When Not to Serve Tables
For the Christian priorities are very straight forward or at least they should be. In all things, we seek to glorify God. Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God, 1 Corinthians 10:31. We prioritize godly things over worldly things. If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth, Colossians 3:1-2. This type of prioritization ensures a life free from the disorder of ambiguity. As Christians we know we ought to put God first, period. However, things get a little more complicated when the choices we have are all godly. How do I prioritize a list of things that are all inherently good or for a righteous cause? How do I schedule, pay attention too, or promote one specific thing in a list that all seem important? Your family, you work, the work of the church all want your attention, what are your options? Man’s failure in solving this dilemma is vividly described in scripture, as well as the solution to it. Consider several illustrations that will aid in knowing when or when not to “serve tables.”
Avoid a Focus of Futility: Most of us have heard or read about the “Serenity Prayer.” It goes as follows: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. I don’t know who came up with the phraseology, but the doctrine is Bible as the day is long. When deciding what to prioritize ask yourself whether or not you have the ability to change or affect the thing in question. This wisdom was set forth by Jesus to His Jewish kinsman. The Jews were overly concerned about the necessities of life, prioritizing it over watching for the Kingdom’s arrival. Jesus admonished them in the following way. Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these
Matthew 6:27-29. Jesus asked a commonsense question, why are you worried about or focused on something that you cannot affect? Jesus did not diminish the reality of their needs; He mentioned that God knew they needed those things (Matthew 6:32). However, in light of their inability and God’s perception and providence they needed to shift their focus to something they could do, seeking the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). When prioritizing, it makes little sense to put things you cannot change on the top of your list, rather focus on what you can do instead.
Proportion over Preference. Let’s face it, we prioritize the things we prefer; sometimes we focus all our attention on one thing because we like it. This is not inherently wrong, but if we desire to be more effective, fruitful and productive in the service of the Lord we need to give equal attention to all that needs to be done. I heard a preacher say once that if you want to know what a congregation prioritizes, look at their bulletin. The thing about which they are most concerned or enamored with will take center stage week after week. Unfortunately, this leads to other equally important things falling by the wayside. Balance over preference is something with which the Jews also struggled. In His stern rebuke of the Pharisees and Scribes, the Lord denounced their doctrinal imbalance. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone, Matthew 23:23. The Pharisees were so preferential to tithing, that they neglected “the weightier matters of the law.” Jesus pointed out that they should have done both and not give preference to just one. Some like evangelism, some like benevolence and others like the work of edification. All these are important and when prioritizing how we will accomplish these as Christians we need to be careful not to give preferential treatment to our favorite avenue of service and leaving the others undone.
Weigh the Value. We are commanded to do a varying number of works in the Kingdom. However, even though all work is critical to the proper functioning of the Body as a whole (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 & Ephesians 4:16), not all work is critical to you functioning for the benefit of the Body. In the book of Acts, we are introduced to a dilemma in the church. The Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministry (Acts 6:1). In addressing the matter, the Apostles said the following. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4. Were the apostles above serving tables? Was the work of taking care of widows (1 Timothy 5:3) not essential to righteousness? No, the apostles were prioritizing by weighing the value. Their job was to lead the Lord’s church out of infancy, they were given the keys of the Kingdom to that end (Matthew 16:18-19). They and they alone were capable and authorized to do that. If they spent their time “serving tables” what would happen to the church in the meantime? Sometimes we have to focus on those things in which we can be more effective. When prioritizing we must weigh where our time will be better spent to the glory of God, His Church or to the spiritual benefit of our families.
Note the Needful. Situations in our lives can be categorized into three levels: Minor, Major or Critical. You must know the difference. Minor is that which needs your attention but not right now; major is that which needs your attention sometime soon or else it will become a problem; Critical is something that must be dealt with immediately. Sometimes we focus our attention on things that can wait and neglect needful things. Remember that busy servant Martha? On one occasion Jesus was at the house of Lazarus’ sister Martha (Luke 10:38-42). While her sister Mary was enjoying the spiritual feast provided by the Savior, Martha was toiling away in the kitchen. Her dissatisfaction with Mary’s decision reached a boiling point and she launched a complaint to the Lord (Luke 10:40). The Lord’s answer is precise and to the point. And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her, Luke 10:41-42. Was serving Jesus and those in Martha’s home a bad thing, absolutely not! Service and hospitality are good godly traits (Cf. Romans 12:13 & Galatians 5:13). Jesus did not admonish Martha for her love of service nor for her desire to be hospitable. The warning to Martha was about emphasizing something that, at the time was not as needful as listening to the Way the Truth and the Life. Assess your priorities and evaluate what is critical, major or minor and then act accordingly. “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Your life does not have to be a headless chicken with its feet on fire. Take control of your schedule and make the most of your service to the Lord by knowing when or when not to serve tables.