Macy’s story is packed with some wonderful truths. First, that we never really know what’s going on in people’s lives, do we? We are pretty amazing at covering up our feelings and putting on a brave face for the world. Macy cried herself to sleep every night but didn’t want to share what she was going through with anyone – until she hit bottom.
Second, that we are not only meant to be part of a family but part of a Christian community. Sometimes our families let us down, hurt us, even work against our faith – but when we become a Christian one of the gifts we are given is the church, the Body of Christ, a group of like-minded, like-hearted people who care about us. Once she decided to share what was going on with people, she made a point to hang out with Christian friends, her youth group, her small group, and to come to church. Christians need each other and need to be meeting together regularly (Heb 10:24-25).
A third thing I noticed was that she found healing and solace as she served others. She called her time of serving others a “getaway that helps her see the world in a different way”. She was healed and renewed, disciple and comforted, as she served others.
That’s what I want to talk about today, the heart of a Christian servant. As I said, there is so much in her story that strikes a chord with what I want to talk about today. But if I may, before we jump into the Bible study, can I pull a fourth thing out of that illustration that isn’t so much a part of what she said, but in the background of her story?
Full credit to Macy for being humble enough to share her feelings with her friends, to attend her small group and youth group, and to volunteer in that ministry to parents of special needs children – but all of the places she described as bringing her comfort, required a lot of work and sacrifice from others that aren’t in the video.
There would be no small group to go to without a small group leader and coordinator. There would be no youth group without a youth pastor and volunteers. There would be no “Breakaway” ministry without organizers. There would be no building to have it in without administrators. No Bible to read or devotional guide without translators and printers. For Macy to get comfort, she needed a connection to the Body of Christ. For her to feel fulfilled in service, for her to grow in maturity and faith, she needed someone to do the work of putting all of those things together, right? That’s The Body of Christ at work. In this we see Jesus calling different Christians with different gifts and aptitudes to work together to serve each other and their community in His name.
Motive for Service 1: Our Love for God
Please open up to Romans 12. We’ll go through the whole chapter because in it we see the Biblical view of what’s going on here. But we’ll take it in parts. It begins.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
It starts with the motives behind our acts of service. Remember I said that every time you read a “therefore” you have to ask what it is there for? Paul, the previous chapter, has just described the inscrutably amazing grace of God that He would save continuously rebellious sinners like us. His point is that it is absolutely crazy, totally mysterious, almost incomprehensible, that God would look on such hard-hearted people and then trade His Son for them. And he follows that with chapter 12. He says that in light of this amazing grace, the undeserved Love God has shown you, He deserves our worship. In light of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which shows the depth and perfection of His love for us, how complete His love for us is, we should love Him back by presenting our own bodies to Him as a living sacrifice.
God, in the old covenant, demanded the blood of animals as an act of worship, and Jesus was the final sacrifice and the fulfilment of that requirement. Now, Paul says, God doesn’t want more sacrificial burnt offerings, but instead, He wants you to show your faith in Him, your love for Him, your thanks to Him for what He has done, by living your whole life as a sacrifice to Him. One a big, one-time sacrifice, but a lifetime of spiritual worship.
That’s our first motive for serving others – showing love to God for what He’s done.
Motive for Service 2: The Example and Teachings of Jesus
The second motive we have we read about starting in verse 3,
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
The second motive is the teachings and example of Jesus. This verse uses the word “think” three times. It’s about how we see ourselves, who we think we are. This goes right to the teaching of Jesus, and it’s perfectly captured in Mark 10:35-45. Let’s read that together:
“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’”
What’s going on here? If we were to break down this request it would be simply this: “Jesus, we want to be great. We want to be on top. Sure, you can be the tippity-top, but we want to be next, first in your kingdom.” What is Jesus’ response?
“Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’”
His response is to say, “Do you know the qualifications for greatness in the Kingdom of God? Do you know what kind of things you need to have on your resume in order to be even considered to be part of my kingdom let alone one of the greatest in it?” Of course, they respond,
“And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’”
What was the cup He had to drink, the baptism he had to be baptized in? It was the cup of ultimate service, of ultimate sacrifice. It was the cup of God’s wrath, of great suffering on the cross, and the baptism of being buried in a tomb. Keep reading in verse 41,
“And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”
Not because James and John were wrong, but because they had thought of asking first! They were indignant because of their own ambition and jealousy. So Jesus stops everyone in their tracks. Look at verse 42,
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
What’s the lowest rank in a society? Below everyone else? Slave. But even among slaves there is a hierarchy. Some served more wealthy homes others had governing authority over other slaves. What is the lowest of the low? The slave who is “slave of all”. Jesus was the servant of all, going from the highest place to the lowest, the “slave of all”. That’s the attitude that the followers of Jesus are supposed to have.
How do people know that we are disciples of Jesus? By the fish decal on our car? By the big bible we carry? By the cross sign on our church? By the songs we sing? By how many things we decide not to go to? No. Jesus says in John 13:35,
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
How do people know whether or not we love one another? How do you know that someone loves you? By their words? A little. But more by their deeds, right? What they do. How do people know that we are followers of Jesus? Because we love people the way He does.
Turn to Philippians 2:1–8 where it’s written this way,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
That’s the second motivation for serving others, the teachings and example of Jesus – because He told us to and modelled how. But there is a third motivation, but before we get there, take a look at the next verses and instead of motives for service we see the method.
The Body of Christ Working Together
Start in verse 4,
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Here we see beyond the motives and into the methods of service. Here we recognize that God gives different gifts to different people according to His plan and His grace. Then He tells is people to use them, right? He saves us as individuals and then makes us part of a church. I’m concentrating today on the motives rather than the methods, but since it’s here, let’s notice that not everyone serves in the same way. Just as I said with Macy’s story, there are a lot of different people needed to make up the ministries of the church.
Look in verse 6. Here we see prophets, not describing people who see the future, but the preachers who speak the Word of God to the people, keeping them on track with what God wants. Next comes those who serve, which is similar to the word for Deacon, but simply means someone who spends time giving practical aid to the community of believers. Then we have the teachers who have the ability to explain the scriptures in a way that people can understand it and apply it to their lives. Then we have the exhorter, the cheerleaders in the church who keep encouraging, urging, imploring, spurring God’s people to keep going because they know God is doing something special. Then there are the “contributors”, which are simply the people who God has gifted with material and financial wealth who pay for things without grumbling about it. Then you have leaders who organize and plan the ministries so everyone is on the same page, and those who have the gift of mercy, which are essentially the Christian social workers, the good Samaritans who have a special heart for the sick, the prisoner, the hurting, the difficult cases.
Each of these believers, working together, make a healthy body of Christ. But this means two important things. First, that everyone has a job and second that not everyone is supposed to be doing the same thing.
Notice that everyone in the church has something to do. Maybe you’re not a leader or teacher. Maybe you’re an exhorter or a helper. You’re not good at planning things hospitals kind of freak you out, but you’re happy to show up and help get things done. Maybe you are a gifted leader, but you don’t know much about the bible and you don’t have any money. You need a teacher and a contributor. Maybe you’re a great teacher, but you get discouraged easily. You need an encourager. Maybe you don’t have much time to serve or help or lead, but God has given you the ability to make money. It’s ok that you’re a contributor.
But what happens if people get their wires crossed and start thinking that one gift is better, one position is more Christian? Trouble, right? People that are great at encouraging feel bad because they’re not teachers. Contributors feel guilty because they don’t help more. Helpers feel dumb because they aren’t good at administration and leadership. The teachers are annoyed by the helpers because they don’t know enough Bible trivia.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work, is it? Each person is only responsible for the things that God has planned out for them and for using the gifts that God has given them.
Motive for Service 3: Competition
Now, let’s get back to motivations by looking at verse 9
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
There’s a lot of good stuff in going on in here, but what I want to concentrate on today is in verse 10, “Outdo one another in showing honour.” This is an interesting turn of phrase and commentators argue a bit about. In one sense this means, “Each of you should honour each other more highly than yourself.” Or “Respect each other by showing deference to one another.” But there’s another side of this there, and that’s the competitive angle.
This whole section is about God’s Upside-Down Kingdom, where we bless our persecutors, seek out people who are weeping, spend time with the lowly, assume we need help, give our enemies gifts, and overcome evil with good. Remember what Jesus said to James and John? “Whoever would be first… must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44)
He said this kind of thing many times. In Matthew 19 after meeting the Rich Young Ruler, His disciples were confused about who could get into heaven. Surely, if this rich, religious young man couldn’t, than nobody could. Jesus replied saying, “…many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matt 19:30) He then told the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where a landowner gives the same payment to everyone working in his field, regardless of how many hours they had worked. He ends that story saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matt 20:16)
In short, He was talking about His Upside-Down Kingdom where the wealthy, self-satisfied, celebrities are on the bottom, and the “poor in spirit”, “the meek”, “the reviled” and “persecuted”, (Matthew 5:2-11) and “the slaves of all” are on top.
Jesus never criticized James and John for wanting to be great, wanting to be like Him. But instead, explained His recipe for greatness. And what was that recipe? Servanthood.
I’m a competitive guy. I like playing games and I like winning them. That’s why I like verse 10 and 11 so much. It says “Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” It’s like Jesus says, “Ok, guys. If you’re going to try to compete against one another to see who is best, who is going to win the biggest prize, who is going to get the most points – then compete at who can serve and honour the most people, see who can help the most people, who can feed and clothe and teach the most people. I’m not about who can score the most goals, I’m about who can get the most assists. Ready, set, go!”
But there’s a catch, right? Every game needs rules. Remember Jesus teaching in Matthew 6? That’s the rules of the game. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (6:1) In this game, the more love you show to others, and the more secretive you can be about it, the more points you get – but you do it for others to see, or you do it for the wrong reasons, you lose points. Fun, right?
Our motives should be a mixture of all three of those, right? One of them is likely going to speak to you more, but whatever your motivation, whether you are motivated by your love for God and you want to thank Him for saving you… or you’re motivated to serve out of obedience to Jesus’ teachings… or you’re motivated by that competitive spirit that makes you want to be the best Christian servant you can possibly be… two things that we always need to remember is that it is God who saved us, God who enables us, God who motivates us, and therefore God who gets the glory – and that we cannot do any of this separate from the rest of the body of Christ. God always gets the glory and there are no Lone Ranger Christians.
Let me close with this: Today is the day that the church is has set aside to recognize some of the amazing people that help Beckwith Baptist Church. Not because we want them to lose points, but because we want to honour them, thank them, hold them up as examples for us to follow, and to honour them as people who have shown us the love of Jesus through their service.
These are people of all kinds, from all walks of life, with many different stories, different gifts and different struggles, but are all here together, in this church, serving for God’s glory. It is because of their service that we can be part of such a loving, excellent church and by honouring them, we honour the God who saved them and gave them to us as a gift.
We do a data dump of the best resources for every stage of the Christian life. Whether you are a new believer, have some years in the church, or are a longtime elder, you’ll find something to challenge you!
Pilgrim Theology – Michael Horton
ESV Study Bible
NIV Life Application Study Bible
Reformation Study Bible
John MacArthur Study Bible
Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (Abridged and in Modern English) by Tony Lane & Hilary Osborne
Podcast: The Briefing by Albert Mohler
Podcast: Mortification of Spin
Podcast: Renewing Your Mind by RC Sproul
Vodcast: Look at the Book by John Piper
40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible by Robert Plummer
Knowing God by JI Packer
Core Christianity by Michael Horton
Gospel and Kingdom by Graham Goldsworthy
What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile
The Peacemaker by Ken Sande
The Hour that Changes the World by Dick Eastman
Podcast: The Whitehorse Inn by Michael Horton
Preachers: Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper…
Biographies: Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Confessions of St Augustine, William Tyndale, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, D. Martin Lloyd Jones.
Ligonier Ministries Resources: Tabletalk Magazine, “Connect”
The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols
Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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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.”
Our heart for service is rooted in our relationship with God,and an understanding of all that He has done for us. It is empowered by His Holy Spirit within us. We serve out of thankfulness for our salvation and the presence of God in our life.This is the final section of the Four Core Christian Disciplines – Serving Others.
Let’s start by reading Matthew 20:17-28:
“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”
You have to love moms, right? This mother’s name was Salome and she wanted the best for her sons, and so she went straight to the top and asked for it. She knew Jesus quite well because she was probably Jesus’ aunt, which made James and John His cousins. And she wanted from Jesus what all moms want for their kids… a good future.
Drinking The Cup
“Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, ‘We are able.’”
Jesus looks right at James and John and asks them to think about this. They have just heard, in no uncertain terms, what Jesus was going to go through when He got to Jerusalem –but I don’t still don’t think they knew what they were asking for. The disciples never did really understand how Jesus was going to inaugurate His new Kingdom. It didn’t compute that Jesus would suffer and die… even though He had already told them three times.
In the same way, many of us don’t really understand what we are getting into when we come to Jesus for salvation. Certainly we understand our sin and our need for salvation, but many of us can’t grasp the scope of the journey we are embarking on when we decide to make Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And so, in the same way as James and John, we look at Jesus and say, “Yes! Be our Lord and we will follow you.”
Look at their response:
“’We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”
In scripture the “cup” represents a person’s divinely appointed destiny—God’s plan for their life. Every person that hears the words of Jesus and truly understands and accepts the gospel message is asked the same question by Jesus: “Are you able to drink the cup?”
In other words, “Are you ready to submit your life to your divinely appointed destiny, and let God run His plan for your life… or do you still want control of it?” He said it this way in Matthew 16:24,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In Matthew 10:34-39 He says,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is the first and most critical point when it comes to the Discipline of Serving Others. Giving our lives to Jesus is almost never what we expect. Jesus often takes our lives in a very different direction than we would have chosen.
James and John did indeed drink the cup of the Lord. James gave up His whole life in service to Jesus. When he was called to follow, he left behind the security and comfort of his father’s fishing business and spent the rest of his days living an unsettled life wandering from city to city. As far as we know he never married, had no place he could call home, only owned the clothes on his back, and was the first apostolic martyr (Acts 12:12). He had an amazing ministry and was mightily used by God, and grew very close to Jesus, but this was certainly not the life that he ever would have chosen for himself before Jesus called him.
John became a church planter, a pastor of pastors, seminary teacher, traveling preacher, and wrote four books of the Bible: the Gospel of John, three letters, and the Book of Revelation. His life was as fruitful as it was difficult. While the 11 apostles died violent deaths because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, John suffered through persecution and exile. But there is no one in the bible that talks more about the love of Jesus than John.
These two men had very different cups. Both knew joy, love, effective ministry, and God’s blessing… but also much suffering and sorrow.
“Will you drink the cup of God’s divinely appointed future for you?”
“Will you trust that His way is better, His ways are higher, and make Him the true Lord of your life, putting yourself behind His will, no matter what the call may be?”
If not, there’s no point in listening further because you are still Lord of your own life and master of your own destiny. There’s a reason that we speak of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour – those two titles are indelibly tied. He is our Saviour – the only one who could (or would) pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to God. But accepting that gift also makes Him our Lord. If we believe He is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the World, then we must accept that He is our creator and the master of our lives. If He is the Saviour of our souls, then He is also the Master of them.
So before we talk about Serving Others we have to talk about Lordship. Is Jesus your Lord, your Master, your Boss, your King, the One to whom you go to for direction, wisdom and strength? In the words of Proverbs 3:6, Do you “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him…”? Are you directing your paths, or is He?
If He is your Lord,
then you can and will serve others.
If He is not,
then no matter what you are doing,
you are ultimately only serving yourself.
Saved to Serve
The second thing we must know about Serving Others is that the call to Salvation is a call to Service. Let’s continue reading from verse 24:
“And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
First, notice something important here: Jesus didn’t rebuke James and John for asking to be men of power and influence. He never said, “You shouldn’t want to be great! You should be humble and lowly and small and poor and obscure! People who follow me aren’t allowed to be powerful and influential!” No, instead, He said, “You want to be great? I want you to be great too, and greatness is worth seeking! But, the path to greatness doesn’t look the way you think it does. True greatness comes as a result of serving others.”
Being saved and Serving Others is inseparable, intertwined, hand in glove, two sides of the same coin. Listen to Matthew 25:31-46 and hear how Jesus talks about His people, His Kingdom and His disciples in terms of Service:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is a picture of final judgement, the final separation of the saved from the unsaved to their eternal destinations. This is the pronouncement by King Jesus to the sheep who are believers, and the Goats who are non-believers. A huge difference between those who are saved and those who are not is a heart for Serving Others – it is a defining characteristic of believers.
Now, it’s important to remember that Christians do not serve others to get saved, they do it because they are saved. Service flows out of the love that God is pouring into their hearts. When a person is connected to Jesus, and is having their cup filled by Him, they cannot help but serve. They are like a balloon that is being filled up with water… it can only take so much and then it has to either give some away, or they’ll burst. Maybe you’ve felt this.
You spend some time in prayer, or bible study, or worship and God gets a hold of your heart and calls you to into service. You feel the desire to do something with what you just learned, experienced, or felt. That’s a normal Christian response.
It’s often followed by a demonic attack reminding you how busy you are and that you don’t have time for that. Or the reminder of how unskilled you are or how that’s not really your job. Or how you’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, or being overwhelmed by details and thinking “I don’t know where to start, so I guess I won’t”, and you just hold your breath until that impulse to serve goes away. Have you felt that?
God says “Go and do: Encourage that person, start that ministry, feed that family, correct that person, help that child, get to know that man or woman, wash those dishes, join that committee, give up something so someone else can be blessed.” I know it’s happened to you because Serving Others is the proper outflow of our relationship to God. It is the practical outworking of a heart that is in line with Jesus.
Listen to how James 2:14-19 ties together our faith in Jesus Christ and the good works of service we do:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
A lot of people say they believe in God. James says, so what? Even the demons believe that. If you believe in God, then you must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ – He is the only Way (John 14:6). And if you have faith in Jesus Christ, then you will work out that faith through service. It’s that simple.
Christian Service is NOT a Commodity Exchange
If you have no connection to Jesus, or are not being consistently filled by Him, then you will not serve – you will want to be served. You will come to be served by others (some people call it “to be fed”), but you will not serve. If you are not regularly connecting to God in prayer, study and worship, then He is not regularly filling you up and you will feel spiritually dry. You will spend your time and energy on worldly things. If you’re not connected to God then you won’t feel divine care for others or the confidence to get out of your comfort zone to do anything for anyone else… unless you get something out of it in return. That’s not Serving Others, that’s an exchange of commodities.
“I’ll take care of your kids if you take care of my kids” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange. “I’ll have you over to my house if you have me over to your house” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll serve on this committee if I can have my way in certain areas of the church” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll donate this to the church, but only if I can put a plaque on it” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange.
We do not exist on this world merely to exchange commodities… Christians are different. Christian service is NOT about Give and Take. We give without expecting in return. We serve sacrificially, because Jesus loves us and served us sacrificially. It’s not about being fair, or just or getting what we deserve. It’s not about tit-for-tat or “if you, then I’ll.”
Jesus says in Matthew 10:8:
“You received without paying; give without pay.”
In the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:32-36 he says:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
The Source of Christian Service is Jesus
When Paul was speaking to the church in Philippi about how they were to act like Christians, he talked about the importance of sacrificial service. He based it all on the love, connection, salvation and model we have in Jesus. He says in Philippians 2:1-4:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You can almost hear him pleading from his prison cell in Rome, “If you are at all Christians… if you know anything about Jesus… if you have even the faintest clue about what He has done for you… if you have been impacted in any way because of the amazing grace of the salvation of your souls through Jesus Christ… then stop being selfish and start taking care of each other!”
Ultimately we serve other because Jesus served us. And when we serve others, we are serving Jesus!
Paul wasn’t dumb. And even 2000 years ago people were busy with families, money concerns, time management problems, and the worries of life. Everyone has cars to gas up, is tired on the weekend, and problems we need to look after. We’re all in the same boat. No one is different! There is not one person in this church or any other, from the inception of the Christian faith, that cannot come up with 10 good excuses for why they can’t serve right now.
Paul’s answer to our excuses starts in verse 5:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
No one can out serve Jesus. We think we have a lot on our minds? Read the gospels and see how busy, stretched and emotionally and physically draining Jesus’ ministry. We think that we are too good to be around those kind of people? Jesus was perfect in every way, and yet humbled Himself to come to be around sinful, wretched, rebellious humanity. We think we’re too important to do that job? Jesus had the power and glory of God, and yet He washed feet, served food, stayed up till the wee hours of the night teaching the same people the same lessons over and over, and ultimately died on a cross that He didn’t deserve. We think we’re too tired to do that job? Jesus would often work all day, pray all night, and then do it all again. Jesus was arrested during the night, got no sleep, was beaten severely, and still marched towards the cross to die for our sins.
All our excuses evaporate when we look at the life of Jesus Christ – and then realize that the same Spirit that was in Christ dwells also in us, giving us access to the same spiritual resources Christ had (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:14). That is a gift… a service… that Jesus provides for us every day.
We are going to cover questions like “How does this work out practically within the church?”, “What must I do?” “Where am I to serve?” next time as we look at 1 Corinthians 12. Your homework right now is to simply get quiet with God and ask Him to examine your heart of service.
“Lord, do I have a servants heart?
Show me what areas I’m not obeying you in the area of Service,
and help me be encouraged by seeing how you have already been using me to serve others.
you say in your word that ‘whatever we have done to the least,
we have done for You’
so help me to see you in the eyes of those around me.
Help me to cultivate a soft heart of service to show you love
and spread your love around.”