Serving the Master

Dr. Brian Allison

How do you view Jesus Christ? Your view of Christ will directly determine the nature of your Christian practice and conduct. If you simply view Christ as a friend, then you will not revere Him and offer Him the obeisance due Him. If you simply view Him as a judge, then you will fear Him and perhaps be a stranger to His felt love. How do you view Christ? Your view of Christ no doubt is multi-varied, but central to that view should be the understanding that He is your Master with an absolute claim on the whole of your life.

We read in John 12:26, "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him." There are three elements to the structure of this verse: first, there is a condition – "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me;" second, there is a promise – "and where I am, there shall My servant also be;" third, there is a condition and a promise – "if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him." Do you really 'hear' these words of Jesus?

To serve Christ is to wait upon Him

Christians are called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ – "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me." 'To serve', as used in the New Testament, generally means to wait upon someone, to minister to someone's need, or to respond to someone's personal request. For instance, after He delivered His Sermon on the Mount and healed the leper, Jesus went to Peter's home where Peter's mother-in-law lay sick in bed with a fever. We read, "And [Jesus] touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and waited on Him" (Mt. 8:15). This phrase "waited on" is the same term as we find in John 12, translated, "serve."

This term 'to serve', is used only three times in the Gospel of John, twice in our verse 26, and also in this same chapter, verse 2. The earlier reference reads, "So they made [Jesus] a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him." Martha was catering to the needs of others. Accordingly, 'to serve' means more than just 'to work for' someone. For instance, you may have a place of employment; and in your place of employment, you work for the firm, or for the organization, or for the institution, or for someone, and you receive remuneration in exchange for your labour. But this term 'to serve' means to render personal service to someone, as one who has assumed a position of humility or inferiority.

Thus, to serve Christ is not simply to do some Christian work or job, but rather, it is to render service or ministry as unto Christ, and on behalf of Christ, in full recognition that you are a servant of Christ. You realize that you are in a Master-servant relationship; and that you are constantly, in Spirit, waiting upon Christ in order to do His bidding or to respond to His commands. What I am saying is this: Christian service is essentially a responding to the personal desire and will of Christ. It is not simply fulfilling some duty, or some imposition laid upon you by the authority of the Church. It is 'hearing' the Master 'speak' His will and desire. For example, you should not view visiting the needy or the sick as a mere Christian duty. No, you should view it as waiting upon Christ in response to 'hearing' His word, for instance, as recorded in James 1:27. Again, you should not view financially giving to the poor or to the Church as a mere Christian duty, saying, for instance, "Well, I have to give. The pastor says that we should give at least one tenth of our income to the Lord." No, you should give as one rendering obedience and service to Christ in response to His personal bidding as recorded, for instance, in Ephesians 4:28 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.

The critical point is this: you can turn to the New Testament (in particular) and view it as a list of rules and regulations, and say, "This is what I am supposed to do;" or you can turn to the New Testament (in particular) and, by faith, embrace the recorded words as Christ's own words directed specifically to you, as one who stands in a personal and humble relationship with Him. The first approach is that of the moralist, which tends to legalism and ends in spiritual bondage; the second approach is that of a spiritual child, which tends to spiritual fellowship and ends in spiritual freedom. Now what is your attitude in this matter? Do you understand what it means to serve Christ? Do you see Christ as your Master and that you are to spiritually wait on Him, that you are to minister as unto Him, whether you teach or usher or clean the Church? You are not simply fulfilling some Christian job, but rather you are responding to Christ's bidding through His Word.

To serve Christ means to go after Him

If it is true that we are to be spiritually waiting upon Christ in order to do His bidding, then we should, logically speaking, attend to, and thus personally follow, Him – "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me." Here we have an exhortation, a stipulation, a necessity. To truly serve Christ is to fully follow Christ. Have you thought about that connection before? My brothers and sisters, you cannot have one without the other. Now, it is possible to fulfil some Christian job without following Christ, but you cannot really serve Christ without following Him. Jesus here instructs that we are to have a certain disposition, a certain kind of commitment, a certain loyalty if we are to faithfully serve Him. I think the sentiment of Jesus' words is captured in Psalm 123:2, "Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He shall be gracious to us." As servants of Christ, we should be in a constant state of expectancy, waiting to hear His word and to respond to His bidding.

Now, to do Christ's bidding, that is, to carry out His word or commands, means to live as He would live and to do as He would do. It means that you will imitate His life; it means that you will copy His behaviour and His virtues; it means that you will reflect His character. But it means much more than this; and this point is very crucial: to follow Christ is to spiritually and personally go after Christ. It involves a spiritual sensitivity to Christ's leading by His Holy Spirit. The account in John 21:18-22 appropriately highlights this point. Jesus, after His resurrection, said to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, "'Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished [you were your 'own man' and you did your 'own thing']; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.' Now this [Jesus] said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, 'Follow Me'. Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, 'Lord, who is the one who betrays you?' Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, 'Lord, and what about this man?' Jesus said to him, 'If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!'" Though Jesus visibly appeared to His disciples on this occasion, Peter was to spiritually follow Christ for the rest of His life. Peter would not always behold Christ visibly, but he would be required to follow Him always.

As servants of Christ, we must spiritually go after Jesus, not by the eye of the body, but by the eye of faith. This means that not only do we go where Jesus would go, but also that we go where Jesus does go. Does that sound mystic and cryptic to you? We must follow the ever-living, ever-active Christ who is ever concerned, and always desires, to minister to a broken and sinful world; and those who truly serve Christ will increasingly know and experience this spiritual following after Him. They will be saying always, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears." Christ presently indwells His people, the living members of His spiritual or mystical body, and communicates His heart and His mind to them, and thus He Himself is active and moving daily in the lives of His people, saying, "Follow Me." Some of you know what I am talking about. When you visited that brother or that sister, or fulfilled that ministry of giving or witnessing, it was because you had been sensitive to the leading of the Spirit of Christ, who wanted you to bring a ministry, at a particular time, to a Christian sister or brother. Christ's Spirit convicts or impresses your spirit at different times of the day, and moves you to make that telephone call, or to make that visit, or to go and pray with that person; and, as a servant, you follow. It is a spiritual following, and thus the next statement of our text logically makes sense.

To serve Christ is to be where He is

To follow Christ is to experience and enjoy His presence – "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall my servant also be." Here we have a promise. How are we to understand this language – "and where I am, there shall my servant also be"? Again, Christ is the ever-living, ever-active Lord of glory, and He has a heart that weeps and breaks for the needy, and the oppressed, and the burdened, and the downcast, and the dying of this world. And through His leading, and our following, He Himself ministers to the disenfranchised and marginal (as we fulfil His will), in His personal touching of people's lives through us – "and where I am, there shall my servant also be."

Do you find it incredible, astounding, and overwhelming that you can be a concrete instrument of the ever-living, ever-active, ever-moving Christ so that where He is, you are also? God allows us to bring the presence and grace of the living Christ in us to others. We can be in step with His ministering will. Accordingly, in constant devotion and obedience to Christ, the servants of Christ will be increasingly sensitive spiritually in recognizing what Christ wants them to do, and how He wants them to live. You will realize how Christ wants to help someone in need. You will understand how Christ desires to attend to the needs of the oppressed and down trodden.

So, Christ Himself is presently ministering. Do you remember the language in the book of Acts? I am not advocating the same kind of extraordinary manifestations as we find recorded in this book of the early Church, but we do discover a principle which is equally relevant and applicable today: when the servants of Christ were ministering, it was God who communicated to them what to do, and (in a very real sense) they were following the leading of Christ by His Spirit. For instance, we read in Acts 8:26,27a, "But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, 'Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza'...And he arose and went." Philip had an appointment with an Ethiopian eunuch because Christ had a ministry to perform. Again, we read in Acts 10:17-20, "Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon's house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there. And while Peter was reflecting on the vision [and I am not advocating visions, I am looking at the principle], the Spirit said to him, 'Behold, three men are looking for you. But arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself'." Christ had a ministry to perform to the Gentiles. Further, we read in Acts 13:2 (and I suppose this verse is perhaps more relevant to our situation), "And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'"

Now, if you are a student of the Book of Acts, you will know that Acts is the second treatise of one volume, the first of which is the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were written by the same author. We read in Acts 1;1, "The first account [i.e., the Gospel of Luke] I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach." The clear and logical implication of the author is that in the Acts account he would record what Jesus continued to do and teach, and that through His disciples. Christ is always present in His Church fulfilling His purposes. He continues to do and teach today through His disciples.

True service as unto Christ is service led by Christ. It is ministry characterized and pervaded by the presence and power of Master Jesus. Christ's servants reveal – become spiritual conduits – of the ever-present, ever-working Christ; and in this sense, a true servant is always Christ's traveling companion so that where He is, we also may be. Now, how does one know that Christ is indeed leading? Simply, it is by dependent, humble prayer, and by childlike trust that you become sensitive to His leading, so that where He is, where He wants to minister, there you, His servant, will be to fulfil that ministry. O, what a truth! How amazing that Christ is pleased to use us, and to make Himself known through us.

To serve Christ results in exaltation

Rendering service to God the Son invites the recognition of God the Father – "If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him." My brothers and sisters, there is no greater privilege than to serve the King of kings, to bow down before the Master who has saved our souls and say, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears." And in addition to this privilege (which is a more than sufficient reward and blessing in itself), Jesus declared that in serving Him God would acknowledge and reward that servant. The rationale for this truth is found in John 5:22f., where Jesus pronounced, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgement to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." In serving Him, Christ is honoured; and in honouring Christ, the Father is honoured. In exchange, the Father is pleased to give honour, not by way of constraint or compulsion, but by way of grace and mercy.

God does not have to reciprocate in this way because 'at the end of the day' we are to say, "We are unworthy [or unprofitable] slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done" (Lu. 17:10b). But even in this matter, God is no man's debtor; and so in honouring Him, He will honour us, and that in the presence of His servants, as well as in the presence of His angels.

I can scarcely believe that God would grant this grace to the children of men; that the King of glory, the Creator of the ends of the earth, would honour the dust of the ground and acknowledge us in the presence of the angels because we serve His Son. Paradoxically, God the Father is pleased to exalt His lowly servants to reign gloriously with His Son. Don't you find that exhilarating, inspirational, motivational? I don't understand it, but it is true. The sad thing is that some who profess Jesus Christ as Lord have not yet realized what service to Him really means, nor do they appreciate the fact that they even have the grand privilege of serving Him. A spiritual blindness has fallen upon them. You professing Christians who are not serving and following Christ, please consider your soul. Has a blindness settled on you? If you do not do something about it soon, it will become darkness; and O how great the darkness will be! There is yet mercy for you. Delay no longer.