Guest Column John Rubens
Some years ago, a friend of mine decided to take early retirement from his secular employment and, having done so, promptly resigned as a deacon of his church. His argument was that it was now time to sit back and let others do the work in the church.
We never see such ideas in Scripture; the emphasis is that God’s people are called to serve their Lord and Saviour throughout their Christian lives. We are to be useful Christians according to our gifts and abilities, and the idea of retiring from Christian service is not an option.
But let us back-track for a moment. The Scriptures are clear: we are not made right with God on account of our usefulness or activity, but solely by grace, the unmerited favour of God; and we are exhorted to be holy, living lives pleasing to God and obedient to his Word.
Christians are meant to be different to unbelievers, because they are different. They are described as being holy, that is, being made special for God. In Exodus 28:2 we read of Aaron’s priestly garments as being ‘holy’, because they marked him out as being different from the others.
The Sabbath was called holy, because it was and is different from the other six days of the week. In the tabernacle, the ‘holy place’ was curtained off from the rest of the tabernacle, as it was a special place for a special purpose.
Peter calls Christians a holy nation, because they have a special relationship with God and this makes them different. It is this being special and different from the world that makes Christians useful to God.
God calls the Christian to follow him, to be his disciple even if it means being different from everyone else. Sadly, this is not the spirit of the age in which we live today. Today’s Christian lifestyle is continually pushing the barriers back.
The temptation is often ‘How far can I go as a Christian?’, rather than self-denial for the gospel’s sake. The idea of self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ is a hard notion today. Many Christians don’t want to be different from the world and fail to see self-denial as a necessary condition of discipleship.
So often, the Christian’s lifestyle is virtually identical to that of the unbeliever. If, as Christians, we continually want to be like everyone else, then sometimes God does let us go our own way. Israel’s desire to have a king rather than God himself rule over them was so that they could be like all the other nations, and this had dire consequences.
God calls his people to be different, to battle with trials and temptations that come our way. Hebrews chapter 12 encourages us to persevere and not give up, to accept the hardships and trials as God’s way of training and preparing his people for greater things.
We don’t struggle alone, but have the promises of God to help and sustain us as we seek to live holy, God-honouring lives. As Paul writes: ‘My God will meet all your needs, according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’.
Doing what you can
As we ask ourselves the question ‘How can I be useful in the kingdom of God, and how can I continue to be used as the years pass?’ we need to continually develop a godly life that is conducive to being a useful member of Christ’s church.
Who does God use in his service? Surely it is those who trust him, those who rely on him every day, knowing that he leads us one day at a time. It is those who live each day for him, in obedience to his Word. These are the people God uses in his kingdom.
Now you might be saying, ‘This is all very well, but I am not particularly gifted. I don’t have much in the way of abilities’. But whilst the Pauls, Peters and Ezras hit Scripture’s headlines, we also find many in God’s Word who simply did what they could. Here is the key surely, doing what you can in the service of God.
Church leaders are to encourage church members to play their part in the life of the church; no one is excluded. Let us get away from the idea you are only useful when involved in the public ministry. But think of the word of encouragement; that quiet time of prayer in our own home; the sympathetic letter; making a cup of tea for others.
We know the story of Mary of Bethany. When the Lord Jesus dined at the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha is busying herself with all the preparations for the meal and Mary sits before her Lord and anoints his feet. It was an expression of love towards the one who would be her Saviour.
Others complained about Mary, but Jesus said, ‘She did what she could’. Sometimes it all seems so small, so insignificant. Yet, no matter how little we do, if it comes from a heart of love for Christ, backed by a life that follows the example of our Lord himself, then every such act is a fragrant offering to the Lord.
We started with the story of a man who wanted to retire not only from his secular employment but from any work in the church. Such an attitude says more about our spiritual state than anything else. Those who follow Christ and seek to live lives honouring to God will always find that God has a work for them to do.
The author is a director of the French and Russian literature ministries of Evangelical Press, and has recently retired as pastor of Aycliffe Evangelical Church.