GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY
Written by Doug Ponder on August 21, 2016
You Gotta Serve Somebody
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Bob Dylan’s raspy voice first sang these words in 1979, but the idea that everyone in life has to serve someone didn’t originate with Dylan.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. “Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt 6:24).
Jesus was talking about worship—not the ‘singing songs’ kind of worship, but the kind of worship measured by a person’s life. He was talking about being devoted to something with your thoughts, your effort, your emotions, so much so that you are willing to sacrifice or give up other things in order to get more of whatever it is you are worshipping.
Yet Dylan’s song says even more than this. He was also describing the inescapable nature of worship. When he sings, “You gotta serve somebody,” it’s he means that everyone has to worship something. In fact, everyone already does.
To worship is to live for something or someone, to derive your sense of worth or meaning from it, and to devote yourself in ways that lead you to sacrifice other things to get more of it. In this way, everybody worships.
In his now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College, agnostic author David Foster Wallace observed the same:
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Wallace goes on to call worship our “default setting,” and though he was not guided by the truth of Scriptures, he observation was exactly right. God created us as worshippers, and so we never stop worshipping. Even sin doesn’t stop worship; rather, sin shifts our worship from the Creator to some infinitely lesser created thing. This is the only choice, the one Jesus spoke about and Dylan sang about. It is the choice of whether to worship the Creator or something in his creation. You can’t worship both. You can’t live for both. You gotta serve somebody.
The Original Lie
The original lie which still lurks behind every temptation to sin is this: that God will not satisfy you as deeply as some aspect of his creation. When we believe this, we give ourselves over to any number of empty pursuits: the quest for approval and acceptance, raw will to power, the desire for endless comfort, or the insatiable craving for control. These pursuits are false gods, or “idols” to use the biblical term. They promise us joy and life and satisfaction, but they only bring frustration, dissatisfaction, a feeling of emptiness, and (eventually) death.
It is as C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity:
“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Worship beauty and you will die a thousand deaths with every passing year as the sands of time drag you forward to your inevitable physical demise. Or worse: you will pay large sums of money—ritual sacrifices—for unnatural manipulations of the body, which turn you into some kind of zombie who died long before the body ceased to be animated.
Worship money and you’ll never have enough. (Everyone knows this is true, but it doesn’t stop us from wanting more.)
Worship control and you will grow to feel that you are never in control. Your life will be filled with a million little worries about things that once never bothered you.
Worship approval and the applause will never be loud enough, while even the mildest criticism like an assault on the core of who you are.
Worship comfort and the pleasures you once enjoyed will lose their ability to delight. You’ll turn to bigger and more frequent escapes, growing to hate even reality itself (which is one reason why pornography use continues to rise even after the age of internet ubiquity).
The Only Solution
So here is we our predicament:
We have been made to worship, every one of us, and we never stop worshipping something. (“You gotta serve somebody.”)
The only real choice is whether we worship the Creator or worship the lesser things of creation. You can’t worship both. (“No man can serve two masters.”)
Devote yourself to the things of creation and you will become like the things you worship: fragile, fleeting, ephemeral, temporary, vaporous, vacuous, and empty in every way.
Or you can worship the Creator, which means that you give yourself completely—devoting all your thoughts, your emotions, your time, and your effort—to the God who has already given himself completely for you in Christ. God frees us from our unsatisfying slavery to broken cisterns by offering us a well that never runs dry, full of living water from the first to the last. And this Living Water is a person who redirects our worship to the only entity that won’t eat you alive and leave you feeling empty and worthless and unsatisfied. On the contrary, when you give yourself to the God who gave himself for you in Christ, you will experience the truth and beauty of Augustine’s famous conclusion: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.