Many people say that they’d like to be self-employed so as not to have to answer to anyone but themselves. If you’re self-employed, you set your own schedule and you decide what you’re going to do. The only person you have breathing down your back is you. You answer to your customers if something goes wrong. If your business grows you decide who to hire and who to fire and perhaps when to retire and pass the baton to someone else. I realize there are cons to being self-employed, but I was just thinking about some of the benefits.
Some of us act as if we’re self-employed servants in the kingdom of God and as if God is our employee. To put it another way, we act as if we’re the Master and he is the servant. At least that is what I discovered a few years ago after thinking about Mark 9:35 and others verses like it.
In Mark chapter 9, Jesus is transfigured with Peter, James, and John as witnesses. After the Transfiguration he and the three disciples come down from the mount to find that the rest of the disciples couldn’t cast out an evil spirit. After Jesus casts out the spirit and tells them that some of these spirits come out only by prayer and fasting, they start their foot tour to Capernum. On the way, all save Jesus got into a hushed verbal fist-fight—a quietly incendiary debate about which one of them was the greatest disciple, about which one of them was Jesus’ favorite–superior to all the rest, excelling in discipleship. I can imagine Peter James and John thinking, “Well of course we’re among the greatest. We saw him transfigured, but he told us to keep it on the down low. We’ve got a corner on the market of greatness, the rest of you don’t know what we know and haven’t seen what we’ve seen.” But perhaps James or John, whom Jesus called Sons of Thunder in Mark 3 piped up with, “You guys certainly can’t be the best disciples, you were beside yourselves in trying to drive out that evil spirit. You couldn’t even do it.” Apparently Jesus could tell they were arguing, sort of like when you stumble upon a couple who obviously has been arguing but are trying to play it cool, playing it off, acting like everything is normal until you’re out of earshot and out of the way. The disciples didn’t do a good job of disguising their argument.
So when they got to the house in Capernum, probably their homebase, Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about?” You could hear a pin drop, crickets chirping, the wind in the trees, but you couldn’t hear their answer because they didn’t give one. And that is where we get to Mark 9:35, the verse I’ve been thinking about for a while. In that verse Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Years ago, I understood what Jesus was literally saying: if you want to be first in God’s Kingdom you’ve got to be last, the servant of all. Pretty simple right?
But, what does that mean really, in daily life? I wonder, because the disciples didn’t get it right away and they were with Jesus day in and day out for three years. Check our Mark 10. Right after Jesus laid out the great reversal in the Kingdom of God in Mark 9:35—those that desire to be first shall be last and the servant of all—this is what happens. James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on either side of him in glory, when his kingdom comes. In Matthew’s gospel, it is their mother who asks Jesus. Interestingly enough, their mother seemed to travel with the band of disciples. Seems she wanted her sons to make it big time when Jesus came into the kingdom. Whether she got that into their heads or they had it in their own heads without her prodding, mother and sons wanted power, glory, and to be first in Jesus’ kingdom. Perhaps they thought that they’d left all, left their livelihood and deserved much in the coming kingdom. After all Jesus had alluded to that in other places. Jesus’ response to them, is similar to the responses he gave throughout the gospels when speaking of serving. “It’s not my place to grant those positions. You two will suffer just like me.” Then he turns to the rest of the disciples (who he called together knowing they were ticked off when they found out about James and John and their mother’s request) and says:
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
A couple years ago, I recalled telling the Lord that I loved him and that the desire of my heart was to follow him closely. I remember telling him that I did understand the verses in John that said, “if you love me you obey my commandments”. I thought I was being obedient. But then, he called me to do something I didn’t want to. Something that was very trying and hard on me. It was at that time that I sensed him telling me, Marlena, you don’t want to be the servant of all. You want to be master and call the shots in your life. You want to decide how and when you will serve me and who you will serve. You want to be master and want me to be the servant. I am not at your service (although I serve you), you are at mine. That is what it means to love me and follow me. You obey, you don’t choose your assignments. I make them and you are to lovingly and joyfully obey. I was shocked to discover the true state of my soul.
There is hope for those of us who have a proclivity to be served instead of a proclivity to serve. We see that James and John ended up becoming great servants in the early church. Commentators think that James was executed sometime between A.D. 41-44. So, he gave up his life for Jesus in whom he believed. John became known for his love and was persecuted and banished to Patmos and was also a New Testament author. As James and John followed Jesus and began to understand the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection, it seems that they started to get it. Whether or not they’re at the right and left hand of Jesus remains to be seen. But from their example we realize there is hope for those of us who don’t get it, those of us who are hard of heart, selfish and self-absorbed, those of us who want to be masters.
We cannot serve God at our own convenience with the option of turning down his requests when we want to. That is bad for us and bad for others. Sometimes elementary aged children, teenagers, and young adults think, “I’ll serve Jesus and others when I am older. I am too young.” Seniors think “I’ve served Jesus, I am old, my body doesn’t work, I am retired. I’ve done my duty already.” That’s the wrong way to think. We’re not ever too young or too old to love God and love others by serving them. Really, loving and serving God and others starts at home or with our closest friends. It often ends up being those things that we don’t want to do that is of most service to others. In daily life, being a servant or slave isn’t heroic. But it is being lovingly obedient–obeying with a good spirit.