As a teacher, it is hilarious to me that every year at some point my students ask for extra credit. It’s fascinating that the students who are most adamant are often those who have failed to do some assignment and need to make up the difference. Here they are asking for extra work, and they haven’t done the required work. On the other hand, some students will ask for extra credit even though they have excelled in the assigned work. Now they want to go above and beyond. It’s not enough that they have done what was expected, they are seeking some status that exceeds their peers.
The frustrating thing for me is that all this seeking extra credit, this push to do more, is usually not an attempt to learn more about the subject at hand. Students are not seeking to be better historians, scientists, or mathematicians. They are just seeking to have better grades. They don’t love the subject; they love status.
Occasionally, however, some students will fall in love with the subject. A genuine curiosity sparks inside of them and they see what they are studying as valuable in and of itself. Whether they find the work satisfying, or relatively easy, or perhaps they see the real-world application, they do the work for the work’s sake. To these students, the grade they get is the least important thing about the class.
Students asking for extra credit sound a lot like Jesus’ disciples in Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” Their request assumed that the important thing about faith is how much we have of it. Apparently, that just isn’t the case. Jesus explained that even the smallest amount of faith can accomplish the greatest feats. (Luke 17:6) This is because faith is not about how much of it we have; it is about the one in whom our faith is placed. The disciples were asking for extra faith when they failed to have the little “grain of a mustard seed” faith they were supposed to have.
Then Jesus flips the script. He asks the disciples to view the situation from the perspective of a master. What would happen if any one of them had a servant demanding to be honored when, at best, they have only done what they have been commanded to do. Of course, this would be absurd! Because here’s the thing about being a servant: your significance as a servant is not found in how much you accomplish; it’s found in the one you serve. This is why the psalmist writes:
“For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psalm 84:10)
It would be infinitely better to accomplish little and achieve the lowest status in the Kingdom of God than to accomplish everything and achieve the highest status this world has to offer. Why would a servant of God seek any status, when they have already been given the greatest title—a servant of the King?
Jesus is not seeking servants who are seeking status. He is seeking servants who are seeking him—true servants who are content to do the work they were given regardless of the status they achieve. These servants do not need extra credit because they are content with the work they’ve been given. They are not concerned with how much faith they have because the one in whom their faith rests is enough. They do not worry about the acclaim they get for their accomplishments. They are more concerned with Jesus getting the glory for what he has accomplished in them.
The best part about serving Jesus is not how much we accomplish; it’s the fact that we are servants of Jesus. That is a status none of us deserve. It is a status such that even if we were to accomplish everything he commands, we would only be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”