Is Jesus calling you to a life of unswerving service?
Is he saying, “You’re here to work and work hard”?
Well if he is, then he’s contradicting what he says here:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)
See the problem? In one verse Jesus exhorts us to “Plow” and in another he says “Rest.” Plowing is hard, back-breaking work. You can’t plow and rest at the same time, so which is it?
“It’s both,” says the mixed-up preacher. “When you come to Jesus you rest from sin and work for the Lord.”
I know a little bit about “working for the Lord.” Until recently, I was a university professor working 50-60 hours per week at a gung-ho business school. What did I do to relax? I led a church. I preached and ran meetings and did leadership trainings and organized outreaches and worship team practices and did counseling and served the poor and a hundred other “good works.” That’s assuming I was in town. Wearing my professor’s hat I travelled to conferences and wearing my pastor’s hat I travelled to more conferences. If conferences made you holy I’d be Holy Paul.
I’m not criticizing church leaders and I’m certainly not attacking those who are bi-vocational! I’m saying my life had little in common with these restful words of Jesus:
Take my yoke upon you and… find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt 11:29-30)
Easy? Light? Rest? Are you kidding?!
Jesus obviously didn’t know how organizations are run – how they consume people like fuel and spit them out broken. Or maybe Jesus knew exactly how they are run and wanted to offer us an alternative. Maybe he was trying to tell us, “God is not your employer.”
We are saved by grace and kept by grace. Since Jesus has done it all, he doesn’t need us to do a thing. The only true work is believing in his finished work. The only worthwhile striving is that done to enter his rest.
So why does Jesus say this?
Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s kingdom! (Luk 9:62, CEV)
In the hands of a works-preacher Jesus words are whips for our backs. “You are saved by grace but now you’ve got to prove you are worthy of the kingdom. The harvest is ripe so work, work, work for Jesus!”
This sort of message will sow seeds of insecurity. It will leave you thinking, If I don’t pull my weight, I’ll no longer qualify for the kingdom.
But this is not what Jesus is saying at all! The one whose yoke is easy and light is not encouraging relentless plowing. Nor is he saying you can lose your salvation if you fail to plow (or perform). So what is he saying? He is saying we must forsake all to enter the kingdom.
Everybody dance now
Jesus doesn’t want us doing things by half. His kingdom is not something you accommodate to your life like a golf-club membership. His kingdom is like a party with the best music, food, and drink. Jesus is saying, “You’re invited, but don’t come to be a wall-flower. Get out on the dance floor with me!”
Those words about plowing are not for us for Jesus never threatens his bride. Read the verse in context and you will see that he is speaking to people who are not following him. He’s basically proposing marriage. He’s saying, “I’m an all-or-nothing proposition.” Just as you can’t be single and married at the same time, you can’t follow and not follow Jesus at the same time.
Nor does this have anything to do with being worthy or good enough for the kingdom. (Bad news: None of us is. Good news: Jesus qualifies you.)
Notice that Jesus uses the word fit as in “fit for the kingdom.” If you’ve ever been for a job interview you might have heard the expression, “You’re a good fit for our company.” Similarly, those who leap in wholeheartedly are a good fit for the kingdom. Those who don’t – those who are double-minded and unstable and insecure – are a miserable fit. They’re at the party but not on the dance floor. They’re at the banquet but they’re not eating.
If you look at the verse at the top of this post you will see that it says “fit for service.” But the words for service aren’t in the Bible! They were added by the NIV translators who evidently thought Jesus’ words needed qualification. They don’t! Check it out in a literal translation. Jesus says “fit for the reign of God” or “fit for the kingdom.” He is saying that the one who comes in wholeheartedly is going to participate in the supernaturally abounding life of God more than the one who doubts.
What is the takeaway?
The takeaway is not “Work hard for Jesus” or “Prove your worth for the kingdom through acts of service.” That sort of message will push you under the truck of guilt and condemnation in no time. It will leave you thinking, I’m not sure if I’m a good enough Christian.
The takeaway is, “Are you ready for the adventure of life shared with Christ?”
The offer of all offers is on the table. Jesus is offering you his life. This is what we were made for – to share and enjoy God’s life. But you won’t enjoy it unless you jump in with both feet. If you hang about on the fringes of his kingdom, perhaps because you think your sin is greater than God’s grace or because you believe you’re simply not good enough, you will never know and experience the fullness of the kingdom. You won’t reign in life. “Don’t be like that,” says Jesus:
No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day. (Lu 9:62, MSG)