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Traits of Faithful Servants

March 17th, 2017

I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, (I write) so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15 NASB)

The translation in English reads as if Paul was explaining about personal manners – “how one ought to conduct himself” – but the teaching actually was referring to how the church should function, especially the church leadership. The word translated “behave” (KJV) or “conduct” (NASB) is translated “had our conversation” (KJV) and “formerly lived” (NASB) in Ephesians 2:3. So the idea is not just how a Christian might conduct himself on special occasions but how he should have “his conversation” or should “live his life” every day.

One cannot put on moral and ethical Christian behavior for just a short period of time and expect to qualify for spiritual leadership. Nor should the church encourage this type of behavior. The church and the leaders are to be living for Christ every day, whether proper behavior is recognized by others or only by God.

Can you imagine what it would read like if Paul had said something like, “The church should be led by those who can appear godly for a few weeks before the annual election, whether they are in private or not.” The Spirit would not have inspired him to write such things, because it would have been disastrous for the fellowship if he had.

The Christian is to live his life before an audience of One – Christ Jesus Himself. Oswald Chambers in his devotional reading for today wrote: “Paul is like a musician who does not heed the approval of the audience if he can catch the look of approval from his Master.” The Master will often verify His approval through the encouragement of those who walk close to Him, but even then the spiritual servant will recognize the approving words as originating in the heart of God and merely being transmitted through the human agency. The single “Well done!” that our hearts truly long for will come from the lips of Christ.

Any ambition which is in the tiniest degree away from this central one of being “approved unto God” may end in our being castaways. Learn to discern where the ambition leads, and you will see why it is so necessary to live facing the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says — Lest my body should make me take another line, I am constantly watching so that I may bring it into subjection and keep it under (see 1 Corinthians 9:27).

I have to learn to relate everything to the master ambition, and to maintain it without any cessation. My worth to God in public is what I am in private. Is my master ambition to please Him and be acceptable to Him, or is it something less, no matter how noble?*

If we were to make a composite of all the teachings in the Bible on leadership, and all the best examples as well, we would see surprising consistency that showed the hand of God. These same principles apply today, that in the church, leaders should embody such things as: humility, servanthood, the willingness to do the necessary even when it is humble work, the heart of someone who is always learning, the life that consistently lives out the commands of Christ in private as well as public, genuine compassion for others, the awareness of one’s own vulnerability to temptation, and the simple love for and daily conversation with Christ.

Apollos was an example of these principles. He is mentioned briefly in Acts 18:24-28, but what little we know about him depicts him as a fruitful servant of Christ.

  • “He was mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24) – this speaks of his discipline and humility to study and learn. Knowledge does not come simply by sleeping next to books. One must read and study and spend time learning. It takes humility to admit what we do not know, that we need to learn, and Apollos demonstrated this trait.
  • “Fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:25) – “Fervent in spirit” is connected with diligence and service in Romans 12:11, so the idea is not mere excitement but steady and consistent service. In fact, we would all be able to attest that many who are excitable really lack the trait of steadiness and consistency. This depicts the warmness of spirit that enables someone to keep going through long and difficult challenges.
  • He was teachable, for Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and explained some matters that Apollos had not yet understood (Acts 18:26). Exactly what those matters were we are not told, but it probably had to do with the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. He apparently was well taught in the things of John the Baptist, and John’s teachings about the Christ. But as soon as we think we have nothing more to learn, then we are in serious trouble of being put on the shelf by God. Leaders must be constant learners.
  • He was compassionate and sacrificial – a man of action – and wanted to travel elsewhere, to Achaia, and share with the brothers there (Acts 18:27).
  • He was bold and publicly refuted the Jews, proving from scripture that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:28).

If we removed any of these traits from Apollos, he would not have been the man he was, nor would his name have been included in the Holy Scriptures. He was a composite of the spiritual man of God, fit for every good work.

We could simply say that the most effective servants seek to be as effective as they possibly could be under the Lordship of Christ. They do not harbor secret sins, rather they spend their time growing in the Lord and seeking to know Him better, to be more fitted to serve and to help. They are willing to sacrifice, they care for others, they are teachable and diligent.

But, more to the point, the only biblical standard we are given is the life of Jesus Christ. He and He alone is our model, our perfect example, and our target to aim for in private and public expression of our faith.  If we aspire to be fruitful servants, we should make sure that we are allowing Christ to reproduce Himself in us, that we put aside all claims of credit for what we do and simply desire that Christ receive the glory.

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*Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, “March 17: The Worker’s Ruling Passion”

1 Timothy, Leadership ,