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World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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THE HIGH CALLING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD
by Paul Deitenbeck


We were sitting in an express train going from Zurich to Cologne. Evangelist Dr. Bergmann and I were returning with joy-filled hearts from a joint ministry. That afternoon we sat down to a cup of coffee in the parlor car. Suddenly one of three well- groomed ladies at the next table asked us, "Pardon me, but may I ask why you are so happy? Have you just consummated a good business deal or are you about to make one?" I thereupon replied, "We have nothing to do with business and we are not salesmen. We are happy because we know Jesus." A look of astonishment came over their faces. A long discussion followed concerning faith, forgiveness, hope -- a discussion that continued later in another coach. The lady who questioned us was the wife of a world famous operetta composer, and was en route to a gala performance in Cologne. I am reminded of this story in connection with my first point.

1. We are helpers of joy.

Paul expresses this in 11 Corinthians 1:24, "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand." What a wonderful task! What a high calling! The Gospel means "glad tidings." In the Christmas story the angel proclaims, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." And in Philippians 4:4, the apostle writes: "Rejoice in the Lord always." Wherever the Gospel is received in faith, great joy bursts forth. How could it be otherwise, when we have been offered the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus, a new life and the title to an eternal home! Thus Bezzel could say, "In every sermon should sound forth, 'Gaudeo, gaudete!" This means, "I rejoice -- rejoice with me!" In this joy-hungry world people try in all possible ways to manufacture happiness that lasts for only a short time. Lasting joy is found only in Jesus. Therefore God's colaborers can be helpers of joy, since they live in the joy of the Lord. Thus our faith even lends a sense of humor to everyday life. Our little gems of daily joy can make it easier for another to come to Jesus.

2. We are hosts of the Gospel.

In Romans 15:16, Paul says he is "a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God." The apostle interprets his task as serving the glad tidings of the Gospel to the people. The beautiful picture of serving a table is suggested here. The skilled head waiter makes the selection of food easy for his guests and makes the consumption of the meal tasty through his manner of serving. As servants of God we are the very ones who, by the way we proclaim our message, may make it easier for others to hear the Word. This spirit of servant love originates in Jesus' workshop. This same chapter of Romans says that even Christ pleased not Himself; therefore we are not to seek to please ourselves but to please our neighbor with the thought of awakening his faith. If a host gives this much attention to his guests how much more should we as hosts for Jesus Christ give heed to the best possible presentation of the message of Christ. We are to pass on the Word of God in its original form in the same direct manner in which we received it, as those who have first been abundantly satisfied with the fatness of his house (Psalm 36:8). Matthew 14:9 expresses this in all simplicity: “Jesus brake the bread, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude." The recipients of the Good News want to sense whether we ourselves are satisfied hosts of the Gospel. A man of God once said, "We are beggars who tell others where they can get something to eat."

3. We are divinely appointed stewards with authority for distribution.

The household of antiquity knew nothing of free domestic helpers; all servants were bond slaves. In a larger household an overseer slave, or steward, on behalf of his master made up the daily work list for the individual slaves. The steward was also a bond slave and bore the same fate of a slave as did the others, but he had a special position of authority. Paul makes use of this picture of the steward in I Corinthians 4:1 when he says, "We are stewards of the mysteries of God." Servants of God are assigned a special place of trust within the Church. They are children of God and servants of Jesus Christ like all their brothers and sisters; but by the call of God they have been set apart and occupy a special key position of influence and blessing. What they do not arrange for no doubt remains undone. What they initiate and introduce can have a wholesome effect of primary importance. Not without reason did our Lord spend the entire night in prayer before selecting His apostles (Luke 6:12-16). Not without reason did Jesus admonish His disciples, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest" (Matt. 9:38). God's servants are front rank men with whom an entire group aligns itself. We salute such men of God in church history whom God used to initiate and introduce great movements. Hudson Taylor became the founder of the China Inland Mission; Moody became king among the evangelists, and William Booth became the founder of the Salvation Army. "Let no one doubt the fact that God desires to do a great work through him," is written over the house where Luther was born. Today we see how God is using our Brother Billy Graham as an evangelist throughout the world. Each of these men Was in his time and in his surrounding world a front rank man of God with a radiating power. Each set an effective example and challenged others. This God-given service as a steward includes also the authority of distribution, that is, the calling of still other brethren in smaller or greater realms of influence. This task can be accomplished only through prayerful dependency upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit. This involves having both a spiritual vision for qualified brethren and loving confidence toward them. Everything depends upon simple faithfulness to our Lord. As Paul says in I Corinthians 4:2, "Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”

4. We are oarsmen in Christ's boat.

To depict the Church of Jesus Christ as the boat of Christ has a biblical basis and is frequently expressed in Christian art. This begins with Noah's ark and has its New Testament counterpart in the boat of the disciples on the stormy sea where Jesus stilled the storm. Paul's words in I Corinthians 4:1 provide a fitting description: the servants of Christ are "oarsmen" of Christ. Paul is thinking of the ancient galleys where many slaves, often chained to their rowing stations, rowed in unison as the coxswain beat out the time. What a striking picture! A servant of God is a sailor for Christ whose task consists of rowing in Christ's boat and for Christ's boat. Our creative concern should be that even the smallest task on an obscure spot results in a major contribution for Christ and His Kingdom.

5. We are assistant architects on a special building section of the Kingdom of God.

Here the Church is pictured as a building. In Ephesians 2:19 and following as well as in other places, the New Testament speaks of the construction of this building in which all of us are living stones. But in I Corinthians 3:10 Paul speaks of himself as the architect who helps build upon Jesus, the Foundation. He admonishes the colaborers to be careful how they build upon this Foundation. The servants of God are, therefore, not only living stones in the house of God but are also construction supervisors. The word "episkopos" is also very fitting here, the word which Luther translated "bishop." According to Schlatter's interpretation the Greek word meant construction supervisor." This "episkopos" was responsible for supervising and reporting building progress, as well as for checking all hindrances to construction. In like manner we are God's builders. Each one works on his special part of the building, in a building section of a state church, a free church, in evangelism, in the deaconry, on the foreign mission field, or in youth work at home. We are assistants to the great architect, Jesus Christ. If the construction'supervisor does his work sluggishly, the danger exists that the entire group will become weary. How the foreman works determines the spirit of all his laborers. What a responsibility this is for the leading men of God in the building of His kingdom!

6. We are under shepherds of the Great Shepherd.

I Peter 5:2 ff. states: "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; ... neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." Through the loving care of Jesus that he himself has experienced, the servant of God is able to perform this work of awakening love. For this reason our fathers called Jesus the Pastor of the pastors and the Great Shepherd of the undershepherds. How the people of our day hunger after real pasturel Hunger for life and search for security characterize modern man. But we have been filled in Christ's pasture and there repeatedly receive new strength. We have the privilege of leading others into this pasture. Under the watchful eyes of the Good Shepherd we as undershepherds are admonished to look after the brethren so that they do not break away.

7. God's servants are willing to be covered with dust.

When Johann Sebastian Bach was invited by King Frederick the Great to Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, he desired upon his arrival to first of all freshen himself. The King commanded however that the church musician be brought from the coach directly into the palace. Some members of the court smiled when they saw the dust-covered musician but with one rebuking glance the King chided their cheap contempt. Zinzendorf said, “Nothing is more beautiful than a dusty warrior.” The literal meaning of the word “deacon” as it appears so often in the New Testament is “going through the dust.” What a befitting declaration and what an appropriate objective for the diversified tasks of God’s servants both in the past and today!

Christ was not ashamed to become our most lowly Brother, a healing Companion of our misery. “As a companion of the same misery” (Luther) and as erring and endeavoring members of Christ, we may help one another and encourage one another in the way of faith. As servants of God our first concern should be for hte man in the dust of physical and spiritual need. Such concern downward is the mark of nobility in servants of God. It is God’s favorite direction. Woe to us if the neglected and outcast in our midst do not feel themselves to be valued! Deaconry respects the most lowly individual as a worthy candidate for eternal life. Father Bodelschwingh (a Protestant) once received a visit from a government minister at Bethel. Unconcerned he took this important visitor by the arm and conducted him on a tour. Suddenly Bodelschwingh recognized one of his brethren on the opposite side of the street. Hurrying to him he threw his arms around him. After talking to him briefly Father Bodelschwingh returned to the government minister and tried again to take him by the arm. "Mr. Pastor," said the startled minister, "Do you know for sure that this strange man has no lice?" Thereupon Bodelschwingh replied, "Mr. Minister, one louse from the coat of this brother is worth more in God's eyes than the medal on your chest." True servants of God are willing to be covered with the dust of their labors for the Lord.

8. The servants of God are His representatives.

In I Peter 2:9 we are admonished to proclaim the praises of Christ. This does not mean that we serve Him only by word of mouth. Everything about us should proclaim and represent the love of Christ. People today are weary of talk, and notice rather the walk of the life of faith. We need living examples of faith. The exalted position of the servants of God exists to that degree that they demonstrate their spirituality. Our failures must not dim the picture of God's great expectations. We are to be a sweet smelling savor for Jesus Christ among other men, a legible letter of Christ, an adornment of the Gospel, a praise to the glory of God, a light, and salt. 'IO magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together," that those who are in trouble will see and rejoice (Psalm 34:3). Eduard Schaper writes, "There is only one theology that still convinces, and that is the theology of martyrdom, or as we may say, the personal example. We have thought and spoken long enough." Walter Dirks said recently in a radio broadcast, "The root of modern atheism is the absence of Christ, and the absence of the Christian." Since many people no longer attend our churches, how shall they learn what faith is if they do not see and hear our faith in the troubled world where they live? Let me close this consideration of the high calling of the servants of God with a solemn statement of Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravian Church: "Our joy until we die, Is to win men for the Lord."


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Wheaton College 2006