(July 11, 1990)
Long, long ago, when children were taught to say please and thank you and polite conversation was normal, a young employee worked overtime to meet a deadline. When the assignment was finished and she was getting ready to leave with a friend, her boss said thank you. The friend muttered, “Thanks doesn’t buy much beer.”
There are still a few people who will stay late on a job without expecting or even wanting overtime pay, but they are almost as rare as a polite please and thank you. Mere appreciation isn’t enough in this materialistic society. The reward has to be tangible and preferably bankable.
I came across a startling verse of Scripture one day that showed me the norm for the Christian worker should be diametrically opposite to the norm of our day. It was written by the Apostle Paul to the immature believers in the church at Corinth. He said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.”
I don’t know about most Christians but I find myself often expecting, even taking for granted, that other Christians will not only appreciate me but love me, especially if I spend myself to meet their needs. It isn’t that I serve to earn love but some expression of gratitude is the normal response of a spiritual person, and it usually happens.
However, Paul wasn’t dealing with spiritual persons. He told them in the beginning of his letter that they were carnal, behaving as ordinary men and not saints of God with envy, strife, and divisions among them (3:3). He rebuked them thoroughly and instructed them in godly behavior. At the end of his letter though, he told them he would gladly love and serve them, even if they did not respond as they should. Obviously he wasn’t motivated by any response he hoped to get from them, but what did motivate him?
In his second letter to them, he tells why he could keep on regardless of their reaction: “The love of Christ constrains us...” He could have put it this way: The love of Christ controls us...” It was not a forced restraint but willing submission to the force of the love of God that provided him the necessary motivation to serve others.
But how do you keep on serving people who never show any appreciation? Jesus revealed that to Peter after He rose from the dead and had cooked breakfast for some of the disciples. Taking Peter aside, He asked him if he loved Him. When Peter responded, Jesus said, “If you love me... feed my sheep.”
It is not love for the sheep but love for Jesus that counts. When we love Him, we do what He says. Doing what He says usually involves serving the needs of others. Many times those others are grateful and say so; and many times the Lord will even reward His servants in other ways; but there are occasions when the job is done in love and humility and no one says thanks, or cares, or even seems to notice.
Actually, it is thankless people who really test my relationship with Christ. Am I doing this because I love Him and serve Him? Or am I looking for a pat on the back, my name on a plaque, or at least a mention (with appreciative reverence) from the pulpit next Sunday? Perhaps the truest test of love for Christ is working to help someone who would choke if they had to say thanks, and die on the spot if they had to return the favor, and do that service without a trace of expectation or bitterness.
No, verbal “thanks” doesn’t pay the bills, nor does a servant-spirit keep bread on the table; remuneration is vital to an employee. But if our Master is the Lord and our workplace is with His people, how important to remember that serving Him is a privilege, even a thank-offering, because He gladly spent His life in service to us.