It wouldn’t be much longer until his death. The disciples were gathered together for supper with Jesus. As they were eating, Jesus got up, took off his outer garments, and filled a basin with water. The disciples sat and watched as the Son of God himself knelt down. The eternal Christ, worthy of all praise from men and angels, got on his knees before them. Their dirty feet, thoroughly covered with manure and dirt from the road, were immediately in front of him. How embarrassing to have their dirtiness so exposed before someone so pure. Instead of turning away in disgust, he proceeded to wash them where they were most unclean. After he had cleaned them all, he looked at them and said: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” His words and his actions were clear: he means for his followers to serve one another.
We are currently in a series on the Spiritual disciples. We’ve looked at reading and studying Scripture, memorizing and meditating on Scripture, prayer, and evangelism. Today we will look at the Spiritual discipline of serving.
Serve the Lord with Gladness
Every believer is to “serve the Lord with gladness!” (Psalm 100:2). We serve the Lord in obedience; we serve him out of gratitude for the “great things he has done” (1 Sam. 12:24), and we serve him with gladness and not begrudging submission. We don’t serve out of guilt or to obtain salvation, but rather we serve because we’ve been made new (if we are a child of God). The great preacher Charles Spurgeon stated it this way:
The heir of heaven serves his Lord simply out of gratitude; he has no salvation to gain, no heaven to lose;…now, out of love to the God who chose him, and who gave so great a price for his redemption, he desires to lay himself entirely to his Master’s service. O you who are seeking salvation by the works of the law, what a miserable life yours must be!…You toil and toil and toil, but you never get that which you toil after, and you never will, for, ‘by works of the law there shall no flesh living be justified.’…The child of God works not for life, but from life; he does not work to be saved, he works because he is saved.
Once a person believes in Christ, he is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers the person with spiritual gifts. We’re told in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” God doesn’t just command us to serve, he provides the gifting and abilities to serve in specific ways. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13 list the spiritual gifts.
We are to use these gifts “to build up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). This means that we are expected to use our gifting in our local church for the edification of others. We may use our gifting outside of the church as well to be a blessing to others, but if we are not using them in the church we are missing the primary purpose.
Since every Christian has a least one gift and is expected to use it to serve, then we should know our spiritual gifts. If you don’t know, one of the best ways to find out is to actively serve in your church until you find how the Lord has gifted you. Oftentimes, as we are serving, others may see how we are gifted, sometimes even before we can. I remember a good friend pointing out a gift he saw in me long before I recognized it!
Serving as a Discipline
Some may not see serving as a discipline because it should be something that we naturally do as believers. It’s true that serving should be an outflow of our heart of love for the Lord. It should be a joy to serve. However, we must also be prepared for the times when our heart doesn’t want to serve. We can be selfish, unloving, or simply too focused on our priorities to be willing to stop and serve others. In those times, we may have to discipline ourselves for obedience to the Lord while we pray for heart change. Service can be hard work.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul refers to the “work of service” and in Colossians 1:29 he refers to his “labor” that the Lord gives him the energy to do. As Dr. Whitney explains, this “means when you serve the Lord in a local church or in any type of ministry, it will often be hard…sometimes it will be agonizing and exhausting. It will take time. There will always be more entertaining things you could be doing” (126).
Like Christ, our service should be done with humility. If we only serve others because it benefits us, makes us look good, or helps our reputation, then we are not truly serving. Our desire in serving is the glory of God and the good of our neighbors. It should be Christlike rather than self-righteous service.
Whitney explains: “Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause-with proper religious modesty of course…Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. It eagerly wants to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind…The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered” (122).
May the Lord stir in our hearts a desire to selflessly serve Him and His church!
- Are you serving in your local church? If not, where/how can you begin?
- When you serve, is your motive the glory of God and edification of others, or is it a self-righteous service?
The next post will examine the next Spiritual discipline: stewardship.
Sources: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney.