Say What? A Hired Servant?
I’ve always had a soft spot for the prodigal son’s older brother in Luke 15, most likely because I’m the eldest in my family. I remember, well, sort of remember, the privileges of being the firstborn. Time has chipped away at certain specifics, but with family photos to fill in childhood gaps, there’s no question as to my parents’ love and sole attention those first few years.
But with those privileges came responsibilities when my sibling competition arrived. I did eventually graduate to a main floor bedroom while they were booted to the basement, but that didn’t compensate for having to share and share alike the love, the toys. My toys. Or for having to be mindful of the others, to live an exemplary life—while my sister tore up my books, later ransacked my wardrobe without permission, and eventually married my drinking-buddy classmate, again without my permission. And my brother—rich in boyish wonder, rife with annoying energies, always underfoot, constantly manhandling the tadpoles we sisters so painstakingly rescued after spring rains—gladly reaped the benefits of being the youngest of exhausted parents, (though his account of such privileges may differ from mine).
That’s now water under my juvenile bridge. In fact, I’m sure my siblings are chuckling while they read this.
In respect to salvation, I am also the older brother to my prodigal-son husband. That year and a half before he came to his senses, I basked in the “rapturous delight” of being God’s favorite, His one and only. I soaked up His love and sole attention, reaped His many benefits.
Only to have the spotlight shift from me to the one God obviously favored most. I feel for the prodigal’s brother. I too had done my best to please my Father, to live an exemplary life before my spiritual sibling. But the sudden celebratory fanfare over his return home dredged up green-eyed indignation in me. I, the one who envisioned us as a power-packed husband-and-wife team and had sown all those tearful prayers into bringing it about, was now to play second fiddle in what God decided was a one-man gospel band. The pain was gut real.
All that is water under yet another bridge, because God’s healing was even more real.
So, having put these issues to rest decades ago, you can imagine my surprise when God recently peeled back yet another layer of misconception about sonship. I, like the prodigal’s brother, was operating with the mindset of a hired servant.
Say what? A hired servant? How could I be off in my thinking when there’s no sidestepping this mega-important subject of servanthood? The Bible urges us, no, charges us in its ever-so-convincing way to live at all times as servants of God . . . to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. Further investigation into my Luke 15 prototype is what I needed for better understanding.
I’ll wager to say that no one could live a more exemplary life of servanthood than the prodigal’s eldest brother. By the look of things, there wasn’t a slovenly bone in his body. Like most farmers, he labored weeklong in the field from sunrise to sunset, skipping lunch, thumbing his nose at breaks, pouring his all into the too much work to be done in too little time. [i]
As for dependableness, I doubt his father lost any sleep. With a resourceful son like his eldest serving him so loyally these many years, he need not concern himself with unfinished projects. [ii] There was a stick-to-itiveness about him that ensured the work would get done and done right.
And was there ever a complaint from the eldest about them having to compensate for those losses incurred by his brother pulling out early? Evidently not. There’s no mention of jilted feelings over his devil-may-care brother living high (and low) on the hog until the noise of a party reached his ears. [iii]
Looks to me like it’s possible to meet all the basic requirements of servanthood, to share common interests and goals, to be hardworking, resourceful, dependable, loyal as the family’s golden retriever, yet serve outside of intimacy with the Father. The older brother was so caught up in work’s demands that he ended up out of sync with his father and became isolated. That's a problem.
Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God [iv] points out that time exists in two separate realms. One is sacred, the other profane, and that we orient ourselves primarily to one or the other.
Chronos time—the time of clock and calendar—presides over those who are “driven, driven, driven, racing hard against chronos, desperate to seize beauty . . . seeking purpose and finding none, only emptiness”. It’s a taskmaster to perfectionists and overachievers. Projects we set our hands to become a neck-and-neck race against time, a juggling act to get things done . . . and get them done right. Before we know it, the Father’s love seems distant. We’ve lost touch with what He’s up to these days, and then wonder why we feel so insecure and insignificant.
On the other hand, “Kairos time is a gift, an opportunity, as season. It is time pregnant with purpose. In kairos time you ask not, ‘What time is it?’ but ‘What is this time for?’” As “we learn to follow the scent of eternity in our hearts . . . we start to sanctify some of our time”. What’s on the Father’s heart right now? What is He feeling? What’s He doing? The prodigal’s father had mourned for a good while. Now he danced. The older brother needed to be reminded that “Son, you are always with me” so he could join his father in the dance. [v]
There is also a problem when we serve without understanding that we are partnering with the Father. Employees work. Hirelings serve. They may labor for a while out of respect, or in hopes of gaining approval. They may be loyal to a certain degree, or at least until that paycheck or bonus comes. But when trials test loyalties, the temptation to pull up stakes is greater because time and labor is all they have invested. [vi] That has a slavish feel to it.
Not so with sons. Or should I say, it shouldn’t be so with sons. I can understand the youngest dragging home his ball and chain of guilt and shame, hoping to hire on as a servant. But his brother—the model son who faithfully served the family estate as though it were his own—failed to realize that the estate was indeed his own. Son . . . all that is mine is yours. [vii] Both sons were trapped in a hired servant’s mentality. And evidently, so was I. Lord, help us. These hireling roots go deeper than I realized.
God calls us to be servants for Jesus’ sake, to live sacrificial lives, loving and giving our all to Him as Christ so selflessly demonstrated. [viii] Whatever we put our hands to is to be done wholeheartedly, cheerfully, without apology, generously, without partiality, and continually as unto Him, not expecting a pat on the back for our efforts. [ix]
Yet, we servants just so happen to be sons. There’s a heavenly dignity to serving when you know your worth as a son. I have given to them the glory and honor which You have given Me, that they may be one, [even] as We are one . . . [x] When grace lifts our hearts into the Lord’s presence, and in His glory our hearts abide, and from His glory our hearts serve, there’s no need to prove our worth. No matter how lowly the position or menial the task, we can take pride in our work and serve accommodatingly from a place of deep humility. Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who . . . being essentially one with God and in the form of God . . . did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, but stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave) . . . [xi]
Serving can be done generously and selflessly when a son realizes he is working in partnership with his Heavenly Father. Son . . . all that is mine is yours. Sons vested in their Father's kingdom business know deep down, that true sense of belonging. Stinginess finds no root because they have access to the unlimited resource of Life and Life Abundant. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s [xii] All are the works of God’s hands. They are His, and because we are His, they are ours. What we freely receive we can freely give away. For out of His fulness (abundance) we all received—all had a share, and we were all supplied with—one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift. [xiii]
Lord, remind us again, Son, you are always with me and all that is mine is yours so we can serve with You and serve well! [xiv]
[i] Luke 15:25 [ii] Luke 15:29 [iii] Luke 15:28–30 [iv] The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan; W Publishing Group 2006; page 36-37 [v] John 15:31a [vi] Matthew 20:1–16; John 10:12–13 [vii] John 15:31b [viii] 2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 2:6–7; Galatians 5:13 [ix] Ephesians 6:7–9; Colossians 3:23–24; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Matthew 5:14–16; Romans 12:6–13; Proverbs 19:17; Luke 6:27; Daniel 6:20; Luke 17:10; Mark 9:35; 1 Corinthians 15:10 [x] Romans 8:30 AMP; 1 Corinthians 2:7; John 17:21–24 [xi] Philippians 2:5–11 AMP; John 15:15 AMP [xii] 2 Corinthians 6:1; Mark 16:20; Luke 15:31; 1 Corinthians 3:21–23; John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 4:5 [xiii] Psalm 23:5; Psalm 103:2–5; John 1:16 AMP; Matthew 10:8; 2 Peter 1:3 [xiv] Isaiah 43:4; Psalm 36:5; 1 Peter 4:10