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A Lifestyle of Service


Matt. 25:19-21, 29, 34-40; Mark 10:42-45
Bible Studies for Life, Jan 16


“Service” brings several images to mind. Public service (i.e. politics or charity work) is often lauded and pursued. On the other hand service workers (food service, retail or custodial services) are often behind the scenes.

Christian service can run the full spectrum from being praised to being rejected. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her ministry to the poor of Calcutta, but also had many critics who attacked her methods and motivations.

Most Christian service goes unrecognized by human eyes. Don Whitney writes in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, “Most service, even that which seems the most glamorous, is like an iceberg. Only the eye of God ever sees the larger, hidden part of it.” Yet, all believers are to serve in the Kingdom of God.


Mark 10:42-45

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus warned his disciples of the coming events. He told the twelve that the trip would result in his arrest, torture, death and resurrection. The disciples did not really understand what Jesus was saying (Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45) and did not understand these events until after the Resurrection occurred (John 12:16). They often thought Jesus spoke in riddles, but they were afraid to ask for clarification.

The disciples were not preparing themselves for persecution, but anticipating the victory of Jesus and establishment of His kingdom. Their idea of a kingdom was a physical one like that of King David.

After Jesus had warned of His death and resurrection, James and John approached him with a request. The two brothers asked to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand when his kingdom was established. A seat at the right hand of a ruler was the most powerful position in the kingdom and the left seat was the next most prestigious. James and John were asking to be the most powerful government ministers in Jesus’ administration.

Rather than rebuking the brothers, Jesus simply told them they did not know what they were asking for.

The other disciples, though, were angry and ready to rebuke the ambitious brothers. They were not angered at the content of the request, just that the two brothers had made the request first. James and John had offended the pride and ambition of the other disciples.

Jesus, though, took the opportunity to redefine what it means to be great.

People define being great in relation to fame, power and fortune. Gentiles, considered heathen by the Jews, sought after greatness and dominated those who were weaker. Why be like the godless people of the world? They place pride in human accomplishments, often at the expense of others.

Jesus defined greatness as willingness to serve others, especially those who cannot repay the service. The greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who are willing to humble themselves, assuming the lowest station and serve those around them. Jesus declared that even he had come to serve and would sacrifice his life for others (Phil. 2:5-11).


Matthew 25:19-21, 29

In the shadow of the Temple, Jesus gave his disciples several parables regarding Christian living prior to the Second Coming. The parable of the talents envisions a master leaving on a journey and entrusting three servants with huge amounts of money.

A talent was the largest monetary unit in the Roman Empire and varied from 57 to 80 pounds of gold, silver or some other valuable commodity. The first two servants doubled the money for their master. The third servant had a low opinion of his master and was afraid of him. Instead of using the money, he hid it and gained nothing.

When the master returned from his journey, he called his servants to inquire of his investments. The first two were commended for their efforts and given greater responsibilities. The third came with his single talent and explained he was too scared to do anything but hide the talent. The master responded by taking the talent back and giving it to the first servant. The third servant was then cast out in judgment.

God is far more gracious than any human master, but He does require His servants to be good stewards of the financial gifts and talents He gives. Everyone will be held accountable.


Matthew 25:34-40

In concluding his teachings on the Second Coming, Jesus reveals a scene from the final judgment. The nations are gathered before the throne of God and divided into two groups: sheep and goats. From a distance they are indistinguishable and their flocks will freely intermingle. However, there will come a time when the two flocks will be separated by God’s criteria.

The sheep, the more valuable of the animals, inherit God’s Kingdom because they ministered to Christ and provided him with basic human needs. The goats failed to do this and are consigned to judgment. The sheep do not remember providing Christ with water, food or clothes. Jesus explains that whenever they ministered to the least of his brothers, they were ministering to him.

Salvation is not earned through providing provisions to those in need. Traditionally, there are two understandings as to the identity of the least of his brothers. A popular interpretation is this refers to all of humanity and the least would be the poor across the world.

The call to help the poor is found throughout the Bible and is certainly a part of Jesus’ message. In Matthew, though, brothers usually refer to spiritual kinship more than physical bonds. Another interpretation is that Jesus is commending those who support his disciples and the message of faith that they carry. Early Christian missionaries were frequently in need of the most basic human necessities and those who responded in faith to Christ became their providers.

Those who respond to faith in Christ will seek to meet the needs of both missionaries and the poor. Often missionaries are the front line in ministering to the poor and needy. Christians must support mission efforts across the world, but should also look around their community for opportunities to minister to the poorest and neediest.