Everyone saw the advantage. Actually, they had no choice. Chuck stood at the front doors of the church just beaming. As worshippers filed through those doors Sunday morning, Chuck made to point out the new tractor. “I spent $20,000 on that for the church.”
Impressed? Probably not. You can see past the object given and pinpoint the motivation for that generosity. Chuck did not care if God received the honor, respect, and praise owed him. That thought never enters the mind. No, Chuck bought expensive equipment in order to buy praise for himself.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. We are unworthy servants. So, We only do our duty.
You could summarize Luke 17:1-10 with those words: ‘Christian service.’ In fact, that single thread connects each verse together. Jesus said to his disciples: Temptations to sin are sure to come… Temptation, that is, a desire to do what God forbids— and you (and I) encounter no shortage of temptation. Think about the powerful craving to get revenge when that careless driver cuts you off. Or revisit the strong, greedy impulses to hold back money from God. Temptations surround you (and me), hoping to drag our attention and hearts away from the Word of God! (Revelation 12:9)
Understand, being tempted is not wrong. Telling the devil, ‘No! I will not do evil. Go away!’ is not sinful. Jesus makes it clear: [W]oe to the one through whom they come! Acting on temptation is wrong. So, Pay attention to yourselves! Temptation can suddenly seize you and steal you away from serving God with your life.
Do you see where temptation can appear? Jesus highlights two areas in life. Two areas where you (and I) are called to serve each other, but can serve for the wrong reasons. If your brother sins, rebuke him… Serve by approaching him out of heartfelt care and concern. Identify how this action drags him away from God and closer to death. Identify the evil so that he turns away from it and turns to life! [I]f he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” If he keeps trespassing on your property and he keeps coming to you, tears in eyes, heart torn, pleading: ‘I am so sorry, forgive me!’ then forgive. Release him from guilt. Assure him of a restored standing between you and him. If she keeps trashing your reputation you and keeps returning saying, ‘I am so sorry! I am trying hard to speak nice. Please forgive me!’ then forgive. Do not hold a grudge; do not seek revenge. Put the offense in the past; consider it: ‘Paid in full.’ You serve by bringing the forgiveness of Christ into life.
Is that something you want to do? To be honest, If [my] brother sins, [I will] rebuke him. I can point out faults. “Hey! You cussed! Don’t do that! …And you— you hit your sister! Stop that! …And you think no one saw your car at home last Sunday morning? I did on the way back from church.” I love rebuking people because pointing out someone else’s failures makes me look superior— like I’m a better Christian than my fellow believers! And forgiving— well, that’s a little more difficult. After all, that no-good, trespassing neighbor keeps spooking away my deer and I have to deal with it. I have no deer for deer season, and he will still have something to hunt. It hurts when my friend does not appreciate my help. It makes me feel unimportant. Her attacks are not showers of heaping praise I want to hear. The sister who always argues? Well, why forgive her? She needs me, I do not need her. So, let her taste what life is like without my kind advice, my help, my encouragement. Let her suffer.
Do you see it? Right beside selfless service stands the temptation for pride. I rebuke the sinner, not to protect a soul, but to exalt my moral superiority! I refuse to forgive because I consider that weakness and my pride will suffer. People will consider me ‘a push over’ and think that I can absorb abuse. I do not want pain, I want praise. Even when I put the encouragement of Christ into action I am tempted to gloat! “I forgave the bully! I am so strong!... I still speak to my brother and he drives me nuts. I am so loving!... I brought back that member who has not been in church for a while!... Look at me! I am such a great Christian!” If you think your Christian living is one great big gift to God, then you have fallen into pride.
Do you know what Jesus gives pride? A nice pillow-sized stone. It would be better… if a millstone were hung around [the] neck and cast into the sea so that no one else imitates your self-centered living!
Which makes it quite strange that God does do that. God does not hang your pride around your neck and watch you sink straight into the depths of hell. Instead, he takes your pride, ties it around Jesus’ neck, and lets it drag his own Son into death.
You see, Jesus stands in Luke 17 not as a Teacher or a Taskmaster. He stands a servant. He deserves all praise because he withstands temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). He deserves all praise because he forgives sin (Mark 2:9-12). He deserves all praise because he literally comes to rebuke the sin that was killing us (Luke 19:10). Yet, instead of praise, he receives insults. He receives an untruthful death-sentence. He receives our punishment. Jesus comes not to be served, not to stoke his pride, but to set aside his crown as King and fill you with his innocent life! (Mark 10:45).
That is called ‘grace.’ Love not deserved, but love God chooses to shower on you (and me)! Just think: do you deserve God punished for your pride? Are you so awesome, so wonderful that God desperately needed to trade Jesus for you? By no means! You (and I) deserve death, but God gives us life! Jesus lives to give you (and me) the greatest title of all: a servant in the household of the almighty God!
God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. What makes us even want to care about someone else? God’s Grace. God has changed you from a death-row rebel into unworthy servants. Servants who seek no self-praise. Rather, servants who ponder this gift of love and see only opportunities to do our duty.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? Obviously, we do not have slaves, but we do expect people to carry out the responsibilities associated with their jobs. Do teachers thank students for doing their homework? No! A student is expected to do his work. That is part of learning, that is literally what a student does; he learns. Do you thank your [grand]children when they finish their chores or brush their teeth? No! If you command a [grand]child to clean her room, that child (who lives under you authority) is expected to obey you. Do you praise parents for staying up all night with an infant and then going to work tired and later cleaning the house and running errands? No! Parents have a responsibility to raise a child at any cost! We do not give credit to someone who merely does their job. Those with a title are expected to complete the responsibilities of that title.
In the same way, God has prepared you (and me) for Christian service (Ephesians 2:10). ‘Christian’— because the Holy Spirit has put Christ in our hearts. ‘Service’— because your (and my) actions address needs. If you (and I) belong to the household of God, then God expects us to live as people who are part of the household of God. God will not shower you with bonus points because you approached your son about living with his girlfriend outside of marriage. You will not earn extra credit because you forgave a stubborn father. God does not fist-pump the air because you made it to worship today. You already belong to God. You are not doing him favors. You are not earning extra slices of heaven. You only do your duty; you live as God expects a Christian to live.
That might be difficult to do. Perhaps you find it difficult to forgive. She accused you of some horrible things, when, in reality, you gave her money, spoke up for her, and helped her. Maybe you wrestle with pride; you really want self-praise for sharing faith in public or giving $5.00 to the homeless on the corner. I mean, you did something no one else did. So, where do you turn to keep pride in check? The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Here’s the point: God gives strength to do difficult tasks.
How does he give strength? You focus on him. You do not see a stubborn sister or homeless man. You see Jesus. You see Jesus forgive you—even though you approached him seven times for the same act. He never brings up that shame again. That’s what you see in front of you. So, you can say: ‘I forgive you. I forgive because I have been forgiven much more free of charge.’ You see Jesus on the street-corner. You look at the money that is always there because God always makes sure that it’s there. So, you give. You lose nothing; you give because God has given you much more than $5.00. You give to the financial needs of your church. You give prayers for those far from God. You only do your duty because God has adopted you into his household.
The heart’s endless quest for attention hinders Christian service. That is why God asks you today: ‘What is your motivation for serving?’ Because Christian service has only one starting point: God’s grace. The reason we serve is because God’s Grace Motivates Christian Service. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”