S AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENT, I remember, among many Bible verses, one from Luke 16:10 (NKJV)1 that states: “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
When reciting this verse, my mom told my sister and me that this applied not only to memorizing Bible verses and sitting quietly in Sabbath school but to everyday matters, such as chores or washing dishes. Could it be, I wondered in my naiveté, that something as small as remembering to make my bed could affect the course of history? Does taking out the trash without being asked help me be more faithful to God?
Years later, as a junior in college, I revisited my old question while reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for an English literature course. The heroine, Dorothea Brooke, dedicated to doing good for God’s glory, determines to make a visible difference in her world. Her cause for social activism involves erecting houses for poorer tenants in the province of Middlemarch, among others.
Many of these larger schemes fail, and Dorothea’s presence in the community diminishes to that of merely a good neighbor. But at the close of the book, the narrator declares that “the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”2
Do the little things really matter? Is God pleased with our everyday actions and duties? I now believe that yes, what we do matters to Him and, when completed in a spirit of love and humility, even glorifies His name.
How can that be? How does my use of ordinary skills and abilities shout the name of the Almighty to the world?
Faithful to the Master
Among many parables that Jesus told, the story of the three servants (Matthew 25) exemplifies the kind of Christian service we should emulate in our own lives. When entrusted with their master’s possessions, how did they respond?
The first two servants immediately took action. They could have mourned their insignificance in their master’s kingdom or complained about their relative poverty. Instead, they allocated the money wisely. Investing in trade and doubling the profits shows that they took even minor responsibilities seriously. They didn’t worry about their importance, but focused instead on their master’s wishes.
The master recognized their accomplishments with “‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’” (Matt. 25:21). His pleasure in their faithfulness proves that the “little things” really mattered to him.
The third servant, instead of investing, “went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money” (Matt. 25:18). That wasn’t, necessarily, the worst decision he could have made—after all, it did keep the money safe. The problem was that he neglected to use the money to increase his master’s wealth.
The lord did not thank this man, but upbraided him for his laziness. How did the third servant err? He did protect the money, after all.
His trouble lay not in actions but attitude. Because he valued his master’s trust so poorly, he did not take his responsibility seriously. When presented to his master, he had nothing but dirty money (literally!) to show for his pains. No wonder the master called him a “wicked and lazy servant” (Matt. 25:26)!
While the first two servants highlight perseverance and faithfulness, the third warns readers of the pitfalls that await negligence and carelessness. But more than showing laziness, he embodies a life devoid of purpose or goals. He deliberately chose not to use what his master had entrusted him with and instead buried the one item over which he had charge. In this sense, then, he failed to invest the little he had, and through his neglect, actually disobeyed his master.
What Does “Hidden” Mean?
When we read about the hiding of money and then the “hidden life” of the fictional Dorothea, it seems as if being “hidden” is something to avoid. Why, then, would Eliot’s narrator commend Dorothea? Does hiding a talent equal a “hidden life”?
Throughout the narrator’s monologue, we can gather that though what Dorothea did was not necessarily remarkable, it wasn’t idle. The first two servants in Matthew 25 set out to fulfill their master’s wishes, but they did not garner fame for their success, nor did they actively seek it. They too led unassuming lives. Thus, this “hidden life” is not a life of concealment, but a life of unobtrusive living and doing—in fact, this “hidden life” is conducted faithfully. These “unhistoric acts” change the lives of those around them, but they aren’t grand enough to warrant immediate attention.
Can it be, then, that a “hidden life” refers to those unimportant, insignificant acts that matter only slightly on a daily basis, but may end up changing the course of the world?
We may not be servants to any lord or master, but we are under the protection of the Lord Most High, and with life come everyday responsibilities. Many of us adults work and must answer to a boss or supervisor at work. At home, we may be responsible for the well-being of a spouse or an ailing family member. Children may take up a lot of time and energy, but they are gifts from God. Shouldn’t this mean, then, that we are responsible for their well-being and care? Caring about such little people may seem a small thing, but it’s big in God’s eyes!
As a college student about to graduate, I’ve spent the last few years studying. Sometimes I’ve had to defend my choice, because I’m not serving as a missionary in some untamed jungle, nor am I preaching the gospel from the corners of the earth. I may even consider these choices “hidden,” since I have not yet completed anything extraordinary.
Yet, when I was called into the professional field, I knew that I had to study hard to acquire the ability to impart my knowledge to others. I realized that obtaining the best grades possible and studying as much as I could would be serving God as best as I could. If I, then, were to skip school to preach from the city streets, I in essence would be neglecting the career He had ordained for me.
When we are called to something, we must answer—and then do the best we can—with God’s help, of course.
And—returning to my childhood dilemma—by doing things such as dishes or making my bed, I am preparing my heart for a life of service. Those everyday tasks that I choose to complete willingly and cheerfully train me to accomplish school assignments, work projects, or other larger missions that God may grant me. The very art of learning self-discipline through the small things will help me when I am asked to do things more important than those small, mundane tasks.
How important, then, to instill in children and young adults the importance of the seemingly insignificant chores they must accomplish each day! True, sweeping the kitchen floor may not immediately seem to enhance the Second Coming message, but a person with a willing attitude to thoroughly engage in these tasks will better serve God’s work because they have practiced willingness on these “little things.”
“You Did It to Me”
Later in Matthew 25 Jesus talks about His second coming. He separates two categories of people: the first He commends for feeding Him, clothing Him, visiting Him in prison, and taking care of Him. These people are, naturally, astonished—when did they ever see Jesus in need?
To this, Jesus replies, “‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matt. 25:40). It is this group of inconspicuous, humble people that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Through our “hidden,” ordinary, mundane lives, we are called to serve God and others.
In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul admonished: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” When we compare this text with Matthew 25:40, we realize that when we do seemingly unimportant things for others, we are doing them for God, and these things glorify Him. Ultimately, these little things become great, because we do them for the glory of God.
Though there may be no one to commemorate our “unvisited tombs,” the difference will be felt by those who’ve received a smile, an encouraging word, a helping hand. For when we help these, we’re indeed serving our Master and Savior.
1All references are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
2George Eliot, Middlemarch, p. 794.
Bonnie McLean, formerly an intern with Adventist Review, is finishing degrees in English and history at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.