Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’ And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?’” (Most of that is Matthew 9:37-38 but with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)
“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.” And the disciples said, “Enough of the negative stuff, Lord! Let’s get to the part where you reward us.” (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion. The promise of rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)
Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already. Tell us about the blessings you have for us. Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)
I was reading a church’s minutes from a century earlier. In a business meeting, the clerk read a request for ten dollars from a church start-up in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary noted in the minutes, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.” As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.
“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches. Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers admit that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally. It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.
It’s not sufficient to do something to please God, honor Christ, or obey the Spirit.
Show me how this will benefit us.
And we wonder why so many congregations are stagnated, plateaued, or declining.
We wonder why so many congregations go to church, log many hours in activities each week, and still feel unfulfilled.
We wonder why churches run off pastors who are not meeting their needs, not leaving them with warm feelings after sermons, not making them feel better about themselves.
I cannot tell you the times I’ve heard someone pray in a worship service, “Lord, help us get something out of this today.”
As though it were all about them.
God help us.
Warren Wiersbe has said, “It pays to worship. But if you worship because it pays, it won’t pay.” Worship is about giving to the Lord the glory due His name, about bringing an offering and bowing down before the Ruler of the universe and honoring Him. When we do this right, we walk away blessed.
Ironic, isn’t it?
The irony of this–“worship pays, but not if you worship for the pay”– is lost on a huge portion of the Lord’s people, I fear. True, God wants to bless His children. He said to Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great, so you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). At no time did the Lord tell Abraham (okay, he was Abram at first) to focus on getting that blessing, or to keep praying that his name would be great. “I will do it,” the Lord said. Then, Abram’s job would be to be a blessing.
When we concentrate on being a blessing to others, God blesses us.
The mentality of this age is something else entirely…
Me–before you. My needs before anything else, my wants and desires above all. How can I tithe when I still owe on my boat and luxury car? Surely the Lord doesn’t want that.
Us–before others. Our needs and our comfort take priorities. We need a strong home base here, and then we will be able to give more to missions.
All of us–before God. God wants our welfare, doesn’t He? He’s not honored if we are worshiping in something less than the best, right?
And thus do we justify our materialism, our self-centeredness, our negligence of the needs of a lost world. Thus do we sanctify our disobedience.
So easily do we nullify the teachings of Scripture and discount the commands of our Lord. (If this sounds vaguely familiar, you will notice in Matthew 15:6 that the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ generation were slammed for the same selfish error. God is not amused.)
A church I know split over this. Some of the leaders resented spending money on missions. Their philosophy, according to the pastor, was that the Great Commission meant they were to reach Jerusalem first, after which they were to branch out into Judea, then on to Samaria, and from there to the ends of the earth. Live by that philosophy and Judea would still be waiting for the gospel.
There will be reward aplenty. But the Lord is in charge of that.
Peter said, “Lord, we’ve left everything and followed you.” He was leaving unsaid the question, “So, what do we get in return?” Or, “What’s in it for us?” Our Lord understood this and said, “There is no one who leaves houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for my sake and the gospel’s sake but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now…and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:28-31).
The concept of reward from God both here and now and “there and then” is found all through the Word.
“Our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this momentary, light affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comprehension….” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
We do well to have the servant-slave attitude…
Early disciples introduced themselves as servants or slaves of the Lord. See Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1 and Jude 1.
Not that the Lord felt that way about His choice servants. They were faithful, honored, His friends, His beloved. The point, however, is that they felt that way about themselves.
And therein lies the secret to faithful and effective discipleship.
The best way to understand this is found in the little parable of Luke 17:7-10.
The servant who comes in from the field is not told to go take care of his own needs first and the master’s second. Instead, he is instructed to go straight to the kitchen and prepare a meal for the master, then make himself presentable and serve it, after which he can see to his own needs. “Even so,” said our Lord, “when you have done all the things I have commanded you, say (to yourself) ‘I am only an unworthy slave; I’ve just done my duty.’”
This overlooked parable may be the one most needed by our generation of churches.
It requires a little self-talk. The one who sees himself as a slave to Jesus does not work for reward. He is rewarded just in serving the One he adores. So, he tells himself at the end of a long, hard day, “I’m an unworthy servant; just doing my duty.”
Notice the Lord does not say that to us. His words to us are: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many” (Matthew 25:21,23).
Notice also that we are not to say that to one another. Instead, we are to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). We are to acknowledge (appreciate) those who serve faithfully and sacrificially (I Corinthians 16:18). And elders who serve well, we are told, are worthy of double honor (I Timothy 5:17). They are not to seek that honor, but we are to give it.
The servant of the Lord who labors hard, serves sacrifically, and stays humble and sees himself as unworthy is a rare treasure. Let us labor to be such.
Let those of us who teach and preach keep this great truth–and therefore this wonderful parable–before God’s people at all times.
You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:14)