The inspiration for service
Sir Alex Ferguson, now retired from his managerial career with Manchester United, was well-known for his ability to motivate players. Famously, at half time during the Champions League final in 1999, he said to his players:
At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.
Having been outplayed by Bayern Munich for large spells of the game, United scored twice in injury time to win what is regarded as the greatest prize in club football.
Motivation is important. We all need something which induces us to keep going; inspiration to press on even against the odds. So what should inspire us in our life of following Jesus? What inspires our discipleship? The answer was given by Jesus himself and centres on the kind of master He is to serve. Inspiration is drawn from seeing Him for who He is as a gracious master to serve.
The story is told of a gathering of learned theologians, engaged in earnest and heated discussion, in the cloistered halls of a university. Into this gathering happened C.S. Lewis, neither invited nor expected, but finding himself there, and ever-curious to know what was going on, asked ‘What are you discussing?’
‘What it is that makes Christianity distinctive,’ came the reply.
‘Oh that is easy’ responded Lewis, ‘It’s grace.’
Grace, the extravagant and undeserved love of God to sinners, is what makes the Christian faith stand out in the crowd of world religions. Indeed, it is grace that lends divine overture to the Christian faith, making it Gospel (Good news of what God has done) rather than religion (tedious record of what Man has done). More than that, it is the experience of the grace of God, and the assurance that we serve a gracious master, than inspires and directs our Christian discipleship.
Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem, He became aware of the confused expectations of both His disciples and the wider people who gathered around him. They expected him to be a political messiah, come to immediately consummate the kingdom of God, and so get rid of their Roman overlords with their vast empire. It is always a temptation to want the kingdom of God to come easily and to come quickly, and even better, to come without cost. If we are honest, our prayers for revival and renewal are sometimes less about the name and honour of Christ and more about the ease with which we would prefer to live the Christian life.
Jesus is keen that they should understand that He is coming to be a suffering messiah, not a political Messiah, and He has come inaugurating his kingdom, but it will not be consummated until he returns. Meanwhile, between his first and second comings, we are to live out our lives of discipleship, in the ‘long haul’. So Jesus told a parable about a nobleman who leaves to receive a kingdom (Luke 19) albeit amidst fierce opposition; and who meanwhile entrusts His servants with some money during his absence. When He returns He will assess their service with what was entrusted to them and thereby determine their place in the kingdom.
It is a picture of the departure of Jesus through death, resurrection and ascension to receive a kingdom and how He will establish that kingdom fully only upon His return in glory, when all will be judged and assessed.
In the midst of this parable we are given tremendous insight into what it is that motivates service of the king in the in-between time prior to His return; insight therefore into what ought to motivate our Christian service today. Two of the servants are commended for their faithfulness and are unexpectedly and extravagantly gifted cities in the kingdom. (‘Here, have Edinburgh, and perhaps you would like Scarborough as a place to enjoy by the sea along with this little Caribbean island…’)
The gift of entire cities in response to earning a few minas for the Master (a mina being about three months’ wages for a labourer) is ridiculously generous. That is the point. It is a picture of lavish and disproportionate generosity. It is a picture of grace. This is the God we serve, one of ridiculously lavish generosity.
By contrast, one of the servants did nothing with the Mina entrusted to him. When confronted by the master he pulls out his hankie from a pocket and returns exactly what was given to him, having made nothing of the opportunity it represented. He then explains why he did nothing for the master, not even putting it in the Bank to earn interest: I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow (Luke 19:21)
Here is the great difference between those servants who were motivated to work hard and invested wisely for their master and the servant who did nothing with what he was given. The difference was simply their view of the master. The fruitful servants saw the master as lavishly generous, one who would extravagantly give to them far beyond anything they deserve. He is gracious and kind and a delight to serve. Who would not want to give their best to such a master?
The fruitless servant, by contrast, refused the grace of the master. He was determined to see the master as a severe man, a demanding boss, and as a result did the minimum, and less. It was his view of the master that diminished his service and led to him doing as little as possible. Instead of seeing the master for who he was as a generous and gracious and kind man, he regards him as a hard man, a difficult task master. Precisely because he viewed the master in this way he had no motivation to serve.
Here is the motivational foundation of Christian discipleship - our recognition that our master, the Lord Jesus, is a gracious and generous Lord and it is therefore a joy to serve him. Whatever He has given to us, by way of time or talents or money, we would gladly use in His service. Who would not want to?