“The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. – 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
It was Jesus who said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). In a sense, you could summarily describe the Christian life as believing in Jesus and then spending the rest of your life waiting for him to come back and take you home. That is essentially what that portion of Jesus’s statement above says. He was speaking to people who believed in him; he promised them a home he would leave to prepare; and he assures them of his return to take them away with him to that new home. This period of waiting for his return is indeterminate, but elsewhere he hints that it could be lengthy.
In the parable of the Ten Minas, Jesus said, “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed as king and then to return” (Luke 19:12). That the noble man went to a distant country indicates he was going to be away for a while.
Waiting can be a very difficult and boring experience. If, like I suggested earlier, the Christian life is about believing in Jesus and waiting for his return, what is that waiting all about? Should you go to the beach and while away the time collecting precious stones? Or like the early disciples did on the day of Christ’s ascension, should you stand gazing into the sky wondering how his return might be?
Waiting is Service
Waiting is not sitting under a tree reading a thriller novel or twiddling your thumbs while staring into the sky. The Thessalonian Christians model for us what waiting for the return of Christ should be. Paul says of them that, “you turned to God from idols” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Turning from idols was the first sign that they were awaiting a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. They turned from anything that took, or threatened to take, the place of God in their lives. God was God in their hearts.
They didn’t turn from idols and stay idle. They, “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Serving the living God while waiting for his Son from heaven was what occupied them. Yes, Jesus will come to deliver them from the coming wrath; while they wait for the fulfillment of that hope, they served. Have you also turned from idols to God? When I say idols, I refer to anything that is cherished, that obsesses, and takes God’s place in a person’s life. Are you also waiting for Christ’s return and deliverance from the wrath to come? Then be a ‘Thessalonian’. Serve! To wait for Christ is to give yourself to serving the living God.
What is Service?
To serve is to perform duties or render services for another person or organization. It requires that you place yourself aside and work for the benefit of another entity. To serve is to be selfless. It means to come off your high horse, lay your status aside and humbly give yourself, your energies and resources so that someone else benefits. No one models this heart of service better than Jesus. He “knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:3-5). You may have thought, albeit erroneously, that it is weak and poor people who serve the rich and powerful. No, service is not for the weak. It was Jesus’ realization of his worth with the Father that influenced his serving his disciples. He knew that the Father had put all things under his power, that he came from God and was returning to the place of highest authority. A natural man would go about with shoulders held high, demanding to be served. Jesus chose service, he wrapped a towel around his waist and bent down to serve. It takes great strength to live like this. Paul said even though he had equal status with God, he didn’t cling to the privileges of deity but took on the status of a slave (Philippians 2:5-6). And on the day that he washed his disciples’ feet, he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15)
The Nature of Service
We have at least two problems in our day when we think of service. Firstly, that word conjures images of slavery and that offends the modern day person. Secondly, those in leadership, including in the Church, in politics and in government who claim to serve are in truth, lords. Christ said of them: “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them”. Jesus then provided an alternative: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27). Service is in a sense why we are saved and left here on earth. Zechariah sang that much when he said, “Salvation from our enemies and from all who hate us … the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:71, 73-75). Saved to serve is what the prophet meant. God rescues us from our prime enemy, the devil, so that we would spend the rest of our lives serving him while waiting for Christ to return. Revelation 5:10 says, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God”. So when you bask in the truth that you are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood, know that the purpose of that priesthood is service and you have been left here to do just that.
The disciples were told by Jesus to “Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet” (Luke 12:35).
What is the “dress” for this service? It is to be characterized by love: “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:10), Paul says. The gifts of talent and other resources that you have received are not meant to enhance your reputation but for you to serve others, while you wait for Christ’s return. Peter said, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s gifts in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Isn’t it interesting, that God has graces he wants to give to people, but he chooses to entrust the administration of these graces in their varying forms in the hands of faithful stewards? Faithfulness must run through this service if it is to be acceptable. In fact, Peter also adds that you be eager to serve (1 Peter 5:10). Eagerness is usually associated with the pursuit of personal gain. In the Kingdom however, it is to mark your service. While this service includes serving God within the church, it is bigger than that. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, therefore, legitimate service performed anywhere on God’s earth must be seen as service to God. Adam was tasked with catering for the whole earth. So wherever you serve, “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (Ephesians 6:7-8).
Service and Money
In the course of service, there might be some sort of compensation; you might be paid for the work you do. A Pastor who is called to serve in a congregation will be paid a salary or other benefits as are agreed; a believer may be employed and be on the payroll of a Church. While those exist and are legitimate, I want to be clear that the service being talked about here is a selfless one that is not motivated by money. Rather, at least for this article, service here is seen as what occupies you; what you consciously decide to do while you wait for the return of Christ. I’m not talking about moving from Church to Church simply because you were offered more money than your former congregation. I’m not talking about singing, drumming, directing, or doing any other so-called service for monetary reasons: you appear to be very spiritual but you know in your heart of hearts that you’re ‘serving’ because of money. In reality, it is money you are serving and not God. Don’t deceive yourself, Christ’s return is not your motivation. If it was, you know where you would be instead.
Back to the parable of the Ten Minas, do you remember what happened to the servant who received the charge to “Put this money to work until I come back” but failed to do so? Matthew says the worthless servant was thrown outside into the darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who employed their talents as commanded, while waiting for the Master’s return, entered into his joy. That’s how serious this matter of serving while waiting for the Master’s return is.
Check, therefore, what your expectation is of the return of Jesus Christ. Do you live with the anticipation of his second coming? If you answered yes, what is the evidence? For the believers in Thessalonica, they demonstrated that hope by turning from idols to serve the living and true God while waiting for his Son from heaven. If the Holy Spirit decided that that disposition to waiting for Christ’s return, demonstrated by the Thessalonian Church, was worth including in scripture, you will do well to give attention to it. Enough of bench-warming or self-serving. Be a ‘Thessalonian’. Have the mind of Christ. Serve!