When you think about the concept of “service”, what comes to mind? Do you think of financial giving? Do you think of giving of your time? To you, what counts?
When I have free time, I often worry about whether or not I could be using that time to the benefit of others. Lately and due to happiness, sometimes it feels like I must not really be serving, because whether I’m listening to a friend, trying to put my best foot forward in class discussions, working with the kiddos at my church, or whatever else in between, it doesn’t take anything out of me. For whatever reason, the idea that service has to be draining is so firmly rooted in my brain. That concept doesn’t make sense for various reasons.
While it is true that giving unto others can be difficult, it doesn’t necessary have to be taxing. Isaiah 40:31 tells us that we will “run and not grow weary…walk and not grow faint” if we wait in the Lord, and serve as he has commanded us. God doesn’t always command us to serve like we are passing out cups of juice at a soup kitchen, his means are much more broad and common than that. Is it service if you get paid for it? If you do your job to the best of your abilities, are you serving if you also receive a paycheck? What about serving as a parent? If no one thanks you, is it service?
1st Corinthians 10:31 tells us that “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (NIV). By the understanding that God can be in all that we do and we can serve him in all things, whether or not you enjoying your service doesn’t count against you, but not all service will be enjoyable.
Furthermore, Romans 12:6-8 tells us that the manner of service will be slightly different depending on which spiritual gifts we have received, likewise with the goal of giving all glory and praise to God:6 “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[a] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (ESV).
Personally, the “acts of mercy” gift has always intrigued me most, because that gift would clearly require a cheerful spirit (if you were working with those who felt unable to be saved/helped).
Furthermore, if service were all miserable, then how could we enjoy our relationships with God, as being his earthly servants? Wouldn’t that just make the gift of grace and salvation really suck? And yet, God’s holy spirit redeems us; hemming us in and protecting us in every possible way. If God’s grace wasn’t actually good, this would be a lot more like bondage to the world.
Not just that, but if serving God couldn’t be good, then Christ wouldn’t have received such glory from God and inheritance by being a faithful servant unto us all. Every time you feel the touch of the Holy Spirit, Jesus did that for you and is sending it on your behalf. That’s a whole lot of service, and even though I’m sure he enjoyed parts of it, I am certain that there are parts that he did not (including but not limited to the Cross).
So what about all that discussion about whether Christians are redeemed by works (service) or faith? I’ve heard it various ways at this point, and I’m not sure you can separate the two. By faith and the love of God, both by the Holy Spirit and in the image of one another, we serve those around us. And yet, would it be faith if we were not servants of the one we call most holy? That would be some pretty empty religion.
Is it faith or service when I engage with the Holy Spirit and am obedient unto God? Can you really separate the two? If they are in the same spirit, and to serve God was the faith in Christ, are they maybe synonymous? Human ideas of physical labor and menial chores aren’t the same thing as service to God, because we will still be able to serve God post-Second Coming, when we will live in communion with God in Heaven and in perfect service. To serve God is to love him, so maybe service is a means to deepen one’s faith and also take care of Christ’s practical needs here on earth? If service were not spiritual as well as practical (as in, serving Christ’s physical needs), then who would have supplied for the Apostles physical needs here on earth, and by what means would the world be becoming discipled? Why would anyone donate money to their churches or have people who engage with missions on staff in order to care for others in the world if prayer was the only necessity?
It goes without saying that if you serve Christ with your whole heart, and your whole body, and your whole mind, these things will follow cyclically from one another. But what happens when you convince yourself you are serving others, but are really serving yourself? Or when you are serving yourself, and you somehow happen to serve others, perhaps without realizing it? Part of the reason I think a lot of this stuff must be intertwined and only perfectly visible to God is the limited scope of what we are able to recognize and esteem. So many times in my life, I have immensely benefited from someone else’s steadfast love, whether or not they realized that or were able to appreciate it like I did. Not even if you tell people will they often understand how impactful their kindness can be on your life. Surely, that too is a form of service, although I doubt that all those people who cultivate that gift take notice of it.
If service is only with time and only takes away, then how can the Holy Spirit stand to be in it, and refresh a person’s spirit? Do we serve for ourselves as well as others? Are those mutually exclusive factors? How can anyone get even an inch of satisfaction out of their life’s work if they don’t see God’s Holy Spirit in at least some aspect of it? How can you give to others if you don’t carry that spirit into whatever you do? Even if someone is serving for free, that doesn’t mean they are serving in the spirit, and that doesn’t mean that they will leave more in the place they give to than they took from it. Like Judas and the moneybag, you can be convinced and self-righteous that you are doing a good thing, and in reality, it’s just for your own fame.
It goes without saying that if it were merely about what we could give back, then Christ would have never needed to come to save humanity in the first place, because we would have been damned and indebted. If service depends not on us but on his spirit, then where does the spirit of measuring up come in? It surely must come from the enemy. And even then, if we abide in service without the Holy Spirit, we have taken it upon ourselves to “give” without giving. At that point, the spirit of taking away has come from us, and it is a good time to take stock and repent.
Really, this discussion can be reduced to just a couple ravenous sins. Either a person who is preoccupied with much serving (like Martha) doesn’t trust that God’s love is his or her justification, and is mighty enough to cover all sin (hence trying to over do it in order to earn salvation), OR empty service has carved out a place in that person’s life that isn’t really for God. It could be both!
At any point in our lives, it isn’t a bad thing to consider how we spend our time, energy, resources, and passion to uphold and extend the kingdom of God. However, we are saved by a faith that is much more fundamental than what we are personally able to deliver, and all good things that we are able to accomplish are a result of Christ’s power working through us.