Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 29, 2014
Authentic Christians are servants
My friend Fred Fuller died recently. Fred was a gentle giant, a gracious servant of Christ and a fellow United Methodist preacher.
I discovered at Fred’s funeral that a little known verse in the New Testament was precious to him. The verse is First Corinthians 4:1 – “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”
Fred wanted people to think of the clergy as servants of Christ. But it was more than an idea with Fred. It was a conviction that he practiced. He spent his life serving others. The people who knew him well recognized Fred as an authentic servant of Christ.
Fred took his cue from the Apostle Paul who wrote that verse to the Corinthian Christians. Paul described himself as a servant of Christ and a steward of God. He spent his life making Christ known and inviting people to embrace Christ as Lord. His will was subservient to the will of Christ.
Like his Lord Jesus, Paul’s first concern was the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Paul. He never asked for a dime to erect anything that would perpetuate his own name. On the contrary he did everything within his power to make known the name of his Savior.
Paul promoted servanthood and he practiced it. Jesus was his Boss, his Lord, from whom he received his marching orders. Paul’s response to the Great Commission of Jesus was the greatest response made by any person in the first century. For Paul nothing was more important than to take up the cross and “go make disciples of all nations” – even if it cost him his life. And it did.
In recent years the word “servant” has been glamorized. We have added the word “leader” to it; we want to be known as “servant leaders” of the church. This distinction tempts us to feel more important than the common people. We crave recognition and praise for our hard work. Some have even quit the church because they did not receive the recognition they thought they deserved.
Older translations of the Bible show that Paul used the word “slave” instead of servant. He identified himself simply as a “slave of Christ.” In choosing the word “slave” Paul showed us his heart. He thought it a high privilege to serve as a slave of Jesus Christ. He was willing to surrender entirely to the mastery of Christ. Christ was everything; Paul was content to be Christ’s slave and to do what he was told to do. After all, to Paul Christ was the visible expression of the invisible God, the One before whom “every knee will bow” one day.
We who serve Christ today are prone to think of ourselves “more highly than we ought to think” – to borrow a phrase from Paul. Some of us may even imagine that Christ should be proud to have us on his team, as gifted as we are. But this is not a new problem. It was the problem Paul addressed when he spoke of being “puffed up in favor of one against another.” We get puffed up when we compare ourselves with others. Slaves, on the other hand, are less likely to become puffed up about anything.
Instead of foolishly comparing ourselves to others, and stimulating resentment in the fellowship, we should remember our calling – to live as servants and stewards under the Lordship of Christ. Stewards are expected to be trustworthy, to care well for the responsibilities we are given. What we have is not actually ours but a gift on loan from God. He expects us to be faithful stewards, serving responsibly with gratitude for the mercy he has shown us.
Puffed up people have a gift for dodging true servanthood. They want control so they can have their way. They desire power more than an opportunity to serve. They want to tell other Christians what to do rather that bowing to the will of Christ. This attitude weakens the witness of the church.
Mother Teresa showed us how to be a slave of Christ. After receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace, she declined many other invitations to be wined and dined and honored for her work with the poor. She realized that her service to the dying was more important than attending banquets to be recognized for her achievements. She thanked the people who sought to honor her but remained at her post so she could help the poor and dying know they were loved.
Harry Denman was a slave of Christ and desired no other image. When he retired from serving as head of evangelism for the Methodist Church, his friends held a great reception in his honor. Several hundred people were present and enjoyed delicious food and drink. Harry was not there. He was miles away preaching about his friend Jesus in a little country church.
People like Fred Fuller model for us what it means to serve as a faithful steward and humble servant of Christ. With God’s help we can model that kind of winsome discipleship for others. At least we can try. It all begins with a willingness to think of ourselves as servants and stewards of Jesus Christ. Paul did. Fred did. We can too. + + +