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When Serving God Is Sinful

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One of the more stunning statements on the lips of our Lord is found in Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Continue reading . . .

One of the more stunning statements on the lips of our Lord is found in Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

John Piper has repeatedly reminded us in his many writings that God doesn’t need you and me. He lacks nothing. There isn’t anything we can give him or do for him that he doesn’t already have by virtue of the fact that he is God. We cannot serve him as if he were needy, give to him as if he were lacking, supply him as if he were depleted, support him as if he were dependent, empower him as if he were weak, inform him as if he were ignorant, or heal him as if he were wounded.

Invariably, the person who serves is the one who is magnified. The person who serves is put on display as being generous or kind or strong or resourceful. The person who is served is revealed as weak or deficient or depleted or in distress.

Do you not see, then, that anytime you propose to “serve” God you dishonor him? To come to God as if he were needy and in lack and your service was designed to bolster him and provide for him and supply what he lacks is to draw attention to yourself. Far from glorifying God, serving God in this way demeans and dishonors and detracts from his glory.

I remember the first time I heard Piper say this. My response was immediate: “Wait a minute John! Doesn’t the Bible describe us as being the ‘servants’ of God (Rom. 1:1)? Are we not repeatedly in Scripture commanded to ‘serve’ him (Rom. 12:11; 16:18)? So, how can you say that ‘serving’ God is evil and dishonoring to God?”

First of all, we are rightly called God's "servants" or "bond-slaves" because he owns us: we "have been bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20), the blood of Christ. We belong to him. Second, we are rightly called God's "servants" insofar as we submit to his authority and acknowledge his right to tell us to do whatever he pleases.

What Piper is saying, rather, is that the radical call to commitment and obedience to everything commanded in Scripture is not something we do for him, but things he enables us to do for others. The reason we may confidently sacrifice ourselves in the service of others is because Jesus will sacrifice himself in serving us. He has promised to serve me by sustaining my will as I risk loving those who may not love back. There is nothing to which he calls me that he does not gladly and with unwavering consistency promise to provide that I may fulfill.

So, yes, serve God, but not because you believe your service supplies God with what he otherwise lacks. Or, to use Paul’s words in Acts 17:24-25, “God is not served as though he needed anything.” If the motivation for your service is your belief that God is needy and dependent then you dishonor him. But if your service is grounded in your confidence that whatever you do or offer him is simply returning what he has already given you or done in and through you, you honor him.

God can't be served because he has no deficiencies that need to be replenished. Instead we have the deficiencies and he is infinite in wisdom and power and readiness to serve us. He has the resources. We have the needs, not vice versa.

In other words, by all means serve God, but always as the one who receives, not as the one who gives.

Here in Mark 10:45 Jesus makes a claim that is nowhere to be found on the lips of any other religious leader or teacher. Jesus is not just another moral philosopher or religious zealot with a set of rules who is trying to drum up a following of men and women who will wait on him hand and foot. Jesus says to his followers, "I didn't come to the earth so that you could serve me! I came so that I might serve you."

There it is again: Jesus did not come looking for people to work for him. He came to work for us. He came to serve us. Jesus didn't come to recruit you to meet God's needs. God has no needs. Jesus came to bring you the resources of God to meet your needs. He died to meet your needs. He rose to meet your needs. He reigns to meet your needs, and make you happy in him forever.

Again, I know how odd this will sound. But listen anyway. God is our servant in the sense that he uses all his divine resources to help us and strengthen us and support us and provide our needs as we obey his command to serve others. In one of his parables, Jesus said,

"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them" (Luke 12:35-37).

Here we see that the “master” insists on serving even in the age to come when he will gloriously appear “with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7).

In our misguided zeal, we say: "Oh, God, what can I do for you?" To which God replies: "No, no. You've got it backwards. The question is, 'What can I do for you? You don't strongly support me. I'm God! I strongly support you.'" We must never forget that God is always the Giver and we are always the recipients.

The Giver gets the glory. So all serving that honors God must be a receiving. To be sure, let us work hard; but never let us forget that it is not we, but the grace of God which is with us (1 Cor. 15:10). Let us obey now, as always, but never forget that it is God who works in us, both to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Listen again:

"For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed" (Rom. 15:18; cf. 2 Tim. 4:17).

"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).

Piper has greatly helped me in understanding that biblical texts such as this tell me that the radical call to self-sacrificing discipleship and holiness of life is not fundamentally a call to serve Jesus. It is a call to be served by Jesus so that we may then serve others. We honor God, not by pretending to give him what we arrogantly think he needs, but by praying for and posturing ourselves to receive all that he is and has obtained for us in Jesus. Why? Because it is at the center of God’s nature as God that he glorifies himself by overflowing in abundant goodness and power on behalf of those who can do nothing for themselves. This way our desperation and his all sufficiency are made known.

2 Comments

Excellent! This line of thinking will also guard our hearts against unwarranted guilt over not "doing" enough

Interesting thoughts. I often hear people condemning those who come to Christianity thinking only of what they can get out of it , which... I know what they're referring to and it isn't an attitude I'd laud. But often when people try to do the opposite we do end up making God out to be lacking somehow and we're supplying His need.

In high school, I remember pretty vividly being told how sad we make God when we ignore Him and His beautiful love-letter He wrote to us. It made me feel guilty and I wanted to do better so God wouldn't be sad. But when I finally started reading the Bible regularly (out of insomnia, not piety) I thought, "Oh! God doesn't need me to read this! I need me to read this."

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