One Man Among a Thousand
By Carolyn Staley
As the Interpreter leads the way into the first private room, notice that it contains a single item, a portrait hanging on the wall. Although it is not a great masterpiece or the work of a famous artist, study it carefully, my friend. Who is the solemn person depicted there, and why is his portrait displayed so prominently in the Interpreter’s House?
Although the Holy Spirit lives in every child of God as his or her resident teacher and guide, we have need of instrumental help if we are to safely navigate the path of life. God graciously provides this help by calling and gifting men to be his watchmen, the guardians of his flock. Upon the Gospel battleground, these men form the vanguard and bear the brunt of the conflict. At the same time they must guard the flank lest the enemy break through, for part of their calling entails protecting the flock against the intrusion of deadly error. The man of God does this by his uncompromising declaration of the truth and by maintaining a vigilant watch over those who have been placed under his pastoral care.
The godly minister is a rare and precious gift. Like Great-heart in The Pilgrim’s Progress: the Second Part, he is the conductor and spiritual guide of those entrusted to his charge. His faithful ministry is highly instrumental in their conversion, spiritual growth, and perseverance in faith. Therefore, he occupies a vital place in the kingdom of God even though he usually lives and labors in relative obscurity. This is the man in the portrait, one man among a thousand.
However, all who claim to preach the Gospel are not the true servants of Jesus Christ. Many assume the name and claim the office when they are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. These imposters are driven by ulterior motives, not genuine love or concern for the flock of Christ. Through clever words intended to deceive, they pervert the Gospel and create havoc in the churches. (Acts 20:28-30)
How are we to distinguish between the true minister of Christ and the false pretender? By what criteria are we to make this vitally important judgment? Take a close look at the man in the portrait. Ponder his expression and note well his features, for in them we shall find the answer.
Studying the characteristics of the imposter will do little to help us identify a minister of Jesus Christ. He is only known by a careful consideration of the true. The portrait hanging in the great entrance hall of the Interpreter’s House is placed there for just this reason. It is a composite of the genuine under shepherd of Christ, both as to his godly character and the exercise of his divine gift. Its distinguishing features show the high standards required for this highest and most noble calling. So as we carefully ponder each feature of the man in the portrait, what do we see?
First, we must understand that he is a man, not an angel or a super-human being. He would be the first to say that he is fallible, limited in wisdom and knowledge, and fully aware that his strength is not equal to his great task. Yet he is a very special man, described by John Bunyan as "one of a thousand." He is what he is by the grace of God, a chosen vessel filled with the Spirit of Christ and set apart for special service in the kingdom of God.
The sober mind and Christ-like character of the man of God can be traced in the deeply etched lines of his face. There is no hint of frivolity there, for the heavy responsibility and serious nature of his labor is ever in his thoughts. The sorrows and burdens that are unique to his calling give his face its rather care-worn appearance, yet there is a beauty in his features as well, the beauty of one who is selflessly devoted to the service of his Lord. (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
His eyes are worthy of particular attention, for they reveal both the nature of his calling and the orientation of his heart. Rather than looking straight ahead, his eyes are lifted upward, and even though you cannot see it, so is his heart. This precious servant of Christ has answered a heavenly call. Thus he labors tirelessly for both time and eternity, not out of mere duty or for earthly honor or reward, but out of love for his Lord and the souls of men. The power to faithfully perform his commission comes from the Spirit of God, who called him and placed him in the ministry. (2 Timothy 2:1-4)
Although he is a man of spiritual strength, he is keenly aware of his utter dependence upon the Lord. Therefore, he spends much time in prayer, seeking help and strength from the one whom he serves and to whom he belongs. Then coming out of his prayer chamber, he goes forth as a mighty man of valor, prepared for spiritual battle with the whole armor of God.
After duly noting the man’s uplifted eyes, our attention is next drawn to the book in his hand. This book, which is continually in his heart and mind, is the Word of God. As his sole authority, it constitutes both the rule of his life and the message of his lips. Shunning the commandments and doctrines of men, including his own personal opinions, he diligently labors to learn and rightly interpret the Scriptures. In so doing, he is equipped for the task of properly expounding it to others. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Even though the minister of Jesus Christ is a leader of men, he is a leader led by his heavenly master. He is well aware that he can only accomplish his great task if the Spirit of God is the source of his knowledge, wisdom, and unction. Therefore, the man of God is no stranger to the house of the Interpreter. In fact, like Pastor Great-heart, he is a frequent resident there. Within the refuge of its walls he communes with his Lord, receives instruction in the truth, and seeks guidance as to its proper application. In this way, he becomes an able minister of Jesus Christ, skillful in the Word of God and apt in the ready defense of the Gospel. Then being filled and led by the Spirit of Truth, he is a proper guide for other pilgrims on their way to Zion. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
The next feature of the man, the "law of truth written upon his lips," is not visible to the natural eye. It is a characteristic that has to do with the godly example of the minister of Christ. (1 Timothy 4:12-13) Truth flows from his lips because it is a living reality in his heart. Since his life is consistent with his message, the man of God is a worthy example to his flock. (1 Timothy 4:6-8; Hebrews 13:7)
We might presume that a man of such exemplary character would be loved and appreciated by all who know him, but this is not the case. Since he labors for the approval of God and not men, and since he buys the truth and sells it not, he is often misunderstood, slandered, and despised. (2 Timothy 2:1-15) He expects no better treatment from men of the world, but ironically, a significant part of this kind of suffering comes from those who claim to be brethren in the Lord. However, the truly spiritual person will love and respect him for his courageous defense of the truth.
After studying the various features of this very rare portrait, the perceptive viewer will observe that the world is placed behind the man’s back. He serves a heavenly master, a risen, reigning Lord; therefore, his heart is firmly set on things above. The world and its vanities hold no charms for him. Whatever earthly position or honors he could have attained, or temporal goals he might have achieved by pursuing a lesser calling, are gladly sacrificed to his Lord. Knowing full well that no man can serve two masters, he follows his Lord with singleness of heart and mind. Moreover, he does so joyfully, out of love for the one who saved him and placed him in the ministry. (2 Timothy 2:1-4)
Gazing still more closely upon the countenance of the man in the portrait, we observe that he "seemed to plead with men." In this, we may infer much concerning both his ministry and his heart of love for the souls of men. The imposter has no genuine care for men. He possesses nothing of the true shepherd’s heart, but ever seeks his own selfish purposes. Therefore, when the tide turns and trouble or persecution comes, he is the first one to flee.
Unlike the false pretender, the man of God loves people enough to tell them the truth, even when he must do so at great personal cost. As an ambassador of Jesus Christ to whom the ministry of reconciliation has been committed, he faithfully declares the good news that through Christ, men are reconciled to God and made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) Since this precious truth is neither universally loved nor accepted, suffering is an inevitable part of his bold defense of it. Yet he does not shun the pain that often attends his valiant stand for the truth, but can honestly say with the apostle Paul: Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Then there is the parental aspect of his calling, which is evident in his concern for the spiritual growth and welfare of those placed under his care. As they strive to follow the Lord and be more like him, as the image of Christ is gradually being formed in them, their pastor suffers spiritual birth pains right along with them. (Galatians 4:19) He can truthfully say with the apostle John: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 4) On the other hand, he knows no greater anguish than seeing those whom he loves reject the truth and depart from it.
What possible reward could be due such a man as is represented by the portrait? It would certainly be nothing that this world has to offer. But he does not seek earthly recognition, esteem, or reward. The “crown of gold hung over his head” signifies that a heavenly reward awaits him. (2 Timothy 4:7-8) When earthly honors and corruptible crowns have all been left behind, something far higher is reserved for the faithful under shepherd of Jesus Christ, a crown of glory that will not fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Dear brother or sister in Christ, there is perhaps another reason why this portrait is given such a prominent place in the Interpreter's House. Although the Spirit of God is the only infallible Interpreter, every Gospel minister also bears the name in that he is taught by the Holy Spirit in order to rightly teach others. Moreover, in a very real sense, every gathered assembly of saints is an Interpreter’s House, part of the household of God, the habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22) Those who have the divine Interpreter living within will discern the gift of God and hear the voice of Christ through his appointed under shepherds. (Ephesians 4:7-16)
So before we leave the antechamber, join me in taking one last look at the portrait hanging there, for it is actually a study in contrasts. By rightly interpreting its features, we should be well able to distinguish the true minister of Christ from those who merely claim to be. Moreover, the way in which we regard and treat the man of God says much about our spiritual condition. (Matthew 25:34-45) Therefore, let us give him diligent heed and follow his authority, remembering that he is commissioned by the King of kings to guide us safely through the difficulties we will encounter in this life. (Hebrews 13:17) Many false voices will clamor for our attention along the way, but armed with the increased knowledge gained in the Interpreter’s House, we should be much less likely to fall for the lies of the false pretender. (1 John 2:18-27)