By Harris Franklin Rall
In three chapters we have now studied the law of the life with men according to Jesus. Brotherhood was the first word, since we are all sons of one Father, trying to live in his spirit. Reverence was the next word, the regard for every man as man, as son of the Father and of infinite worth. Then came the law of grace and good will, the desire for the good of every man, no matter what he was or what he deserved. Now we take one step further and study the law of service.
The Law Of Service
In Jesus' Life.—We have already seen how the law of service was made plain in Jesus' own life. What he taught his disciples he had first worked out for himself. He had faced the question at the beginning of his ministry: as the Messiah should he rule or serve? He gave answer in the lesson that he read at Nazareth:
At the close of his ministry he turned to those that knew him best and said: "I am in the midst of you as he that serveth." As teacher, as healer, as friend, all his life can be described by that one word, servant. And as he lived, so he died, giving his life in service, that he might do by his death what his life had not accomplished for men.
The Rule of the Kingdom.—To his disciples Jesus declared that this life of service was not exceptional, it was the law of all life in his kingdom. Clearly he sets the two ideals of life over against each other. In the pagan world power means lordship: "Their great ones exercise authority over them." Power means the right to command others, to make them serve you. That was what James and John were thinking about as they dreamed of the glories of the coming rule of their Master. The other disciples did not think differently; they simply objected because the brothers were trying to get ahead of them. That was the pagan spirit, Jesus said. It was different in his realm. There power meant a better chance to help, and position meant the opportunity to serve. There was still room for ambition, but it was an ambition to be useful; there was a chance for greatness, but the measure of greatness was not what a man got for himself but what he did for others (Mark 10. 35-45).
"I Have Given You an Example."—In the fourth Gospel the message is given in connection with the simple but eloquent scene of the washing of the feet. "So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you" (John 13. 12-15).
The Mark Of A Christian
The Essential Demand.—Jesus made service the distinguishing mark of his disciples. God's spirit is grace and goodness, and where that spirit appears in men, there you see the sons of God. Love and service were not new words when Jesus spoke them; great teachers had used them often before. Such teachers, however, had joined these words with endless other obligations as to belief and action. Jesus said, this is the spirit that makes a man like God. The story of the good Samaritan illustrates this. The lawyer agreed with Jesus that love was the supreme and sufficient law, but it took this story to show just what the law meant. It meant that high office in the church and correct belief about religion were not enough; the priest and the Levite stand condemned. These were men of pure blood and proud of their race, but that did not count. The Samaritan was of a mongrel race, but that did not matter. He did not know who it was that he helped, nor do we; but that did not matter. Only one thing counted, a spirit of loving helpfulness to the man that was in need (Luke 10. 25-37).
The Tie of Christian Fellowship.—Another time he gave the same lesson to his disciples. The disciples had found a certain man who was not of their company and et was healing men in Jesus' name; "and we forbade him," they reported to Jesus, "because he followed not us." What Jesus rebukes here is the narrowness of those who make religion consist chiefly in belonging to their circle or their church. Those who serve belong to us, declares Jesus. To make men stumble, that is the great sin; but to help men, if only with a cup of cold water, that is to win sure reward. To receive even a little child in the spirit of Jesus ("in my name"), is to receive him (Mark 9. 37-42).
The Basis of Judgment.—But the clearest declaration of this message appears in the great judgment picture of Matthew 25. 31-46. In simple but majestic phrase Jesus pictures that final separation that must take place among men, based not upon any vindictive wrath of God, but simply upon the character of men themselves, that judgment which means the separation of men that each may go to his own. Significant is the principle of separation. Many things that the church has emphasized do not appear here. One principle decides: Did you help your fellow men in their need? And so they pass to right and left. Here are the men who had pity on the hungry and homeless and naked, who visited those in prison, whose heart was big enough to go beyond family and friends and take m the stranger. On the other side stand, not the Jews whom "Christian" nations have hunted, not heretics whom church or synagogue have cast forth, not pagans who have never heard of Christ, but simply the men who have not shown the Father's spirit in helping their brothers.
A Simple Religion.—How simple and warm and human is this religion according to Christ! Puzzling questions about theology and church organizations and sacraments are left aside. Who cannot understand what Jesus here sets forth: to give the cup of water, to wash the dusty tired feet, to show friendship to a stranger, to have pity on a fellow man? This is Christianity according to Christ.
How Men May Serve God
Worship As Privilege, Not Service.—"But," says some one, "what about the things that we owe to God? What about sacrifices and offerings which men of all times have felt were due to God? What about love and the faith that men should have in God? And what of the prayers and praise that we should bring to him in public service and in private devotion?" Now, faith and love and prayer have their full place in Jesus' teaching, as they had in his own life. That was life indeed, to know God in trust, to walk with him in fellowship. But Jesus did not speak of these as the service of God. Rather this was the way God served men, to show himself that they might trust, to give himself that they might love and pray. All these are God's grace and man's high life, but not man's service done to God.
God Does Not Need Man's Gifts for Himself.—In the most literal sense of the word, there is nothing that man can do for God directly; the only real service of God is the service of men. Psalmist and prophet had seen this long ago. Jehovah does not want sacrifices and burnt-offerings; he has no need of such. "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. ... If I were hungry I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof." Jehovah was not a God demanding things for himself even if he needed and men had them to give; he is a God who gives to men. "For I spake not unto your fathers . . . concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, Hearken unto my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you" (Psalm 50. 7-15; Micah 6. 7; Jeremiah 7. 22, 23).
Serving God by Serving Man.—How, then, can men serve God if God has no need that men can supply, and no desire except to serve men? The last words give the answer: serving men is the service of God. How real that service is we shall see when we study Christian stewardship; now we note only the fact as seen in Jesus' teaching. Prayer and praise and worship are our privilege, they are for our own need. But the one real service that God asks of us is to serve our fellow men. And now we get the full meaning of Jesus' words in the judgment scene: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me."
The Law Of Sacrifice
Sacrifice, Pagan and Christian.—The Christian law of sacrifice belongs with the law of service, and is indeed a part of it. First of all, however, we must reject the pagan idea that sacrifice means something by which God gains and man loses. The Hindu mother thinks to please her god by giving what is dearest to her, and so casts her babe into the Ganges. But the pleasure of God is in the good of man, not in his loss. He does not need our offerings to supply his wants, nor do we need to bring them to win his interest. And yet there is sacrifice in Christianity, and that too at its very heart. The cross is not merely the symbol of Christ, but of the life of his followers (Mark 8. 31-37). We gain the Christian meaning of sacrifice by looking at Jesus' own life. His sacrifice was not the suffering of death to appease an angry God; it was, rather, the devotion of his whole life to God's purpose of love for man. And that is what sacrifice should mean for man— the devotion of his life in service.
Giving Is Getting.—Such devotion will sometimes mean death, as it did with Jesus. And yet it is life, and not loss, that Jesus has in mind. "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall save it." The way of life is not by saving but by giving. This is paradox and yet simple truth. The giving that Jesus asks is a giving to service, a dedication of life to a high end. Where does such giving lead? First of all it leads to God. Sacrifice and giving are his nature, and only those who love and give can know him. But all who do so are led into the depths of his life, they become the friends of God. His secrets are open to them, his purpose for the world. His spirit fills them, his love and patience and pity. And that is life. Such sacrificial dedication leads also to the closest fellowship with men. And this too is life. There is, indeed, only one life that is life, and that is love, the life of fellowship with men and God. To possess things is not life, to have power is not life, to know many facts is not life. Now, the sacrifice that Jesus asks is simply a giving ourselves to his end of serving men. Such giving is not loss, but simply the beginning of real living.
Equally plain is it that the life that grasps and holds is on the way to death. Saving is losing. The self-centered life is the dying life, choked with its own wealth, crushed beneath its own possessions. The walls of selfishness that men rear to preserve their goods become the living tomb within which selfish souls waste and shrivel and die.
The Principle Of Service To-day
Service in Christian Missions.—There is nothing that marks off Christianity more sharply from non-Christian religions than its ideal of service. When Christianity enters a new field it comes to serve. That service goes out to all men. The Chinese coolie feels it and the poor outcast of India, the man whom the high class Brahmin would not for all the world so much as touch, and whose very shadow would spell pollution. For the Christian all these men are but brothers to be served. And that service reaches all life. Where the church goes hospitals and dispensaries spring up; the story of Christian healing round the world is a page from heaven's own book of light that shines against the dark background of greed which has been exploiting the weaker races of the world. There are schools, too, to liberate men's minds, and sanitation, and better knowledge of agriculture and industry, and a respect for human life, and new ideals of home and woman. And the Church of our own land is coming constantly closer to this new ideal of Jesus: not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give its life for its community and the world.
The Ideal of Service in Modern Life.—More wonderful still is the way in which Jesus' ideal of service has molded the common thought of men. Ex-President Roosevelt made telling reference to this change a few years ago in an address in Europe. When a Roman governor went out to rule a province, he said, everybody expected him to plunder the people and amass a fortune in the few years of his office. Now, he declared, we demand of every official that he be first of all a servant. When King George of England was crowned in 1911 in one of the most stately and magnificent ceremonials that the world has ever seen, the Archbishop of York preached the sermon. And the words of his text, spoken straight at the royal couple that sat before him, were the royal words of Jesus: "I am in the midst of you as one that serveth."
The Aristocracy of Service.—We live in an age of democracy, a democracy that is entering the last strongholds of absolutism. And yet what we are doing is not so much to get rid of our nobility as to change it. Once nobility was the accident of birth, and in the form of inherited wealth that is still partly true. In our own day there is an "upper class" of men whose title to that place rests simply upon superior cleverness or ruthlessness. But all that is changing. Our new nobility is coming to be more and more the nobility for which men qualify by service to their kind. We may count in that class a cobbler like William Carey, or a black man like Booker T. Washington, or a poor immigrant boy like Jacob Riis; but wealth as such or title as such wins no man a place in its ranks. Once men wrote in the hall of fame the names of kings and conquerors who marched to greatness over the prostrate forms of their fellows. But those letters are tarnishing now. "There is a patriciate even in democratic America," said President Wilson not long since. "We reserve the word 'honored' for those who are great, but spend their greatness upon others rather than upon themselves. You do not erect statues to men who served only themselves."
Directions For Study
Read the Scripture references: Mark 10. 35-45; Luke 10. 2537; Mark 9. 37-42; Matthew 25. 31-46; Mark 8. 31-37.
Review the life of Jesus as a life of service, calling to mind as far as you can the different kinds of people whom he served and the different kinds of service that he rendered.
Next consider the place which Jesus gives to service in his idea of religion. It is the supreme demand made upon his disciples, it is the link that should bind them with others, and it is the final test in judgment.
Consider the question how men can serve God. If God cares most for the welfare of his children, as such a Father would, then what sort of service will he want from us?
In studying the principle of sacrifice, consider how much of the highest good of this world has come by this road. What do these words suggest to you: prophet, martyr, patriot, friend, mother, Christ?