Summary: The issue is not whether we will serve but where we will serve.
Serving Without Thanks
Rev. Brian Bill
A couple weeks ago our daughter Lydia and I visited the campus of Olivet University. We arrived early so we decided to just walk around on our own. After a few minutes we spotted a guy who was riding a bike. He looked older than a college student and had huge calves. We immediately surmised that he must be a member of the Chicago Bears because they hold their preseason training camp at ONU.
Later, while we were on our official tour of the campus, I kept looking for more Bear players, wishing that I would have worn my Packer hat just to antagonize them. About half-way through our tour, a custodian greeted us on the sidewalk with a big smile on his face. He introduced himself and told Lydia that he hoped she would attend ONU next year. I gave him a fake smile and kept looking around for more superstars.
As we neared the end of our tour, we saw a bunch of sports reporters and then this huge guy walked into the building we were in. I was excited by the possibility of meeting an NFL player. I didn’t recognize him but he was huge – maybe 6’ 8” and 300 pounds. I tried to make eye-contact but he simply ignored us and just walked by, like we didn’t even exist. I thought about telling him that the Pack will be back this year but thought better of it.
As I reflected on this, it hit me that I was more interested in meeting an overpaid superstar than I was in talking to a sincere overlooked servant who keeps the buildings clean. As we continue in our summer series called, “Practical Parables,” we’re going to learn how we can keep serving even if no one notices.
Did you know that the word “servant” in one form or another is used over 1,000 times in the Bible? That means it’s a very big deal to God and should be to us as well. When the Apostle Paul introduced himself in his letters, he would start with his name and then describe his nature. Here’s an example from Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” He tells us e Hehh who he is (his name) and then what he is (a servant). This is his fundamental identity.
Are You a Servant or a Volunteer?
Let me ask you a question. What’s the difference between a servant and a volunteer? [Ask for answers] A volunteer picks and chooses when and even whether to serve. A servant serves no matter what. A volunteer serves when convenient; a servant serves out of commitment. Someone said it well: “The servant does what he is told when he is told to do it. The volunteer does what he wants to do when he feels like doing it.”
Friends, Jesus didn’t recruit volunteers; He calls us to be servants. Listen to these words from Carlton Coon: “Everyone in our church is a servant….Jesus never asked His followers to give a few hours of their day off. He did call them to give everything for the sake of the kingdom…most church volunteers have to be cornered, coddled and convinced that their participation won’t take up too much of their time…the church doesn’t need more volunteers who give away spare time. We need servants whose lives belong to the Lord.” 1 Peter 2:16 challenges us to “…live as servants of God.” We could say it like this: The issue is not whether we will serve but where we will serve.
One day Jesus revealed the importance of serving without being thanked for it. I should warn you ahead of time that this passage is probably not what you want to hear before our picnic. It’s quite a difficult and demanding little story. Please turn in your Bible to Luke 17:7-10 and follow along as I read: “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
The issue is not whether we will serve but where we will serve. I see four standards for servanthood from this story.
1. A servant’s work is not always sensational (7a). Check out the first part of verse 7: “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after sheep.” The word Jesus uses in this story for servant is doulos, or a “bond-slave.” This basically means that the servant is attached to the owner. This particular farmer probably only had one servant who had to multi-task throughout the day. He’d do the back-breaking work of plowing and then the wearisome work of watching sheep. His muscles would scream and then he may have screamed out of boredom. And then he’d get up the next day and do it all over again. Kind of sounds like some of our jobs, doesn’t it? My guess is that over time, his daily responsibilities became routine and his tasks were not thrilling.