Service When You’re Not Serving

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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During presidential election cycles, a field of ambitious, talented candidates vies for attention. They travel endlessly, deliver countless stump speeches, give interviews, raise money, and engage in debates. For months they battle it out in primaries and caucuses until political realities set in and candidates start dropping out. Eventually party nominees are selected, and in the general election, a winner is chosen.

Of course, any number of forces and factors determine elections. But for every person named to high office, dozens of others never make it—even though they may well be every bit as qualified as the eventual officeholders. And the reality is that only a select number of people can be in the most prominent places of leadership. The majority of us find ourselves elsewhere.

What do you do if you aspire to a position of service and get passed over? I found myself asking this question recently when I was one of six nominees for three positions of responsibility. Going by straight probabilities, I had a fifty-fifty chance of selection. Those aren't bad odds, right? But I didn't make the cut. So naturally I questioned my capabilities. Was I not skilled enough? Likeable enough? Was I unfit for service?

I was reminded of a passage from the book of Acts. After Judas Iscariot killed himself, the early church sought to replace him among the twelve apostles. Two candidates emergedJoseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Both men had been committed disciples of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, from his baptism to his ascension. That's three years of loyal following. It is likely that both were among the seventy sent out by Jesus in Luke 10. They would have been well-known by the other early church leaders—"networked," by our contemporary parlance. They were both fast-track leadership material.

Two candidates for one spot. By straight probabilities, they each had a fifty-fifty chance. We know slightly more about Joseph Barsabbas. Acts 1:23 mentions that he was also known as "Justus," suggesting that he was a man of integrity and honesty. Maybe that would have given him a slight edge. Then came the moment of decision:

"Then they prayed, 'Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.' Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:24-26).

Great for Matthias. But what about Joseph Barsabbas? How did he respond to being passed over? Was he disappointed? Angry? Bitter?

We don't have much of a clue from the text, but we can surmise that both candidates would have had enough maturity and humility to accept either selection or rejection. Joseph Barsabbas may have felt some disappointment, but a larger spiritual truth probably also came to mind: The disciples were convinced that the decision was fully in God's hands. God had chosen one of them to be Judas's successor.

This was not something that should be received with fatalistic resignation. On the contrary, it's a freeing truth. If Matthias was chosen to serve as an apostle, that also meant that Joseph Barsabbas had been chosen to serve in a different capacity.

So it is with many of us. To not serve in a particular area gives us the freedom and opportunity to find other ways to serve. And many former candidates who encountered disappointment at the ballot box went on to discover alternate ways to serve their communities.

The Bible says nothing further about either Matthias or Joseph Barsabbas. But a second-century source mentions that Joseph Barsabbas and others were imprisoned by Nero for professing their faith in Christ. So Joseph Barsabbas continued to serve Jesus faithfully even though he had not been selected to be an apostle. Indeed, perhaps he was able to serve in ways that Matthias could not serve precisely because he was free from the responsibilities of apostleship. And legend has it that the martyred apostle Paul appeared to Nero in a vision, upon which the emperor ordered Barsabbas's immediate release. Free once again to serve God anew.

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