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Lesson 12: Selfless Service *

Introduction: "Selfless service." Does this idea make you shudder or does it give you a feeling of satisfaction or freedom? If the goal of life is simply to serve others, then (to continue a theme from last week) the guy who drives the $700 mini-van may be better than the guy who drives the new BMW 7 series, right? Hold on just a minute! If the goal is to serve others, should we even ask "Who is better?" How do we fit ambition and hard work into this picture? Who should we help? Only the worthy? Let's jump into the Bible and find out!

  1. The Farmer and the King

    1. Read Matthew 20:1-5a. What did the farmer offer to pay the people who started working late - at the third hour? (Whatever was right.)

      1. Would it be right to pay them the same as those who had already been working for three hours?

    2. Read Matthew 20:5b-7. If you were the farmer, what would you pay these people who started 6, 9 and 11 hours late?

    3. Read Matthew 20:8-12. Do you agree with the complaint raised by those who came to work early and worked all day? They had worked 12 hours, versus 1 hour (for those last hired).

    4. Read Matthew 20:13-15. Is the farmer right? (Yes, since the early people agreed to their wages.)

      1. The Bible story ends after only one day. Let's continue the story to day two. The next morning the farmer comes to town bright and early to find workers. Will he find any? (No.)

        1. Why not? (They will all be waiting to go to work (v.9) "about the eleventh hour.")

        2. Is there any doubt in your mind about what would happen if this farmer's pay practices became known?

        3. What, then, is Jesus' point? How does this get applied to real life? What does this say about ambition and hard work?

    5. Let's look at another story in Matthew 20. Read Matthew 20:20-21. Is this what your mother wants for you?

      1. Is this what you want for yourself? (Of course. You want to be rich and important.)

    6. Read Matthew 20:22. What did Jesus mean when He spoke of "drinking the cup?" (He was speaking of His upcoming torture and death. See Matthew 26:39 and the context of Jesus' answer here: Matthew 20:17-19)

      1. Who is answering here: Mom or the sons? (The sons.)

        1. Was this just "Mom's idea" and the two sons are a little embarrassed about it? (No. This shows they were all in on it.)

    7. Let's skip down and read Matthew 20:24. Why are the rest of the disciples "indignant?" (Two reasons. They want to be the most important people in the coming kingdom of Jesus. Second, they are upset they did not think to get their mothers to suggest this to Jesus.)

    8. Read Matthew 20:23. We just got through discussing the story of the farmer. This seems to be the wrong answer based on the farmer story. What should have been the answer if you are just going by the farmer story? (The farmer story teaches us that no one gets ranked higher than anyone else. All get the same pay and honor-only the amount of work varies.)

      1. So, how do you explain Jesus' answer here? Why will people get "ranked" by the Father? (These are both "kingdom" stories, but they are about much different things. The "farmer story" alerts us in the very first verse ( Matthew 20:1) that we are not learning a lesson in economics from Jesus. This is about salvation - how we enter the kingdom of heaven. The point is that we cannot earn our way into heaven by the amount of our work. We only "earn" our way by answering the call of God. That is why I was leading you down the "garden path" when I suggested a "day two." On the other hand, in the "mom and sons" story, mom and sons are thinking about real, live, promotion to positions of authority.)

    9. Read Matthew 20:25-28. When Jesus answered mom and the sons, He was speaking of heaven and they were thinking of positions in an earthly kingdom. Jesus knew this, and now He switches to speaking about earthly rulers. What is wrong with the way the "rulers of the Gentiles" operate?

      1. Read Romans 13:1-2. Is there something wrong with the "Gentile plan?" (No. Paul tells us that God instituted governmental systems of authority here on earth.)

      2. Then how do you explain Jesus' "servant leader" command? (Jesus teaches us to follow His example. To save us, He gave up His life for us. He temporarily gave up his own interests for eternal interests. Jesus is not saying that an authority system is wrong or that such a system will not exist in heaven. He is simply saying that this earth is not our goal. Instead, the goal is heaven and to promote that goal we need to be working on serving others and not just serving ourselves.)

    10. Previously, we skipped over the "punch-line" on the farmer story. Read Matthew 20:16. How does this line fit into what we have just discussed? (Those who put others first here on earth, will have a suitable ranking in heaven. Self-sacrifice here means a position of authority in heaven.)

    11. If I told you to pursue your own self-interests, be ambitious, what would you do in light of what we just learned? (The texts seem to teach us that if we serve others here on earth (we are "last"), then we will be "first" in heaven.)

      1. Three questions before we move on:

        1. First, isn't our conclusion at odds with the basic line of the farmer story? If we conclude that the extent of our service here affects our "pay" (position) in heaven, isn't that conclusion completely contrary to the point of the story?

        2. Second, how is verse 16 a proper conclusion to the farmer story? Since the farmer pays whatever he wants to all but the earliest workers, wouldn't verse 16 more appropriately say, "So, unless you have a contract, the generous farmer pays whatever he feels like paying." Do you think verse 16 would more appropriately be placed after verse 28?

        3. Do you think Jesus' focus on serving others has anything to do with the origin of sin being Satan's ambition to exalt himself? (See Isaiah 14:12-14)

  2. Sharing Your Stuff

    1. Let's explore next what obligation, if any, we have to serve others with our stuff. Read Luke 3:7-9. What point were the "vipers" missing? (John is talking with them about deeds. He asks them to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." Their actions did not show they had a right relationship with God.)

    2. Read Luke 3:10-11. What does John suggest is the right thing to do? Does this suggestion surprise you?

    3. Read Luke 3:12-14. Does the instruction to the tax collectors and the soldiers surprise you? (No. This seems to be basic honesty. Don't collect more than what is due and do not lie or cheat.)

    4. Let's go back to verse 11. The two tunic guy has not lied or cheated to get his tunics. He earned them by hard work while the "no-tunic" guy could be your basic lazy bum. Is John's direction appropriate?

      1. If you say, "yes," why?

    5. Read Luke 6:30. What does Jesus say about giving not just to those who ask, but to the lazy, thieving bum who steals your coat?

    6. Would you say that Jesus and John the Baptist share the same point of view on giving away your stuff?

    7. Let's read what Paul says about this. Read 1 Timothy 5:5-7, 9-13. How would you summarize Paul's advice for helping poor Christian widows? (Paul limits help to those who merit it.)

      1. Assume that Jesus, John the Baptist and Paul are on the same church charity committee. Would they share the same opinion? Would they agree?

    8. Read Leviticus 23:22. What do you see as the important points of the Old Testament system of caring for the poor?

      1. Does this system sound more like Paul than like Jesus and John? (I see the Old Testament system of caring for the poor to be consistent with Paul's view. An important feature of gleaning was that the poor were actively involved in helping themselves. Although they did not pay for the food, they did do some work for it. The lazy and worthless were not given a handout. (See also, Romans 15:26 and Deuteronomy 15:11.))

    9. Paul and the Old Testament gleaning system require merit and work from the poor as a condition of help. This seems at odds with John and Jesus who say help those who are in need, and even let them steal from you. Can you reconcile these apparently different views? (I start out with the view that all of the Bible is God's word and it is all correct. Our goal, then, is to reconcile these inspired words. American judges reconcile apparently conflicting laws with the rule that the more specific law controls over the general. Both Paul's instructions about helping widows and the Old Testament's instructions on helping the poor are very specific. Thus, when John says share your clothes and your food, and Jesus says help those who ask, these general instructions to help the poor may be properly understood in the light of the more specific instructions to intelligently help those in need. "Selfless service" means to help others, but to make wise judgments on who we help and when we help them.)

    10. Friend, how is your heart? Do you work just to make yourself better? Or, do you help others - even those who cannot repay you? Will you ask God to give you an unselfish, intelligent, spirit?

  3. Next Week: Living the Life of Faith.
* Copr. 2003, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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