A few months ago, a good friend of mine told me that he stayed awake one night wondering whether he was truly a servant of Jesus Christ — or simply a hireling. What an interesting thought! Has it ever crossed your mind? Have you ever wondered about your own status? Do you even know the difference between a servant and a hireling? Strange as it may seem, quite a few people in God's Church today — despite their good intentions — often think and act as though they were only hirelings. Why? What makes them — without realizing it — be what they don't want to be? The answer is obvious: They have not fully grasped the purpose of their calling. Have you? Do you believe that your own salvation is the reason God called you into His Church? If so, you are bound to think and act like a hireling. Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11, Revised Standard Version throughout). Think of it. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus did that! Take the time to meditate' on these words — seriously. Ask yourself, in all honesty, if this is the way you feel toward your brethren or toward the people in the world. Would you die for someone else — even a stranger? "But this verse only applies to the ministers, not to the lay members," you may argue. "It's the shepherd who is supposed to lay down his life for the sheep." That is the reasoning of a hireling! We have all been called to serve. Ministers, like lay members, are servants — each according to his ability and the job he has been given. A good shepherd is a good servant. He loves his sheep and will die for them if need be. This principle applies to every last one of us in God's Church. One way or the other we all are shepherds when it comes to serving in love and fulfilling our responsibilities. "He who is a hireling," added Christ, "and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them" (verse 12). What's the reason? Why does a hireling flee when he sees danger? Why does he forsake the sheep? "He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep," explained Christ (verse 13).
The parable of the vineyard
Whether we act like hirelings or servants in God's Church, we still are laborers. Collectively, we have been commissioned to do a job — a very important' one. But hirelings don't have the same incentive, nor do they work the way good servants do. The parable of the vineyard helps us to better understand this truth. Christ began the parable, saying to His disciples: "For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (Matt. 20;1-2). A few hours later, he saw other men who were standing idle, and he also ordered them to go to his vineyard. He didn't disclose their wages. He simply promised he would give them whatever was right. About noontime, he found more laborers who were idle and gave them the same instructions. Finally, about an hour before quitting time, he saw another group of laborers standing idle, and he asked them, "'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too'" (verses 6-7). All these laborers were hirelings. They were hired for a certain job and were promised a fair remuneration for their efforts. That was their reward. None was interested in anything but his pay — what he would actually get, not the way he worked or what he could give. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder" (verses 10-11). "'You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'" It wasn't a question of deserving more, because the ones hired at the beginning of the day did receive what was agreed upon between them and the householder. It was primarily a matter of justice — from their own point of view. Christ told one of them: "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?" What an important lesson for all of us to learn — and to remember!
According to ability
You had no way of choosing your family, your country or your environment at birth. In some ways, you may think you were under a certain handicap in life, as far as your starting line is concerned. That's quite possible. Nevertheless, what really counts is the final destination — the arriving point, the ultimate goal. As a child grows up, he is able to choose his friends, his career, the directions he wants to give his life. He can even choose the God he is going to worship. Consequently, even though you may have been under a certain handicap at the start you now have the same chances as anyone else to reach the ultimate goal: the Kingdom of God. God is always just — always right. He has given each of us the means to succeed. He never expects more than we are able to give. This is the principle Christ underlined when He compared Himself to a -"man going on a journey." He called His servants "and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability." In the same manner, today, some of us in God's Church have received five talents, some two, some only one — each according to his ability. And God reveals that to whom much is given, much is required. Suppose you were blessed with five talents, while someone else, a friend of yours, only received two. When the time of judgment comes, would you ask God: "Why do you give this man as much as you give me? I have multiplied five times my talents, whereas he has multiplied his but twice. Don't I deserve more than he does?" Remember: That's the way a hireling would reason. In truth both of 'you did equally as well with the talents you received. Both of you doubled what you had. You must constantly endeavor to do your utmost, whatever your task, and even do more than is expected of you. However, this doesn't mean that God expects us to go beyond our ability. Christ said: "So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10). A hireling will not work if there is no reward or pay. His philosophy is: no pay, no work. A good servant is interested in doing the work — not in getting paid. That's the basic difference. He expects to do more them is required of him, regardless of what his pay or his reward may be. Can you now see that it takes real conversion to be a good servant? You must bear the "fruit of the Spirit" — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. You will have to give the best of yourself, to always be willing and ready to sacrifice for someone else's good.
Disciples didn't understand
Do you realize that even the apostles didn't understand the difference between a servant and a hireling until they received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost? Prior to that time, they sometimes acted like hirelings. Notice it: "James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.' And he said to them, 'What GO you want me to do for you?' And they said to him, 'Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory'" (Mark 10:35-37). Can you imagine that? A few hours before the arrest of Jesus Christ — at the time of sorrow and deep concern — the primary thought in the minds of some of the apostles was how great a place they would occupy in the Kingdom of God. Isn't this the way some of us reason today? But Christ said to them: "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant." And Christ added, "whoever would be first among you must be slave of all."
Does God owe you anything?
Do you remember the circumstances that led you into God's Church? How did you first hear the truth? What was your reaction? Did you decide to get involved in the Church because you simply wanted to be saved? Was that the price you set for answering the call? Did you think — or perhaps still do — that God owes you something? Consider for a moment Simon Peter's reaction and attitude when Christ called him to be His disciple. Peter fell down on his knees and said to Him, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5:8). Is this the way you felt? Is it really? Simon Peter realized how unworthy he was and how little he deserved to be called to serve God. "Look, I am a simple man," he must have said. "Don't come to me. I can't handle the task you have in mind for me. I am nothing." Unfortunately, we did not all come into God's Church with this type of an attitude. Some have never reached this point. Others, perhaps, upon hearing the call, acted like the man who told Christ, "I will follow you wherever you go," but changed his mind when Christ told him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head" (Luke9:57-58). That was the parting point as far as the man was concerned. He was no longer interested in the calling. It didn't appeal to him. He had primarily wanted to be a hireling — to get paid for whatever services he would render. His reasoning was: "I will follow you but, first of all, what's in it for me? How much do I get?" To another, Christ said, "'Follow me.' But he [the man] said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.'" Christ told him, "'Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God'" (verses 59-60). The man didn't get the point because he himself was spiritually dead. On his list of priorities, the physical things came before the spiritual ones. "Another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home'" (verse 61). In other words, the man wanted to first live it up, perhaps cry a little over what he was leaving behind — regret the good times he could have had. He thought the sacrifice required was too great a price to pay. Do you reason like him? Do you put off your true conversion until you have tried everything else in life and have had all the fun you want? What assurance do you have that you will be kept alive in the meantime? Procrastination is tantamount to failure. On your list of priorities, God must always come first, whatever the circumstances. This is another important key that helps you determine whether you are a servant or just a hireling.
Counting the cost
Persecution and sufferings are part of our calling. They help us to trust God even more. As Paul said, "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). When God called you to repentance did you actually take time to count the cost before burying your sin s and your carnal nature in the baptismal waters? Did you really count the cost — rather than the return ? Christ said, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate [that is, love less] his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). This is the engagement we made or should have made — at the time of our baptism. Did you? Take time and think. Did you count the cost to see whether you had enough to finish the job — not just to start it? Did you say to yourself: "Someday I may have to lose my family, my friends, my job — and even my life. Whatever the cost, I will continue serving Christ in order to be His servant and His friend. I will always follow Him and rely on Him." As the apostle Paul wrote, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit that dwel1s in us. "You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (I Cor. 6:19-20). A hireling would never glorify God in his body. He doesn't know how, nor does he understand the meaning of the word. But the servant does. He knows that to glorify God is to obey, love and serve Him — and to love and serve his own fellowmen. If you are a servant of Jesus Christ, your life is no longer yours. You are His slave. You were bought with the price of His blood. Could there be anything more rewarding for you than to have the opportunity to serve in God's Kingdom? Christ compared the Kingdom to a "treasure hidden in a field, which a man found... In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matt. 13:44). And again, it is like "a merchant ... who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold al1 that he had and bought it" (verse 45). Hirelings don't understand the depth of this teaching; servants do. At one time or another, have you had doubts about your own conversion? You may even have some questions about it at the present. Perhaps you would like to find someone — preferably a minister — to assure you that your conversion is real and that your baptism is truly valid. You yourself can find the assurance you are seeking if you careful1y examine your heart. Ask yourself: "Am I in the Church to serve or to be served? Have I been cal1ed to be saved or to help others gain eternal life? By your own answer you wil1 be able to determine the degree of your conversion.
A progressive relationship
"This is my commandment," Christ said, "that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12-13). Then He added: "You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." Notice the progressive steps in your relationship with God! First you are a servant, then a friend — and then, as you grow in grace and knowledge — a son at the time of the resurrection of the dead. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery [slavery to the world] to fal1 back in fear, but you have received the spirit of sons hip" (Rom. 8:15). When you first heard the truth your mind was total1y carnal. You reasoned and acted in a selfish way. You answered the call as a hireling does, whose main purpose and interest is to get something in return — to be rewarded for serving. That's understandable. However, you buried that carnal nature at the time of your baptism. You turned away from your sinful and selfish ways in order to become more like Jesus Christ, who didn't seek any personal reward for serving. His whole purpose for becoming a mortal human being was to help us become sons of the living God. This change in your attitude and reasoning. is the proof of your true conversion. It also enables you to understand that "when we cry 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs" (Rom. 8:15-17). God says that if we keep practicing sin, we become slaves to sin. And slaves to sin don't "continue in the house forever; the son continues for ever" (John 8:35). If we are slaves of Jesus Christ we are sons of God. What's your choice — a slave to Christ or a slave to sin? A good servant or a hireling? It's time to make up your mind! You were born to be a son of God.