Summary: This is a sermon/message delivered at the 2021 officers councils for the Fiji Division of The Salvation Army. A reminder that Jesus knew the fragilities of his disciples and that they would be tempted. Like them, we all need reminding.

Being intentional: The choice, faithful and wise or wicked

Matthew 24:45: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you; he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I spell out my desire for the future of the Division.

The messages that I am bringing at this councils have a focus on who we are as officers our roles in ministry and outreach to those we serve, as we respond to the love that God has shown us in the person of Jesus but also by empowering us through and with the person of the Holy Spirit. I want to point out right from the start that this message is not about doing more, but being intentional about what we do, about the intentional nature that we engage with our fellow citizens of the kingdom and all people. It is also about our relationship with God, about faithfulness to God, about responding to his still small voice, rather than our own wants and desires, it is about holiness and service. For me there are two commands that we are given. I don’t know if that is because some of us, me included struggle with remembering ten? One about loving God, the other about loving others, because whatever we do to others there are outcomes for good or evil, we either help or we hurt others.

If we look first at Matthew 24: 45-51 we get this description of a servant, this passage is not about two servants, that is how I often read it, but one who could be one of two things, either faithful and wise or wicked, in this day we would say a bad or evil servant, a nasty bit of goods we would say in my family. The difference between these actions is the servants focus on what he is doing and who they are doing it for, we could ask, what is the servant’s intention?

Remember that this teaching is about the coming of the Master, Jesus is teaching about his return. Jesus taught this to his immediate disciples at a time very close to the end of his ministry. Jesus believed that this was a message his immediate disciples needed to hear, why, well they like us were human and could be faithful and wise, or wicked like the next man or woman.

So in the gospel, the faithful and wise servant went about the master’s business. The Master was out of town, but the servant was being wise and holding himself accountable in his service to his master or we could say herself accountable as being a servant of Jesus is not gender-specific. Here’s a question; like this servant do we, live each day like it is the day that the master is returning but set your planning for his household years ahead?

The wise servant got on with his duties, to look after the other servants of the household and to ensure that the other servants had their food at the proper time. That is all Jesus mentioned that this servant’s duty was to ensure the other servants got their food at the proper time. This faithful and wise servant was responsible for ensuring that they ate.

Now we don’t really know how long the Master was away, except it was “a long time”, it states that in verse 48. How long is a long time? Rochelle is away still in New Zealand, since around Christmas, about a month and a half, is that a long time? There were people who went off to the second world war, four years, some a little longer, is that a long time? There’s a story about a tradesman who went out to the hotel in a town near where I grew up, his wife had asked him to bring a loaf of bread home. When the crew of a ship who were drinking at the hotel heard he was the trade they needed for their ship, they kidnapped the nautical term is shanghaied him. He arrived home 12 years later with a loaf of bread. Long time? It is a bit of a question, but the Wise Servant did his job, let’s say for a year. The Master of the house would not have left him empty-handed, I’m sure there would have been a budget, access to funds and instructions on how he should have done his job. In addition, a Master usually doesn’t put an irresponsible person in charge. Big household, lots of servants that need to be feed, maybe there was a farm attached to the household, businesses that were providing wealth for the household. Back in the day, a household could have all these things.

So, this Wise Servant oversaw the house servants and their meals. They got feed at the proper time. The Wise Servant was in charge of this one function in the household. Right, what’s involved in getting meals at the right time. Let’s say three meals a day. What is needed, this might come as a surprise to those who don’t cook; a menu, maybe a recipe book, a shopping list, visits to the market, ensuring the right things are harvested from the garden, from the estate farms, the butcher has the orders on time, the eggs are collected or brought, the fish seller has orders to fulfil, maybe the servant visited the harbour, that bread is baked brought or ordered, cash to buy the ingredients, someone to do the cooking, back in those days, water and wine to drink, maybe a staff in the kitchen, the right tools in the kitchen, a way to serve the food, someone or a crew to do the clean-up the pots and pans, plates and cutlery, take the waste away and dispose of it. One responsibility can sometimes involve many aspects, a bit like officership. This would be a daily routine, a very important routine as servants that aren’t feed can’t perform their own tasks, they may leave find another job. This servant had to be very intentional about his job. Jesus sums this servant up by saying that if the master returns and finds this happening the servant will be put in charge of greater things, all the master possessions. Doing this job right had a flow on effect for the master’s happiness, for the servant’s future happiness, employment and position. In Luke’s gospel, 12:48 Jesus says this; Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given. This follows a passage almost identical to the one about the Wise Servant from Luke’s gospel. Position comes with responsibility, do we, live each day like it is the day that the master is returning but set your planning for his household years ahead?

But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is a case the servant is either faithful and wise or wicked. The servant has a choice it appears, there was a decision made at some stage, the boss is away a long time, I will take liberties, play by my own rules. It could be that this servant’s character was not all his Master thought it was, lied on his job application, the power just got to his head, had a nasty streak that became obvious when the boss was not around, maybe he was just lazy. This is a key thing, like this servant we all have to choose. There is key management teaching that points this out and it’s a teaching that I have been reading about in a book called fish that is about a very successful fish market called the Pike Place fish market and this management teaching is, “that we can all choose our attitude.” This servant chooses the wrong attitude, he wasn’t willing to deny himself.

They can sort out their own meals, in fact when the start to grumble about the meals not coming or coming on time I’ll knock them about and then take the budget for the food and go drinking, who cares it doesn’t look like the master is returning any time soon eh? But suppose the servant is wicked, the master will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We as Salvation Army officers have a responsibility like that the servant is given.

We can feed God’s other servants that we are entrusted with, or not. There is a lot of latitude in our roles, we can spend all day sleeping, there’s no one around to keep an eye on things, spend all day in the quarters garden, go fishing every day, skip out of the appointment and do whatever may be fiddle the books. I was surprised at my first officers’ councils in New Zealand when the then DC mentioned that we should be trustworthy with the Corps finances, I thought it would always be the case. But the Tempter tempts. People in positions of power sometimes abuse it, take what is not theirs, take advantage of vulnerable people, engage in things that are not things that should occur in ministry. There are many cases of people in ministry who have given in to temptation. This is what Jesus was pointing out to his disciples, those great saints of the Church, martyrs for our Lord if it’s a message they needed to hear I think it is also a message I need to hear, that we all need an awareness of. The tempter tempts. But the Master will return. You have choices, what will your attitude be, to serve or self.

In a spiritual sense, Jesus is using metaphor in the story, he is giving a picture of a few things, physical feeding and spiritual feeding. In John’s gospel as you know Jesus declares that he is the Bread of Life. Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35). Also, when Jesus was having a conversation with the Devil in Matthews gospel; Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. ... Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. ' " (Matthew 4:4). It is our role as officers to feed the other servants on the teaching of Jesus, to lead them to the bread of life, to wait on their tables, not just those who are taking part in the household at this time, but also those we are called to bring into the household. As Christ’s servants we become his household, The writer of Hebrews says, “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house if we hold onto our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (Hebrews 3:6)

So what is it that the servant who is wise should be doing? Whoever comes to me will never go hungry. Jesus said it and you all look well-fed, I understand that among the officers of the Fiji Division this year we are to have a weight loss competition, I could do with losing a few kilos myself. But are we all well fed on the words that proceed from the mouth of God, courageous, living in the hope of Christ’s return? Are our congregations well feed on the word of God, are we giving our people top quality teaching that will nourish their souls, that will challenge and convict, that will build them up and help them to develop and grow courageous and hope-filled, real meaty sermons or are we feeding them milk? It’s an expectation that as Corps officers, sermons are prepared, not just a devotion is given, so far, I have heard really health-sustaining sermons, meat and vege sermons. People in our Corps and communities require this feeding and you are the servants that the master has put in charge of his household. Do we, live each day like it is the day that the master is returning but set our planning for his household years ahead?

Not only the feeding them with the scripture but showing them good character, like our new cadets are we reflectors of holiness so that when we, and our people go to the Lord in Prayer is he able to feed us and give answers to our prayers when his speaks to us with his still small voice do we always hear him?

Our prayers can be hindered for a number of reasons: Men treating our wives badly, the reference there is, 1 Peter 3:7, ladies I would pick that if you treat your husbands badly the outcome could be the same; a lack of forgiveness, Mark 11:25-26; praying like the hypocrites gets no results, Matthew 6:5; Doubt hinders prayer, Matthew 21:22, but keep what you are asking for in God’s will; Closing our ears to the needy, Proverbs 21:13; Living a sinful life, Proverbs 28:9, John 9:31, Proverbs 15:29; 1 Peter 3:12, Remembering sin with joy, Proverbs 66:18; wrong motives for our prayers, James 4:3, and being out of God’s will in what we ask for. The faithful and wise servant sought after his masters will. Are we seeking to do the will of Jesus our master?(

As the servant who is doing the feeding? Is this the example that you are setting the servants that you are responsible like the faithful and wise servant? I would like to point out that this is a question that I must ask of myself also? Are you forgiving, helping the needy, trying to live or achieving a holy life, staying within God’s will, loving your spouse, gentle with your spouse? Do the servants that you are feeding see this in you?

William Booth once said, “You cannot warm the hearts of people with God's love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.” Are we meeting the needs of these servants? In recent times there were requests for community outreach by way of feeding people in our Corps communities and I thank you for doing what you could in reaching out to the needy, one meal can make an eternal difference in the life of a person who is struggling or in need, I’m often surprised by how little it takes for a person to feel respected and welcome because often they aren’t by most people, respected or welcome.

I would like to finish off with the point once again of being intentional and focused in our ministries, our choosing the right attitude. But here’s a reminder in feeding our fellow servants the word of God, good fellowship, companionship and yes food. We need to be intentional. Always intentional, the master may return today but we have plans in place well into the future, knowing he will return.

When it came down to it, the servant had one thing they needed to accomplish, Some engaged in ministry fail, not because they start out I believe with the wrong intention, but somewhere in their journey they get distracted and take their own direction rather than following their masters leading. We all have that choice.

I leave you with another William Booth quote, why because I believe that he was a supreme example of a servant who served those in the master's house; “If there is anything of power in The Salvation Army today, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”

The challenge for us is also to be solid in our commitment to the Lord, that our wills are his and that our lives are directed by The Holy Spirit and used for God’s good purposes.