I’ve been asked many times if it’s wrong to serve, if our hearts are not really in it.
I hope not.
Perhaps half the time I’m serving others, I do so without any great excitement and occasionally with real reluctance. Jesus told this story that get’s right to this point.
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted? ‘The first,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’” Matthew 21:28-31
Would Jesus prefer we serve, with a great attitude? Of course he would! But in the end, obedience, even without enthusiasm, is better than disobedience. But why is it I, and perhaps you as well, enjoy serving some people but not others? The “sheep and goats” in my life I used to have a moral sorting mechanism. I separated people into two groups: first, victims of other people and circumstances beyond their control; and second, those who appeared to have shot themselves in the foot. Surely Jesus would favor victims!
But in the story of the sheep and goats found in Matthew 25, Jesus appears to make no distinction between visiting prisoners who are innocent or those who are truly guilty, between going to the hospital to visit a person injured by a drunk driver and visiting the drunk who’s dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
Apparently, however they got broken, lonely, hopeless, poor, or jailed, for whatever reason, Jesus seems to move them to the head of the line and then say to us, “Care for them – and I’ll tell you why someday.”
And when we do…
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
You’re going to get ripped off Anyone who generously gives of themselves to others is going to get ripped off at some point – perhaps often. It’s going to hurt. Get used to putting your fingers in the fan!
I was once ripped off by someone who claimed to be a Nigerian seminary student, standing in the back of my church looking for and finding his next mark. And I’ve been taken advantage of more than once, even by people with legitimate needs who keep needing more. More money, more time, more whatever – just more. You’ll learn over time to establish some boundaries, but you’ll also find it helpful to come to terms with the truth: The risk-averse will rarely follow Jesus. Being taken advantage of occasionally is the occupational hazard of any true follower of Jesus.
“If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use that occasion to practice the servant life… Live Generously.” Luke 6:30, MSG
The “worthy” and “unworthy” Still, I’ve always found it easier to help people I like – good people who’ve just had a tough break. And I’m afraid the judge in me has often sorted people into these camps: worthy and less worthy. Or: grateful and ungrateful.
While I don’t want to enable bad behavior, I realized over time that if I didn’t have a change of attitude, I risked becoming jaded and cautious. I’ve known too many good-hearted people who’ve become disillusioned with serving others simply because it was just so hard, or they felt unappreciated. I didn’t want that happening to me. So what should guide us in making the choice of who to serve?
I can’t think of one person Jesus deemed undeserving of grace in all the gospels. About the only people for whom he had no patience or grace, were religious hypocrites who did only, and exactly what the law of Moses called for and no more.
So, does that mean true followers of Jesus need to stop for every homeless person holding a signal? No – but it does mean I cannot withhold grace from them simply because they don’t deserve it.
I pass dozens of men and women holding signs all the time, but not when God impresses me to stop for that one! That’s when the 10 second rule is our best guide. Could I be mistaken and given money to people who will use it for alcohol or cigarettes? Undoubtedly! But then, that’s their sin – not mine.
Here’s our guideline straight from Jesus’ brother; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17
What’s the worst that can happen? We can be disobedient to the Holy Spirit! That’s a risk followers of Jesus should never take.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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