-will and pride and enmity only by drinking in the Spirit of our Master, only by having the Master in us. The servant of the Lord will not strive, when he fully recognizes that he is the servant of the Lord. For if he is a true servant, then he will have the humility that will correct his pride; he is not his own, for the Lord has bought him; he can obey Christ, even through insult and wrong. And if he realizes that he is the Lord's servant, that will give him a sense of dignity that will fully compensate for any slights that men may put upon him; in the conviction that the truth he speaks is not his but Christ's, he can bide his time and let the opposer have his temporary and seeming victory; he is an ambassador for Christ, and they who receive him not receive not Christ who sent him.
I am persuaded also that a consideration of this relation which we sustain to Christ will deliver us from two of the most subtle temptations of the ministry of our time: I mean the temptation to over-anxiety about our work on the one hand, and the temptation to use sensational methods on the other. We are to work hard, indeed, but we are not to make hard work of our service. We have no right to regard our ministry as a crushing
burden,—that is unbelief's way of looking upon ourselves as the principals and upon Christ as a mere subordinate and assistant. We are but soldiers; we are to obey orders and do the best we can. He is the General; the responsibility of the issue rests with him. Let us realize who Christ is, and the distress of legal striving will be over. We shall move forward to the conflict as if all the drums and trumpets of the heavenly host were leading the way to encourage us.
The sense of our relation to Christ will make dependence upon mere sensationalism seem very unworthy of us. The Lord does not care to have us startle people, if the startling only causes them to relapse into greater apathy. Christ himself never contented himself with present effects; he aimed at the permanent and the eternal. And so the weapons of our warfare are not carnal; our striving is to be a spiritual striving. We must not win a temporary success by doubtful means. Not the wisdom of this world but the wisdom which the Holy Spirit gives; not the tinsel of rhetoric; not the machinery of ceremonial or organization; not music or poetry or flowers will of themselves convert men's hearts or honor Christ. Let us follow him of whom it was written, "He shall not strive or cry," but of whom it was also written, "He shall not fail or be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth."
There is a striving then that is purely human, ambitious, self-seeking, unbelieving, unworthy, doomed to failure; there is another striving that is magnificent, heroic, resistless, simply because in it the man is mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. There is a striving in prayer, in which a mortal man has power with God; there is a pleading with men, in which the minister of Christ has supernatural power over his fellows. How petty and how mean is striving of the earthly, sensuous, selfish sort! How sublime is striving of the other sort, in which God makes a human soul the vehicle of his divine thoughts and emotions, and uses it as his conscious and joyful agent in the great moral conflict of the world! As you go into active service for Christ, my brethren, resolve in God's strength that you will "labour, striving according to his working who worketh in you mightily." Then I am sure you will conform to the true meaning of the apostolic precept: "The servant of the Lord must not strive."