My grandmother grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. From a young age she was taught to work. By seven years old, her father tasked her with running water to him and the farm hands. He required cold water, so she had to pump at the well until the water came out cold as she filled the earthen crocks – which had first to be emptied of any warm, stale water – and then deliver them to the workers.
Amid all the work, she and her three siblings longed for a bicycle. Her father promised them that when the price of hogs reached twenty-five cents a pound, they could have a bicycle. When market prices rose, they had their bicycle from the Sears Roebuck & Co. catalogue. By propping the bike against the fence to start, she taught herself to ride alongside the fence by the lane. Within no time, and at the cost of a few skinned shins, she was off to the races.
But, there was still water to be pumped, and the bicycle riding would have to wait until the chores were complete. Her father even tried to make the work fun – every task was a competition of some sort to break the monotony. The problem was that Peggy Lou lived on the farm on the north side of their square mile, and she would ride her bike past Grandma’s farm, just to spite her as she worked – or so it seemed. Grandma turned to her father and said, “Why can’t I ride my bicycle, like Peggy Lou?”
We all as Christians are tempted to chafe against the commands of our Lord when he calls us to obedience. We look at our neighbors in the world, and we wonder “Why, God, do they get to have all the fun, and why do they get to advance themselves, and why do they get the satisfaction of keeping up with others?” In this vein, the psalmist said “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:3). Even Jesus’ disciples argued over which of them would be regarded as the greatest – each one jealously wanting his own way. When Jesus heard the bickering, he said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26). The Gentiles, or unbelievers, will live how they want to live – with hearts of greed, envy, and jealousy. But there is something different about Christians.
Why couldn’t my grandmother ride her bike? “Because,” her father answered, “you have work to do.” “But…” she replied, “Peggy Lou gets to ride her bike.” “Listen,” he said, “Peggy Lou doesn’t belong to me, but you do.” She was in a real and personal relationship with her father than was different from his relationship with all the other kids in the township. She belonged to the one who loved her and took responsibility for her. As her father, he served her every day of the year by providing for her, nurturing her, and protecting her.
In many ways, his service reflected the truth that Jesus is the one among us who has humbled himself to serve us – thought Jesus’ service in his substitutionary death was of an infinitely greater order. In retrospect, my grandmother wouldn’t have wanted her father’s instruction any other way. His instruction was for her good, and it prepared her for a lifetime of work and service to others. More than that, she learned that she belonged to him!
As the children of God – in contrast to the Gentiles – we are a people for God’s own possession. We may not always understand or appreciate his restrictions on our lives given in his word or his prescriptions to work and service, but what a treasure it is to know that we are called to service and to holiness especially because we belong to him! And that is all the reason we need to trust and obey even when the world bids us leave our service to Christ and follow it instead.