Summary: Paul, Pt. 24
BUILT TO SERVE (COLOSSIANS 3:22-25)
The St. Bernard dog is renowned for its rescue work. The males weigh 140-200 pounds, and a fit and trained dog can pull more than 3,000 pounds of load on wheels. Over the centuries, they have saved about 2,000 pilgrims traveling between Switzerland and Italy. The dogs were named after a monk living in the Alps from 1800 to 1812 who helped save more than 40 people.
With the advent of heat sensors and helicopters, however, the dogs’ usefulness is numbered. A Saint Bernard was last used in 1975. The religious order that raised them was forced to sell the dogs that had become a financial and physical drain. Upkeep is expensive and time-consuming. The dogs require weekly brushing, and more grooming during their twice yearly shedding.
The last St. Bernard dogs today live a cloistered, rather humdrum life in the monastery. On a good day, they are kept in metal cages on a bleak gravel lot outside. When foul conditions hit 245 days of the year, the dogs silently stare at visitors from glass enclosures inside the museum. There dogs do little besides walking 1 ½ to 2 hours a day. Today a visitor can pay seven Swiss francs ($5.55) to see the dogs. A sympathetic visitor sighs, “I find it heartbreaking. They seem to lack human affection though they seem well-cared for. It makes you want to kidnap the puppies…Life is in nature, not in a glass cage.” (“Saint Bernard Now Museum Pieces” Los Angles Times, Sunday Preview 9/25/05)
A question was asked: “What do you call a Christian who isn’t serving?” The answer is, “A contradiction” – just like an out of commission Saint Bernard. Serving God is one of the distinctions of a growing Christian. Simply put, there is no retirement in serving God and there is no spiritual growth without service. John E Hunter said, “God did not save you to be a sensation. He saved you to be a servant.”
As the pastor, I often hear complaints about the lack of workers, quality in service and members’ lackadaisical, listless and lethargic attitude. Today’s worship services do not begin on time. Moderators, ushers, churchgoers file in late, talk out loud, bring their drinks. Once, an absent-minded moderator turned up in flip-lops, T-shirt and shorts, dismaying the high church expectations in us. Further, some churchgoers like to hang out in the kitchen or nursery instead of coming into the sanctuary for worship.
What is flattering and unflattering service to God? What kind of attitude is acceptable and unacceptable? Who and why do we serve?
Serve with Passion and Power
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, (Col 3:22-23)
As a student in seminary, my roommate had a job as a custodian with the school. After the first day on the job, he told he had been assigned to work on the first floor of a four storey building. “Basically there are four guys responsible for their own floors. I take care of the rooms and my responsibilities are to empty the trash, dust the place, mop the floors, clean the restrooms and sweep the corridors.”
One particular night at the end of the first month, Lucas returned home later than usual; in fact near 11 p.m. When I asked him why he was home so late, he answered, “We had some problems at work. Someone from the office filed a complaint. The supervisor was very unhappy and called all the four custodians to a special meeting.” I asked him out of curiously, “Oh, what is so important that you guys have to hold such a late nigh meeting? What was wrong?” My friend grinned sheepishly and said, “A dead roach was left on the staircase for a few days and no one swept it away.” How could that happened? He explained, “All the four of us just work on our own floors No one was responsible for the stairs.”
A Russian proverb says, “When two shepherds guard a sheep, it gets lost.”
The context of the passage for Paul’s admonition was the established social structure then, but his broader subject is the Christian attitude in service. Paul was not an activist ready to do battle against the injustice and yoke of slavery. Instead he challenges Colossae believers, slave or free, to serve not necessarily more efficiently or effectively, but more exceptionally and excellently – to do it for God.
What does it mean and why does Paul say “work at it with all your heart” (v 23)? The inferior way to serve is to obey when orders come from an outside source. The word “obey” (hup-akouo) in verse 22 literally means “to hear under (hupo),” not “go over the head.” It comes from two words – a preposition “under” is attached to the verb “hear” (akouo). “Hupo” is contrasted with “huper,” the Greek for “over,” and “obey” is contrasted with merely “hear” (akouo). Of course, Paul is not picking on slaves. This word “obey” is used previously in verse 20 of a child-parent relationship: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Further, as in Ephesians 6:1 and 6:5, each time before Paul exhorts slaves to obey their masters, he commands children to obey their parents. Quality Christian service is that which is offered and not ordered, joyful and not joyless, sweet and not sour. Like Ephesians 6:5, the phrase “sincerity of heart” defines a person’s service.