By J.R. Miller
"Whoever serves me--must follow me." If he would be My servant; if he would belong to Me--let him follow me. Let him live as I live, come close after Me in spirit, in manner of life, walk in My steps. "Where I am--there shall also my servant be." To follow Christ here, in this world, in the way He marks out, is to follow Him also in His exaltation, to reward, to heavenly honor. To share His cross--is also to share His glory.
If Jesus had taken care of His life, if, for instance, He had gone with these Greeks to their country, He might have been welcomed and have received homage, honor, and love; and have lived many years to teach and heal and do good; but there would have been no Gethsemane, with its tears; no Calvary, with its cross of redemption; no grave of Arimathea, with its resurrection. "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
We admit the truth of this in Christ's own life. We understand that He accomplished infinitely more by giving His life in service and sacrifice at an early age--than He would have done if He had saved it from suffering and death and devoted it for long years to good deeds. But the same is true of all lives. Christ by His example taught all of us the true way to live. "If any man serves me." That was what Christ's disciples wished to do. They had listened to His call and had joined His company. This meant to serve Him. They believed in Him. They were sure that no one like Him had ever come among men as teacher, helper and leader. They wanted to serve Him.
What is it to serve Christ? There is a common form of religious speech which is misleading. We call church worship "divine service." We say our morning service is at ten forty-five, our evening service at seven forty-five. Service in this use of the word means singing hymns, reading the Scriptures, praying, and meditating on some devotional theme. But this is not service at all, in the higher sense. "If a child finds itself in need of anything, it runs and asks the father for it. Does it call that doing its father a service? When a child loves its father very much, and is very happy, it may sing little songs about him; but it doesn't call that serving its father. Neither is singing hymns to God, serving God. Of course, in a sense we are serving Christ when we worship Him in a meeting. But this is not all that such service means.
What is it to serve Christ? How are we to serve Him? The answer is here. "Whoever serves me--must follow me." Follow me? What does that mean? It was sometimes literal following with the first disciples. Andrew and Simon and John and James were fishermen. Jesus bade them follow Him, and they left their boats and nets and fishing tackle, gave up their business--and went with Jesus. Matthew was sitting in a little booth, collecting taxes from people who went by, and Jesus said, "Follow me." Matthew left His business and went with the Master. Following Christ may mean the same in our day. If you are in a sinful business and hear the call of Christ--you are to leave the bad business. There are men and women whom Christ wants to follow Him away from home and country, to be missionaries in foreign lands. But the literal following is not always the meaning of the call.
We are to follow Christ--in the way of sacrifice. That was the way Jesus lived. He hated His life. This does not mean that He despised life, that He regarded His life as of no account. Sometimes you hear a discouraged man say: "My life is of no value. I cannot be of any use. I can never do anything worthwhile. I may as well die." Jesus did not mean that we are to hate our life in that way. God never made a life to be useless. Jesus said no one shall accept even the whole world--in exchange for His life. Think what Jesus must have thought, of the value of human lives when he laid down His own life to redeem men. It is a sin--to hate your life, to despise it, to regard it as of no value, to throw it away. Love your life, prize it, for it is worth more than worlds! Keep it, cherish it, and guard it. Never say that you can be of no use.
What, then, does Jesus mean when He says, "He who loves His life--shall lose it?" He means loving life more than duty, more than obedience. To hate one's life in this world--is to give it up gladly in service of others, to lose it in saving others.
Recently an English medical journal reported that Dr. Waddell was attending a poor man's child with diphtheria, when the operation of a tracheotomy became necessary. The instant clearing of the trachea became a matter of life and death, and at the risk of his life, the doctor sucked the tube free of the diphtheritic membrane. The child recovered--but the doctor contracted the disease. He hated his life; that is, he thought it not too valuable to sacrifice in the doing of his duty as a physician. The records of every day are full of instances when in hospitals, in private sick rooms, on railway trains, in mines, and in all kinds of service--men and women are illustrating the lesson. The highest example the world ever saw, was in Christ's own case, when He gave His life to save the world.
It is easy enough to think of this law of life--as a mere theory. Now and then there comes an opportunity also to illustrate it in some grand way, as some nurse does it, as some true doctor does it, as another does it. But how are we going to live this way in the common experience of everyday life? "If any man serves me--let him follow me." "He who hates His life--shall keep it unto life eternal." We may interpret this law of the cross so as to make it apply to the experiences of the home, the neighborhood, the school, the business office.
The keynote of the lesson we are trying to learn, is self-denial, which is not merely doing without meat during Lent, giving up some customary indulgences for a few weeks, sacrificing a few things you do not much care for. There are few farces enacted in the world, equal in emptiness to the farce of pious self-denial, as it is played by a good many people, for example, in the Lenten days, meanwhile living selfishly in all the relations of the common days. Self-denial as Christ practice it and teaches it--is denying yourself--hating your own life, laying it on the altar, that some other one may be helped.
Hating your life, means stooping down and considering the needs of little children, the loneliness and wariness of old people; it means thinking of people no one else is likely to think of or care for; being patient with disagreeable people, cranky people, and kind to them; going far out of your way to be obliging to one who would not go out of his way an inch to do a good turn to you; not noticing slights and inattentions, or even slurs and offensive things--except to be all the more Christlike to those who so ungraciously treat you; saying especially kind things of anyone who had been saying unusually unkind things of you. That is what Christ did.
The papers recently told the story of the way a young man gave himself. He was poor--but had a great desire to be a gentleman, then to become a lawyer. He saved enough money from his earnings and his economy--to carry him through college. His first year he made a friend, a young man, brilliant, and noble as well. The two were roommates and became devoted to each other, in spite of their differences. During the first summer vacation the father of the well-to-do boy died and he then had no money to continue his course. He wrote to his friend and told him he could not return to college, that he must abandon his dream of education and go to work.
The poor friend, after a short time wrote to him in this way:
You have a fine capacity and will make a useful man if you have education. I have found out that I would be only a fourth-rate lawyer at best. It will be far better for you to be educated, than for me. I have money enough saved to carry me through college. You must take my money and complete your course. I enclose a draft for the amount. I will drop out of sight altogether and lose myself. Do not try to find me--it will be of no use. Do not refuse the money--you never can return it to me."
This is what Christ spoke of when he advocated the "hating" of one's life. This is self-denial of the noblest kind.
You do not begin to know how many opportunities you have every day, of hating your life in this world, giving yourself to help some other one upward. In the home life, the opportunity comes continually, the opportunity of giving up your own way to make another happier; to put another upward; of keeping gentle and sweet, instead of becoming irritated and provoked; of speaking a soft answer instead of a cutting one; of taking the heavy end of some burden, that a more frail one may not be crushed; of giving cheer to one who is discouraged. There are a hundred opportunities every day--of dropping yourself out--and putting another in the way of receiving the favor; of laying selfishness on the cross and nailing it there--and showing love instead. How do the boys treat their sisters? How do people in comfortable homes, with plenty, regard and treat the neighbor who is having pinching times, or has a sick child? Do you hate your life, your comfort, your luxury, in the sense of doing without some of it--to show kindness and give help? There is an almost infinite field of opportunities for denying self, sacrificing one's own feelings, desires, preferences, to make life easier, happier, and more joyous to others.
There is another sphere of opportunities for living out the doctrine of the cross in every day life. "Do justice and judgment" (Genesis 18:19; Proverbs 21:3), runs the Bible teaching. Have you ever thought how grievously many of us fail in being just to others? We are unreasonable; we are exacting; we are unfair; we are partial. We criticize others unmercifully. We commend very few people; we condemn almost everybody for something. Oh, what ungodly judges of the acts of others we are!
Then, do you ever think how little of real forgiveness there is among us, even among Christian people? We talk a great deal about forgiveness, ad we pray it every time we say the Lord's Prayer; but how much Christian forgiveness do we practice? "How often must I forgive?" asked Peter. He thought seven times would be enough. "Seventy-seven times," said Jesus--that is, without counting. It is hard to forgive an enemy--it is not a natural disposition or act--it is divine--it is Christ in us. But do not forget it is Christian, and you cannot be a Christian yourself in anything; You need Christ living in you. You need Christ in you--to forgive as He forgives.
But this is part of our lesson--the cross in daily life. Not to forgive--is to love your own life, and that is to lose it in the end. To forgive--is to hate your own life, not to insist on having your own way, in demanding your rights--but to bear the wrong, the insult, the injustice, to return good for evil, kindness for unkindness, to turn the other cheek when one cheek is already smarting with the smiting.
Oh, what a new world we Christians would soon make--if this old earth would only get the law of the cross into our conduct and spirit for a time! What heart-burnings we would cure! What hurts of love we would heal! One of the fine sayings of Lincoln quoted before the recent centenary of His birth was this, "Die when I may, I want it said by those who know me best--that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower--where I though a flower would grow." That is one of the ways of hating one's own life in this world--as Christ spoke about.
It is so easy to plant thistles--instead of plucking them up! It is so easy to pluck up roses--instead of planting them! It is so easy not to deny ourselves, just to let the old unregenerate self rule our spirit and go on with its bitter jealousies, envyings, resentments, injustices, believing evil of others, judging others. Do you know what such life will come to in the end? "He who loves his life"--that is, cherishes all these evil things, thinks only of his own wishes, demands always his own way, no matter who is crushed or hurt, "He who loves his life--shall lose it."
"If any man serves me--let him follow me." That is our lesson. It is not easy--it is very hard. Nature never can learn it. When we no longer love our own life, and instead instantly give it up to do a kindness to another, to give help, whatever the cost; when we forget our own interest and put another forward instead of ourselves--then we are following Christ. "He that hates his life in this world--shall keep it unto life eternal."
There is still another thing to learn--sharing. "If any man serves me--let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be." perhaps in this age of materialism we do not look on enough to think what will come after this life is over. "He who loves his life--shall lose it." Look ahead and think what that means--loving self, loving life, losing it, having nothing out of it but death. That is the end of selfishness, living for self, having one's own way. "He that hates his life in this world--shall keep it unto life eternal." That is what came out of Christ's life of self-denial here, His hating His own life. You will reach the same glory: "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." Where is Christ today? Think of being with Him when you have finished your life of serving and following Him here.
Did you ever sit down quietly and seriously consider where you will be, and what you will be--after you are dead?
Think what it will be to be where Christ is. "Where I am--there shall also my servant be." Think of reward. People sometimes call it sacrifice now, talking dolefully of how much they have given up in their life of self-denial. Call it not sacrifice to give up your own way to give others joy and do them good, even to give up your life that others may be saved. Sacrifice! "Where I am--there shall also my servant be!" Oh, no, not sacrifice--but glory.
"Where I am--there shall also my servant be."