The Rewards of a Servant

Matthew 19:27-29

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about being known as a church of servants – that we want the Glenwood church to be a church where everyone can come and find a place to serve in God’s kingdom.  But there’s a caveat – a warning in small print – that those who choose this path of service will have to sacrifice to be a part of this group of people who want to be like Jesus who knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples.

Illust. – Bart Starr – “Two dimes”

During the season of Super Bowl I, the great quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Bart Starr had a little incentive scheme going with his oldest son, Bart, Jr.  For every perfect paper he brought home from school, Starr gave him a dime.  After a particularly rough game against St. Louis, in which Starr felt he had performed poorly, he returned home weary and battered late at night after a long plane ride.  But when he got ready for bed, there sitting on his pillow was a note: “Dear Dad, I thought you played a great game.  Love Bart, Jr.”  Taped to the note were two dimes.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that everything you did was recognized and appreciated?  To see the visible, tangible results of your efforts?  To have a “to do list” every morning and check the jobs off one by one and have a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end of every day?  

If you aspire to be a servant, forget it.  There may be some jobs that provide those kinds of rewards, but being a servant isn’t one of them.  In fact, the work of a servant –

·         often goes unnoticed and unappreciated

·         there is always work left to do, and a constant sense that you will never get it all done

·         and a servant’s work is often done behind the scenes and in support, and the results are rarely immediate and sometimes years in the coming.

Ready to sign up?   That’s the problem with enlisting people to be servants in the kingdom of God – we don’t have much of an incentive package to attract them.  We’re asking people to volunteer to do work that is often unnoticed and unappreciated for rewards that are intangible and late arriving.  So what’s the attraction? 

Why would Jesus call us to be servants, and so many of us find that call compelling?  And why would we in turn try to motivate others to follow our lead?  It’s because we’ve found the rewards – but they’re not in the form of recognition or power or perks – in fact, they are exactly the opposite – they choose anonymity over glory, meekness over power, and the surrender of all over the accumulation of privileges.

What are the rewards of a servant?

1)    Becoming like Jesus

If you are serious about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, then one thing is going to guide how you think and how you live – what will make me more like Jesus?

John 12:26 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”

John 13:14-16 “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

I hope you hear the promise that Jesus is making in those statements.  If your goal in life is to become more like Jesus, you will never be more like him than when you are pouring yourself out in serving. 

The reward of a successful diet is pounds lost, the reward of a training program is a marathon completed, the reward of 4 years in college is a career – the reward of serving is becoming more like Jesus.

And the more selfless the service, the lowlier the job, the more helpless the recipient, the less appreciation you get – the closer to Jesus you have become. 

2)    Making a difference

Though the recipients of our service are people, we are serving God.  It’s an important distinction to make.  If we serve people, just because we’re nice and helpful, we’re humanitarians – and civic clubs and service organizations are filled with humanitarians – there’s nothing wrong with that, but the church isn’t just a service organization filled with nice, helpful people.  The church is God’s instrument to make a difference in this world for eternity.  We serve people for the sake of Jesus Christ – we are his hands and feet, doing work that he created us to do.  We are salt and light – we change the flavor of the society around us – we bring light into a dark world – what we do makes a difference.

It’s not necessarily the huge task or the great act of benevolence, but the simple act of kindness in the name of Jesus that makes the difference --

Mt. 25:40 (hungry, thirsty, stranger, poverty, sick, imprisoned) “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Mt 10:42 “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Illust. – Helen Keller on serving

I love the attitude communicated by Helen Keller, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble . . .  For the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

Our ultimate purpose is to make a difference in the lives of the people around us.  We are in the business of changing lives.   And the most powerful way we do that is by being living object lessons – letting people see what it looks like when God is at work in a life – letting people experience God’s love through us – serving people as representatives of Jesus Christ – giving people a glimpse of how God molds and transforms a person as they observe what he doing in our lives.

When people see us serving, we don’t want them to think, “what a great person,” but instead, “what a great God.”  Does our serving have ulterior motives?  Absolutely.  I want people to be drawn to God, I want people to come to know my Savior.  Is my serving contingent on somebody’s response?  Never.  I will serve anybody, anytime, anywhere and let God worry about the response.  But the joy and the reward comes when we see God at work in somebody’s life through our serving.  When we get to be a part of what God is doing. 

3)    A home in heaven

No picture of Jesus’ promises to his disciples is ever complete within the context of our earthly lives.  The reward of a servant will not be complete in this lifetime. 

And that’s not to paint a picture of a poor-pitiful-me life on earth, where trouble and sorrow are our lot in life and then it’s on to pie in the sky by and by.  That’s not it at all.  The earthly rewards are real and meaningful.  But there are no more beautiful words that will ever be spoken than the words we will hear from the lips of God, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!”

Paul, in speaking of the resurrection, rightly reminds us, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  The rewards of a servant in this lifetime are only a shadow and a taste of the promises God will fulfill in eternity.  On this side of the grave we cannot even begin to comprehend the wonder and magnitude of what our reward will be like in heaven – we simply don’t have the framework to imagine or the language to describe what God has prepared.  Oh, we try – with images of mansions and streets of gold, of heavenly choirs and myriads of angels, of everlasting joy, and no more tears, and a banquet table where Jesus himself is the host.  But all of that falls short of the reality.  We are describing the indescribable, trying to imagine the unimaginable.

But that’s where the reward of a servant is.  You remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).  Treasure is more than money or possessions – it is all of those things we have to invest – time, energy, priorities – everything that God has entrusted to us.  When we invest them in God’s kingdom they always pay rich rewards. 

You remember the conversation Peter had with Jesus – he sounds a little discouraged – wondering whether it’s all worth it – Peter said, “‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, // you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life’” (Mt 19:27-29).

The rewards of a servant – in a church where we want everyone to have a place to serve God – those are incentives.  But more than that – they are a window into our hearts – they reveal a lot about the depth of your relationship with God.  If these kinds of rewards make you think – “that’s exactly what I want in my life” – then follow through and become the servant God created you to be.  But if you’ve listened to these rewards and thought, “that’s all you’ve got to offer?” – there’s a change of heart that needs to take place.

Illust. – David Livingston – “No road at all”

You may recall the name David Livingston, a great pioneer missionary into the heart of Africa.  His missionary society wrote him and asked, “Have you found a good road to where you are?  If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you.”  Livingston wrote back, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them.  I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”