Ministers of God, Part 2
Seniority and Paternalism
1 Peter 4:10: "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
Every follower of Christ is endowed with specific power from God for one central purpose and that is to be an effective minister of God. We are graciously endowed by God not to gain privileged position above others in the Church but to serve one another. Peter points out: "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."
The word minister used here comes from the Greek word diakonos (dee-ak'-on-os) which means a servant, one who runs errands, a waiter at table, or someone who does menial tasks. And it is in contradistinction from master in the sense that contrary to a master a servant does not have command or authority over anyone but is subject to a master's command or authority. A servant and a slave are in similar subservient occupation, except that a servant functions voluntarily but a slave functions under obligation.
Servanthood is the calling and character of every minister of God. It was characteristic of all the early apostles of Christ. None ever presented himself as a ruler or authority over the followers of Christ or on a higher level than any other minister of God. Paul, for example, in spite of the commendable achievements the Lord gave him as an apostle to the Gentiles, always presented his profile as a servant or minister (diakonos) of God. He made it clear that "I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power" (Ephesians 3:7). Peter, as we have indicated, maintained that every one in the Church has received the spiritual endowment from God to be a minister or servant (diakonos) to one another. "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another."
In the order of the Kingdom of God there is no hierarchical ladder of promotion to levels of authority or commands over others as exists in the world order. In the Kingdom of God all are servants and servants are always servants in the Kingdom of God. There is no place or position of superiority in the Kingdom of God. The Lord does not give such an office or ministry to anyone in His Church according to the order of His Kingdom. We are all given grace and abilities by God to be servants.
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not only teach that servanthood is to be a fundamental characteristic in all His followers, but He practiced servanthood although He was rightly Master of all. With regard to this, He instructed His disciples: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).
The concept of seniority, such as so-called senior ministers, by which one assumes command and authority over others in a church organization, is not of the order of the Kingdom of God. If you are a follower of Christ or a minister of God and you are in a place or position where you perceive yourself to be superior to other followers of Christ or ministers of God, you are being deceived. You are not what you think you are. Jesus makes it plain that "Who ever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant." There is no order of seniority in the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, even the practice of religious paternalism whereby some assume or are ascribed a dominant fatherhood position over others is forbidden by Christ in the order of the Kingdom of God. Paternalism is the practice of assuming the role of a dominant father to others and regarding and treating them as immature and dependent children.
And so, Jesus makes it plain that no one should assume any position of superiority or paternalism among His followers. "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:8-11).
Jesus does not forbid us from honouring our natural fathers. Jesus acknowledged God's commandment to "honour your father and mother" (Matthew 15:4). But Jesus has forbidden the practice of religious paternalism by His followers.
Religious paternalism is the exercise of a dominating role of spiritual or religious fatherhood over others who are treated as spiritually incapable of personally and directly receiving knowledge and guidance from Christ on their own and so must constantly rely on a spiritual father. According to Jesus, God is our only spiritual Father and He does not assign to man this role over His children. Our heavenly Father is always freely and directly accessible to every one of His children and no one should usurp our heavenly Father's place or influence others to take off their total dependence on God alone as their Father. Jesus states: "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."
God wants His people to trust and rely on Him and not on man. He wants His people to depend on Him directly for the provision of all their needs, for all guidance and direction, for revelation of truth, rather than depending on any man as an intermediary between them and God. The Lord gives to every one of His followers the ability to hear His voice and follow Him and to maintain personal communion with Him. Jesus points out in John 10:27: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." And ministers of God should encourage God’s people to look to God and not them, to hear the voice of God, and be led by His Spirit. Of course, there are those whom the Lord uses to minister to our needs, and while we must be grateful to them and to God for using them, they are only instruments used by God. We must always keep focused on God as our Provider and Father and give that honour to no man.
No Schism in the Body
To avoid and to discount completely any concept of superiority or inferiority in the diverse gifts and ministries the Lord has placed in the Church, the Lord gives greater honour to those who seem less honourable or less presentable by bias human perceptions. In this way, there is equal honour and importance in every ministry the Lord appoints in the Church. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:22-25: "Those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary, and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another."
No follower of Christ should look upon himself and have others look upon him as a man of power and authority over other followers of Christ. Jesus Christ to whom is given all power in heaven and in earth, who is the true Messiah, the Christ, the everlasting Father, the Head of the Church, has reserved authority and rule over His followers for Himself alone. He therefore forbids the practice of seniority and paternalism among His followers. Let us all who are His followers be always ready and eager to honour His supremacy in the Church and to serve one another in the love of true brotherhood.