The Good Buccaneerean
In the category of potentially useful trivia, it might come in handy sometime to know the one essential factor that badminton, ping-pong, racquetball, tennis, and volleyball all have in common: the importance of the serve. Enthusiasts across the board describe how the server has a tremendous advantage over the returner, because the one who serves can target the opponent’s weakness in order to score.
The better you serve, the more you score. The more you score, the more you win.
Serving well may be the single most important element of the game. The key to victory is in holding serve—winning every time you serve, while breaking your opponent’s serve every chance you get. For the best players on the planet, this statement is nearly always true: You serve, you win.
The Christian life has much in common with sports that rely on the power of the serve, with one fundamental difference. Athletic victories depend on servers who take advantage of others’ weaknesses to score points at others’ expense. But victories on Team Jesus count on servers who advantage others at their own expense, realizing all the while that Christ has already paid the price and that He is keeping score.
On the court, serving well means that somebody loses. In the church and in her service to the world, serving well means that everybody wins.
Scripture makes this point on almost every page. Joseph served others for decades at great expense to himself, but when God settled accounts, everybody won (Gen. 50:19-21). Moses left his comfort zone and held serve for 40 years to deliver God’s people to the Promised Land just before he died, sporting this official duty title as a result: “the servant of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5). His replacement, Joshua, earned the same moniker (Josh. 24:29) after a lifetime of serving God, serving others, and encouraging his family, friends, and followers to do the same: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). The end game? The whole nation “served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done” (Josh. 24:31).
The actions of these believers, along with hundreds more just like them in the Bible, show that they knew then what we know now: You serve, you win.
It is no surprise that when Jesus was asked to summarize the entire Bible in a single command, He did so—and then did one better. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:34-40). In God’s economy, love and service are two sides of the same coin. Heads or tails, everybody wins.
A testy lawyer learned this truth the hard way in the 10th chapter of Luke as he posed a tricky question for one self-serving purpose—“to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). Trying to narrow the scope of his service to the limits of personal convenience, this smart aleck asked Jesus to clarify with precision what He meant by “neighbor.” Like me, he probably hoped the right answer was “those who are easy for me to love.” But as every saved sinner can attest, Jesus loves the unlovable, and His service to them is the only way anyone ever makes it onto God’s family tree (Rom. 5:6-8). His brand of loving service is exactly what He expects from us.
Instead of a lecture, Jesus tells a story, one that ends with an unlikely hero. When the topic is “Serving as God wants us to serve,” everyone in the audience would have cast either the priest or the Levite in the lead role. Two goody two shoes doing good. An exciting plot twist might have been these two recognizably religious leaders coming to blows over who got the chance to help the unlucky fella who had been stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left for dead (Luke 10:30). My script would include a viral video of this fight of the faithful. Somewhere between the priest’s “I got here first” to the Levite’s “That’s not fair, you always help the helpless,” the ditched victim musters enough strength to call 911 so the authorities can pull them apart. But that’s not how Jesus’ script reads.
Sadly, both of these do-gooders proved themselves to be ne’er-do-wells. They had their reasons, I’m sure, even religious reasons that sounded good as they looked the other way and walked on by.
Whatever. The dude was still dying in the ditch.
Sounding good is not doing good. Self-righteousness seldom ends in sacrificial service. Christ’s righteousness, in contrast, runs to the sound of the guns. You can make a difference, or you can make excuses, but you can’t do both at the same time. Just ask the dude in the ditch.
Maybe the priest and the Levite both lost their nerve. They certainly lost their serve. Double fault.
One thing is for sure. Nobody in that audience could have imagined a plot so thick that a Samaritan of all people would have been good. Polite folk didn’t say such things about half-breeds who worshipped the right God in the wrong place. But when the Samaritan lifted him up, bandaged him up, loaded him up, settled him down, and wrote a blank check to settle up with his caretakers, the robbery victim didn’t seem to mind (Luke 10:33-35).
More importantly, the lawyer got the point. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?,” Jesus asked. The lawyer’s reply? “The one who had mercy on him” (Luke 10:36-37).
As the Good Shepherd might have said about the Good Samaritan, “I rest my case.”
Like us sometimes, the lawyer assumed that his neighbor was defined by proximity to himself. Jesus insisted instead that our neighbor is defined by proximity to Himself.
The question is not, “Who is blessed enough to be close enough to be my neighbor?” The right question is this: “To whom does God want me to be a neighbor?” When we go there, it’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Loving God necessarily means serving others, even those we might classify as enemies. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:46-47).
In case you missed it, loving others in ways that cost you nothing is nothing to write home about. Any of us can love the loveable and serve those who look like us, act like us, and think like us, but this narrow-hearted approach limits our love and stalls our service. We are called to so much more than that. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Gal. 6:9-10). Pagans will never have that payday.
You serve, you win. So do those you serve.
If Jesus were your coach, He might tell you to direct your serve to the weaknesses of others—not for your advantage but for theirs. Like He told the lawyer before they called it a day, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Game. Set. Match.
That’s the way The Good Buccaneerean was meant to play. Now, it’s your serve.