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How to Serve

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 20, 2023 12:01 am

How to Serve

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 20, 2023 12:01 am

No matter our career or vocation, all Christians are called to be servants. Today, R.C. Sproul explains the significant role that faithful service and loving good works play in the Christian life.

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In the New Testament, Christ comes not to take us out of Egypt, but to free us from bondage to Satan. And yet, when Christ delivers us out of bondage, out of servitude, what happens is an exchange of masters, because now He calls us to be servants of Him. So that there's a sense in which we have to be servants, and the only issue is, who is it we will serve?

If we're honest, we would rather be sitting on the couch while someone else is making us a sandwich than to be in the kitchen ourselves. That same mentality can unfortunately creep into our thinking of Christian service and our involvement in the church. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and we'll be considering the Christian's duty to serve today on Renewing Your Mind. With everything on our plates, our busy schedules, our growing families, all of our studies, we might be tempted to wonder, is God really calling us to serve right now? All week, Dr. Sproul has been considering different ways that God grows us as Christians, whether it's Bible study, prayer, worship. Well, today, he is going to consider Christian service, what our motivation should be, especially when we don't feel like serving.

Here's Dr. Sproul. These five things, Bible study, prayer, and the like that we've talked about, are all means of grace. They're all ways that God uses to strengthen us and to nurture us as we grow to the fullness of conformity to Christ. And we don't always think about service as a means of grace. But beloved, we grow as we serve. The more we are able to serve in the kingdom of God, the more Christlike we become. Now, all of us are called to be servants of God, not necessarily professional servants of God, not necessarily paid servants of God, but nevertheless, each one of us is to be involved in some kind of service for God, to God, and to His people.

In other words, one of the ways we serve God is by serving those around us. And that motif is woven through the tapestry of Scripture from beginning to end. You think for a minute of one of the primary examples of this in the Old Testament, which is found in the Exodus. Remember how the story of the Exodus begins with the people of Israel being in servitude to a foreign master.

They are in bondage to the Egyptians, and they are groaning under the oppression of Pharaoh. And we are told that when God appears to Moses, God says to Moses, I have heard the cries of My people. And I want you now to go to Pharaoh, and you tell Pharaoh that I said to let My people go.

Now, we all know that. But if we look at that narrative there in Exodus, where God says to Moses, you go to Pharaoh and say, let My people go, what's the rest of the story? Why does He want them to let them go? We think, well, it's simply because God wants to liberate them from their oppression and deliver them from the bondage, and that's certainly a large part of it.

But the purpose that God gives is what? God says, let them go that they may come out and serve Me in this mountain. Repeatedly in the book of Exodus, God tells Pharaoh, and He says to Moses, I want My people delivered from this bondage from servitude to Pharaoh so that they can serve Me. Now, in a very real sense, the Exodus in the Old Testament prepares us as an image, as a mirror for the consummate exodus that is accomplished through our deliverer, Jesus.

Because in the New Testament, Christ comes not to take us out of Egypt, but to free us from bondage to Satan. And yet, when Christ delivers us out of bondage, out of servitude, what happens is an exchange of masters, because now He calls us to be servants of Him, so that there's a sense in which we have to be servants, and the only issue is who is it we will serve? And Jesus Himself said, you can't serve two masters. We can serve Satan, we can serve the interests of this world, or we can serve the living God and be servants of Christ.

I think it's extraordinary that Paul's favorite description of himself is as a doulos, or a slave, one who was bought with a price. He said to us, we are not our own, but we have been bought with a price. We belong to the one who has paid for us, who has redeemed us, and now we are called to serve Him. And so, this idea of service is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and of course we're all familiar with that moving story that took place dramatically in Shechem towards the end of the life of Joshua, when Joshua assembled the people there for the purpose of renewing their promise, their oath, the covenant that they had made with God. And listen to what we read in Joshua 24.

In Joshua 24, 14, we read, now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in truth. Put away the gods which your father served on the other side of the river and in Egypt, serve the Lord. Now, to hear the mandate that He's given to the people, He said, you've been serving the wrong things. You've been serving the Canaanite deities. You've been serving and worshiping pagan idols. Put those away and serve the Lord and serve Him, He says, in sincerity and in truth.

Now, does that strike a chord? Do you remember when we looked at worship and Jesus teaching to the woman of Sychar that God is seeking those who will worship Him how? In spirit and in truth. And see, what Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, Joshua is saying here to all of these people assembled, serve the Lord in sincerity and in truth. And then, of course, he goes on to say, if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, if you don't want to serve the Lord, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your father served that were on the other side of the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And that should be the commitment and the motto of every Christian. As for me and as for my house, we're going to serve with single-minded devotion. We're going to serve the Lord.

Service, however, is not the number one goal on the American hit parade. Neither was it for the Pharisees. They didn't like to hear anything about servanthood. They said, you know, we're in bondage to no man. You're the children of Abraham, and Jesus said, you're the children of those whom you serve, and you serve Satan so that you're the children of the devil. But also in our culture, we don't want to think of being servants.

Somehow we think that being servants is beneath our dignity. I've told the story before of an experience I had, which was an epiphany for me. When I was working during my summer vacation in seminary at a hospital in Pittsburgh in order to put money on the table, bread on the table, I got a job working in the maintenance department of this large hospital. And one of my jobs on the hospital staff was to sweep the parking lots every morning, clean up the cigarette butts and the junk that was left there in the parking lot.

And not only the parking lot for the hospital, but next door to the hospital was the nurse's home for all the student nurses, and I had to sweep the outside parking lot of the nurse's home. Now, remember the pecking order when you graduated from high school. Some of our class didn't go to college. They went to work. Some of them went to vocational school. Some of them enlisted in the service. Some of them went to nurse's training, and some of them went to college. And in the pecking order in our high school, the elite were those that went to college, right? So they were higher in the caste system of our society than those that went to nursing school or to vocational school. Well, I went to college, and now I had graduated college.

I'm going to graduate school, and I am Joe graduate school, but I'm working now in the summer pushing a broom. And I'm pushing the broom on the parking lot of the nurse's home, and these nurses come out of the building, and I say, good morning, and they tilt their caps up in the air and walk past me like I was garbage. It was beneath their dignity to talk to me because I was a lowly servant sweeping the parking lot. And I'll never forget it.

I wanted to run after them and say, wait, wait, wait. You don't understand. I'm a college graduate.

You guys are just in nursing school. You don't understand the pecking order here. I didn't like being treated like a servant. And I remember wrestling with that afterwards saying, you're supposed to be a Christian. And here you were upset because somebody regarded you as a servant. And yet Jesus Himself said, I didn't come here to be served. I came to serve. And He passed that legacy on to all of His people.

Well, let's look quickly at Matthew's gospel in the 20th chapter at verse 20. Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, what do you wish? And she said to Him, grant that these two sons of mine may sit.

One on your right hand and the other on the left in your kingdom. And Jesus answered and said, you don't know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I'm about to drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?

And they said to Him, listen to this, we are able. James and John, give us the cup. We can drink that cup that the Father's put before you.

You think so? You're prepared to take the cup of God's wrath, and you're prepared to have all of God's people's sins imputed to you and to expose yourself to the full measure of God's judgment and justice on the cross? You think you can take that cup? I have a baptism of fire that is taking me to experience the fullness of hell. Can you handle that kind of baptism?

We're able. They hadn't a clue what they were saying to Jesus. So He said to them, yes, you will indeed drink My cup, and you'll be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.

And they were. They had to participate in His death and humiliation. But to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father. Now when the other disciples, the other ten, heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers, but Jesus called them to Himself, and He said to the rest of the disciples, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are of great exercise authority over them, yet it shall not be so among you. But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave, just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Beloved, that mandate was not just given to twelve people. It is a mandate of the kingdom.

It is the law of the King that we are to imitate Him by being prepared to be servants. In the New Testament, a particular burden was placed upon the apostles for which they paid with their lives. They were commanded of Christ to go into the world and to preach the gospel, and that was their mission—to the Jew first, then to the Gentile. But at the beginning of the church, they were getting caught up in taking care of menial tasks like serving tables, and it wasn't that that was beneath the dignity of the apostles.

But God said, I want to free these men from that kind of labor so that they can do the service I've called them to do. And that's how God created deacons in the church—set apart certain people to wait on tables to take care of these tasks in order that the gospel can be preached. Now, every one of us in the church is called to ministry. Every one of us is called to see that all of the tasks of the kingdom take place, that the poor are ministered to, that the gospel is proclaimed, that people are taught and nurtured in the Word of God, that worship takes place. Now, that doesn't mean that everyone is called to be an evangelist or everyone's called to be a preacher, everybody's called to be a teacher.

The whole point of the New Testament is God gives every Christian a gift to be used for the service of Christ. And if your gift is teaching, then you better teach. And if your gift is preaching, you better preach. If yours is evangelism, you better do evangelism. If yours is administration, you better administrate.

If yours is to be a caregiver to shut-ins, then be a caregiver to the shut-ins. But each one of us is called to make sure all of the ministry is done by making sure I do my part that evangelism takes place, that administration takes place, that mercy ministries take place, because it is a ministry of service to Christ. Now, in Luke's gospel in chapter 17, we have the record beginning at verse 5 of a request that the disciples make of Jesus, which is an unusual one. We've seen before when we looked at the question of prayer that this question was brought to Jesus by the disciples, Lord, teach us how to pray. Well, in a similar vein, chapter 17 of Luke, verse 5, records the disciples coming to the Lord, and they say to Him, Lord, increase our faith.

Now, let's pause here for a second. Isn't this what we're trying to be focusing our attention on in this series, how we can grow as Christians, how we can make the best use of the means of grace that God gives to us? To what end? That our faith may increase, and by the increase of our faith, there will be a corresponding increase of obedience to God, because obedience flows out of our trust in Him. And so now these are the disciples, you know, who had said, Lord, we believe, help thou, our unbelief. Now help us to increase our faith. Now, that's the question. How does Jesus answer that request to increase faith?

Listen to what He says. So the Lord said, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea, and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, come at once and sit down to eat? But will he not rather say to him, prepare something for my supper?

Gird yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink. Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? This is a question Jesus places before the disciples, and He answers His own question.

I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do. Isn't this a strange parable that Jesus uses to answer their request to increase their faith? That He tells them this story, this little parable about the servants coming in from having completed their tasks in the field. And Jesus says, does the master of the servants say, oh, you've done such a great job.

Sit down, eat, drink, enjoy yourselves. Or when they come in from the field, does the master say to the servants, now it's time for you to fix my meal. You fix my dinner. You set the table. You serve me.

And when all your tasks are done, then you can go eat and drink. So the first thing that Jesus is teaching us here about servanthood, which may be the single most important thing we'll ever learn about servanthood, beloved, is that we, who are His servants, are unprofitable servants. Now, does that mean, when He says we are unprofitable servants, that the service that we render is useless, has no value? What we're going to see a couple of chapters later is Jesus talking about how servanthood should always be productive and that Jesus puts a premium on the value of service. That's not what He's talking about here when He says we are unprofitable servants.

What He is saying is simply this. There is this pernicious view that grew up in the Middle Ages that Christians not only can gain a certain kind of merit by the works that they perform, but they can even perform works that were called works of superarrogation, works that are so meritorious, so valuable, that they are above and beyond what God requires from His people. And this excess merit is then deposited in what the church calls the treasury of merit, which then can be distributed to people in purgatory who are lacking in merit. This is what was behind the whole controversy of indulgences in the 16th century and continues to be a major point of dispute between Protestants and Roman Catholics historically. And it all goes down to this concept that it is possible for believers to perform super-arrogatory works, works above and beyond the call of duty.

But what Jesus is saying here in this text is that's not possible. What could I possibly do that was a good deed that was not simply what God commands me to do anyway? Remember, He commands me to be perfect, and you can't improve on perfection. I can't be obedient above and beyond perfection.

I can't even hope to reach perfection in my own performance. So in terms of merit, I have none of my own, because I earn nothing by doing what I'm required to do in the first place. That's why our redemption is by grace and by grace alone. The only merit that I have to place before God that is, properly speaking, my own are the demerits that I have earned through my sin. The only merit that can redeem me is the merit that Christ has performed, because He didn't have to come here. He freely came to do the Father's will and to submit Himself to the law for my sake and for your sake.

He and He alone, beloved, is a profitable servant. So if we do our service looking to earn our way into the kingdom of God, we're deceiving ourselves. The motivation for Christian service is gratitude, not as a means of salvation. It's a means of grace. It's a means of realizing our dependence on grace and so on.

This is who we are in and of ourselves. That's what's behind the verse in Augustus' top lady's great hymn, Rock of Ages, when he uses that verse, I love it. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.

Nothing in my hand I bring, foul I to the fountain fly, you see. Top lady understood that after we have done our best deeds, we are unprofitable servants. We have simply done our duty. Now my friend John Piper has awakened all kinds of people in this country to a concept that I think is absolutely of vital importance to the Christian faith, and that is an awakening to the joy of the Christian life in rendering obedience to God. What John is saying is that the motive for our obedience should not be simply an abstract sense of duty. Now I believe sometimes we have to obey out of duty, which is better than disobedience, and there are times that we don't enjoy the prospect of obedience and we can't just wait until we enjoy it to do it.

However, he's right. The way our relationship with Christ should be is that it should be our delight to render obedience to God and to render service to God, understanding that it is motivated out of our unbelievable joy for what He has done for us, not as a means to gain heaven. So we are unprofitable servants, at least in this world. In the next world, this same Christ who says all we are doing is what we're commanded to do, and even when we obey God, He doesn't owe us anything, yet there are at least 25 times in the New Testament that we are told that God will reward His people according to their works.

Now be careful with that word, according to, or that phrase. That does not mean because the works earn the reward, but God says, in My grace, even though you are unprofitable servants, I'm storing up in heaven rewards for you that I will distribute according to your service, according to your works, even though those works don't deserve it. This is a gracious distribution of rewards, or as St. Augustine said, God crowning His own gifts. So even when we receive those rewards at heaven, we receive them as people who in and of ourselves are still unprofitable servants. And it's almost thinly veiled or hinted at in Jesus' parable here when He says, you know, after you serve Me, then you can eat, and you can drink, and you will have your reward.

Well, let's look quickly at chapter 19 and see what else Jesus says here about service in the parable that's recorded in verse 11 where we read this. Now, as they heard these things, He spoke another parable because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore, He said, a certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. And so He called ten of His servants, delivered to them ten minas, or this is sometimes called talents, it's a unit of currency, and He said to them, do business until I come.

But His citizens hated Him and sent a delegation after Him saying, we will not have this man to reign over us. And so it was that when He returned, having received the kingdom, He then commanded those servants to whom He had given the money to be called to Him that He might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Master, your mina has earned ten minas. And He said to him, Well done, good servant, because you were faithful and very little have authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Master, your mina has earned five minas.

And likewise He said to them, You also will be over five cities. And another saying, Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you because you are an austere man, and you collect what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow. And He said to him, Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.

Why then did you not put My money in the bank, that at My coming I might have collected it with interest? And He said to those who stood by, Take the mina from him and give it to him who has ten minas. But they said to him, Master, he already has ten minas. For I say to you that to everyone who has will be given, and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.

Bring here those enemies of mine who did not want Me to reign over them and slay them before Me. This is a parable of capitalism, a parable of productivity. What Jesus is saying with respect to stewardship as well as with respect to service, that His people are called to delayed gratification.

They're called to invest in the future, but again, that the investments may grow. And He tells the story of this rich master who has to go away, just like Christ has ascended into heaven and left us as His servants behind with the treasures that we have during His absence. And what is He saying? When I come back, I expect to find that that which I have given you has gained in value, that progress is made, because I want my people, my servants, to be productive servants.

Again, we're unprofitable, but that doesn't mean we're supposed to be unproductive, where we say, oh well, nothing that I do on behalf of the Savior is going to add to my value. It's all His, so I'm going to sleep in tomorrow morning. And so I'm not going to take the gift that He gave to me and multiply it and make it produce more. I'll hide it under a bush, put it in a napkin so that nothing happens to it, so that when He comes back, I can say, here's the gift you gave me. Nothing happened to it.

It's just as good as it was when you left. And Jesus said, I'll take that right away from you and give it to the man who multiplied the gift ten times, who used the gifts that I gave Him to be productive for the kingdom's sake. Now, that is a heavy parable of service, that one of the worst things we can ever do is to waste the gifts that God has given to us. Because those gifts are given to us for Christ's sake, for His glory, for His honor.

He's the one before whom the cherubim and the seraphim and all of the angels of heaven cast down their golden crowns beside the glassy sea. They take their great gifts and present them to Christ, because they're His in the first place. And that's what we are to do with our service. We are to be productive servants. Now, what does the apostle tell us about this?

Let's look quickly at 1 Corinthians chapter 4, where Paul is giving an admonition to the Corinthian Christians. 1 Corinthians 4, beginning at verse 1, listen to what he says, "'Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.'" Now, ladies and gentlemen, a steward in the ancient world was someone who was given the responsibility to manage the household. And so he was entrusted with the possessions of the owner. And so the chief requirement of the steward was fidelity.

An unfaithful steward was a crook, somebody who would steal from the owner. And Paul says, do you realize that we are servants and stewards of the mysteries of God? God has entrusted these things to us. And so he says, but with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I don't even judge myself, for I know nothing against myself, yet I'm not justified by this. He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart.

Then each one's praise will come from God. My stewardship, my service, Paul says, is not to be judged by men. The value of my stewardship is under the scrutiny of God. My service will be judged by Christ, not by men, not by you, not even by myself, because I can't give an accurate assessment of my own service and of my own obedience. I'm biased, and you can't read my heart, and you can't give an accurate assessment of my service.

Only the searcher of human hearts can do that. That's why, again, the service that we are to give is to be unto the Lord and before His scrutiny. Let me conclude our brief glimpse of the importance of service by turning your attention to what Paul writes to the Ephesians in the sixth chapter, beginning at verse 5. Here he's giving instructions to people in antiquity who were, in fact, bondservants. But the message that he gives to the bondservants applies to every servant of Christ. Listen to what he says, finally, bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart as to Christ. He's telling people who are slaves to do their service before their owners as if they were serving Christ. Now, listen to this.

Please listen to this. Not with eye service as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. I would say the greatest weakness in the church today is that the servants of God keep looking over their shoulder for the approval of men. As soon as we are slaves to human opinion, public opinion, trying to please human beings instead of God, as soon as that happens, the message of Christ will be compromised. No one preaches the whole counsel of God who is a man-pleaser, and so I charge you before God to keep your eyes on Christ and not on the judges of this world. When we keep our eyes on Christ and realize that ultimately all of our labors are to be done as unto the Lord, it really does change everything.

That was R.C. Sproul from his series, Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow. This week, Dr. Sproul has helped us to be better students of the Bible, given us a framework to help us in prayer with considered worship, and today, what it means to serve as Christians. And we'll make this series available to you along with its companion book for your donation of any amount. You can give your gift at, and we'll send you the paperback edition of Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow, and we'll give you digital access to all ten messages in this series. So give your gift at or by calling us at 800 435 4343. If you open your banking app, you'll see where you spend your money. Dr. Sproul would say that really reveals where our hearts are. That's what we're going to consider tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind. God bless you. God bless you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-20 03:29:14 / 2023-04-20 03:41:55 / 13

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