Called to Serve (John 12:26)

Published on Monday, 13 November 2017 09:32
'If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.’

In this verse, we have guidance for all who will serve Jesus. Basically, we see that a servant is a follower of Jesus. It also tells us where his servants can be found – ‘where I am, there will my servant be also.’ And Jesus also mentions what the future of that servant will be: ‘If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.’ While this verse refers to all Christians, we can also apply it to elders. An elder is a follower, he should be found in certain places, and he should bear in mind what will he will be involved in in the future.

It is important to note the dignity of the title that Jesus gives to his people here. Each of them is called ‘my servant’. What gives dignity to a servant is the importance of his master. If a person is a servant in a palace, he has greater dignity that someone who is a servant in a shop. The work may be the same. What makes it important is who the work is been done for. The least servant in the kingdom of Jesus has a higher rank than the greatest servant anywhere else.

There have been servants of God whom he has recognised as his servants in particular ways. Prophets and priests were his servants in the religious activities of Israel and they were often his spokesmen. In the New Testament period, elders, along with deacons, were recognised as having special places of service in the church.

In our tradition, we have distinguished between teaching and ruling elders. This does not mean that teaching elders don’t rule or that ruling elders don’t teach. The combination of teaching and ruling means that they govern according to God’s Word and their authority should be recognised in the congregation where God has placed them.

Our induction today is the fourth stage in the process. Working back the way, there was the choice of the congregation. Before that, there was the providential preparation of the new elders by God. And before that, in eternity passed, this was planned by God. So here we are participating in something that has been on God’s heart and mind from eternity.

We know that there are passages in 1 Timothy and Titus which list the qualifications of elders. The striking feature of those descriptions is that they list features which would be expected of all Christians. Therefore, we are justified in deducing that a qualification for elders is consistency of life. Moreover, we know that they should be able to teach, which means that they have a comprehension of doctrine and ability to communicate the teachings of the Bible (although not all will be as competent as others). So it is helpful for elders to bear in mind those three Cs – consistency, comprehension and communication.

The elder as a follower
As we think of this imagery, we realise that every Christian is behind Jesus, following him. That is what a disciple is. In Israel, it was literally the case. But they are not all following in the same place. Elders follow Jesus as the leaders of his people in a local congregation. They cannot follow him in any other way. Everything they do in the congregation they do as its elders.

The first point that this imagery suggests is that Jesus is in charge of the elder. Others may try to be in charge of him, but if he puts them before what Jesus says he is not following Jesus. Since Jesus is in charge, we have to ask where he has revealed his instructions and the answer to that question is that he has revealed his instructions in the Bible. The Bible alone is the rule book of the elder.

A second detail that arises from this imagery is that the elder must be close to Jesus. This is a reference to his personal walk with the Lord. He is to be an example in devotion. It is easy to see if someone is having a healthy devotional walk with the Lord – that person will be like Jesus. The devotional walk includes prayer for himself and for those he is responsible for. It includes adoration of the Lord and contemplation of his ways. It is through following closely with Jesus that the elder will have something helpful to say to others.

There is a third detail that comes from this imagery and that is that the elder is found in certain company. Obviously, he is part of a congregation. Yet there is a sense in which he is separate from the congregation because he rules over it in company with others. He has to be loyal to the other elders who rule with him, even if he happens to disagree with a decision that they make. Moreover, their rule is one of a community of love, in which they pray for one another. It is appropriate for elders to meet often, and I suspect that when they get to the Judgement seat elders of all congregations will all find out that they should have met much more often than they did. In company of one another, they follow the Lord.

Where an elder should be found
According to what Jesus says here, the elder will be found where Jesus is. So in order to answer this question, we must ask where Jesus is likely to be. One place in which he will be found is in the gatherings of his people. Even if there are only two or three of them present, Jesus will be there. We can say that an elder will attend all the regular meetings of the congregation. Obviously, common sense should be shown because there may be legitimate reasons for him not being able to attend. In the main, however, after due consideration, an elder always asks, ‘Where is Jesus at this moment and where does he want me to be?’

Jesus is also with his people who are in need of spiritual counsel. They may need this counsel for a variety of reasons. Some may lack assurance, others may be facing temptation, others may be becoming worldly. Of course, elders are not omniscient and it is the responsibility of those who want their help to ask for it. Nevertheless, while elders are not omniscient, neither are they blind. They are chosen by congregations to use their eyes and their ears and their tongues for the benefit of the congregation. Sometimes, an elder will see a tear in someone’s eye that no one else has seen. God has enabled him to see it as part of the Shepherd’s direction of the care of his people. And the elder should find a way of helping that person.

Jesus will also be found searching for the lost. He could do it by himself, but he has chosen not to do so in the main. Instead, he expects his people to do it. When we search for the lost, the searching is not because they are hide too find. The idea of searching is connected to persistence. Elders are to take the lead in this activity.

Jesus will also be found in places where his people are having fellowship with one another. He delights to be with those who gather to think about him and his plans. In fact, he is so pleased with such activities that he takes note of them and resolves to bless them, as described in Malachi 3:16. Elders are to take the lead in ensuring such occasions occur.

While those tasks may seem daunting, they are to looked at from the point of view of the promised presence of Jesus. He will be there with his power, his wisdom, his directing and his love. He will there to enable his servants to fulfil the tasks that he in his providence has opened up for them.

The elder in the future
Jesus says that those who serve him well will be rewarded by the Father. This is true of all believers. Yet some types of believers are highlighted for special rewards in the New Testament and one group that is highlighted in this manner is elders. Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 5:1-4: ‘So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.’ Peter mentions this as an incentive. It will be wonderful to hear Jesus say, ‘Well done!’

Peter points out the reward will be personal – each elder will get it from Jesus for what he did for Jesus in the lives of his people, and for how he did it. He also points out that his reward will be permanent (unfailing). In this life, some servants get a reward for outstanding activity, but after a while they get forgotten, and their reward diminishes.

Going back to what Jesus said in verse 26, we should note that it is a prophecy. He is describing what will happen. The Saviour says that the Father will honour those who served his Son in the roles given to them. Imagine what that will be like. Picture yourself at the Judgement Seat. You hear this description: ‘This was a man who stood up for my Son in difficult situations. He served my Son in a wicked place in a spiritually-dead time. He was weak in himself, but he used the strength that was given to him, and served my Son. Today, in the presence of this vast gathering, I am going to honour him.’ You listen closely for the person’s name and discover that it is you.

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