Spend and be Spent
There is a wonderful aspect to Christianity which clearly marks it out as divine in its origin. First displayed in the Lord Himself, who “did not come to be ministered to, but to minister” (Mark 10: 45) we now see it exemplified, in proportion as grace has acted in their hearts, in the lives of His people. “I am in the midst of you as the one that serves” (Luke 22: 27) was Christ’s gracious declaration, abundantly illustrated by His walk down here. “Whosoever would be first of you shall be bondman of all” (Mark 10: 44) was the line marked out by the Master for His disciples to follow. Service, the fruit of love, characterized the Lord. Service, as a labour of love, should be manifested by His people.
A marked feature of the law given to Israel was strict justice. Every dealing between God’s earthly people was to be characterized by righteousness. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex. 21: 24) was the pattern. No one could complain about it despite its inconvenience or pain. If justice demanded an eye, then a man must surrender it. But righteousness alone is not the way of things in the present dispensation. A beautiful feature of Christianity, so foreign to law, is grace—a grace richly exhibited in the self–sacrificing service of saints of apostolic days. Thus that which no law could rightly demand, was exactly that which none of them would willingly withhold. Under the law, men looked to requite, and to be requited. Under grace, saints are marked by giving, both of themselves and their means. The law of God was a Jew’s authority for demanding justice from his neighbour. The example of God’s Son is the Christian’s guide in manifesting love to his brother: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sakes he, being rich, became poor, in order that ye by his poverty might be enriched” (2 Cor. 8: 9). Divine love is unselfish. It thinks of others, it serves others and it enriches others. “I do not seek yours” writes Paul to the Corinthians “but you; for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. Now I shall most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your souls, if even in abundantly loving you I should be less loved” (2 Cor. 12: 14–15). This was the expression of genuine love going out after its object, whether the affection was reciprocated or not. The apostle would spend and be spent, and have joy in doing so.
Neither time nor circumstances produced a change in this attitude of Paul’s. What he was in Macedonia when he wrote to the Corinthians, so he was in prison in Rome when writing to the Philippians. To the latter saints he writes “But if also I am poured out as a libation on the sacrifice and ministration of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice in common with you all” (Phil. 2: 17). He rejoices, even if he was to be poured out in death, because that would add something to them, the main sacrifice as it were. Yet though he had a “desire for departure and being with Christ” he would cheerfully remain on earth for their “progress and joy in faith” (Phil. 1: 23, 25). Like his Master, his thoughts were always of others. If he lived, it was for service. If he died, it would only be as a drink offering poured out on the fullness of their sacrifice. In accordance with this spirit, Paul could deprive himself of the presence and service of Epaphroditus (see Phil. 2: 25– 28) if by so doing the Philippian saints would be comforted. The prisoner at Rome would gladly resign one of his few comforts in order that they should be made glad. Caring for them and not for himself, he thus sent Epaphroditus back to them for their blessing. Many were the trials that pressed on him in his dungeon, yet he could think of the sorrows of others, and if theirs were removed, then his were lightened too.
The years roll by, and Paul is once more a prisoner in Rome, but this time with execution seemingly inevitable. He speaks as before of himself being “poured out” (2 Tim. 4: 6) but this time there is no mention of an associated sacrifice from the saints on which his libation could fall. Perhaps it was because he was now very much alone, the mass of saints having “turned away” (2 Tim. 1: 15). And yet despite this, the very fact that he refers to himself as only a drink–offering leaves room for other saints, saints whom he would rather have the greater glory. Thus between his first and second imprisonments at Rome Paul’s spirit had not changed. Even as he “finished the race” (2 Tim. 4: 7), you can almost imagine him turning round in concern for the progress of those following on.
But if death was to remove Paul from this scene, the same spirit would live on in Timothy, his true child in the faith: “For I have no one like–minded” writes the apostle “who will care with genuine feeling how ye get on. For all seek their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2: 20, 21). Here the secret comes out. It was not mere natural amiability of character in Timothy, but a heart that sought the things of Christ which made this young man such a valued companion, and one to whom Paul would readily pass the mantle of his life’s work. Christ had been formed in him.
There were others too. The Hebrews had “ministered to the saints” and “sympathised with prisoners” (Heb. 6: 10; 10: 34), and such service was recognised in heaven. Again, when Onesiphorus was in Rome he sought out Paul, even though all in Asia had abandoned the apostle. This humble servant of Christ was not ashamed of Paul’s chain, and had “often refreshed” him (2 Tim. 1: 16). No difficulty would Onesiphorus allow to stand in his way. He sought Paul out “very diligently” (v17). How the Holy Spirit loves to dwell on these details!
Yet service was not only rendered to prisoners, or to ministers of the Word for there were many other opportunities for exhibiting the spirit of Christ. Whilst Stephanas was encouraging Paul at Ephesus, his household at Corinth had “devoted themselves to the saints for service” (1 Cor. 16: 15). Philemon, and Nymphas (see Philemon 2; Col. 4: 15), threw their homes open for the Assembly to meet in. At Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla had the “assembly in their house” (1 Cor. 16: 19), and when they moved to Rome, saints there also found a suitable room “at their house” (Rom. 16: 5). Others, where such a service was not needed, still welcomed brethren and strangers within their doors. Gaius was Paul’s “host and of the whole assembly” (Rom. 16: 23), showing hospitality to all who had need of it in Corinth. Another Gaius acted in a similar manner, receiving strangers and forwarding them on their way (see 3 John 5–8). If these ways of service were not open to them, saints could still help others, including even those at a distance. They could send of their abundance to minister to the poor overseas as in Rom. 15: 26, or, like Epaphras, combat earnestly in prayer for Christians elsewhere in order that they might “stand perfect and complete in all [the] will of God” (Col. 4: 12).
Thus, whether at home or abroad, in the closet or in the household, in the prison or in the Assembly, believers found a sphere of service suited to their capacity, and occupied it. Speaking a word to a prisoner for Christ’s sake, giving a bed to a saint, helping labouring servants on their way, throwing open their houses for the accommodation of the Assembly, or on their knees in their chamber alone on behalf of others—in these, and in various other ways, service for the Lord’s sake was carried on. Nothing was too small to be noticed: even the washing of feet, so appreciated by travellers in hot countries is mentioned as a commendation by the Spirit of God (see 1 Tim. 5: 10). Grace had made them unselfish with what they had, and they freely gave of it for the glory of the Lord and the comfort and sustainment of His people. They, like the apostle of the Gentiles, would gladly spend and be spent in the service of others. Happy portion of Christians true to their calling!