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Class XI: Serving and Giving
Serving and Giving: Sacrifice for the Sake of Unity
In Mark 10:45, Jesus says, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Jesus also calls us to take up the cross and follow him. Part of how we do this is to serve Christs body, the church. As he says in Mark 10:43, "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant." Greatness in Jesus' eyes is serving others, especially in the church.
This morning, we are considering how we should serve and give to the church. What do we mean by serving or giving? We mean spending yourselfyour time, your gifts, your resources, your energyfor the good of the church.
The model for our service to each other is Christs service to us. Just as Jesus service was a result of his love both for us and for his Father, our service to others should flow from a love for other people and for God. In serving, our joy in Christ overflows with generosity.
Today well consider how God has called us to serve each other in the church, and how that service contributes to unity. Starting with a theology of service, well walk through four ways in which service can contribute to unity. Along the way, well flag several different instances of "Service Gone Wrong"that is, ways we can stumble into an attitude that fails to glorify God.
I. A THEOLOGY OF SERVICE
In 1 Peter 4:10-11, we read:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering Gods grace in it various forms. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.This passage provides a theology of service within the church. From it, we learn five simple but important truths:
All these gifts are for the strengthening the whole body, not just various parts. We are to minister to each other with the goal not just of helping individuals, but of helping the whole body grow to maturity in Christ. Ultimately, we are striving for unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.
Thats why God gives gifts to his peoplenot primarily as a means of fulfillment for us as individuals, but for the maturing of his church.
II. HOW SHOULD WE SERVE IN A WAY THAT PROMOTES UNITY?
Given this goal of unity, what should characterize our service in the church? What should be our motive for serving and giving of ourselves?
First, Serve in Gods Strength and with Great Joy
God is not finally interested in his people merely doing good deeds, but rather doing good deeds in a spirit of joyful dependence on him. Remember 1 Peter 4:10, where Peter says, "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength of God."
Imagine two people considering whether to help with a clean-up at the church. One says, "Oh, I suppose I'll go. Its worth a few brownie points with the leaders. Besides, I'm pretty good at that sort of thing; Ill be able to impress the folks there." So he comes and grumbles about the tools, and talks on and on about his abilities. He works, but his attitude lacks the joy and gratitude that ought to characterize Christian service, and is marked by a selfish desire to impress others.
The other person, whojust to make it more interestinghas been down with the flu lately, says "Man, Id love to go and help clean the church, but Im just not feeling up to it. Maybe I could just go and talk to people and encourage them. Or maybe I could just pour coffee." So he prays, and as it turns out he feels well enough (and non-contagious enough) to go and help with the clean-up. He does the best he can with a rag and broom. Hes not out to impress anyone. Hes there because it gives him joy to be working with Gods people.
As these two (perhaps somewhat extreme) examples highlight, what matters
to God is not merely that we use our gifts, but how we
use themin cheerful reliance on him. This is the attitude we should have
when we give our time, money, or energy to the church. In 2 Corinthians 9:7,
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Of course, too often we dont give cheerfully, but merely out of guilt or compulsion. But Scripture exhorts us to give joyfully because it allows us to participate in the building up of Gods kingdom.
"Service Gone Wrong" #2Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 8:2-3 how the Macedonian churches gave in just this kind of gracious spirit:
Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.What a great description! The Macedonian Christians urgently pleaded for the privilege of serving. Our service should be characterized by the same kind of joyful attitude. Moreover, we should try to cultivate this attitude by preaching the gospel to ourselves, and by thinking of service to others as a high privilege, an opportunity to be involved in advancing Gods kingdom.
What If We Dont Feel Joy?
Now this may raise a question in your mind. What if we dont have this attitude? What if our service is cold or partly motivated by guilt or fear of man? Should we stop giving? Would it be hypocritical if we continued to serve?No, not if our goal is to drown our bad motives with good deeds, rather than to pull the wool over peoples eyes. Its all about our motivations, finally. If weve become content with our cold heart and just want to fool people into thinking were thrilled to be serving the church, then we are indeed hypocrites. But repenting from coldness of heart may very well mean throwing ourselves into service and praying that God will give us joy.
Second, Never Believe that You Are Useless for Service
Paul explains that the body of Christ depends on diversity. God has gifted church members in many different ways, and when we compare ourselves with others, we are actually resisting that God-ordained diversity. Thus Paul says in verse 17:
And then in verse 19: "If they were all one part, where would the body be?"
The answer is simple: The body wouldnt exist! What makes Christs body function at all is the diversity of gifts among its members.
Moreover, Paul reminds us that the way gifts are apportioned is a matter of Gods sovereignty. In verse 18, he says:
God designs the parts of the body just as he wants, and he does it for our good. If we say we are useless or wallow in discontent, we are second-guessing the way God has distributed his gifts in the body of Christ.
What does this mean for us? It means we should serve in the church anywhere we can. We should thank God for the gifts he has given us, and we should not feel useless or discontent merely because were not serving in the way we might wish we were. There are so many ways to serve in this church that are crucial to its health, and different parts of the body serve in different but important ways.This is not just true of spiritual gifts, either, but also of the physical gifts that God gives us. Some members are particularly rich in time, others in money or relationships.
Every member of the body is useful and integral to the churchs life. Thus we should be content with the gifts our wise and loving God has chosen to give us.
"Service Gone Wrong" #3Does It Dishonor God to Ask for More Gifts?
But that raises another question. Does all this mean we shouldnt desire other spiritual gifts? If God is the one who gives us gifts according to his good pleasure, does it dishonor him to ask for gifts we do not have now?
No. Scripture says it is good for Christians to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts we don't have. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, Paul tells the Corinthians to "eagerly desire spiritual gifts." The fact is, we can long for spiritual gifts we don't have without regarding the ones we do have as useless. We can ask God to give us more gifts without coveting those of others. Again, its all in the motivation. If we desire more spiritual gifts for our own glory or because were jealous of others, we are sinning. But if we desire them so that we can serve the church even more, then we are simply asking God to glorify himself in usand that is a desire every Christian should have.
Third, We Should Use Our Gifts Humbly
In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, Paul admonishes those members who might feel useless or discontent with their gifts. But he turns in verses 21 to 26 to exhort those who have been given gifts of greater responsibility to exercise those gifts with humility. In verse 21 we read,
Those in positions of greater responsibility or visibility in the church must not carry out their duties with an air of superiority. Unity in diversity is impossible without Christ-like humility, and it is those who have the most responsibility in the church who must show the most humility. When thats lacking, people can become territorial, bitter, and suspicious. The results are devastating for the unity of the church.
We should recognize and honor the service of all the churchs members, no matter how visible or invisible, no matter how significant or insignificant their service may appear to be. A great way to do this is to acknowledge peoples service, particularly in areas of ministry that may be unseen or behind the scenes. Send a card of encouragement, or thank someone for their workwhether its running the sound system, duplicating audio tapes and CDs of sermons, or working in the nursery.
Fourth, we should serve because it glorifies God and produces many other benefits.
Our service to the church yields several benefitsfor ourselves, for others, and most importantly for the glory of God.
Giving Money Glorifies God
Take for example the service we render by giving financially to the church. When we give faithfully, God is glorified because we are simply returning to him what is already his. "The earth is the Lords and everything in it," says Psalm 24:1.
Thats why we talk about money not so much by focusing on tithing, but to focus on lifestyle. What we do with every cent of our money says something about our view of God and what he means to us. With that view, we should give as much beyond the tithe as we can.
Giving Money Enables Good Deeds
Giving faithfully also glorifies God by enabling good deeds to be done.
In these waysand many othersunity is promoted in our church as we share the money and possessions God has given us. Indeed there is no clearer example of this than in Acts 4:32-37, where the believers were sharing everything with each other.
Giving Money Benefits the Giver
Finally, our giving also benefits us. In Malachi 3:10, the Lord says:
This is an amazing challenge from God. It isnt a guarantee of getting rich.
It's a guarantee that God will give us all we need to abound in every good
work. Dont just think of this verse in terms of money, either. Take risks
to serve God and his church. You will find that you are far more conservative
in your estimation of your ability to give than your all-powerful God is!
"Service Gone Wrong" #5III. PERSEVERING IN DOING GOOD
Lets close with two final points about service in the church.
First, Persevere in Service Through Christs Power
Paul warned his readers in 2 Thessalonians 3:13: "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good."
Why does he warn of this? Because it happens often. People tire in their
service. When year follows year and weariness sets in, there may be a temptation
to pull back or even stop serving altogether.
Second, Look for Opportunities to Serve in this Church
As you think about serving the church, know that there are countless opportunities. Here are just a few:
For almost two thousand years, Gods people have faithfully served in the church. They have been driven by a love of God and a desire to glorify him. We are a people who are driven to serve because the Lord Jesus Christ has served us in unfathomable ways. May we be quick and zealous to serve each other in this church; may our service flow from a passion for Christ; and may it be characterized by great joy and thanksgiving.
May/June 2008, ©9Marks
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