In two days, I move on from SAIACS, where I’ve been developing for the past 18 years (5 as a student, 13 as a teacher). I owe so much to SAIACS for shaping me into who I am. While it has been an honor, my service has not been without its failures, valid criticisms, and many challenges. Being responsible for the Pastoral Theology department and working as the Dean of Chapel was demanding. Kindly allow me to share with you some of my selfish thoughts. At times, I’ve wondered if folks actually realize all I’ve done. I mean, I have sacrificed, invested, and accomplished for this place and these people during these best years of my life! Have you ever had similar thoughts? Maybe not, but please let me continue.
Jesus’ parable in Luke 17:7-10 reveals what lies at the heart of Christian ministry. It opens up for us the true nature and proper attitude with which one must serve. This story evokes a common Eastern scenario of a slave who, having put in a whole day’s hard work, returns to his master’s house. Jesus asks, “will the master say to him: Come quickly, sit down to eat?” No! Quite the opposite! He would say: “Go right away, prepare my dinner, dress properly, and wait on my table while I enjoy my food.” Then Jesus posed another rhetorical question: “After that, will this master say, ‘Thanks a lot?’” No! Why not? He is not obligated to, since this is what was expected of the slave. “So it is with you,” Jesus told his disciples. Then, Jesus insisted, “when you’ve done everything commanded” simply say: “We are unworthy slaves; we’ve done only what we ought to have.” This last statement disturbs my carnal nature, yet it clearly discloses two great truths about Christian ministry:
1. Christ expects us to faithfully fulfill all demands of his call
“Servant,” literally a bond slave (doulos, cf.1:38), was a favorite self-characterization of none less than the Apostles (2 Pet. 1:1, Jas. 1:1, Paul in Rom. 1:1). Unlike our employer-employee system, in that patron-client culture, this relationship gave the slaves their needed identity, security, and most of all, a deep sense of belonging and purpose for life! All this the slave had, basically by virtue of his master’s worth and resourcefulness.
Here, I discover that implicit, wholehearted obedience is not something extra I do that deserves special recognition. It is a privilege to do anything and do it well for Christ by whom and for whom all things were created. Yet as my Redeemer, he has ownership and unconditional claim over all I am. Since he called me into full-time ministry (in 1985 from MICO factory) I’ve found my fulfillment in losing myself in finding and serving this Master.
2. Christ expects us to humbly function while depending on his grace
With the dignity borne there is humility to be worn. It is humbling that Christ would call his servants, “my friends” (Jn. 15:14). He is not ashamed to call us “brothers” (Heb. 2:11) and consider us partners in his kingdom (2 Cor. 6:1). Yet we, as slaves, must never forget that Christ is, first and foremost, our Lord and Master! Our service expresses our indebtedness to and dependence on his enabling grace (1 Cor. 15:10). If any of us can possibly do all of what is required (this itself will at once show our failures), we still are at best slaves to whom God owes no favor. We don’t put Christ in debt by serving Him!
This stern portrayal of the master is not intended to create a slavish attitude that grudgingly constrains duty without reward. The point being, it is not our right to be rewarded. On the contrary, our experience in ministry only proves our Lord is indeed a gracious and generous master. He does work all things for God’s glory, our good and our joy (Luke 5:4-9; 12:35-37). Think about it, at the end of the day, we are all in a real sense profitable for Christ’s kingdom (in the way this hardworking slave was for his master’s earthly economy). Therefore, let us always abound in the Lord’s work, confident that nothing we do in his mission is a waste of our time and effort (1 Cor. 15:58).
There is reward for serving Christ faithfully and humbly, though not in our time or on our terms. It is to hear Jesus one day say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come share your master’s joy” (Matt. 25:21, 23). I’ve asked some at SAIACS to forgive me for when I did not do my duty well and thanked my students and staff for the opportunity to serve my Lord at SAIACS!
– Chris Gnanakan (2 Cor. 4:5)