My Dear Shepherds,
One time a large and wealthy church invited me to interview for a senior pastor role. My good friend attended the church so I called him and asked (facetiously), “If I was pastor there would I have a Mercedes in my driveway?” “Yes,” he replied, “till the Elders left.”
Pastors have always wryly observed that we didn’t get into this for the money. Maybe money doesn’t pose a temptation for you, but all of us are susceptible to covetousness—wanting what others have. Paul’s last words to his beloved Ephesian elders were:
I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:33-35)
I think I was most prone to coveting other people’s ease. I was usually grateful for my work and I certainly know others who worked much harder than I, so there was no excuse for the ease I coveted. But still there were times when I really wanted to be left alone like other people, or to have my evenings free like most folks, or, oh, I don’t know, to go somewhere over the rainbow. My occasional discontent had many costumes.
As Paul exemplified to his elders, the antidote to coveting is not just to stop it but to do something: to help the weak at personal cost. Then the Lord Jesus’ own clincher: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” I wonder if we unconsciously assume he meant, “It is more moral to give than receive.” Or “You’ll feel really great if you give rather than receive.” I did not always feel great about giving to the weak. Occasionally I think I even resented it.
I remember a season, in the weeks after Easter, when I was just really tired of people. When I told the Lord I needed a break he said, “Would you do anything for me?” I replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I would.” He said, “Would you even shine shoes for me.” (Strange, I know, but that’s how it went.) “Yes, Lord, I’d even shine shoes.” Then he whispered in my prayer, “Well, I don’t really want you to shine shoes. But I do want you to spend time with some of my people.” But in that, I was strangely refreshed.
Giving sacrificially to others draws God’s blessing, which is never in mere equal measure to our service. In Acts 20:32, just before our verses, Paul assured us that God and the word of his grace would build us up “and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Our inheritance is our reward for serving Jesus (Col. 3:24). Jesus said, “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ….”
I can think of few Christians who have more opportunities to get rich slowly than pastors. When we trudge down hospital corridors or go back to the church for evening counseling, when we squeeze in a visit to a shut-in or meet with a 17-year-old just to talk about school, we are bringing food to hungry hearts. We are inviting in strangers. We are clothing people—maybe in garments of white. We go into prisons, some with unseen bars, and jingle the keys of grace. It is such ordinary service, so small, but look where it gets us: “in his glory, and all the angels with him.”
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Be ye glad!