In the late 1800’s, a large group of European pastors came to one of D. L. Moody’s Bible conferences in Massachusetts. As was their custom, the European guests put their shoes outside the dorm rooms at night to be cleaned by the hall servants. Of course, this was America. No hall servants, no clean shoes. Determined not to embarrass his brothers, Moody first tried to enlist help from some ministerial students, but he was met with silence or pious excuses. Eventually, Moody gathered the shoes and cleaned and polished them in his room by himself. Moody was a man with a servant’s heart.
Of all the one anothers, perhaps serve one another best characterizes the essence of Christian ministry. Certainly in our self-centered world, this message is often obscured by the warning to look out for “number one.” But the Bible says we have been set free so that we can serve and love others. If we are not careful, we may sit happily and smugly in our born-again condition and never grasp our Lord’s intention that we have been set free so that can serve one another in love.
For many of us, our spiritual lives become stagnant because we have not shared the abundance of what we have received generously from our Lord. Instead we hoard what we have received from God. It is the Lord’s intent that we be channels of His goodness. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Just as the Dead Sea is so named because it cannot support fish or plant life without outlets, we need to develop outlets through which God’s grace and goodness can flow through us to other people.
Galatians 5:13 sets forth this simple directive. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love.”
So how do we differentiate between self-focused service and Christ-focused service? Self-focused service is characterized by concern with impressive gains, external reward and results. This kind of service is often affected by feelings, and it demands the opportunity to help. On the other hand, Christ-focused service welcomes all opportunities to serve, rests in God’s approval and is free from calculating results. Spirit-empowered service disciplines the feelings and listens with tenderness and patience. It can serve by waiting in silence.
I would like to suggest three practical ways to serve one another.
Be attentive to the needs of others. When we serve one another, it is all about others – their needs, desires and preferences. It’s not about us. It’s all about them.
Be willing to perform menial, mundane tasks. Our deep desire to serve will cause us to delight in even routine and commonplace jobs, tasks that might otherwise be considered outside of our scope of interest or responsibility. I remember a time when I was stepping into the role of associate pastor at a large church in a new city. The senior pastor is one of the premier preachers in America, yet when we arrived ahead of our furniture to paint the inside of our new house, this pastor showed up in his old clothes to help us paint. He wasn’t just painting. He was serving.
Serve others cheerfully. We are often reluctant to serve others, but the Bible speaks of being eager to serve (1 Peter 5:2), serving wholeheartedly (Eph. 6:7) and serving with gladness (Psalm 100:2).
Who in your life has best demonstrated a servant’s heart toward you? What can we learn from those who have served us so that we might “serve wholeheartedly as if we were serving the Lord?” (Eph. 6:7)
Don McMinn, Ph.D. (with Kimberly Spring)
Executive Director of theiPlace.org
The 11th Commandment: More Insights into the One Anothers of Scripture