Read Exodus 18
Exodus 18 has sometimes been used as an argument to justify a practice in the Church of appointing people to certain places of responsibility and dignity so that operations might proceed more smoothly. Does the Spirit of God have any such intention in recording the advice of Jethro, and Moses accepting this advice without question?
There was a friendly spirit between Jethro and his son-in-law, Moses. Jethro had not shared in the afflictions of Israel in their liberation from Egyptian bondage, but coming to visit Moses afterward, he found Moses sitting from morning to night to hear the causes of Israelites and to pass judgment for them. It was a most plausible alternative he suggested, one that appeals favorably to our natural thoughts. But notice that Jethro said, “I will give you counsel, and God will be with you” (v. 19). He did not suggest that God should give Moses counsel, but implied that God would be with Moses if Moses accepted Jethro’s counsel. He advised Moses to appoint able and conscientious men to judge the smaller matters that arose between the people, and who could bring the larger matters to Moses.
Moses evidently considered that this was perfectly logical, and who could quarrel with this? But one fatal flaw was evident in adopting this advice. God had not commanded it, and Moses did not even consult God about this matter. Jethro could give the advice, then leave. He had not been linked with Israel in their former afflictions, and he was not to be linked with them in their wilderness trials. Moses chose “to suffer affliction with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:25), but Jethro did not.
If God intended Moses to act as he was doing, could He not give him strength for it? Certainly, He could. But this history illustrates something most serious. Moses is a type of Christ. Should believers be content to have other people settle the problems they consider small, and only bring the great things to the Lord? No! We should go directly to the Lord with every occasion of need. The introduction of intermediaries is the legal principle of human organization. No wonder we find God introducing the law of Moses in Exodus 19, and God Himself putting Israel under a form of organization that Peter later spoke of as “a yoke…which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10).
But even among Christians the natural tendency of our hearts is to revert to legal bondage in some way, and we fail to realize that human organization in the Church of God is legal bondage. Where some people are put in special places, then others do not need the spiritual exercise of being in the Lord’s presence to receive guidance, for they get their guidance from human sources.
The body of Christ, the Church, is not an organization, but an organism, which is vitally connected with the Head of the body and which receives its nourishment, guidance, and direction from the Head (Ephesians 4:15¬¬¬–16). When first instituted after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Church had no human head on earth, such as Moses. Apostles were present, not as being authorities themselves, but as unitedly insisting on the sole authority of the Lord Jesus. When some Jewish believers came to Antioch and insisted that Gentile believers should be circumcised and keep the law, this was settled at Jerusalem, not by the authority of any apostle, but by the word of God (Acts 15:7–8; 17–18), which was declared by the apostles and accepted by the gathered brethren.
It was necessary to have apostles as the connecting link between the dispensation of law and that of the grace of God, necessary that such men of devoted character should be used to lay the foundation of Christianity (1 Corinthians 3:10–11; Ephesians 2:20), that is, to lay down the truth of God concerning Christ in all His relationships. Apostles themselves passed away, but they have left their writings, scriptures that are authoritative, and by which the Church of God may be guided and preserved in all her subsequent history. While they were living, apostles did appoint elders in various assemblies, and Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in each assembly in Crete (Titus 1:5). Assemblies never did appoint elders, and there are no apostles living to do so now, nor delegates of the apostles.
However, once the Church has been established, there is no reason why believers should not be unitedly guided by the Spirit of God, who remains as a living power in the Church, as was not true under the dispensation of law. Are there no elders, therefore? By all means elders are still in the Church, but not as appointed by men. There are those who can do the work without any appointment, for God has fitted them for the work. We should certainly pray for such and appreciate their wise counsel and help.
As regards ministry of the word of God, God Himself gives gifts who are to respond to His own leading in devoted service. They do not need the appointment of men, but the power of God. If the assembly sees a spiritual gift in a saint, they should gladly encourage him. With the Spirit of God leading, there will be humility and unity. The assembly will gladly express fellowship with such a servant in the measure in which they can approve of his service.
In all spiritual service, we are therefore to depend, not in any way upon human arrangements, but upon the power of the Spirit of God. On the other hand, in Acts 6:3 the saints at Jerusalem were told to look out from among themselves seven men of good reputation to take care of material needs among the saints. These are the deacons of which 1 Timothy 3:8–13 speaks. As to caring for material things, the assembly is perfectly right to appoint those whom they can trust to do this work. But God does not allow us to choose for ourselves the ministers of spiritual things whom we desire. How good it is that God cares for us so perfectly! Yet we so little respond to this that when difficulties arise we look all around us for some human means of meeting these. Such means will be appealing to our rationalizing minds, things that have been adopted by many groups of Christians but leaving out the clear leading of God by His Spirit. How humbling it is that we are thus expressing the opinion that Christ is not enough!
It is natural to desire a thriving testimony, but if such a testimony becomes an object, then Christ has lost His place as the one Object worthy of our confidence. Let us return to our first love, and value the living power of the Spirit in the body of Christ.