Monday, December 22, 2008

The Gospel and Service

My current church emphasizes service as a primary way of being Christian. I'd like to try to apply my understanding of the Gospel to service.

1) We're commanded to serve each other as Christ served us. (John 13:14).

2) The bad news: we can't obey this command. Most of us probably fail multiple times every day to lay down our lives for our brothers; the cruciform life of perfect submission to others as far beyond us as infinity is beyond finitude.

In part, we simply lack the capacity to serve like Christ. We don't even have the wisdom to know how to serve perfectly. But even within our capacity, we generally choose not to serve. Why? One reason is because we think that if we pour ourselves out for others, we won't have enough left over for ourselves. If we take someone into our house, won't they take too much of our time and resources? If we give of ourselves into the oceanic need of the world, what will we have left? We fear really serving others because we believe we have to take care of ourselves.

In other instances, we're simply selfish. We don't want to serve someone else because it's unpleasant. We want to serve ourselves.

Other times we don't think people deserve our help.

3) The good new: in Christ, we have been utterly taken care of. "TheLord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…" In Christ, our fears of not having enough are groundless as we find that we have been, are being, and will be taken care of by Him who does not sleep, slumber, or fail. In Christ, even if we give away all our treasure on earth, we have faith that we have stored up treasure for ourselves where itreally matters, in heaven with Him. In Christ, we are rich beyond measure, and therefore no service can impoverish us.

And the way Christ accomplished all of this was by giving over his whole life, to the point of being killed on a cross, for us. And then he took up his own life again and was exalted into heaven.

No deserved this kind of service; nevertheless we received it. How can this not change our hearts toward serving others?

4) Because Christ has served (saved) us in this way, we can serve others. We don't need to fear not having enough time or resources: Christ has promised to take care of that. And even our selfishnessis changed. If we're truly interested in our own well-being, we'll serve others and store up treasure in heaven. Our hearts are warmed in love by Christ's service of us, and we want to serve others. And further, in Christ, we have His nature, and , as we mature in Him beyond our fleshly selfishness, we find that it is our nature to want to serve others as did our Lord.

The crux of serving others is to have faith in the one God sent, Emmanuel. (John 6:29).


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

"In Christ, we are rich beyond measure, and therefore no service can impoverish us."

Hence, the saying "There is no loss with Jesus."

You're on the right track with the points you've made in every instance. What we find in our lives in Christ is that following Jesus, we go in and out of the place where the spiritual reality of 1 John 3:16, "laying down our lives for each other" is happening. When we are in that place, we know that's where we should always be, where we would want to always be, "if only it weren't for…"

Sadly, in my experience with church, I find that it is the church itself which removes this possibility from us, unless we go off and pursue it on our own, as individuals or as families. It is almost exclusively when we have done this, that we enter into that place where we know, instinctively in Christ, that we were and are meant to be. Yet, when we return to "church" and its activities (except for worship) we find it quite barren of the possibility for this kind of life. Even in communities that focus on "service" as the way of Christian life in the world, often that "service" is limited, self-conscious, self-rewarding, and even meaningless in the worst cases.

I am NOT saying this is universally true. I have been in at least one congregation in which this was NOT true at all: The church itself was so deeply committed in word and deed to living the life of 1 John 3:16, and so unself-consciously, that this community was a miracle and a shining light in its area. (This was Saint James Anglican Church in Vancouver, B.C., situated at the junction of skid row and Chinatown.) I also have heard of, but not experienced for myself, a community in Los Angeles called the Dream Center. I've seen their broadcasts on TV, and they do seem to be doing very good work among the disadvantaged, but you can't always tell what is really going on from "the movies."

In John 13:14 it seems we're told to serve one another as Christ served us. Does this mean only to serve only other Christians?

The corrective is found in 1 John 3:16, where we are told to lay down our lives for our brothers. And who are our brothers? Anyone for whom Christ died. And who did He die for? Everyone, regardless of race, creed, or any other qualifier.

The bad news, that we cannot obey this command, is not really true. It IS true if we think WE are doing the work, but if we know that it is not we who do the work, but Christ in us, then there is no question of it being impossible. This is not mere rhetoric on my part. If we WANT to obey this command, we CAN obey it. What intimidates us is, where to begin, how deep must we go?

You probably know where I'm going with this. I'm going to say things like, "peace begins with a smile," or "small acts of courage," both of which were topics in my blog. I seem to have a rather one track mind, as I've been accused of. I admit it.

You start by letting yourself say ‘Yes’ to a situation that God brings before you, trusting Him to supply what is needed and to perform the work, with you as His helper. Here is where it is better to be honest and confess that you cannot do it, but ask Him to show you what you CAN do, even in the given situation. Remember Paul's words that we are not to think we must impoverish ourselves in helping others, but do and give what we can, because it is simply allowing God to even out needs versus resources (2 Corinthians 8:13-14). This teaching is not mainly applicable here, but really concerns church collections; still, the principle applies here as well, at least as encouragement at the beginning.

Once you start by saying ‘Yes’ to the small opportunities for "laying down your life" (stop thinking of it as "service," because that somehow directs all your attention to yourself), the more you continue to do so (although at times you may say ‘No’), the more fully you begin to participate in Christ's giving His life for the world, and though you lay down more and more of your life for your brothers, it feels like He is laying down more and more of His life for you.

The sayings of the saints and of holy scripture gradually change from being ideas you need to strive to understand and put into practice, to becoming prophetic words about the life you are already living, in Christ.

Forgive me, brother, but what you wrote, "We fear really serving others because we believe we have to take care of ourselves," reminds me of a story in the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

A woman, Dráupadi by name, who was the wife of the five Pandáva brothers, was lost to their enemy Duryódhana in a game of dice. When Duryódhana came to take his winnings, he tried to yank off Dráupadi’s sari, to see her nakedness. Dráupadi at first held on to the sari tightly with one hand, while lifting the other in prayer to the Lord for protection. Duryódhana yanked harder and almost pulled off her sari. Suddenly, Dráupadi thought of the Lord, and let go the edge of her sari, praying to God with both hands lifted. What happened? Duryódhana thought he had disrobed Dráupadi with one more fierce yank on the silk, but no. He pulled and pulled, as bolts of silken material glided into a huge pile on the floor, yet Dráupadi was still clad. His frustration and fierceness worked against him to weaken him, and then Dráupadi punched him in the face and landed him in the pile of silk. It was when she stopped trying to protect herself and trusted the Lord, that He protected her by multiplying the silken fabric. I like this story, as what it says is very, very true. Of course, there are stories like this in the scriptures and in the saints, but for some reason, this pagan myth has stayed in my active imagination for years. Even in the myths of paganism the light has shown, that enlightens every man who comes into the world.

Did my telling of this story remove us from the discussion at hand? I hope not. The main thing I wanted to comment has been already said, here and in a dozen places. I only want to encourage you, brother (as well as your wife, for the two are one), to seek (and not merely wait for) the life in Christ that consists in imitating Him by laying down your lives for each other, then for those around you, more and more as you grow more like Him, whose image it is your call to reflect. In that life, the life of 1 John 3:16, is the living proof of the truth of John 3:16, in you, and to the world.

Ben said...

Kenny, somewhere in your commentary and - more importantly - in the Gospel, I think we find the answer to your dilemma bout meeting that guy in Durham/Chapel Hill who basically took advantage of your attempted generosity (the one with the kid whom you wrote the short story about).

It's not about whether the person we attempt to serve deserves it or will harm us. It's about our hearts, and whether we are being faithful to the Lord's command. (Now, certainly there's a place for seeking wisdom - which begins with knowing God - for how to use our resources.) And the Holy Spirit now enables us to have hearts that truly serve. And he's faithfully completing that work in us daily.

Hallelujah! Or, in language that's more accessible to me, "Yaaaaaay!!!!"