SERVE: Pick up your broom and follow me
Here we are in the 5th week of the servanthood series. It has almost flown by.
· We talked about the Biblical basis for servanthood[i]
· Our natural distaste for servanthood[ii]
· We talked about servanthood not being as difficult as we think because it means laying down our life 25¢ at a time.[iii]
· Last week Robyn got us started on characteristics of a servant talking about the importance of being content rather than resentful in our servanthood.
This week I want to continue with more characteristics of servanthood.
When I started researching this series, I checked the thesaurus to see what it had to say about the word "servant." Synonyms include, "attendant, dependent, domestic, drudge, help, helper, hireling, menial, minion, retainer, serf, server, slave, underling, subordinate, lackey, stooge, vassal and assistant."
What does the Bible say, though? What Does Jesus have to say about the qualities of a servant? Charles Swindoll points out that the Beatitudes make a pretty good summary of Jesus' perspective on the characteristics of a Christian servant. Let's take a look at them.
Jesus starts with BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT. Jesus is not talking about the financially poor, or the politically poor, or the oppressed or the downtrodden. Jesus says "poor in spirit." The Hebrew word for poor actually has a spiritual component built into it. One who is poor, is thought of as a person who is humble, knows that he is helpless, and therefore puts his whole trust in God. That is the first characteristic of a servant: ONE WHO HUMBLY DEPENDS ON GOD.
What a great way to begin a servant's description: total humility. It is the humility captured in the third verse of the great Augustus Toplady hymn "Rock of Ages."
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
How counter cultural is that in this culture of self-service? In this culture of independence? In this culture of self-sufficiency?
Yet, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." You may remember that Jesus adds a reward to each beatitude. This one reads, "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Humility or poverty of spirit is absolutely required in order to be included in the kingdom of God. Humility is an indispensible condition of kingdom living. Humbly depending on God is the first essential characteristic of those who would come to be servants in the kingdom.
Jesus continued, "Blessed are those who mourn." The word Jesus used for "mourn" is the strongest word he had available to him. It conveys the sorrow of a broken heart, or the ache of the anguished soul. It is mourning over the loss of a close personal relationship: spouse, child, or parent.
Alternatively, this Greek term can convey a deep empathy for the hurts and losses of others. It is the ability to connect with, and empathize with, someone who has experienced that devastating loss. It is sincerely caring for the hurts and sorrows of others no matter what the cause. Therefore, the beatitude might read, "Blessed is the one who cares intensely for the hurts and sorrows and losses of others. Not mourning for our own loss, but hurting for the troubles of those around them."
We live in a world in which people have completely ignored a robbery or assault on another person. It would never happen here, we hope, but we have all heard stories of people in large cities beaten to death and no one even calls 911. That is so unlike Jesus who came to bear our grief and comfort us in our pain. It is also unlike the servant Jesus describes in the beatitudes. "Blessed are they whose hearts break for others who hurt, for they shall be comforted." The reward is, "They shall be comforted." Isn't it interesting that Jesus does not identify the source of comfort. Perhaps comfort comes from the one Jesus calls "the comforter," or it might even come from the people we serve, as someday we find that the tables have been turned.
So, a servant is compassionate.
So far, we have found extreme humble dependence, and great compassion to be servant characteristics. Let's see that else we can find in here.
Jesus goes on to say, "Blessed are the meek." Not blessed are the weak. Blessed are the MEEK. This word meek is as about as far from weak as it could be. Perhaps a better word for us would be, "gentle."
· Wild stallions were described with this word we are translating as gentle, when they were ready to ride. (That is certainly not weak)
· Ointments that ease the pain of wounds were described as being gentle using this Greek word.
· Those who treated others respectfully and with dignity, even when they were of a lower social class were described as gentle using this word.
Far from being weakness, we are talking about having our strength under control, being calm in a heated atmosphere, having s soothing effect, and maintaining one's composure so others might keep their dignity.
The same word is used to describe Jesus in Matthew 11 "Take my yoke upon up you and learn from me, for I am gentle (same word as meek) I am gentle and humble of heart." [iv]
The promise that goes with this beatitude is, "They shall inherit the earth." Now I do not think that means there is going to be a great property transfer to the gentle people. I do think it means that in the end meekness wins out over force. Gentleness wins out over might. So, a servant is gentle.
The 4th characteristic of a servant is, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." I referred earlier to the stories we have heard where a terrible crime was completely ignored. That is doubling up the wrong: one for the crime, and another wrong for not stopping it. This beatitude says that they are actually tripling up the evil act. Once for the act, another for not reporting it and another for not doing something ourselves. There many times where people just ignore something bad right under their noses. Jesus is saying a servant would never do that.
· The housekeeper had better not just ignore the dirty socks on the floor.
· The waiter had better not tell you "tough noogies" when you inform them that your dinner is not properly prepared.
· My mechanic had better not see something that is about to fail on my car and forget to tell me about it.
· And a servant of Christ cannot stand by and watch wrong being done without acting. The servant cannot watch theft, abuse, prejudice, or hatred without trying to do the right thing.
The servant is so anxious for things to be right that they are willing to do whatever it takes. Even at risk to themselves.
The reward, Jesus says, is that those who do right, "will be satisfied." The Greek word here is derived from the Greek word for fodder, as in animal fodder. The word picture is of animals contentedly grazing in the sun on the owner's pasture, fat and happy, like we were after that prime rib dinner Friday night. Doing the right things does not leave us empty, but fills us with all of God's good things.
That's ½ of the beatitudes and we have learned that
· humble dependence,
· great compassion,
· strong gentleness
· And doing right are characteristics of servants.
Number 5, Jesus says Blessed are the merciful. Chessed, the Hebrew word for mercy has a long and rich history of use in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament where people were called repeatedly to show mercy just as God shows them mercy.
That word chessed, however, is more than feeling sorry for someone. It is feeling sorry with them. It is getting in their skin and feeling their hurt. But it is more than feeling. The prophets talk about dong mercy. They are talking about the kind of mercy that isn't afraid to roll up its sleeves and get dirty. Visiting the dump people in Juarez Mexico, is doing mercy, so is visiting our friends at Parkview. Sitting beside orphans in Haiti, is doing mercy. So is sitting next to a child who has few friends. Eating lunch with the hungry and homeless in Waterloo, or companioning a friend through the deepest grief of their life are both "doing mercy"
The reward for those who are merciful is "they shall receive mercy." Those who remain aloof and detached when others are hurting will receive the same treatment from God. Can it be any clearer than that? Servants of Christ are merciful.
Jesus says Servants of Christ are pure in heart. It is about time Jesus came back to an inner characteristic. While I was writing I began thinking, "this is easy. I am compassionate and gentle and I seek the right over the wrong, and I am merciful. I began to think I was in the clear. Not quite!
Pure in heart means that my motives matter. It is not enough to do the right thing. We must do the right things for the right reasons. It is not enough to act like a servant; servanthood must grow from a pure heart inside of us.
Christ's promise for the pure in heart is, - "if your motives are pure, you shall see God." If your right behavior flows from your right motivations, there is no doubt about your destiny. You will stand before God and hear those magnificent words, "Well done good and faithful servant." Could there be a better reward than that? I hardly think so.
Then Jesus adds, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Let me define this in the negative:
· Jesus does not mean blessed are those who avoid conflict
· Or blessed are those who ignore conflict
· Those who will bow down to anything in order to have peace
· It doesn't mean blessed are the passive
A peacemaker is just what it sounds like. One who actively and proactively seeks healthy relationships with others. I have to admit the church has not always done that. The history of Christianity is hardly peaceful. We don't know who the author was, but this little poem tells us what peacemaking is not.
Believe as I believe--no more, no less;
that I am right (and no one else) confess.
Feel as I feel, think only as I think;
Eat what I eat, and drink but what I drink.
Look as I look, do always as I do;
And then--and only then--I'll fellowship with you.[v]
We know people like that, don't we? And they are not peacemakers. That is really is too bad because Jesus promises that peacemakers "shall be called children of God." Peacemaking is so close to the heart of God that those who make a life of making peace are acting like the direct offspring of the God of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God. A servant is a peacemaker.
The last beatitude seems, at first, misplaced. It is different from the rest. But it is an unfortunate reality-
· those who would be humbly dependent on God,
· have great compassion and gentleness with neighbors,
· Seek righteousness and mercy out of a pure heart are often misunderstood and mistreated.
Unfortunately, mistreatment is not the exception, but the rule. Blessed are the persecuted. Jesus says blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you." Not IF they mistreat you, when they mistreat you. Being a servant is hard. Harder than most of us imagine. But staying the course, serving the master is fundamental to being Christian.
Notice the reward? We are right back to where we started with the rewards. It is the same reward as the first beatitude. "For theirs will be the kingdom of heaven."
Remember in the beginning, that I said that the reward meant that humility is absolutely required in order to be included in the kingdom of God? We have to say the same thing here.
Servant living and its difficulties are required in order to be included in the kingdom of God. Servant living (even with its difficulties,) is an indispensable condition of the kingdom of God.
Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." It is hard for us to understand that because crucifixion seems too unthinkable. I kind of like the broom as a symbol of servanthood. So, today I want to translate and update that saying by calling you to "take up our broom to follow him into servanthood."
· Pick up your broom to sweep away your independence in favor of humble dependence.
· Pick up your broom to sweep away cold-heartedness in favor of great compassion
· Pick up your broom and sweep away weakness in favor of meekness or gentleness.
· Pick up your broom and sweep away blindness in favor of seeing wrong for what it is.
· Pick up your broom and seep away self-centeredness in favor of mercy.
· Pick up your broom and sweep away wrong motives to make way for purity of heart
· Pick up your broom and sweep away rigidness to make room for peace making.
· Pick up your broom and sweep away safe discipleship in favor of taking the risk of being a servant.
Come servants of the living Christ pick up your broom and follow him.