Contrary to much of the false teaching that is popular today, serving the Lord may be a costly business. Without doubt and without fail, the Lord blesses those who are His. But that we can automatically expect that blessing to entail temporal wealth and well-being or that it pertains primarily to time rather than eternity is impossible to substantiate from Scripture. Consider these examples.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John. These four men were fishermen, partners (Luke 5:10), and members of a multi-generation family business, according to Matthew’s Gospel (4:22). We catch glimpses of the laborious nature of their work—fishing all night, arduous rowing, hauling heavy nets filled with fish up out of the water into the boats, and painstaking mending of nets—and we may be led to believe, mistakenly, that the two pairs of brothers were engaged in a subsistence-level trade. Certainly, there were plenty of fishermen who barely scraped by. But Mark reveals that the enterprise engaged in by James and John was lucrative enough to afford “hired servants,” (1:20), suggesting that they enjoyed a certain amount of prosperity from their trade. Yet, we are told that when the Lord Jesus called the four of them to be His disciples, “they left everything and followed Him” (Lk. 5:11). In other words, they were not trading in a poverty-stricken life for one that promised riches. The inducement to follow the Lord and serve Him was not in order that they might have their “best life now.” They abandoned a successful business, the security of home, the comforts of family, and the fellowship of their brethren for the homeless, uncertain life of One whose encouraging words were that “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head” (Lk. 9:58b).
Matthew. We can be fairly certain that Matthew was well-to-do. No Jew would endure the scorn and hatred, the popular sense that he was a traitor to his nation, a cheat, and a scoundrel that was the lot of a tax collector for Rome unless he was assured that it would be well worth his while financially. As a tax collector, Matthew belonged to a despised class of individuals known for their lack of conscience, willingly cheating and stealing from their own countrymen because anything collected above the poll tax required by Rome went into the pocket of the tax collector. Though universally loathed, Matthew loved wealth more than he cared about nurturing friendships. Wealth was his god. Yet, we read that the Lord “noticed” Matthew (also called Levi) “sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (Lk. 5:27). And to the utter amazement of everyone, Matthew “left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him” (v. 28). The Lord had not made Matthew a more lucrative offer; He hadn’t promised him the love of his fellow countrymen; He didn’t offer power and popularity. Nevertheless, Matthew left everything behind. He didn’t bother to scoop up so much as one denarius and drop it in his purse—just in case.
The Lord Jesus Christ. Albeit unwittingly, those disciples were dimly shadowing the example of their Lord, who “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6, 7a, 8b). The Lord Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”? To spurn omnipotence and omniscience? To disdain the unceasing worship and service of myriad angels? To abandon the unmitigated and unceasing pleasures of heaven, and to forsake the perfect and inexpressible presence and fellowship of the Father? All in order to be made sin, to be rejected by the Father, to suffer, and to die for a host of depraved, rebellious ingrates?
Such was the life of our Savior and example. Yes, service is a costly business. Oh, yes, it is worth it—infinitely so, eternally so. But let there be no mistake, to serve is to take up a cross, to die to self, potentially to endure scorn, hatred, abuse, the loss of wealth, of good standing in the community, the loss of friends and family, the loss of health, and even of life (ask eleven of the twelve apostles, ask Stephen, ask the Apostle Paul). Are you and I truly serving? If so, has it cost anything? Have we left everything for the Lord? Certainly, He may not take everything, but we must be willing for Him to do so.
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