Serving the Lord

Dr. Brian Allison

What do you believe is the crowning sin of the human condition? Franz Kafka (1884-1924), the Czech-Jewish novelist, wrote, "There are two cardinal sins from which all others spring: impatience and laziness" (Letters). M. Scott Peck, the contemporary, pluralistic psychologist partially agrees with Kafka. Scott maintains that laziness is perhaps the chief sin, the chief deficiency, in human behaviour and conduct. He writes, "So original sin does exist; it is our laziness. It is very real...Some of us may be less lazy than others, but we are all lazy to some extent. No matter how energetic, ambitious or even wise we may be, if we truly look into ourselves we will find laziness lurking at some level. It is the force of entropy within us, pushing us down and holding us all back from our spiritual evolution" (The Road Less Traveled). A number of years ago, the term 'couch potatoes' was quite popular. That term characterized an essential element of the Canadian and American lifestyle. We love inactivity. We love to slouch comfortably in our lazy-boy chairs and stuff our faces with fast food and junk food, filling our minds with the meaningless, inane content of television programs.

Laziness is a reaction to discipline. It is a shirking of our responsibilities. The amusing story about Daniel Webster (1782-1852), the U.S. lawyer and statesman, is very revealing. When Webster was a young lad, his father, Captain Webster, instructed him and his brother, Ezekiel, that they were to fulfil a certain set of tasks during his temporary absence. Captain Webster departed on his journey. When he returned, he discovered that Daniel and Ezekiel had not fulfilled their responsibilities. The Captain proceeded to severely berate his two sons, and he asked, "Ezekiel, what have you been doing all this time?" Ezekiel responded, "Nothing, sir." Then he asked Daniel, "And what have you been doing?" Daniel curtly replied, "Helping Zeke!"

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) poetically writes:
In works of labour, or of skill, I would be busy too;

For Satan finds some mischief still

For idle hands to do.

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,

'You have wak'd me too soon, I must slumber again'.

As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,

Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

(Moral Songs, i. The Sluggard)

Serving the Lord by serving others

Christians are to be diligent, and not lazy; active, and not idle. Romans 12:11 teaches, "Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." This verse could be translated, "In haste, not in laziness, eager in attitude, serving the Lord." As we minister to the needs of one another, we are, in effect, rendering service to Christ. The Lord affirms, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40). Accordingly, when the apostle Paul addresses the matter of Christian liberty, for example, underscoring mutual responsibility, he instructs that to do service to others for Christ's sake is to render service to Christ Himself: "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men" (Rm. 14:14-18). So, we have a responsibility to our Christian brethren. We are to live in love, ministering to their needs, and being sensitive to their peculiar situations.

Serving as a bond-servant

So, in demonstrating brotherly love, in ministering to the needs of the brethren, we are thereby rendering service to Christ. Now, we will effectively serve the Lord when we realize who we really are before the Lord. In order to serve the Lord effectively, we must acknowledge and demonstrate that we are bond-servants. We serve the Lord because we are bond-servants; we need to recognize that being a bond-servant is part of our spiritual identity and our self-conscious role as Christians. When we talk about our spiritual identity and self-conscious role in Christ, we are quick to say that we are sons or children of God, and we derive encouragement from this awareness. We thus draw the conclusion that we have a sense of worth, a sense of value. Or, we may rejoice in the fact that we are the temple of the Spirit; that too is a part of our spiritual identity and self-conscious role in Christ. Our physical bodies house the Holy Spirit and that marks us with honour and dignity, and we derive encouragement from this awareness as well.

Well, as the labels of 'sonship' and 'spiritual temple' mark our spiritual identity, so does the label 'bond-servant.' Now, depending upon how we view ourselves, that will determine what we do and how we live. If you view yourself as being a victim, you will live and act as a victim. Similarly, if you view yourself as a bond-servant, you will live and act as a bond-servant. Now 'bond-servant' is not a very flattering title or designation. It connotes the idea of being owned; it implies the fact that one has a master who has absolute control and jurisdiction over one's life; a master to whom we are to render complete and total obedience.

This term in the original Greek (doulos) is not the one used for a butler or a maid who serves a landlord or an owner of the house, but still has a measure of freedom. A bond-servant has no rights of his or her own. He or she belongs to someone else. That is our self-identity and self-conscious role in Christ. Christ has absolute claim and jurisdiction over our lives. The Scriptures read, "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God" (1 Pe. 2:16). We are free from sin and death in Christ, but free to serve Him in absolute and total obedience.

Because we may not fully appreciate the fact that 'bond-servant' is an essential aspect of our spiritual identity and self-conscious role, we may live our lives to please ourselves, believing that we are answerable to ourselves for our actions and the use of our time. Every now and again, we may 'check in' with God, saying a glib, dutiful five minute prayer and reading a two minute devotional, and feel that we have performed all that is required of us. Not true. We are slaves, and Christ is the Master; and our response from the time we awake to the time we return to bed should be, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant is listening" (1 Sam. 3:9). We are not primarily managers; we are not primarily nurses; we are not primarily lawyers; we are not primarily postmen; we are not primarily fathers and mothers; we are not even primarily students. We are bond-servants. Christ has a claim on every area of our lives, whether we are in the kitchen or in the living room or in the bedroom. We are His slaves and we must give an account to Him.

The early Christians had a clear understanding of their spiritual identity and self-conscious role. The apostle Paul identifies himself as being a bond-servant of Christ (Rm. 1:1; Php. 1:1; Tit. 1:1). James, the half-brother of Christ identifies himself as a bond-servant of Christ (Jas. 1:1). The apostle Peter identifies himself as a bond-servant of Christ (2 Pe. 1:1). Interestingly, God's final word to His people, the book of the Revelation, begins, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John" (Rev. 1:1). Do you realize that being a 'bond-servant' is your spiritual identity and self-conscious role?

Not a bond-servant of people

Practically speaking, as a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, you are no longer to be a slave of people. Now this fact does not mean that you are not to fulfil your responsibilities, obligations, and your commitments. It does not mean that you are not to show respect to those in authority. But it does mean that you are no longer under the control or power of others.

Friday night, my wife and I were coming home from watching the play, The Wizard of Oz. We tuned into the radio station 1050 CHUM to listen to the psychotherapist Dr. Schlesinger. A young lady had phoned in with a problem. She had just recently been married, and she was still smarting because one of her bridesmaids had offended her prior to the actual wedding ceremony. This young lady just could not get over what the bridesmaid had said to her. Schlesinger drew out of her that she was too sensitive and concerned about what different people thought about her. She apparently wanted affirmation and approval from people, and when she received criticism or reaction from them, she would be devastated. I realized that this young lady was a slave to people, being controlled by the expectations of people, wanting them to like her. As a bond-servant of Christ, you only have one Master. You are not to be the slave of people.

How often have I seen this dynamic of being a slave to people evident in a marriage relationship. The wife is often abused and forced into submission. Because of fear, she jumps at the husband's every whim and wish, wanting to make him happy, wanting to please him, always wondering what he is thinking about, what he expects. At that point, she is a bond-servant to her husband. In a marital relationship, one must love his or her mate as unto the Lord. The Lord is the Master, not the husband, nor the wife, and certainly not the children.

Often we allow people to control us because we do not want to disappoint them, we do not want to displease them, we do not want them to think poorly of us. The Scriptures read, "For am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Ga. 1:10). It is a matter of 'either/or.' If you seek to please people so that they will think well of you, approve you, and affirm you, then you disqualify yourself from being a bond-servant of Christ, for in seeking to please people, they have become your master and you have become their slave.

How a bond-servant should serve

Christians are to serve as bond-servants in a certain way. First, Christians are to serve Christ energetically – "Not lagging behind in diligence." Again, the basic idea of the original Greek is 'in haste.' We should be serving the Lord in haste. When a need is presented to us, then we should immediately respond. As a pastor, I was tremendously encouraged this past week when I heard of various people immediately responding to the need of our brother Tim and sister Kerry. You recall that Tim and Kerry lost their baby this past week. Some paid a visit to them, some sent flowers to them, and some took meals to them. Different ones called them on the telephone to encourage them; some wanted to drop by in order to pray with them. People responded so quickly to the need. This is an illustration of what this passage is teaching.

So, we are to serve energetically or diligently. There is the notion of urgency; there is to be an industry, an intensity, to our service because we are really serving the Lord. When a fellow-believer is sick, do not just pray, determine whether he or she needs help. Maybe he or she requires some groceries to be picked up or a meal to be prepared. When a fellow-believer has suffered the loss of a loved one, do not just pray, make yourself available to provide encouragement or social company. When that Christian family is in financial need, do not just pray, put your hand into your own pocket and give. Serve energetically – in haste – as unto the Lord, and your labour will not be in vain. Paul Speicher said, "A law of nature rules that energy cannot be destroyed. You change its form from coal to steam, from steam to power in the turbine, but you do not destroy energy. In the same way, another law governs human activity and rules that honest effort cannot be lost, but that some day the proper benefits will be forthcoming."

Second, Christians are to serve Christ enthusiastically – "fervent in spirit." The original Greek can be translated "to the boiling point." The idea is that of seething. In being energetic, there is the sense of constraint, the sense of compulsion, the sense that "I must do it." One has a sense of mission. In being enthusiastic, there is not so much the sense of "I must do it," but rather, "I want to do it." There is the sense of personal delight, commitment, and involvement. Now, you can be energetic without being enthusiastic. For instance, when I was in Grade 13, I had a summer job working in a paint factory. I hated the job. I boxed and stacked cans of paint. I was very energetic, but I was not enthusiastic. Yet, in Christian service, we should have a zeal, a passion, an excitement, realizing that we are not ultimately serving people, but the Lord. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote, "Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it." Are you enthusiastic about the Lord's work? Or are you just putting in time? Your attitude makes all the difference in the world. Energetically – that points to your actions. Enthusiastically – that points to your attitude. The two together make a perfect combination.

Let me encourage you to serve the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).