Serving

 

serve

 

Galatians 5:13-26

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

We all live in what FEELS like a fast-paced world. And while it is true that there are times when things move fast and require immediate action, much of the urgency we feel around and in us is artificial and/or self-induced. We feel pressured to keep up with everyone else. We want to be as in-the-know as the next person. We don’t want to feel uninformed or ill-equipped with regard to the latest technology. The general sense is that we need it (whatever “it” is) and we need it now.

This is true with regard to our next Amazon delivery, but it is also the way we often feel about our skills and competencies. If we can’t learn it quickly we often choose to move on. We quit this job in hopes we’ll be recognized as the master we see ourselves to be in the next position. We forego learning to play the piano or flute (too much boring practice); we form shallow, ill-considered positions on issues without thoroughly examining the basis for our bias (too much tedious research and introspection); we skip the tutorials and jump right into using the barest, most meager features of the latest software (I’ll just figure it out as I go).

Most of the hurry and skipped steps costs us in the long term. We miss out on the joy of creativity and mastery, the satisfaction and comfort of knowing ourselves, and the efficiency which comes from more comprehensive knowledge.

And while we’re diddling with our devices and creating false urgencies, we’re often also squandering opportunities to serve; to act upon our world instead of being bystanders in it. Who has time to serve, anyway? We’re always exhausted!

Yet, the Apostle Paul encourages us to serve one another; to take action on behalf of those around us in a way that offers no promise of personal benefit to us. And he, curiously, begins this admonition to serve with this statement: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.”

Now, our idealistic notion of freedom is a picture of no restraints or restrictions. I can do and be anything I want. But perfect freedom as we may envision it is unachievable. Even if you’re in a situation like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie, Castaway, where your actions have absolutely no impact upon other people, there are always laws, laws of nature, which govern us. It turns out, Hanks’ character did not have unlimited free time because he needed to find food, he had to build shelter, and he had to figure out how to get rescued. And, ultimately, he was so starved for companionship that he painted a face on a volleyball and named it Wilson (after its brand name) so he could talk to it.

Was he free? Well, he had no one telling him what to do, but he couldn’t do whatever he wanted because of the laws of nature. This reminds us, then, that absolute freedom is impossible and anything which approaches the appearance of absolute freedom is usually selfish and self-indulgent; fostering the kind of person most of us find least desirable to be around.

The alternative, Paul tells us, is to embrace service. Service is the opportunity to voluntarily deny ourselves the pursuit of absolute freedom in order to act on behalf of someone else. Service makes someone else’s life better while making our own life better for having served. And service, Paul tells us, is an outflow of an inward relationship with our selfless and generous Heavenly Father who sent His Spirit to dwell in us to counteract our natural, fleshly tendency to make life all about us.

The presence of the Holy Spirit, we learn, produces unique characteristics in us: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Contrast that with our fleshly nature which produces a person characterized by sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like.

Which person characterized by any or all of these attributes would you prefer to associate with? Which person do you suppose has the most deep appreciation for and joy in the life they are living?

Peter, the same Peter who knew and learned directly from Jesus, sounded a similar theme in his first letter to the church.

1 Peter 4:7-11

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

Peter reminds us that our gifts, talents and aptitudes are not for us alone; they are conduits through which we may serve others. So if you’re wondering how to serve, you may look at the ways in which you are gifted and equipped and consider how to leverage those attributes to serve others. Maybe you didn’t get that degree just so you could obtain a better job. Maybe God has a long range plan for you to use your education to serve His purposes. Maybe you’re not a visionary just so you can be successful in business; maybe God can use you to bring innovation and freshness to His Kingdom and His church.

One thing is certain, we are all “free” to serve. And we get to decide whether or not we will.

 

 

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