The service of hidden-ness

Dr. Delano Palmer

Teddy Jones,
Director of Recruitment and Admissions

Membership in a service organization like the Kiwanis Club provides regular opportunities for service to others, regular reminders of the call to think more of others and less of self.  It would perhaps seem redundant to address such an august body as this at a time of thanksgiving on matters of servant leadership and humility. It is however also true that as humans our propensity to lose sight of our core values, the temptation to dilute our core ethos will forever be with us and therefore reminders are never to be spurned.  Someone  has rightly said that the greatest of all faults is to imagine you have none.

 The first of our two Gospel readings espouses us to a deep rooted humility and invites us to question our motivation for doing good deeds.  The second is a bit more problematic, perhaps may even have a repelling effect on some.

 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

The story is told of two ducks and a frog who lived happily together in a farm pond. The best of friends, the three would amuse themselves and play together in their waterhole. When the hot summer days came, however, the pond began to dry up, and soon it was evident they would have to move. This was no problem for the ducks, who could easily fly to another pond. But the frog was stuck. So it was decided that they would put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well–so well, in fact, that as they were flying along a farmer looked up in admiration and mused, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it?” The frog said, “I did…”

Both Luke passages challenge our innate desire to expect some reward, some kind of compensation when we do good deeds towards others.  In Luke 14 Jesus questions the validity of giving only those who we think will be in a position to give to us in return.  He also takes aim at the success and achievement culture.  In such a culture.

  • Getting to the head table is a natural priority
  • Self-interest soars high above service in our hierarchy of interest.
  • Head tables have replaced the towel and washbasin as symbols of leadership.

In Luke 17 He rather bluntly calls out our desire to be thanked, lauded, memorialized when we have done acts of service.  I confess to you that the first time I came upon this text I found it rather abrasive.  Thankfully upon closer study of the text I had to repent not only of my initial revulsion to the text but of the very thing that it speaks to.

The players in the Luke 17 passage are the bond servant and the master.  It should be quite obvious where we ought to locate ourselves in the story.  This brings to the fore the matter of the Qualification of True Servants.

We are all God’s servants and, as servants, are bound to do all we can for his honour. Our whole strength and our whole time are to be employed for him; for we are not our own, nor at our own disposal, but at our Master’s.  We don’t reserve the right to have first call on ourselves. A few socio-historical observations on the nature and character of bond servant will serve to set the tone for our reflection.

  • A bond servant has no rights! Deserves nothing! Only has privileges!
  1. A bond servant does not complain of overload
  2. A bond servant seeks no recognition or reward
  3. A bond servant does not have selfish demands
  4. A bond servant only does his duty to put others first
  5. A bond servant is free from earthly goods 

What would it do for your work place if more of us embraced the qualifications of a bond servant.  What would your life look like for example if we treat with money and the things that money buys as not belonging to us. What would our family relationships look like if we like a bond servant have no selfish demands? I concur with Dr. John Maxwell who posits that secure leaders have nothing to lose, nothing to hide and nothing to prove.


The text speaks of the instructions of the master to the servants, when they are to wait upon him.  They must gird themselves (KJV), get ready (NIV).  It referred to the literal lifting up of the long garments and tucking them in such a way that they would not hinder the feet.  They must free themselves from everything that is entangling and encumbering, and fit themselves with a close application of mind to go on, and go through, with their work.  There is a kind of deliberateness, thorough going, attention to detail, aiming for perfection that must attend our service.  This comes about when we understand that whatever we do the least of humans is done as to Christ.  One should therefore remove distractions, focus on the task and execute it to the finish. There should never be the appearance of something hurry come up, slop dash, ‘wishy washy’ simply because we are doing it gratis.


Verses 9 and 10 are where Jesus puts the sting in the tail of his object lesson here.Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”  In His scheme of things true service begins to be calibrated where duty ends.  In His scheme of things there is very little basis for an expectancy of praise.  In His scheme of things much of what is lauded as yeoman service doesn’t even qualify.  Let that soak in.

We are unprofitable servants: The kind of attitude Jesus is speaking about is not a false humility, the kind of attitude that says “I’m no good at anything”; it is not an admission that we do nothing good or pleasing to God. Rather it is realizing that we are forever in God’s debt; an understanding that our work for Him is never done.  When we realize all that God has done for us in Jesus, we want to serve Him out of gratitude.  When our hearts are right, we live and act as if we are happy to have the privilege of being allowed to serve God.

We are unprofitable servants:  Christ’s servants do not so much as merit his thanks for any service they do him: “Does he thank that servant? Does he reckon himself indebted to him for it? No, by no means.” No good works of ours can merit any thing at the hand of God. We expect God’s favour, not because we have by our services made him a debtor to us, but because he has by his promises made himself a debtor to his own honour.  The best servants of Christ, even when they do the best services, must humbly acknowledge that they are unprofitable servants. 

We are unprofitable servants:   This measure of service flourishes best in those who seek the applause of the heavenly court.  Are you a people pleaser?  Does the measure of your service amount to the intensity of the applause you get?  Do you find that you stick around to hear what is said of you in the vote of thanks? Is your ego precariously perched on the cliff edge of people’s approval.  To live for the praise of men is to be fail in our stewardship.

We are unprofitable servants:  Jesus idea here is counter cultural.  It teaches us to do just enough to get by. Just enough to get our paycheck, just enough to retain our membership.  Jesus calls us to go beyond.  It is the same ethos underlying his terse commands in the sermon on the Mount to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek and give up more than our cloak.  It is what drives his answer to Peter’s question of how forgiving one should be, forgive 70 x 7, not a mere 7 times.

Here are some suggested acts of service beyond duty:

Service of hidden-ness: Leaving the restroom cleaner than you met it.

  1. Service of guarding the reputation of others
  2. Service of listening: Actually stopping to listen to each other.
  3. Service of reconciliation

Arising out of our exploration of Jesus’ parable I offer these extrapolations:

  1. A bond servant sacrifices his/her own ambition
  2. A bond servant sees it as a privilege to serve the lowest in society
  3. A bond servant serves equally well in unseen situations.
  4. A bond servant constantly transcends boundaries
  5. A bond servant is prepared to suffer.

Perhaps the most widely known Roman Catholic sister is Mother Theresa.  One minute spent at her most prominent place of ministry, Calcutta’s House of the dying would perhaps cause most of us to bring up the meal we had last week.  When she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she was initially reluctant to accept it.  She eventually conceded, attended to ceremony, and delivered a remarkably touching lecture. In her lecture she tells of the sacrifice of a 4 year old boy.  “Some time ago in Calcutta we had great difficulty in getting sugar, and I don’t know how the word got around to the children, and a little boy of four years old, Hindu boy, went home and told his parents: I will not eat sugar for three days, I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa for her children. After three days his father and mother brought him to our home. I had never met them before, and this little one could scarcely pronounce my name, but he knew exactly what he had come to do. He knew that he wanted to share his love.”  It is reported that Mother Theresa came off the flight upon her return to India headed straight back to the House of the Dying, rolled back her sleeve and took her place among the crew of women gathering the refuse soaked garments of the dead and dying into a cauldron for washing.

Let us close with this prayer for delieverance:

Deliver Me



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