Some months ago, I stumbled upon an old notebook that I used to record some of the youth service activities way back in 1980. At that time, the youth services were attended by less than 40 youths. During discussion sessions, we would divide into smaller groups of about eight persons each. These notes of mine recorded some of the discussions as well as the names of those involved in the discussions. Going through the names I can still remember quite vividly these church members but unfortunately majority of them are no longer regular church attendees. This is indeed sad.
Is it so difficult for one to maintain his zeal and faith in the Lord? To me at least, the answer is obvious since history has shown consistently that it is difficult to maintain our zeal in the Lord. Biblically, we also know from Jesus' description of the narrow way of salvation that more will stray and less will stay. It is therefore important for us to understand our motivation behind our Christian service and get our basics right. Otherwise, we would be like trying to build a house without a proper foundation. We may stack beautiful things on top, e.g., our works may be abundant and glorious, but without the support of a proper foundation, these works will soon crumble and hurt someone in the process.
The Servant In Luke 12:42-43, Christian service, as the word "service" suggests, is compared to the work a servant or slave does for his master. Why does a servant serve? He serves because the master has paid him wages. Why does a slave serve? He serves because he is the property of his master. Perhaps, the slave owed someone a large debt and by paying that someone, the master had paid the slave his life wages. Or it could be that the slave was a war captive whose life had been spared in exchange for his lifetime labor.
For us, we know that we serve one master, the Lord Jesus. But what wages have we received from Him that demands our service? Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death. For the sin of Adam and our own personal sins, we deserve our wages of death. I Pet 2:24 tells us that when we are baptized, we receive God's love and through His blood shed on the cross, we receive the forgiveness of sins. In this case then, the wages we receive for our Christian service is the removal of the wages of sin! So like the slave who ought to have been killed, we now belong to Jesus who has paid for our lives. At the least then, our service towards God is an inescapable obligation.
A Better Motivation - Gratitude and Love Yet there are some servants and even slaves (see Deut 15:16-17) who love their master and serve him beyond contractual obligation. Such is the service a true Christian will deliver. A true Christian will realize and remember that the blood of Jesus was not shed easily. The sin that we have is so great that it required God Himself to come into this human world and undergo immense pain at the cross so that His sacrifice can atone for our sins. Not only was the pain physical, He also underwent spiritual death by being cut off from the Heavenly Father. Despite these, we know that the Lord did not complain or murmur. He knew that the way to Calvary would be extremely painful. He knew that He had to face death in order to accomplish God's will. In the Garden of Gethsemane, in His humanity, Jesus was fearful that He would not be able to complete God's mission. Luke 22:39-44 shows clearly how our Lord felt as He was about to pay for our sins.
Today, we may have heard many times about the great sufferings and love of Jesus. Yet how many of us really appreciate this love of our Savior? How many of us have been so moved by this love that we are able to live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died on our behalf?
Christian service must begin with the motivation to repay God's love. It is natural response to love those who love you, but to do it out of freewill is a lot harder. It is service out of gratitude and love because He has saved us. We do not expect further payment either in terms of respect or praise or anything else because we truly understand the full implications of the phrase 'Jesus paid it all'.
A Necessary Motivation - A Sense of Sin One important reason for our weak response towards God's love is our failure to understand the gravity of our sins. We examine ourselves and whilst we do not claim to be perfect (because we know the saying that no one is perfect), we also do not feel that we have grossly transgressed against God. In fact, we would grade ourselves as above average. Therefore, when we say or sing that Jesus forgives our sins, we are unable to feel greatly indebted to God for our forgiven sins nor do we feel the need to repay Him.
The more we realize our sins, the more we would feel grateful towards God for forgiving us and the more we would want to serve Him. In Luke 7:40-47, Jesus remarked thus on the sinful woman, "Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." But how are we to realize our sins? For a start, we need to have a better understanding of the word of God and be more sensitive to His righteousness. Hebrews 4:12 describes the word of God as a two-edged sword that is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. We must believe in the word of God.
Once, a friend in a discussion commented rightly that the pace of our evangelistic work is really slow. Many of us do not have an evangelistic orientation despite our numerous evangelistic activities. Even youths who are more evangelistic appear to be flagging in this fervor. Before we look at others, we must examine and ask ourselves when we last preached to someone and how many we have preached to this year. Do you believe the words of God in Ezekiel 3:18-19 that the wicked or sinners, including our loved ones who have not believed, shall surely die? Sometimes, we unconsciously doubt God's word. Maybe we think that since they are also nice sometimes, God will not be so heartless as to put them to death. On the other hand, if we do believe that they shall surely die, why are we not motivated to preach to them? Again, we may not really believe that God shall require his blood of us. After all, we may have served God in other areas of work. Surely God is not so unreasonable as to punish us? The discounts we give to God's words and the use of our human concepts to rationalize them have made us insensitive to God's righteousness.
Do we not realize the number of times in which we have failed in the sight of God; our pride in believing we are good enough; our selfishness in continuing in our own comfortable lifestyles oblivious to the sufferings of the world; our ungodliness by allowing ourselves to be exposed to sounds of impurity and images of immorality. Yet each time, when we kneel before God and ask Him to forgive us, the blood that He shed for us is used to forgive our sins. So many times we repeat our sins despite telling God that we will change. Yet each time we ask Him to forgive, He truly forgives. Do we not realize our repeated sins are manifestations of our lack of understanding of the Lord's love and the sufferings He underwent to shed His blood for us? We are like the sheep in Hymn 29 that asked, "Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way that mark out the mountain's track?" We do not realize that they are shed for one who has gone astray so the shepherd could bring him back. We asked, "Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?" without realizing that they are pierced tonight by many a thorn.
Modern man does not like others to tell him of his wrongs. He says it assaults his dignity. If we find it difficult to accept the loving constructive criticism of others, we must learn to examine our ways before God. The great servants of God are those who understand the greatness of God's love in consideration of their grave sins. Paul said, "I am foremost of all sinners." He could not understand why God decided to choose him. Today, we too must realize the greatness of God's love. If it isn't for His love in choosing us, in using His blood to redeem us, we will perish in our sins. We will be in the world, arrogantly announcing that there is no God and pursuing our own way of life. We will continue to be in the hands of Satan enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sins. There is nothing in us that is worthy for God to suffer and die. The only worth in this sacrifice is His love. Try singing meaningfully Hymn 30 stanzas 2 and 3.
Conclusion Christian service needs to be motivated by God's love. When we serve out of gratitude and to repay God's grace, there is no murmuring in our work. As long as our work is beneficial to humankind, we serve even in the face of difficulties. We do not expect any returns for our labor because the Lord has already paid us with His life. In fact, we are so grateful that God has decided to use us despite our lowliness (Lk 17:7-10). On the other hand, if we do not serve Him or strive to serve Him with our heart and soul, we have received God's love in vain (Lk 12:47-48).
Today, we have been entrusted with much and much is expected of us. Of the millions of people in the world, God has chosen us to be His children, to be in the true church and to have the hope of salvation. Many have spent their years searching but they have not found the truth. Many have spiritually nurtured themselves but works of righteousness cannot save a person. Today, for you and me who have been given this grace, much is expected of us. We must not be deceived into thinking that the abundant gifts we have and the many favorable factors and comforts we may enjoy are God's blessings for us to enjoy materially. They are the blessings of God, no doubt. But if we thank God with the intention of enjoying ourselves until our old age, we have sadly missed the purpose of God for these blessings. God gives us the opportunities today to serve Him. We are given both time and ability. Having received these, we must understand and remember:
Both riches and honor come from Thee, and Thou rules over all. In Thy hand are power and might; and in Thy hand it is to make great and to give strength to all (I Chr 29:12).