The 1984 film “Amadeus” won eight Oscars for chronicling (albeit with much flare for fiction and literal license) the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life and his genius for music. The film also dealt with Mozart’s fellow composer Antonio Salieri’s obsessive and ultimately deadly jealously of him. As Salieri becomes increasingly obsessed with Mozart, he stops composing music and focuses on destroying Mozart. At the end of the movie, Salieri sends Mozart into a delusional depression by overworking him and randomly appearing dressed in his father’s funeral mask. Tired and sick, Mozart eventually dies.
Years after Mozart’s death, Salieri is still haunted and obsessed with him. An old, lonely, and brooding man, he attempts suicide by cutting himself while yelling the Mozart’s name. While the ambulance cart is dragging a bleeding Salieri to a doctor, they pass a formal ball where Mozart’s music plays loudly. Fixated as he was, Antonio Salieri could never escape his obsession, even in death.
When we think of obsession, we tend to picture subjects like poor Antonio Salieri. Obsession brings to mind a dark, brooding, joyless soul trapped into preoccupation with something or someone. Obsession usually ends in futility and anger.
However, this is not the kind of obsession at the center of Biblical servanthood. It should instead be characterized by a joyful pursuit of excellence, because at its root, Christian service should have an obsession with the Gospel. The cross of Christ took our punishment and placed it on Christ so that we may have eternal life in heaven. This truth should not only produce immeasurable joy but inflame a pursuit of excellence as well! The joy we experience in being forgiven and adopted by God will manifest itself in a desire to give our best to God, and an obsession to magnify His glory by serving Him.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100
This Psalm recounts how just crossing the entrance of God’s house should cause us to leap for joy and praise God for his greatness. As we enter into His presence, our hearts are stirred to song and praise. Why do these things should happen? Because we serve a God whose love and grace has been extended to us for eternity. The gladness when serving the psalmist describes does not seem to be optional but rather a natural reaction to God’s character and goodness. Hebrews 12:28 explains that “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
As we reflect on these passages, it becomes clear that our worship, whether it is serving, singing, or meditation, is both birthed and motivated by finding absolute joy in the Gospel of Christ. C.J Mahaney writes, “Joy is a command. You may be working hard and serving the Lord faithfully, but if you aren’t serving with gladness, you aren’t serving Him appropriately or representing Him accurately.”[i]
Our joyful gratitude is not based on a temporary salvation, but an everlasting one. As the recipients of the eternal Grace of God, we much to be thankful for! Jesus’ death and resurrection did not save us for a period of time but from time itself. We do not have to be saved or cleansed over and over again, left to wonder if God will remain faithful through each trial. In John 10:28, the apostle John recounts Jesus’ words “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He did not compromise for just a taste of his righteousness imputed to us, nor did he settle for cleansing some of our sin. Jesus paid it all.
We have the final eternal conclusion of our salvation in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-15, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Not a single one of us could have died for the sins of man. Nowhere, as God is explaining our reason for faith and joy, is my name mentioned. It doesn’t say that because Nate set up the books and cleaned the foyer every Sunday, we can have joy and hope!
Someone recently asked me, “Do we serve to find joy or do we serve because there is joy?” The answer is both! We have this joy that is motivated by grace because of the Gospel. Yet we also find joy in God by participating in his plan to benefit others. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is inherent and limitless joy as we enter into the presence of the eternal, all-powerful, yet gracious King who has allowed undeserving people like you and me in.
As we serve God with a joyful obsession, we glorify Him more than if it was some dry, meaningless ritual. In his book A Quest for More, Paul Tripp writes, “Our joy was meant to wed to his glory.”[ii] In fact, God seems to desire service with gladness and detest dry “let’s just get it over with” serving. It is clear from Scripture, that not only does God desire joy in our serving, but God also inspires joy for our serving. Deuteronomy 28:47-48 suggests that Israel, while it did obey God’s Command to serve, still provoked God to anger. They served like it was a chore rather than an act of joyful worship.
As we understand how God loved us first through the Cross of Christ, serving becomes joyful and natural. Hall of Fame baseball player Reggie Jackson once commented that, “A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that.” Like swinging a bat, our joyful desire to serve God is a finely tuned instrument that needs to be developed and exercised. Reflecting on God’s grace in our own lives, how he justified us and continues to sanctify us, builds our joy for God.
In the Gospel, we find eternal and immense joy, not a brooding dark fear and oppression. Salieri was consumed by jealously and hatred, but as Christians we should be inspired by joy and grace found in Christ. Martin Luther writes, “Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbor voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss.”[iii]As we reflect on God’s work in us, our joy for Him will increase and overflow through service.
[i]CJ Mahaney, Christ Our Mediator pg 93
[ii] Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More, pg 90
[iii] Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty