February 27, 2015

Unworthy Servants

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”
Jesus, in Luke 17:7-10

My little girl and I have a bedtime ritual. We read from one of her storybook Bibles, then read the corresponding passage from the Bible itself, followed by a hymn and prayer before I put her in bed. However, occasionally the story which is portrayed in the kids Bible is only a few verses in length, and so I read some of the surrounding context. Such was the case the other night, and it brought us across Luke 17:7-10.

This of course is not the first time I had read these particular words of Jesus, but I was most definitely struck by their timeliness to my soul. You see, I have something of a messiah complex. I think that I am really important, probably the most important person in the history of ever. Or at least currently living. I am going to do great things, accomplish important things. But that's not what Jesus says here. He says that any one who serves the Father is, ahem, a servant. Of course, some of us may well not be servants of God the Father, we might rather be His enemies (see Romans 5 or Ephesians 2). However, it is clear in both of the mentioned passages that the way to not be an enemy of God is to place one's faith and hope in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and reconciliation with God. I've done that. I need not worry about His condemnation. I just need to serve Him. Which is perfect, because I'm totally competent, extremely gifted, infinitely valuable, and just generally an indispensable part of God's plan...wait, what?

Serving God is a really cool thing. In fact, looking to Jesus as merely some sort of life-preserver who keeps me out of hell without affecting my life in any practical manner is,
a) dishonoring to Him
b) way less than He has called me to.
Those who have been redeemed have been made in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Part of the gift of salvation is being given work to do, a purpose here on the planet. My wife likes to call them special jobs. I think that is a fitting description. God has a special set of things for you to do. So do them, enjoy them, serve Him.

But here's the rub: if you're anything like me, those jobs can turn from service to the Master, and quickly become a way for me to try and validate and justify myself, no different from how anyone else in the world is living. I never cease to be haunted by Jesus words in Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

 It's possible to do a lot of things in His name with an attitude not fixated on Him at all, but rather on what I am doing, what I am giving, what I am accomplishing. To roll this back to Luke, Jesus makes clear that none of this was about me to start with.

I don't believe Jesus is making a point necessarily about how God the Father treats His servants, as God is not only our Master and Lord, but also our Father. His point, I believe, is to make clear to us that we have no right to expect anything from God, because we are but unworthy servants. Anything He gives us is a gift. That seems like a redundant statement, but let the weight of it hit you. Everything God gives you is a gift. You did not earn one single piece of it. Don't you find that offensive? I do.

We, and by we I mean I, need to realize that our labors on behalf of God are good. But they are not praiseworthy, in and of themselves. They are but the reasonable actions of one whose Master is the Lord of all the universe. To offer up my life is, as Paul says in Romans 12, but a fitting response to the astounding mercies of God poured forth in Jesus Christ. I am an unworthy servant.

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com