In the lead up to the American war of independence, British colonial masters worked cursorily to decimate an expansive empire through their unscrupulous conduct of government. Men appointed to colonial high office languidly moved about their duties, with the colonies oft left unattended. British aristocracy succumbed to the lure of gain and power; concerned about the colonies only for mercantile trade and show of imperial might. Some took up appointments to run American colonial matters even against their conscience; to the overly ambitious, promise of a peerage often worked the trick. It was such men, thought rational but whose attitude to the government was less than professional, who above anything else hastened the dawn of American independence through policies bent on self-annihilation. Avarice and the lure of gain has ever been a hallmark of government. Many therein act the part of the hireling. What’s in it for “us”? Sadly, it is not a preserve of government. We do trace it even in the work of God.
A round of unrequited service?
In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, the Pharisees railed against Christ, accusing him of receiving sinners. Christ countered their claim by a set of parables. He presented to them in the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son the dire need of the sinners, their utter inability to help themselves and how joyful it was to reclaim even one as such. Concluding, he used the elder son as an epithet to highlight indubitably the folly of the Pharisees. The elder son, unhappy with the grand welcoming of the brother, remonstrated and in the ensuing confrontation with the father, the pride and malignity of his character were revealed. He lamented that his rounds of faithful labor were unrequited while the wayward son who had just returned from his nefarious escapades was highly favored. He thus made it clear that his service to the Father was that of a servant rather than a son.
In similar fashion the Jews sought to earn God’s favor through toil and penance and were exasperated that the publicans and sinners were freely received. They worked not from love but for the hope of reward. They claimed to be sons in God’s house, yet they had the spirit of a hireling. Within his immediate circle, Christ’s disciples long harbored hopes of accruing riches by virtue of their closeness to Christ. It is no wonder Peter asked, “what shall we have therefore?” seeing that they had forsaken all.
Too often in our work we risk developing the attitude of a hireling. We press harder thinking the harder we press the more the reward. We begin to think ourselves favored by God because we come early to church, attend every prayer meeting, do all kind of menial jobs in church or rove to every mission around. Our hearts swell because of the magnitude of work we have done imagining it gives us a high standing before God.
The sum total of the self-life.
But what prompts this dangerous attitude? A quick guess reveals none but that old foe, SELF; the self- principle acting in assertiveness, in imposition, where the self is the impact. It is a desire for self-advancement, the narrow self-caring spirit that makes the thought of reward uppermost. It is selfishness that prompts us to mull more over the reward than the privilege of being servants of Christ. It is an absence of self-denial that makes us assume the self-congratulatory spirit that is puffed up at the intimation of a little advancement.
The hireling attitude broods a spirit of self-exaltation, making of comparisons and striving for supremacy. It incites jealousy, a sense of superiority and a complaining attitude creating a disposition that is un-Christlike. It makes us pensive and gloomy, exacting, always wanting things to be done our way. While it may spark packets of energy charging us for more immense action it inevitably mars our usefulness and makes our labor unacceptable before God. ‘Not the amount of labor performed or its visible results but the spirit in which the work is done makes it of value with God.’
Our attitude in service
So how ought we to serve, how can we maintain the right attitude and avoid playing the hireling? A few facts might help.
First, the reward is freely given for ‘by grace are ye saved.’ It is not given on the basis of merit; we cannot earn it. Its measure is not dependent on the amount of work done but on the generosity of the Giver. Its surety is pegged on the faithfulness of the Giver, and because He is faithful the reward is sure.
‘All that I have is thine.’ Indeed, if we are sons in verity then all the Father has is ours. ‘Everything that could minister to the happiness of his children was freely theirs. The son need have no question of gift or reward.’ Sons are heirs and their labor in their father’s vineyard need not earn them a recompense because it is to their own they are tending.
‘Love thy God…. Love thy neighbor’. Love is the spirit that ought to permeate our service. Remember, God is not man to be moved by the enormity of our work for He cares more for the spirit wherewith it is wrought. For he that ‘loveth not knoweth not God…and he that loveth not his neighbor loveth not God.’ Love is to underly every single action. Better a little with love than a lot without it.
“It is an easy matter to destroy the flock if the shepherd be unwary or the pasture be destroyed, easy to capture the citadel if the watchmen be asleep or the food and water be poisoned.”
But perhaps you ask how can I love… ‘Whosoever can confess that Jesus is the son of God, God dwelleth in him’… and if God dwells in you and He is love then you can’t help but love and labor in love. Moses never took the pay of a general, or the salary of a judge, much less the tribute of a prince for all his labors over Israel. “I have not taken one ass from them.” His was that true and acceptable service.
Do you work cheerfully or languidly for a lack of recognition? You ought to remember that the LORD will hold you accountable for all the opportunities for service left unimproved. A hireling does not mind leaving some duties unattended. “But he that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth… The hireling fleeth, because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”
If you enter any labor, apply yourself to business. Say you desire to be in power, never forget that government is a burden that calls for strict stewardship. “It is a burden of care and trouble to those who make conscience of the duty of it; and to those who do not it will prove a heavier burden in the day of account when they fall under the doom of the unprofitable servant that buried his talent.”
- Christ’s Object Lessons, Chapter 15: This Man Receiveth Sinners, Chapter 28: The Reward of Grace
- Luke 15:25-32
- Matthew 19:27
- Ephesians 2:8, 9
- Numbers 16:15
- John 10:12, 13