Why serving others is an important part of Christian faith

  • This talk gave the context to the idea of why, as Christians, serving others is so important. You can listen to this talk on the Glenwood Church website.

    It looked at the importance of serving, our attitudes when serving, and why we should take the opportunity to serve because actually it underpins our understanding of who Jesus is and who we are.

    There are different ways we can serve people. It might be a one-off thing, like a meal. It might be something you do regularly; every week, or every day, even.

    In Galatian’s 5, the apostle Paul wrote that “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

    The only thing.

    You can serve in big ways. You can serve in small ways. But the important thing is that when you serve, you are expressing your faith through an act of love.

    And that’s the only thing that counts, according to the apostle Paul.

    Jesus says something very similar in Matthew’s gospel, when he is talking to the Pharisees. He says:

    “What do you think?”

    “There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

    “’I will not,” his son answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

    “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. The other son answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

    “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

    The Pharisees said it was the first one.

    What Jesus is saying is that what we do is more important than what we say.

    How we live our lives is the evidence of our salvation. That’s a very simple point. You don’t try and live a good life so that God will accept you. Because God has accepted you, and forgiven you, that changes the way you live. Serving others is the outcome of our salvation, not the way we earn it.

    I love that parable of the two sons.

    It gives me hope.

    The first son is how I feel most of the time. You know when someone asks you to do something and you feel a bit swamped and you don’t want to do it. The first son has a bad attitude. He just says no.

    The second son is that eager-to-please guy who always says yes. Yeah, I’ll be there. And then just doesn’t turn up.

    It’s not necessarily about attitude. It’s about whether you do it or not.

    Attitude helps, don’t get me wrong. If you’re going to serve, then serving grumpily isn’t ideal. But even grumpy service is better than none at all. So, if you’re feeling grumpy and defensive today, get over it and start serving.

    Be the first son.

    But equally, don’t be the second. Don’t commit to something and then bail.

    We have already covered how showing love to one another is the only thing that matters, and that our attitude shouldn’t get in the way.

    But the idea of serving goes further. It goes to the heart of the gospel and our understanding of who Jesus is.

    Serving is an essential part of Jesus’ life, and ultimately his death.

    In Matthew 20 verses 25-28, it says:

    Jesus called his disciples together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

    Now, whenever we are talking about what we do and who we are as Christians we need to start with Jesus.

    “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    That’s an important statement about Jesus. It’s a statement he makes about himself.

    It’s his understanding of his mission to this world.

    If we are serious about being followers of Jesus, of living up to the label ‘Christian’, then we have to take this idea that we only become great Christians when we serve others to heart.

    When the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Philippi, he says this:

    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2. 5-8)

    “He made himself nothing” is the word ekenwsen – kenosis, which means ‘emptied himself’. That’s the phrase you find in some Bibles.

    Kenotic theology is the idea that when Jesus became a human he voluntarily divested himself of divinity and became a genuine human, with human weaknesses and limitations and needs.

    Paul says Jesus did this in order to take the ‘very nature of a servant’.

    There are two main points I want to quickly make there.

    One is to truly serve, we have to empty ourselves. Perhaps of our pride. Perhaps of our rights and maybe our self-righteousness. We have to become selfless. This isn’t easy to do. But that’s the model that Jesus gives us.

    The second thing is that to make yourself nothing is not the same as being made to feel like nothing by someone else. To put aside your rights or your authority or your power is very different to having someone take it from you. You stay in control.

    This was Jesus choosing to become a servant, choosing to give his life as a ransom for many – a ransom for me; a ransom for you.

    So, if we truly believe that Jesus is the human incarnation of God, then that means ‘service’ is elemental to God’s very nature. In God’s eternal nature is the understanding of what it means to empty yourself, put aside divinity, be born a human, live as a human, feel fear and anguish and sadness and pain, and to know death.

    Did you know that when Friedrich Nietzsche famously said that God was dead, he was only saying what Christianity had already been saying for almost two thousand years. We are the only world religion that says the God we worship knows what it means to die.

    Because our God became human.

    Because our King became a servant. 

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