Friday, January 17, 2014

Speak, Lord, for your Servant Hears 

These are the words which Eli gave to Samuel, teaching him how to respond to God’s call.  Oh, that Eli himself had listened to those words!  Instead, his sons used the house and worship of God to enrich themselves and satisfy their lusts, and Eli did nothing, ineffectually rebuking them when the outcry got too big, and failing to remove them, and execute them, as he should have.  He decided that he knew better how to accomplish good outcomes than God Himself did.  Even if he didn’t articulate it that way, that is the effect of substituting his own goals for God’s.

There is a great deal of talk about what the church should be trying to accomplish, what goals we should have for our ministries.  We have vision statements and ministry models and the like.  Some say their great goal is to save sinners, or to promote missions.  Some want to “be” the gospel, promoting social justice, or cultural transformations of one kind or another.  There is currently an article going around about how the church needs to be more outspoken about abortion.  Some think that healthy families are what we need to be promoting; some push political change; some have some other idea.

But Eli’s instruction to Samuel gives me pause.  It seems to me that we are far too often goal-oriented, when as servants of God we really should be task-oriented.  Samuel says, “Your servant hears.”  A servant shows up at his master’s beck and call simply to be commanded, to be told what to do.  He has no right and no ability to tell the master what the goals ought to be.  He just does what he’s told.  Is that not our relationship to God?  Ought we not simply to faithfully do what God has told us to do?  We have no control over outcomes.  We cannot control which way the culture goes or which way our own churches go.  Those things are in God’s hands.

Jesus set the vision for the church in Matthew 28, and spelled out the details through the Apostles.  Our job is to preach the gospel and to teach people to observe what God has commanded.  We are to preach the whole counsel of God, to watch out over our flocks, to refute false teachers, to warn and exhort people.  That is the task the church has been given.  Whenever the church has tried to shape the outcomes, the results have been terrible.

It’s not that there isn’t plenty to do.  Our people need taught the truth.  Sin needs to be rebuked.  The gospel needs to be faithfully preached.  People need to be encouraged and exhorted as the Scriptures lay out for us.  So many ministers are so involved in their various causes and programs, one wonders- are their churches being pastored?  Are the brokenhearted being built up, the proud rebuked, the sick visited, the children trained?  Are they so involved in all their various pet projects because they’ve so mastered the work of ministering to the local church, there are no needs to occupy them?  Have they so faithfully fulfilled their Master’s commands that they now feel free to go and pursue their own agendas?  Or is it perhaps that the difficulty of the work before them causes them to neglect it in favor of easier and safer pursuits?

Even for those things that fall into the work of the church, like calling people to repentance or training them in discipleship, much of the church’s failure, I think, comes from this tendency to be goal oriented instead of task oriented.  When our goal is to make disciples, we tend to think of how we can best accomplish that goal, and then adjust our techniques to the mode that will effectively achieve that result.  So in the past we got indulgences, clerical celibacy, monasticism, mandated fasts and holy days, all in this attempt to do what, in our wisdom, would accomplish the right goals.  Today we get the seeker sensitive movement and the like.  I have heard people say that they don’t do church discipline because “it doesn’t work,” as if it was up to us to decide whether God’s commands were effective or not!  If instead we recognized that it is God who truly makes disciples through His Spirit, then we would just be busy about the tasks that God gives us- preaching the gospel, teaching His word, governing His church according to His rules, and trusting Him to work the results He wants to work through our labors.  This is what it means to be task-oriented instead of goal-oriented.

Paul exhorted Timothy to preach the word, in season and out of season- meaning, when it’s heard and when it isn’t, when it’s popular and when it isn’t.  We just need to preach the word.

In a company, there is the board of directors and then there’s the guy in the mailroom.  I remember in my foolish youth thinking that the companies I worked for ought to be run differently than they were.  But the guy in the boardroom sets the vision and goals for the company.  The guy in the mailroom just delivers the mail.

In the church, and in the world, we are just the guys in the mailroom.  God knows what He’s doing, and has no need to be advised or informed by us.  Eli, Hophni and Phinehas made their own decisions about what God’s church was for.  God killed them as a result.  He raised up for Himself a faithful servant in their place and taught that servant to say simply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  May He continue to raise up faithful servants to Himself in our day as well, who will put away the pride of thinking that we get to decide what the church should be and what it should do, and simply be faithful to the tasks that God has given us, in His strength.

Good article, brother! Keep up your diligent, faithful labor for the Lord!

S. Henry
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