But... There's a significant theme in the Bible of men
being so full of love for God, so saturated with appreciation
of His character, that they were willing to serve Him with no
expectation of reward in this life. For such men, the paradox we
are discussing would have caused no lasting difficulty. Those unnamed,
unknown believers who in Old Testament times castrated themselves for
the sake of the Truth were in this category (Mt. 19:12). They served
God, expecting nothing from Him now. And our Lord was the
same. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross”
(Heb. 12:2) may seem on first reading to mean that He did serve for a
reward. Until we understand that the Greek word anti
translated “for” really means ‘in place of’.
With evident reference to the wilderness temptation to take the Kingdom
joys without the cross, the writer is making the point that instead of
the joy that the tempter of His own flesh set before Him, He endured
the cross. Consider just a few more examples of selflessness:
- The satan in the book of Job expresses his serious
doubt that any man would serve God for no prospect of reward in this
life (Job 1:9) (1). One of the
themes of the book of Job is to show how a real believer will
serve God for nothing. In fact, Job went beyond this. He says that he
will still serve God even if he gets nothing from Him in this life and
even if there is no future reward either, and
even if God treats Him unfairly; 'Even if', Job speculates, 'God slays
me (not just 'kills' me)' (consider Job 13:15;
14:7,14; 19:10). This was love of God, this was devotion to ones'
creator, despite not understanding His ways. In Malachi's time, the
Jews were expecting a reward from God for every little thing they did.
They are rebuked in language which is full of allusion back to Job, and
his willingness to serve God " for nought" (Mal. 1:10).
- Moses reached a similar height, being one of the
foremost Old Testament examples of selflessness. He was willing to give
both his physical and eternal life for the salvation of
Israel (Ex. 32:29-32), that God's Name might be upheld. He so loved and
respected God's character, His personality (all bound up in His Name)
that he was willing to forego all personal blessings, even life itself,
just because of the wonder of God. A less spiritually mature Moses had
been motivated 40 years earlier by his respect of the recompense of the
reward (Heb. 11:26). But now his motive is the glory of God's Name.
Personal possession of the Kingdom is held up as a motivator
in our lives; but surely, like Moses, we ought to progress
towards a desire to see the achievement of God's glory, rather than
being obsessed with personally finding our place in the political
- Ittai was a mercenary, and David therefore told him
his services were no longer needed now that he had been deposed from
being king and was facing extinction. But despite David’s
apparently hopeless cause at the time, Ittai replied: “Surely in
what place my Lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even
there also will thy servant be”.
- The Levites were likewise taught that the fact they
were so close to God, that they were honoured with the call to daily do
His work, was more than enough to compensate for the fact that they
were left out of the physical blessings of inheritance in the land of
Canaan. And the Levites are types of us (1 Pet. 2:5). They were to be
examples of selflessness to the whole nation.
- Job at times expressed a total lack of hope in a
resurrection (Job 14:14)- and yet he still continued to serve God,
because he loved Him.
- Gentile Ruth came to love, really love, the God of
Israel. She willingly decided to forego re-marriage after her husband
died for the wonder of the fact she had been allowed in to the
commonwealth of Israel. As it happened, this is a story with
a happy ending. But she was prepared for it not to be.
- Jesus told Martha that if she believed in Him, she
would have eternal life. She responded simply: “I believe”
(Jn. 11:26,27). She didn’t go on to talk about the promised
‘carrot’ of eternal life.
- There is a connection between Lk. 14:13 and 21.
“When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame,
the blind…for they cannot recompense thee”. Yet
this is exactly what the parable of v. 21 teaches that God does:
“Bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the
blind”. The basis of God’s calling of us must be the basis
upon which we relate to others. We cannot recompense Him, yet He shows
us His gracious invitation. So we too must share ourselves with those
who cannot give us anything. In this sense, we like our Father, serve
for nothing in the sense of no personal, concrete gain. We must be
gracious by nature, and just be as He is.
- David felt that the wonder of having God's word
meant that the presence or absence of physical blessings in his
life was irrelevant (Ps. 119: 72,111).
- The mother of James and John wanted them to have
great reward in the Kingdom. The Lord’s basic answer was:
‘Take up my cross, follow my example, focused as it is on getting
others to the Kingdom’ (Mt. 20:21,27,28).
They were to be to others examples of selflessness.
- Paul quotes the words of Prov. 25:21,22 in Rom.
12:20: " If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat...for thou
shalt heap coals of fire upon his head" . But he omits to apply the
last part of Prov. 25:22 to us: " And the Lord shall reward thee" .
Paul's point is that we should not resist evil, leave God to glorify
His Name- and enable this to happen, without seeking for a personal
reward for our righteousness.
- Elijah had to pray daily for the lack of bread and
water in Israel (so 1 Kings 17:1 implies). He suffered himself because
of this. He was prepared to forego quite legitimate blessings in order
to lead an apostate ecclesia back to God.
- The widow woman prepared to die. The tragedy
of that gaunt woman touches me deeply. I imagine her tidying the house,
and then walking out into the blazing heat to gather sticks. But she
gave her last bit to God's man Elijah; not, it seems, with any hope of
getting out of her plight. She gave of her very last, her best, her
all, not expecting anything back. Another widow, centuries later, threw
her two mites into the collection bag of a fabulously rich, doctrinally
corrupt, hypocritical ecclesia. The implication is that she died even
more pathetically, perhaps tossed onto Gehenna with the starving cats.
There seems to have been no happy ending- in this life. And she
absolutely understood that.
- One of the thieves begged the Lord: “Save
thyself and us”. The other didn’t agree; he focused instead
on the righteousness of the Lord and his own unworthiness, and asked
only to be remembered for good. ‘Save me’
wasn’t upmost in his mind.
- In the parable of the labourers, the hard, all day
workers came expecting their pay; they were sent away, it could be, in
rejection. But those whom the parable appears to commend worked having
made no agreement nor mention of the reward they would receive.
- James and John clamoured for a reward in the
Kingdom. They were told instead to go away and serve; this was what it
was all about, being the minister of others, serving for nothing- not
badgering the Lord for a reward in the Kingdom (Mt. 20:20-26).
- Paul seems to exalt in the fact that his "reward" or
wage for preaching the Gospel is in fact not to have any wage or reward (1
Cor. 9:18). Having this attitude to the work of witness will mean that
we will never suffer from deep disappointment with lack of response,
gratitude or recognition for our work.
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were examples of
selflessness. They told Nebuchadnezzar that they were confident that
Yahweh would save them from the furnace. " But even if He does not, we
want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods" (Dan. 3:18
NIV). Even if God didn't preserve them, they would still serve Him
alone. Perhaps they had Job's words going round in their minds: "
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" .
- Perhaps the twelve had the same sense. When the Lord
spoke of going to Lazarus, they thought He was going to commit suicide.
They hoped He would redeem Israel in glory, there and then. But such
was their devotion to Him as their Saviour, even though they didn't
understand how He was going to work it out, that Thomas solemnly
ordered them, as they huddled together out of the Lord's earshot: " Let
us also go, that we may die with him" (Jn. 11:16). I imagine dear Peter
solemnly nodding in agreement, thinking of his wife and dear children
back in that fisherman's cottage. But he was serving for nothing, for
sheer love of his Lord. And he was prepared to die for Him, even if it
meant receiving nothing of the present benefits he thought Jesus of
Nazareth might bring for him. And yet the Lord demands such devotion
from all of us. The tired servant can labour all day for Him, but
immediately he returns, the Lord expects him to immediately
prepare a meal, and doesn't expect to thank us. As it happens, He
elsewhere intimated that He will praise us at the judgment, He Himself
will serve us (Lk. 12:37). But the attitude of serving for nothing, for
no thanks even, must be with us now, in this life.
- Abraham was told to leave Ur and all he had there,
and journey to a land he would be shown. Trying to keep up a sense of
eagerness and hope for the new life, he made tremendous sacrifices, and
journeyed to Canaan. When he finally got there, he didn’t realize
he’d arrived. Then the Lord appeared to him and said that to his
seed He would give this land (Gen. 12:1,7). To the human mind,
this would have been a huge blow. He had given up all in the hope of a
new life and inheritance, and now he is told that someone called his
“seed” would inherit it. His response was to build an altar
and worship, realizing he had served for nothing personally in this
life, but with his mind filled with the glory and Kingdom of Christ,
his future seed. God was so delighted with this attitude that later
promises included Abraham personally, showing that because of his part
in Christ, the seed, he would in fact personally have an inheritance
- The righteous gave to the poor, the sick, the
hungry- without even realizing they had done it. They will confidently
deny it when Jesus points it all out to them. They served with no
expectation of reward; so much so that they even forgot what they did.
And every one who is accepted at the judgment will have been
like that (Mt. 25:36). Giving without any thought of getting anything
back is a must for all of us who seek to truly manifest God:
for this is exactly what He does and has done, minute by minute, down
through the millennia of indifferent, unresponsive human history (Lk.
Above all, in my opinion, Habakkuk battled with the
problem of God's policy of giving blessings. He sees that the righteous
examples of selflessness in Israel were not being given the physical
blessings promised to the righteous. Yet he concludes his prophecy with
a personal burst of praise and devotion to his God. He speaks of the
things which God had promised to bless righteous Israelites with, and
which He had threatened to withhold from those who were wicked. He says
that even though he, as a righteous man, is being given the curses of
the wicked, and is not being given the promised blessings, yet he still
loves God more and more. " Although:
But above all these human examples, the life and cross
of the Lord Jesus was the supreme example of serving for nothing in
this life. He was the good shepherd who wasn't interested in wages or
His own personal escape from violent death, but only the salvation of
His beloved sheep (Jn. 10:12). He did not conceive the equality with
God with which He would be rewarded as " booty" (Gk.). something to be
grasped for: instead, He concentrated on being a humble servant,
working to bring about the salvation of others (Phil. 2). This sense of
working for God's glory must really permeate our thinking.
Consider Prov. 25:21,22: " If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to
eat...for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord
shall reward thee" . This passage is quoted in Rom. 12:20, but with the
pointed omission of the last clause: " The Lord shall reward thee" .
It's as if Paul is saying: 'The condemnation of the wicked, when God,
not you, pours out His vengeance, will glorify Him. So
do your part to bring this about, don't worry about the reward you're
promised so much as the bringing about of His glory'.