Serving and Giving: Sacrifice for the Sake of Unity
"Living as a Church"Class 11
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:
- Each Christian has received a gift.
- The gift is not deserved, but is all of Gods grace.
- We are responsible to use that gift.
- We should use it for the benefit of others and for the glory of God;
- We should serve through Gods strength
Paul makes another important point in Ephesians 4:12, where he says that all
these gifts are given "to prepare Gods people for works of service, so that
the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and
in the knowledge of the Son of God."
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.
"Service Gone Wrong" #1
That brings up the first example of "Service Gone Wrong"the person who
feels entitled to serve in the way he thinks hes been gifted, and who fears
that he cannot find fulfillment if hes not serving in that particular way.
That person has misunderstood this passage and the whole idea of service
as well. Service in the church is for the strengthening of the body, not
for our own personal fulfillment.
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" #2
Thats "Service Gone Wrong #2"serving because of guilt rather than because
of gratitude and recognition that our service is building Gods kingdom.
What does guilt-driven service say about God? It says that we are serving not
because we want to, but because we have to. Its the difference
between letting your perfume-laden aunt kiss you when youre a kid (because
youre supposed to), and joyfully enduring a long journey to visit loved ones
when youre an adult (because the reward is worth more than the cost).
Paul 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
What a great description! The Macedonian Christians urgently pleaded
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
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
One obstacle to a church full of joyful service is when its members are hamstrung
by a feeling of uselessness. That can lead to envy of others or even discontentment
with God himself. Paul directly rejects this idea of uselessness in 1 Corinthians
12, where he again uses this wonderful image of a body with many members.
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:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the
whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
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:
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just
as he wanted them to be.
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.
- If you are rich in timesingle members, for examplebuild up the body by
helping members move, by babysitting, or by going on mission trips.
- If youre rich in money, support the church financially, both regularly
and for special projects and unexpected needs. Keep a special eye out for
members who have financial needs that are sapping their joy and hindering
their own service.
- If you are rich in relationshipsfamilies with children, for examplebuild
up the body by mentoring other members. Invite single members to spend time
with your family, or provide a home-away-from-home for college students.
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
"Service Gone Wrong" #3
Does It Dishonor God to Ask for More Gifts?
So we come to "Service Gone Wrong #3"the person who gives up serving because
they dont see their contribution as important. We must never understand service
to God as valuable primarily because of the temporal result. Service is valuable,
whatever the size of its immediate impact, because of what it says about how
much we value God. Which did Jesus say was more valuablethe widows two copper
coins or the thousands from the wealthy? (Mark 12:42-44)
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,
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I dont need you!" And the head cannot
say to the feet, "I dont need you!"
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.
"Service Gone Wrong" #4
Service can go horribly wrong here when people grumble that others in the
church arent doing their fair share. Where does that attitude come from?
At some level, it comes from a poor understanding of how God values service
in the church. Maybe it comes from pride, a confusion of the value of
service with the quantity of service. On the other hand, maybe it
comes from a heart that is too quick to disdain and condemn those who are
missing out on Gods great gift of service, and not quick enough to show
such people compassion and help them find their place in the body.
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
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.
- The money you give allows the church to support church planting in this
area and around the world.
- It supports the regular preaching of the Word of God.
- It pays staff so they can serve us without having to work outside the church
to support their families.
- It helps the church to build up and encourage members, providing for the
needs of those members who are less fortunate through a benevolence fund.
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:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in
My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not
open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until
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!
Its worth noting, too, that giving faithfully also helps us to control our
spending on things that may not be good for us. There is an almost infallible
human rule: Spending expands to fill income. If you make more, you buy more,
and the things you buy have to be stored and repaired and insured.
One way to work against the tendency to desire more and more from this world
is to make sure that as our income grows we give a greater and greater percentage
of it to advance the kingdom.
John Wesley was one of the great evangelists of the 18th century, born in 1703.
In 1731, he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to
give to the poor. In the first year his income was 30 pounds. He found he could
live on 28, and so gave away two. In the second year his income doubled to
60 pounds, but he held his expenses even, so he had 32 pounds to give away.
In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds, and he gave away 62. In his
long life, Wesley's income advanced to as high as 1,400 pounds in a year, but
he rarely let his expenses rise above 30 pounds. Well, this baffled the English
Tax Commissioners so badly that they investigated him in 1776, insisting that
a man of his income must have some silver dishes somewhere that he was not
paying excise tax on!
"Service Gone Wrong" #5
III. PERSEVERING IN DOING GOOD
So there is "Service Gone Wrong #5" the person who serves only slightly because
their heart is captured by the world. As Christians, we should take care that
our minds remain set on the things of heaven, not on the things of this world.
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.
When that happens, fall back on your call to be a servant. Make sure your service
is fueled by prayer and a healthy dose of Gods Word. Just as food provides
the fuel necessary for our physical well-being, prayer and Gods Word provide
the spiritual nourishment that fuels our service. When we remind ourselves
of Gods goodness, and of what he has done for us in Christ, we are re-energized
to serve him.
It is when we are spiritually dry that our service becomes just another chore,
and we become weary and discouraged. Service stops being the fruit of the Spirit
and becomes the works of the flesh. So ignite your heart and mind to service
with thoughts of Gods grandeur and grace.
"Service Gone Wrong" #6
That brings us to our last instance of service gone wrongexhausting ourselves
by trying to serve in our own strength, rather than serving out of growing
and vibrant relationship with God. There is a fight to be fought in the Christian
life. But it is not the struggle to serve as much as we can in our own strength.
The fight is to grow in the knowledge and love of our Lord, to be satisfied
in him, and then to serve out of the overflow of all thatfrom a heart filled
with a deep love for God and a desire to serve because it brings great joy.
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:
- Serve in the childrens ministry.
- Give rides to seniors.
- Help with the college ministry or the youth group.
- Show hospitality by setting up the snacks after the service.
- Write cards of encouragement.
- Greet visitors.
- Volunteer to help copy sermon tapes and CDs.
- Help set up for weddings and funerals.
- Have people over for dinner.
- Talk with the awkward person after the Sunday morning service.
- Build relationships with people who struggle to form relationships.
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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