Rev'd Philip Heak
What is it to be a servant of God
I’m so glad we have the record of the Disciples in the Gospel. They always make me a little bit more at ease with the shortcomings of my own Christian life.
This morning we heard of James and John putting their foot in it. Jesus had just been blessing the children saying that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
- He had told the rich young ruler that to love he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor.
- He had plainly told the disciples that they were going to Jerusalem where the Son of man would be betrayed, mocked, flogged, killed and in three days rise again.
All quite wonderful happenings but, to the disciples, it does seem that Jesus may as well have been talking to a brick wall.
So we have James and John asking Jesus if they can sit at his right and left hand. The disciples’ impudence and lack of understanding is beyond belief.
How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children?
And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request is truly astounding.
So incredulous was this request that St. Matthew, writing a few years later than Mark, said it was James and John’s mother who makes the request – not the disciples themselves.
Jesus’ loving response is to take the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. Earthly greatness is defined as having power over, whereas divine greatness is defined as being servant to.
Eighteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker, said
“God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love.”
A slave is someone who has no will of their own. They serve because they fear. Don’t misunderstand. God does not have any slaves – but sometimes we behave as if we were slaves.
“Some people approach the extra mile with an attitude that makes you wonder if they just inadvertently missed the previous exit.”
God will punish me if I do something wrong. If I do this I won’t be punished. To act out of slavery is to have no love or joy in the doing.
A hireling is a person who works solely for material reward. They work because they get paid but it never goes any further than that. Work is carried out in the hope of reward.
There is a sense of that in the question of James and John “Make us sit at your right and left hand.” Are they saying that they deserve this?
A hireling serves for their own needs. There is a hint of that when we do something to be seen by others, so that we get approval.
If you do a good turn to show what a good chap you are, expecting gratitude or admiration as a reward, you are behaving like a hireling.
A young fellow who worked in an investment house was impressed and very appreciative at the interest his business associates took in the news that his wife was going to have a baby.
Every day one or more of them would drop around to his desk to inquire: “How’s the wife doing?” “What does the doc say?” “Any news, old man?” “Many more days?”
He did not know that every man in the office had a bet upon when the baby would arrive. The interest in his affairs really concerned a greedy desire to win the office bet.
The hireling is only interested in what they can get for themselves – neither the slave nor the hireling act out of love. One acts from fear, and the other for reward.
In absolute contrast to this the the Sons and daughters of God serve with Love.
This is what God truly desires. To love God.
It’s not a request but, in the Bible, it’s a command.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deureronomy 6 v5
The Bible says that people are made in the image of God, and that God is love. Its pages are full of people driven by love, responding to love, and obeying God in love. If Jesus Christ is the primary subject of the Bible, then love is the theme.
The word love appears in the Bible hundreds of times, and though it is not the most used word in the Bible, it is one of the central themes and driving forces of God’s Word. In the NIV for instance the word love appears 686 times.
The most famous passage about love is in 1 Corinthians,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
To do something from love is to not count the cost. To not look for reward. Love serves because it loves! The greatest act of love in history was when Jesus Christ died to pay for the sins of the world.
But what is it to love God?
CS Lewis puts it this way,
“People are often worried. They are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer ….. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do? When you have found the answer go and do it.’ When you behave as if you love someone, you will presently come to love them.”
Love, real love demands actions. Jesus was very clear about this when he said
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
A legend says that the great violinist, Niccolo Paganini willed one of his marvellous violins to the city of Genoa on condition that it must never be played. The wood of such an instrument, while used and handled, wears only slightly, but set aside, it begins to decay. Paganini’s lovely violin has today become worm-eaten and useless except as a relic.
Christiany without love for God and neighbour becomes worm eaten and useless.
As Lewis said, If I were sure that I loved God what would I do? Figure it out and then go and do it.
So who are you?
The slave, the hireling or the one filled with love.
Perhaps we are one or two or even a mixture of all three. Thank goodness we know that the disciples continuously got it wrong, because we are going to get it wrong as well but with God, all things are possible.
Are you a slave? You can be set free.
Are you a hireling? You can be brought to a place where you do not seek reward.
Do you act from love? Well, none of us can love perfectly. Only God’s love is perfect. But our faith tells us that that love of God, boundless, vast, beyond all measure, will transform us to be what God has intended us to be. God’s children.
I’ll conclude with the words of our Lord in John 14
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.”