We talked before about how every Christian is called to service, “Drinking the Cup” means accepting our divinely appointed destiny, acknowledging that we are “saved to serve” and that Christianity is NOT a commodity exchange. We serve sacrificially because of our connection to Jesus Christ the perfect model of a servant.
What I want to cover today is how that works out in the context of a church family. If you have given your heart to Jesus, He is your Lord and Saviour, and you have accepted His call to a lifetime of Christian Service, then you have to ask yourself, “What does He want me to do? Where am I to serve? How do I start? What are my gifts?”
Not Just Spiritual Gifts
I was going to discuss spiritual gifts until realized that Christian service isn’t just about spiritual gifts. I sort of wrote this sermon backwards because I started by discussing spiritual gifts and then realized that there are some areas of Christian service that are common to all believers. I started to write a paragraph about that but quickly figured out that it’s a bit more involved. So what we’re going to talk about are some general areas of service that every Christian is to do. If we jumped straight to Spiritual Gifts some might miss out on some areas of service thinking, “Since it’s not my area of gifting, I don’t have to/get to do that.”
These are commands given to all believers. The only way I can think to do this is in a list format, so I apologize for that. No, this isn’t every type of service in the Bible but some key ones we all need to know.
The Golden Rule
Every area of service is guided by the Golden Rule which Jesus gives us in Matthew 7:12:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
What Jesus means is that the entirety of the commands in the Bible, when it comes to how humans are to relate each other, can be summed up in that one phrase:
“…whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…”
I don’t want to get murdered, so I won’t murder others.
I want to be respected, so I’ll respect others.
I want others to care for me, so I’ll care for others.
I want people to be generous to me, so I’ll be generous.
I don’t want people gossiping about me, so I won’t gossip about them.
I want to have a liveable wage where I can take care of my family, so I’ll pay those who work for me a liveable wage.
I want to be visited, so I’ll visit others.
I want to live in peace, so I will make peace with others.
The Least of These
We talked about one of the big scriptures last week in Matthew 25:31-46 where we are told to feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoner. These days we have taken those ministries out of the church, and out of our lives, and given that burden to people who we believe are specially gifted, or have a certain aptitude for the work. We create sub-ministries to take care of those things for us: like prison ministry or a parachurch organization who will take care of the poor. We will pay a minister or a chaplain to go visit the sick. We’ll leave clothing the poor to specialized places like Good Will or Salvation Army.
We shouldn’t be thinking that way. We shouldn’t be assuming that it’s not our job and that it’s only for certain people. Scripture says that all of those ministries are meant to be normative for every believer. I’m not saying that we all need to work on street-corners, or that everyone should spend Saturday’s at the prison. What I’m saying is:
If the heart of Jesus is for these people’s needs
and if we have the Holy Spirit living within us,
then our heart should bend towards those people too.
We have to ask ourselves in what way are we obeying these commands. How does our church do this? What ministries do we have to feed the hungry, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the prisoner? How are we, as a group of believers, obeying Jesus in this area? We need to get this right and find ways that we can do this in our community. If you have ideas, talk to me or an elder or deacon and let’s do this.
We also need to ask, “In what ways do we as individuals share the love of Jesus in a practical way with people who need help?” After we have spent time serving our own community through our church – because it is the local church which should get our primary support – how can we do more?
Yes, I believe God has gifted His church with certain people He has called to lead the pack in some of these areas. I thank God for those parachurch organizations, and prison ministries and Good will. God has raised up some amazing people with a soft heart towards certain needs to help us be able to do this more easily. So, how are we helping them accomplish their ministry? At the very least we could raise awareness by distributing their materials. We could support these ministries financially or through volunteering our extra time (after we have served at church). We could designate Sundays to various programs and let them inspire us to action, or partner with them for certain projects.
Read Matthew 25 again and ask yourself if this sounds optional. It really isn’t.
Helping The Weak
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak…”. (Romans 15:1)
“… we must help the weak…” (Acts 20:35)
We need to serve others (and this is referring to our Christian brothers and sisters, but we should have this attitude towards everybody) by having a generous attitude towards them and their weaknesses. Whether they are weak in body and need help doing something, weak emotionally and need our time and prayers, weak mentally and need our assistance in teaching or in special care, or weak spiritually and need to be mentored and cut some slack as their work out their faith, we are to be people who have a special heart for the weak brothers and sisters around us. This is a good way to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:11 which says:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…”.
We are not about keeping people down… we are about building people up!
Financial Support and Hospitality
In short, a way we serve others is that if we see a believer in need, help them. That sometimes means financially, but it more often means practically. If a fellow Christian needs to build something, but doesn’t know how – build it for them. If they need a microwave or a couch, find them one. If you know how to use computers and set up stereo systems, and they don’t… help them!
This coin has two sides, however.
On one side, we need to be willing and able (and excited!)
to help people with the materials and abilities we have
— but we also need to share with others what our needs are.
That means that when you have a need, make it known to the church. Perhaps we could set up a bulletin board where people post their needs. Maybe that means we create a database of people to call for various problems – so you call the church, and we put you in touch with the right person. Maybe that means that we are just more mindful of asking folks, sharing our burdens and opening our hearts and needs a bit more.
What keeps people from doing this is pride. They don’t want to feel as though they are needy… or let on that they lacks something. We’re going to have to get over that. There’s no reason to “put on airs” with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all in need of something, which is why God gave us each other in the first place.
In this same verse we also read the word for “hospitality”, which literally means “love for strangers”. In this context it means that we should take special care in showing love for Christians we don’t know yet. The fact that they are believers means that they get special treatment in our eyes. So, be generous to the believers we know, and be loving towards the believers we don’t. Hebrews 13:2 gives us a good reason why, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Restoring Wayward Christians
We talked about weak Christians already, but this is a little different. Galatians 6:1-2 says:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Another way we can serve one another is by stepping outside our comfort zone and purposefully going towards brothers and sisters who are sliding down the slippery slope, backsliding, falling away, going wayward, who are caught in a sin. Instead of shunning and ostracising, we are to go out and try to help them! Instead of rolling our eyes, pinching our noses, and avoiding the person, we who are more spiritually mature than they are supposed to go and get them!
Romans 15:1 says it this way:
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
In other words we have an obligation to get out of our comfort zone, to move away from only doing things that we like, to move away from only being around the people ewe like – to not just worry about “pleasing ourselves” – and go and strengthen the weak.
So, if someone is addicted to something, ask if you can help them out of that addiction by getting them to a group, or being there for accountability.
If someone is struggling with their weight, don’t surround them with sugary treats.
If someone is struggling with pornography, tell them that you will be one of the people who they can call, tell them to download some accountability software and make you one of the people that get e-mailed their list of websites.
If someone is angrily walking away from the church, seek them out.
If someone is harbouring bitter feelings, tell them and figure out how to help them through it.
If someone is heretical in their beliefs, teach them what is right.
Imagine being part of a church where you knew that kind people were available when you are tempted, generous people are willing to give you their time to help you, and that if you fall, they will always be there to pick you up in Jesus name. How can you and I “bear with the failings of the weak” and “restore people” gently to the faith?
Greeting One Another
Here’s another general area of service that all Christians are responsible for. Four times in the New Testament we are commanded to:
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, etc).
Today, we don’t do that, and it would be greatly misunderstood if you were to try. It’s the same with foot-washing or women covering their heads – it’s a cultural thing. However, even though the practice has changed, the symbolic meaning is still very important. Christians are supposed to greet one another in friendship.
When we see one another,
we are meeting a brother or sister in Jesus,
a fellow adopted son or daughter of God,
a prince or princess of the Kingdom…
so it’s a big deal.
We should at least acknowledge another with a welcoming handshake, a tip of the hat, a head nod – or something just to say, “Jesus loves you, I love you, and I acknowledge you as part of my family and person worthy of respect.”
Rejoice and Weep With One Another
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
“…[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…” (Ephesians 5:19)
We can serve people, both Christian and non, by simply being with them during their times of joy and grief. By allowing their feelings to affect our own. Another word for this is compassion, or empathy. This means that when we are singing, let us all sing together. When someone is happy, be happy for them, and be happy with them. When they are sad, comfort them and be empathetic to what they are feeling.
We can serve people simply by showing up to their important life events, or at least sending a card to acknowledge them. We can remind them of the scriptures that speak to you during those times – happy or sad.
This is all about making an effort to connect with other believers on a personal level.
No, not everyone has to be your best friend. No, you don’t have to spill your guts to every person in the church. This is simply realizing that God is going to put people in your life who you are supposed to care about, and being present at people’s times of celebration and mourning is an unbelievably powerful act of service to them. You don’t need the right words. You don’t need a present. You don’t need anything. Just try to feel what they are feeling with them.
Every Day Encouragement
Along this same vein we read Hebrews 3:13:
“But exhort [or ‘encourage’] one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
I’m want to latch onto the words “every day”. We can serve one another by making it a point to send encouragement to people in our church – often. The concern the author of Hebrews has here is that
if we are not encouraging one other
and acknowledging each other in friendship,
then we can be culpable in
making people’s hearts get hard toward God.
How? I’m sure you know this feeling.
You come to church and no one greets you. The same people ask you the same two questions every single week and it never goes deeper: “How are you doing? How’s work?” The same people forget your name every week and most haven’t bothered to even figure out where you live. You leave the building and no one notices. All week long you have your phone around you and you don’t get one phone call from another Christian, except for a couple people who want you to do something for them.
It’s not too long until your heart starts to get hard towards believers, towards the church, and towards God. Demons start whispering in your ear, “These people don’t love you, or even like you. They only want to take from you. You give and give, and they take and take. You should leave and find a place that loves you more. Heck, if this is how Christians are, then you don’t need to be one at all – what’s the point? If this is the kind of people Jesus makes, then you can do better.”
You’ve probably felt that. So have many others. It’s our responsibility to help people feel loved. Remember the Golden Rule!
How can we do this? It’s pretty straight forward – and one reason I appreciate social media is because it makes this really easy. If you’re still offline, then call and send encouragement notes. If you are online, e-mail, text, Facebook, tweet – whatever you can do to make small and growing connections to people in the church. It doesn’t begin and end on Facebook, but it’s a good place to start.
These tools will help you figure out how to ask deeper questions and actively try to learn about people. If there is a home you’ve never been to, or people you’ve never had in your home (or one you haven’t been to in a while) — invite them over, or invite yourself over! Be patient and wait for a good time – don’t just show up unannounced because, again, that’s not as culturally acceptable anymore – but make the time and do it. Host BBQ’s at your home, have a small group that rotates people every 6-8 weeks. When you go out to a museum, for dinner, or somewhere, make a point of calling up some folks and see if they want to go too.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Hebrews 10:24)
This is one of my favourite verses because of the words “stir up”, which has an even better translation in the NIV – “spur”. That is a great word picture when we consider the term comes from the thing that a cowboy straps on his boot so he can inflict pain on the horse so they will run faster. We are to do that to each other – it’s a service we provide other believers. The Greek word is PAROXYSM and it means to “stimulate strongly”, “irritate” or “incite”.
When was the last time you were irritated so much by the Christians around you that you just had to act in “love” and do “good deeds”? Imagine being surrounded by Christians who won’t get off your back about it. That’s the kind of picture that we should get into our head when it comes to how we should encourage each other to be loving and do the right thing. We should bug each other to the point of irritation that we hear so much about “love” and “good deeds” that we get to the point where we say
I’ll be loving and do good things!
Quit bugging me!”
Can you imagine being a church where we are “spurring” people to love?
The word is also used in a way where people are “spurred” or “incited” to riot. Imagine our church being the cause of a “love riot”? Imagine having such an effect on each other that we start a “love riot”. I don’t even know what that would look like! People marching down the street… and instead of fighting, smashing cars and breaking storefront windows… their hugging, picking up litter and cleaning the storefront windows? Instead of the police having to shoot tear gas to disperse the crowd, they’re firing streams of Mountain Dew and passing out cake… I don’t know.
But that’s the kind of life we should be “spurring” one another towards. Maybe it just looks like spurring one another towards hope when we’re down. Or inciting people to be more available to their wife and family. Maybe it looks like getting people so excited about Jesus that they want to spend more time with God in prayer and Bible study. Maybe it means other Christians irritating us to the point where we can’t help but pay off our credit cards and start spending wisely.
There are lots of ways that we could irritate each other. This is the good way. How can we spur each other on?
Serving Others Starts At Home
Here’s something important: This all starts at home. 1 Timothy 5:8 says:
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
All of these different ways of living out the gospel, giving grace to others out of the grace that Jesus showed us, starts at home. We do this first for our family, our husband, wife and kids, our extended family. We meet their needs, encourage them, spur them on, help them flee from sin, take care of their hearts, bodies and minds, rejoice and weep with them.
If we aren’t prioritizing the people in our home, the primary ministry we have been given, then we are not living out the gospel, not obeying God, and are “worse than an unbeliever” – because even pagans and atheists inherently know that they need to take care of their family first.
So I will never sacrifice my family on the alter of the church. They get first dibs at my time, energy, money, concentration and love. I’m a husband first, a dad second, and a pastor third. That’s how it has to work. Don’t short-change your family because you’re serving the church – that’s sin.
Then Comes the Church
But, next comes the church. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that these verses all seem to lean towards taking care of people at church, and not as much towards the world. That’s because they do. Some, who are more evangelistic minded think “We have to get out into the world! Not just be self-focused!” I totally agree. And everything I’ve just said is about not being self-focused, and getting outside of ourselves. Many of these exhortations apply just as well to our unbelieving neighbours. After all, that’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is all about – stopping our lives and taking care of people who are radically different than us for no other reason than that they are fellow human beings who deserve our love and attention.
We can’t get away from the fact that
the Discipline of Serving Others is done
primarily at home
and secondarily at church.
Remember John 13:35:
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Galatians 6:10 says it this way:
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
So when you are considering how to serve and where to serve, it begins at home and moves outward to the people who attend the same church as us. We don’t serve to the exclusion of the people in the wider world, but we prioritize our brothers and sisters first. I think this is a portion of what Jesus meant when he said:
“But seek first the kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33)
The Measure You Use
One final encouragement/warning from Luke 6:38 when it comes to Christian Service:
“…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”