A Theology of Serving

With every passing year, people find more ways than ever to fill their time.  Between work and family and all the extra-curricular actives that go along with that, there is very little time for anything (or anyone) else. For many Christians, just getting to church on Sundays is a major success. “Surely, God understands my schedule.  After all, I can only do so much. So, why should I serve?” That’s the question we have started the year asking at The Gathering. It’s an important question and one that must be asked if we, as the Church and as individual disciples, must ask (even for those who are already involved in life up to their noses).  This is perhaps most important for the “busy” since a failure to prioritize can often lead to a greater sense of busy-ness and decreasing levels of peace and joy!

Recently, I preached on “A Theology of Serving,” attempting to answer that all-important question of, “Why should I serve?”. I have presented four major reasons as to why we should serve, both within your church and in your community. These reasons form the basis of a theology of serving.

  • I serve because it fulfills my purpose.

Many people ask this question: What is my purpose. The answer is simple, but it might not be what you think. Many define their purpose with their job, be it a doctor, a builder, a homemaker, or an accountant. That misses out on purpose. There is a difference in calling and purpose. Calling is what you do (hopefully, based on your determination of what God has called you to do), purpose is what you ultimate accomplish by what you do. For a children of God, there may be hundreds or thousands of different callings, but all have only one purpose! That purpose is nothing more and nothing less than to glorify God! (Romans 11:36, Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12). So, in whatever I do, I am to glorify God in the way I serve.

  • I serve because it defines my identity in the Kingdom of God.

I serve because I am a child of the King and to be a child of the King is to serve the King and to serve the King, I serve others. Jesus, Himself set the example by coming not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). As disciples of Jesus, our identity is found in Him. We serve because we are to be like our Master (Philippians 2:5-7). If you refuse to serve, you are refusing to follow Jesus.

  • I serve to fulfill my role within the Body of Christ (the Church).

Every person who has been adopted into the Family of God (Romans 8:14-17) has been given both ability and responsibility to fulfill a calling within the local church. If God has called you here, to this specific church family, it is for a reason. You matter! If you are not serving in some capacity, then you are not accomplishing your calling and, consequently, are not experiencing the level of joy Christ has for you, and we are lacking in something that God has for His church that you are to provide (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

  • I serve because to do so stands against the spirit of darkness and declares the existence and work of God.

We are the “Imago Dei”; the Image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26). Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, we have preferred “self-serve”.  Sin has made us into self-centered creatures, living to feed our wants, our desires, our needs and our lusts.  Those who believe that there is no God and that the universe is simply a product of chance observes this tendency towards self-preservation and argues that we have a natural instinct towards the survival of the fittest; that we will only do that which assures our own survival or the continuation of the species.  All “serving” would then be utilitarian with the goal of serving our own interests.  When we give and serve, expecting nothing in return, we are declaring “PURPOSE!”  We are demonstrating the fact that we are made in the image of the living God, reflecting His character to a dying world.

If we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, there is no alternative. If we are not serving, we are not following. Look for ways to serve both your church and your community. Get involved in some of the ministry or pray about what ministry God may be calling you to start in 2016. Whatever it is, get off the sidelines and engage in the ministry you were designed to do!

Getting it Right

One of the things I had to learn once I started seminary was how to effectively and rightly interpret Scripture. I guess I hadn’t though much about it up to that point. I figured you just read the Bible and did what it said. From time-to-time, I would have people ask me, “Do you interpret the Bible literally?” Hm. Wasn’t sure how to answer that. I guess so. At the time, I didn’t understand what they meant. I later learned that some people interpreted everything literally. Since there are passages that instruct women to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel…” (1 Timothy 2:9-10), some churches have decided it best that women not wear make-up or shorts or anything other than long dresses. While I respect their desire for modesty and am totally in favor of the appropriate amount of cover-up, make-up, in my humble opinion, is not a bad invention. Therefore, I assumed that I didn’t take everything literally.

On the other hand, there were those who argued for allegorical interpretation of Scripture. In this case, stories like Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Noah and the Flood were not historical events but stories made up in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. I definitely didn’t fall into that category.

So, when I got to seminary, I learned how to properly interpret Scripture. I learned that it is important that we seek out the author’s original intent according to the context in which he wrote. What was he trying to say when he wrote what he did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I learned that there are different genres in Scripture just like there are different genres in other types of literature. As such, they must be interpreted accordingly. For instance, poetry can’t be interpreted the same as history. Imagery is used that cannot be taken literally. If it were, then a painting of the bride that Solomon describes in Song of Solomon 4 would end up looking like a strange work of art by Pablo Picasso…more like the Elephant Man than a beautiful woman.

During my studies, I discovered a device that is often used in Scripture called “Phenomenological Language.” When someone uses this literary device, they are simply describing what they see as they see it without using technical jargon or concern to describe what is actually happening. For instance, in Psalm 19, David, in describing the heavens that God created, writes:

In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Now, if we take that literally, we have a lot of problems with Scripture. As a matter of fact, this verse has been used by some who believe the Bible is full of errors. They say that if God essentially wrote Scripture, it should be known that the Sun does not actually move, but that the earth revolves around a stationary sun. This, therefore, proves Scripture errant. These people fail to realize the phenomenological language that is being used to provide word-pictures. David is simply looking up and describing the heavens as he sees it. The reality is, we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun yet we do the same thing today! Think about it: “What time is sunrise today?” “Did you see that beautiful sunset?” “I love watching the Sun rise over the ocean.” What are we saying about the nature of the Sun’s actions in relation to the Earth when we talk like this? Nothing. That’s not what we’re talking about at all.

In light of this, it’s important that we understand how we interpret language. Otherwise, it can completely derail our understanding of Scripture and how we live our lives.

I have another one for you. We talk about “going to church.” How often do you talk to your family and friends about going to church? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Do you go to church every Sunday? What church to you go to? What are we doing? We’re using phenomenological language! It looks like we’re going to church, but that is not the reality. The Bible describes the Truth behind the language in places like 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Again in Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” As a matter of fact, there are over 20 passages in Scripture that talk not about going to church, but being the Church! Our understanding on this point makes all the difference in the world as to how we respond to it.

If I believe that I simply go to church on Sunday, then my level of commitment and involvement is very limited. I go to the store to get what I need and leave without another thought of it. I go to the movies and am entertained for a couple of hours and then get on with my life. I am, essentially, a consumer who gets what I need and then moves on with that experience having little impact on the other parts of my life.

If, on the other hand, I understand that I am the Church, that changes everything! I cannot be a father only when I’m around my children or a husband only when I’m around my wife. These aspects of my identity shape everything about me. They determine decisions and actions, attitudes and thoughts. That is me. In the same way, I cannot be a part of the Church only when I’m there. I am a part of the Body of Christ at all times and in all places. That fact should also shape decisions, attitudes, actions and thoughts. It should determine how I function within the Body as well:

I don’t ask whether I should serve. I assume that. Instead, I ask “Where should I serve.”
I don’t ask wether or not I should give. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “What should I give?”
I don’t ask whether or not I should participate. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How do I participate.”
I don’t ask whether or not I should be a witness for Christ at work and play. I assume that. Instead, I ask, “How can I be a good witness in my context?

I hope you can see the importance of understanding Scripture rightly, and how our use of language matters, as well. If I talk too much about “going to church,” that will eventually shape my thinking about it. Instead, I need to begin reminding myself at all times and in all ways, that, because I have been adopted by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sealed by the Spirit, I am the Church. In so doing, I’m changing the way I identify and interact with all of the other members of that same Body of Christ, serving, giving and going with the right attitude and determination to glorify Him in all things.

Your Serve

I meant to post this here earlier in the month of February, but this is article from our monthly RoadSigns mag:

Quick question: Why are you here? No, not why are you on this earth…why are you at this church? Or any church for that matter? Does it make you feel good? Is it sort of a responsibility you have since you’re a Christian? Do you like learning more about the Bible or more about God; you like being spiritually fed? You like to worship with other Christians? Maybe there are other reasons. I wonder, though, if we’re ever a part of a church for the right reason.

OK, let me quickly say that there is nothing necessarily wrong with any of the above reasons (and all fit in there somewhere), but I think we often miss the main reason. What is that, you ask? Good question. I’m going to give you a reference, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it at this point, but maybe soon. Here it is: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Alright, take a look at it right now and I’ll just wait right here.

Got it? Good. So, what was the common theme in that passage that relates to being a part of a church? Was it any of the things listed up top? Hmm. Not really, was it? So, what is the theme? Here’s a hint: everything we listed above has to do with what you GET. Even, arguably, worship could be included here if you mainly come to and pick a church because of what YOU like. Ouch.

What, then, is Paul talking about in the passage? Not what you GET but what you GIVE. Jesus said he came not to BE served, but to serve, right? Are you His disciple? Fair question, I think. A disciple has the same values and acts in the same manner as his master. So, are you a disciple? Is serving your primary interest within the church or are you more interested in being served? These are tough things for us to talk about, but absolutely imperative if we’re to be a healthy church.

I want to encourage you to give yourself an “attitude adjustment” (much the same way we ask our kids to do for themselves…before we have to). I want to encourage you to change your own vocabulary so that when you hear of an opportunity to serve in any capacity, you no longer mentally ask yourself, “Why should I do that?” It’s the wrong place to start for a disciple of Jesus. The question we must all ask is, “Why should I NOT be involved?” This puts us in a place of getting really honest and we will probably learn that there are really very few legitimate (non-selfish) reasons why we shouldn’t. If you’re a disciple.

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