Ultimately, We Serve Only One Master
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10 NIV
“Be absolutely His.” – Oswald Chambers
Author of A History of Christianity In The World, Clyde L. Manschreck, claimed the 1521 Diet of Worms was the climax of Martin Luther’s ministry. A diet was a formal Catholic tribunal. Before that event, in 1517, Luther, an ordained priest, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. This proclamation outlined Luther’s protest against particular practices and beliefs of the Holy Catholic Church. The Ninety-five Theses were printed and widely circulated making Luther a hero amongst the common citizenry, but eventually an enemy of the state church. Several unsuccessful attempts by the church were made to refute and silence Luther. Eventually Pope Leo X drafted his 1520 bull (edict) Exsurge Domine branding Luther as a “wild boar in the Lord’s vineyard.”1 Leo gave Luther sixty days to recant. Luther refused and months later burned the edict outside the walls of Wittenberg Castle. Leo responded to this act of perceived insolence by issuing the bull Decet in 1521 excommunicating the radical priest. It was after this papal edict that Luther was summoned to Worms, Germany by imperial and ecclesiastical authorities. They intended to forcefully persuade Luther to repent, recant and reform. Luther, however, stood before the tribunal and challenged his accusers to prove his convictions were in error. He would not act contrary to his conscience which he claimed was “captive to the Word of God.”2 “I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, so help me God.”3 Little came of the Diet of Worms as each side became further entrenched in their dogma. After the tribunal, Luther ministered impactfully for another twenty-five years until his death in 1546.
Martin Luther was likely the greatest theological revolutionary of the Reformation. Some called him a genius, the second Elijah, the new Apostle Paul, others called him a heretic, a destroyer of culture, a delusional apostate. Either way, the church at large (Catholic and Protestant) was forged anew because of him. Our understanding of the authority and role of Scripture and the church was forever changed.
Friends, I simply share this slice of church history to shine a spotlight on Luther’s conviction at the Diet of Worms that he would not live to appease the state church nor Pope Leo; his heart was set to stand accountable to God. Luther was living his life for an audience of one. Eric Henry Liddell was born in Tientsin, China in 1902 to Scottish Christian parents serving with the London Missionary Society. Liddell became a faithful disciple of Christ. As an adult he became an accomplished athlete at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). At Edinburgh, he trained to compete as a runner in the 100-metre race for the 1924 Olympics held in Paris. As the Olympics neared, he was told that the 100 metre heats would be held on a Sunday. Liddell declined to race. He believed that Sunday was the Lord’s Day and competing during the Sabbath would displease the Lord. Liddell pivoted and began earnestly training for the 200 and 400 metre races. At the Paris Olympics Liddell won a bronze in the 200-metre sprint and a gold in the 400-metre race. Later in his life he stated, “One word stands out from all the others as the key to knowing God, to having his peace and assurance in your heart; it is obedience.”4
After the Olympics Liddell entered full time ministry as a missionary in Xiaozhang, China. During WWII, Liddell was placed in the Weihsien Internment Camp by the invading Japanese military and died there from a brain tumour. Speaking of his life as a disciple of Jesus, his final words were reported to be, “It’s complete surrender.”5 Liddell lived life, not to appease his peers at the university, not to appease his public supporters, nor to retain his popularity, but for God. He lived life for an audience of one.6
In the Old Testament, Israel’s call was to serve and worship only God; they were to be loyal to an audience of one.7 We see this lived out n Daniel’s life. Daniel was a Hebrew exile who rose to prominence in the government of King Darius. As a foreigner, his ascent to power was met with disdain by others in Darius’ administration. As a means to oust Daniel from his position, they devised a scheme to have Darius issue a thirty-day decree that no one could pray to anyone or anything but to the king. Daniel’s distractors knew of his devout faith in God. Daniel, being a man of God, refused to obey the decree: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). Daniel lived life, not to appease King Darius, not to appease his peers, not to retain his position, but for God. He lived life for an audience of one.
Our call from Jesus is clear: “follow me” (Matthew 4:19).8 The invitation is not to follow a philosophy, ideology or set of spiritual precepts, it is a call to a person. This call is exclusive.9 Disciples are to respond favourably to this call out of a love for the grace shown to them through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Pleasing the Lord is a love response, not a religious one. In addition, it is from the Lord, above all others, that disciples want to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
On the stage of life – our life – the only one we want to ensure is pleased with our thoughts, words and deeds is the Lord. In a world where many are clamouring for our time, resources and loyalty (many of whom are worthy to receive it), ultimately, we have an audience of one. Servants of Christ are known by their service, loyalty and devotion to Christ above anything and anyone. Jesus, himself, taught that disciples cannot serve two masters.10
As disciples, we can run into a conflict of interest – a conflict of loyalty – if we are not careful in our discernment. Are we seeking to appease others at the cost of pleasing the Lord? Gaining the approval of others can easily come at the expense of honouring the Lord. People-pleasing can come with many troubles because its motivation is often unhealthy. For example, there were those who believed in Jesus but would not publicly confess him because of their fear of being cast out of the synagogue by the religious gatekeepers. Their people-pleasing was rooted in fear and as a result, “…they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (Matthew 12:43). The consequence of being ashamed of Jesus in this life is judgement in the next.11 In contrast, God-pleasing is a love response which brings blessings.12 And yes, there may be a significant cost. Daniel, for example, was thrown into a lion’s den by King Darius. Eric Liddell did not compete in the 1924 summer Olympics as a 100-metre sprinter.
As disciples, we rightly should make concerted conscious efforts to do right by others. We are to consciously bear in mind the interests and needs of others.13 We must demonstrate respect and fulfill our commitments and responsibilities. Ultimately, however, we live our lives for the Lord just as the Apostle Paul directed: “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31b). When all is said and done, as disciple of Jesus, ours is ultimately an audience of one.
“My utmost for His highest.” – Oswald Chambers
- Clyde L. Manschreck. A History Of Christianity In The World. Prentice-Hall Inc. 1985, P.171.
- Ibid., 172.
- Sally Magnusson. The Flying Scotsman, A Biography. Quartet Books Inc.: New York, New York. 1981, p.160-170.
- The 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire recounts Liddell’s story.
- Exodus 20:3; 34:14
- Luke 5:27; John 1:43
- Matthew 4:10; John 14:6
- Matthew 6:24
- Luke 9:26
- Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 6:33; 2 John 1:6, 8
- Philippians 2:4