Class XI: Serving and Giving
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 Christ’s 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 yourself—your time, your gifts, your resources, your energy—for the good of the church.
The model for our service to each other is Christ’s 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 we’ll 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, we’ll walk through four ways in which service can contribute to unity. Along the way, we’ll 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s strength
Paul makes another important point in Ephesians 4:12, where he says that all these gifts are given "to prepare God’s 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.
That’s why God gives gifts to his people—not 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 he’s been gifted, and who fears that he cannot find fulfillment if he’s 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 God’s 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. It’s worth a few brownie points with the leaders. Besides, I'm pretty good at that sort of thing; I’ll 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, who—just to make it more interesting—has been down with the flu lately, says "Man, I’d love to go and help clean the church, but I’m 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. He’s not out to impress anyone. He’s there because it gives him joy to be working with God’s 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 them—in 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, we read:
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 don’t 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 God’s kingdom.
"Service Gone Wrong" #2
That’s "Service Gone Wrong #2"—serving because of guilt rather than because of gratitude and recognition that our service is building God’s 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. It’s the difference between letting your perfume-laden aunt kiss you when you’re a kid (because you’re supposed to), and joyfully enduring a long journey to visit loved ones when you’re 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 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 God’s kingdom.
What If We Don’t Feel Joy?
Now this may raise a question in your mind. What if we don’t 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 people’s eyes. It’s all about our motivations, finally. If we’ve become content with our cold heart and just want to fool people into thinking we’re 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 wouldn’t exist! What makes Christ’s 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 God’s 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 we’re 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 time—single members, for example—build up the body by helping members move, by babysitting, or by going on mission trips.
- If you’re 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 relationships—families with children, for example—build 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 church’s life. Thus we should be content with the gifts our wise and loving God has chosen to give us.
"Service Gone Wrong" #3
So we come to "Service Gone Wrong #3"—the person who gives up serving because they don’t 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 valuable—the widow’s two copper coins or the thousands from the wealthy? (Mark 12:42-44)
Does It Dishonor God to Ask for More Gifts?
But that raises another question. Does all this mean we shouldn’t 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, it’s all in the motivation. If we desire more spiritual gifts for our own glory or because we’re 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 us—and 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 don’t need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t 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 that’s 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 church’s 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 people’s service, particularly in areas of ministry that may be unseen or behind the scenes. Send a card of encouragement, or thank someone for their work—whether it’s 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 aren’t 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 God’s 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 benefits—for 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 Lord’s and everything in it," says Psalm 24:1.
That’s 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 ways—and many others—unity 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 it overflows.
This is an amazing challenge from God. It isn’t a guarantee of getting rich. It's a guarantee that God will give us all we need to abound in every good work. Don’t 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!
It’s 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
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.
III. PERSEVERING IN DOING GOOD
Let’s close with two final points about service in the church.
First, Persevere in Service Through Christ’s 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 God’s Word. Just as food provides the fuel necessary for our physical well-being, prayer and God’s Word provide the spiritual nourishment that fuels our service. When we remind ourselves of God’s 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 God’s grandeur and grace.
"Service Gone Wrong" #6
That brings us to our last instance of service gone wrong—exhausting 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 that—from 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 children’s 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, God’s 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.