We have all told our people to serve God. Scripture says to "serve the Lord with gladness." But now it may be time to tell them not to serve God. For Scripture also says: "The Son of Man . . . came not to be served."
The Bible is concerned to call us back from idolatry to serve the true and living God (1 Thess. 1:9). But it is also concerned to keep us from serving the true God in the wrong way. There is a way to serve God that belittles and dishonors Him. Therefore, we must take heed lest we recruit servants whose labor diminishes the glory of the all-powerful Master. If Jesus said that He came not to be served (Mark 10:45), service may constitute rebellion.
God wills not to be served: "The God who made the world and everything in it . . . [is not served] by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25-26). Paul warns against any view of God which makes Him the beneficiary of our beneficence. He informs us that God cannot be served in any way that implies we are meeting His needs. It would be as though a stream should try to fill a spring that feeds it.
"He Himself gives to all men life and breath and everything."
What is the greatness of our God? What is His uniqueness in the world? Isaiah says, "From of old no one has heard or perceived by ear, no God has seen a God besides Thee, who works for those who wait for Him" (Isa. 64:4). All the other so-called gods make man work for them. Our God will not be put in the position of an employer who must depend on others to make his business go. Instead He magnifies His all-sufficiency by doing the work Himself. Man is the dependent partner in this affair. His job is to wait for the Lord.
"No Help Wanted"
What is God looking for in the world? Assistants? No. The gospel is not a "help wanted" ad. Neither is the call to Christian service. God is not looking for people to work for Him. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show His might in behalf of those who heart is blameless toward Him" (2 Chron. 16:9).
God is not a scout looking for the first draft choices to help his team win. He is an unstoppable fullback ready to run touchdowns for anyone who will give him the ball.
What does God want from us? Not what we might expect. He rebukes Israel for bringing Him so many sacrifices: "I will accept no bull from your house. . . . For every beast of the forest is Mine. . . .If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is Mine" (Ps. 50:9-12).
But isn't there something we can give to God that won't belittle Him to the status of beneficiary? Yes. Our anxieties. It's a command: "Cast all your anxieties on Him" (1 Peter 5:7). God will gladly receive anything from us that shows our dependence and His all-sufficiency.
The difference between Uncle Sam and Jesus Christ is that Uncle Sam won't enlist you in his service unless you are healthy and Jesus won't enlist you unless you are sick. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Christianity is fundamentally convalescence. Patients do not server their physicians. They trust them for good prescriptions. The Sermon on the Mount is our Doctor's medical advice, not our Employer's job description.
Our very lives hang on not working for God. "To one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trust Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Rom. 4:4-5). Workmen get no gifts. They get their due. If we would have the gift of justification, we dare not work. God is the workman in this affair. And what He gets is the glory of being the benefactor of grace, not the beneficiary of service.
Nor should we think that after justification our labor for God begins. Those who make a work out of sanctification cry down the glory of God. Jesus Christ is "our righteousness and sanctification" (1 Cor. 1:30). "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" (Gal. 3:2-3). God was the workman in our justification, and He will be the workman in our sanctification.
Religious "flesh" always wants to work for God. But "if you live according to the flesh you will die" (Rom. 8:13). That is why our very lives hang on not working for God, both in justification and sanctification.
Servants of the Heavenly Master
But shall we not then serve Christ? It is commanded: "Serve the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). Those who do not serve Christ are rebuked (Rom. 16:18). Yes, we will serve Him. But before we do, we will ponder what to avoid in this service. Surely all the warnings against serving God mean that in the idea of service lies something to be avoided. When we compare our relationship with God to the relationship between servant and master, the comparison is not perfect. Some things about servanthood should be avoided in relation to God. Some should be affirmed.
Who then shall we serve and not serve? Psalm 123:2 gives part of the answer: "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, till He have mercy upon us." The good way to serve God is to look to Him for mercy.
Any servant who tries to get off the divine role and strike up a manly partnership with his Heavenly Master is in revolt against the Creator. God does not barter. He gives mercy to servants who will have it, and the wages of death to those who won't. Good service is always and fundamentally receiving mercy, not rendering service.
But it is not entirely passive. Matthew 6:24 gives another clue to good service: "No once can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
How does a person serve money? He does not assist money. He is not the benefactor of money. How then do we serve money? Money exerts a certain control over us because it seems to hold out so much promise of happiness. It whispers with great force, "Think and act so as to get into a position to enjoy my benefits." This may include stealing, borrowing or working.
Money promises happiness, and we serve it by believing the promise and walking by that faith. So we don't serve money by putting our power at its disposal for its good. We serve money by doing what is necessary so that money's power will be at our disposal for our good.
I think the same sort of service to God must be in view in Matthew 6:24, since Jesus puts the two side by side: "You cannot serve God and mammon." So if we are going to serve God and not money, then we are going to have to open our eyes to the vastly superior happiness which God offers. Then God will exert a greater control over us than money does.
We will serve by believing His promise of fullest joy and walking by that faith. We will not serve by trying to put our power at His disposal for His good, but by doing what is necessary so that His power will be ever at our disposal for our good.
Of course, this means obedience. A patient obeys his doctor in hopes of getting well. A convalescent sinner trusts the painful directions of his Therapist, and follows them. Only in this way do we keep ourselves in a position to benefit from what the divine Physician has to offer. In all this obedience it is we who are the beneficiaries. God is ever the giver. For it is the giver who gets the glory.
And that, perhaps, is the most important thing of all. The only right way to serve God is in a way that reserves for Him all the glory. One "who renders service [must do it] as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that God may be glorified" (1 Peter 4:11). How do we serve so God is glorified? We serve by the strength He supplies. When we are at our most active for God, we are still the recipients. God will not surrender the glory of the benefactor, ever!
So let us work hard, but never forget that it is not us but the grace of God which is with us (1 Cor. 15:10). Let us obey now, as always, but never forget that it is God who works in us both the will and the deed (Phil. 2:13). Let us spread the gospel far and wide and spend ourselves for the sake of the elect, but never venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought in us (Rom. 15:18). In all our serving may God be the giver and God get the glory.
And until the people understand this, brothers, tell them not to serve God!