photo by Laura Evans
He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree
Genesis 18:8 NIV
Dear ICB family,
As Pastor Neil pointed out, it is striking that the story of Abraham and his visitors, which only takes a few minutes to read, very easily took four to six hours to play out in real life. The text literally says that Abraham ran around making preparations for an absolutely over-the-top meal for his three unexpected visitors. Then, having served them the food, Abraham stood back in the shade of a tree while the three ate. In other words, Abraham wasn't sitting down at the table with them. He stood at the ready like an attentive servant. In fact, that's precisely what he had called himself to his guests: "your servant" (Genesis 18:3).
And God ate calf, curds, milk, and apparently a lot of bread.
If the image of a mere mortal literally serving God at table were not mind blowing enough, there is another image that might seem blasphemous were it not an image given on no less authority than Jesus Christ himself: After commanding his followers to be ready for his coming like servants waiting for their master to come home from a wedding feast, Jesus said, "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:37 ESV).
Wait, wait, wait. What? Surely Jesus misspoke. Surely he meant to say, "Truly, I say to you, the servants will dress themselves for service and have his newly married master recline at table, and they will come and serve him," right?
This is yet another example of the topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God. At least, it's topsy-turvy from our perspective. From God's perspective, it's just the way things are, and the way of this world is the abnormality.
Yes, of course, we serve God. Abraham, Sarah, and their servants literally did so by making the three visitors lunch. And that was the right thing to do. Abraham would have been a jerk to send them on their way with an empty stomach, especially in light of the cultural expectations of the day. "Serve the LORD with gladness!" Psalm 100:2 (ESV) says. "Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord" Romans 12:11 (ESV) says.
However, in all of our serving God, we must be aware that from God's perspective, ultimately he is the one serving his people. "[E]ven the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NIV). And God is not "served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25 ESV).
You see, in all your acts of service to God, the reality is that God is serving you by giving you the strength and ability to serve. Peter says it this way: "Whoever serves, [let that person serve] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:11).
John Piper has said it this way: The giver gets the glory. To put it another way: The source shows its splendor. As you serve God—either by making a fantastic meal like Abraham and Sarah did or by preaching the gospel like Paul and Peter did or by making a profit from the minas that the master has entrusted to you like the servants in the parable in Luke 19 did—if you are utterly dependent on God and actively receiving from him literally everything you need to carry out those acts, you prove that you are, in fact, in the lowly position of needing someone to work on your behalf because you can't do it by yourself. In other words, you need a servant because you're too weak to get the job done on your own. To the extent that we serve God with any other demeanor—as if he needed something from us--we insult our God.
It's in that way, then, that God serves us, even while we are in the very act of serving him. It's in that way that Christ served us when he offered his life as a ransom for many. And it's in that way that one day Christ will dress himself for service, seat his new bride at his lavish banquet table, and do absolutely everything on her behalf.
Behold the God we serve. Though I nearly tremble to say it, we serve the Servant God. And as such, all glory is his. So go, and serve him in the strength that only he provides—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Humbled by the master Servant,