I recently posted an article on Ephesians 4 and Paul’s theology of service. Service, for a Christian, is the fulfillment of God’s very purpose in saving us.
(Eph 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We were saved, forgiven, regenerated, baptized, and given the Holy Spirit to re-work us so that we’d do good works!
Consider, for example –
(Rom 12:6-8) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
We know from 1 Cor 12 and many other passages that our gifts are gifts of the Spirit. Here Paul urges us not to waste what the Spirit has given us but to, instead, use the gift in service to others. Each example of service Paul mentions is one of practical service.
Similarly, Peter urges us,
(1 Pet 4:10) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
Or as Paul wrote in 1 Cor –
(1 Cor 12:7) Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
God’s work within each of us to equip us for service is a central theme of the New Testament.
Now, pause for a moment and ask yourself: when did I receive my gifts? and how did I come to discover them? At times, we all discover that we have gifts we never realized that we had. We find that a friend needs encouragement, and we find ourselves able to encourage beyond all our expectations. Or we feel a compulsion to give to a Godly work, and the money is there. Or we give on faith and later find a way to earn it that we never expected.
Through eyes of faith we see the very hand of God working in our lives, giving us gifts as we need them. Either way, it’s God in us. And he works as we work. Our serving others brings God ever more into our hearts and lives, empowering us as we go. Which, in a way, makes service a sacrament.
Service is perhaps best thought of as a prayer to God for the power to serve and for the service to glorify God. When we first try to teach others about Jesus or to teach a child, we feel entirely inadequate. This humility is perhaps the most important step, because in humility we find ourselves relying on God to help us, and he does.
Now, I’m not naive. Paul is quite clear in 1 Cor 12 that we don’t all have the same gifts. I’ll never be a great singer. I’ll achieve less as a dancer. But God has given me gifts as I’ve needed them. They’ve not always been the gifts I wanted! But I’ve received all I needed.
And so this wonderful, miraculous thing happens. We love God and so we serve others. We do this, not out of duty, but out of the realization that this is what we were always meant to be. When we are called to help the poor or paint a house or teach a class, we are being called to be true to what’s best within us — to enjoy existing as we were designed to exist.
Even in Eden, Adam was charged with tending the garden. In our ideal state, we are called to work. And there will be work to do in heaven. But it will — ironically enough — also be rest, because we’ll never be tired. How can you tire of doing what you love?
What do you do on the weekends? Most find something to do. It’s just that we do what we love doing — hunting, fishing, playing ball, or writing on a blog. And all these things are work for some people. Other people.
You see, the difference between rest and work is whether you enjoy it and whether you’re gifted at it. This is why baseball is work for me (a klutz) and play for others. And it’s why writing is easier for me than watching TV, while for others it’s a painful chore. It’s all a matter of our gifts.
The hard part is just believing it. Our culture tells us to kick back and take our ease. We are constantly urged to spend our free time watching TV or sitting in a restaurant or a theater. Take time off and be entertained.
But this is the path to loneliness and purposelessness. If we want to enjoy our lives, and not merely be anesthetized by the entertainment industry, we’ll get beyond being entertained and even beyond play. We’ll move to highest form of recreation there is: re-creation, where God re-works us ever more into his image as we serve others, using our gifts, and loving every minute of it.
That sentence sounded cheesy, I know. But it’s right.
One last note. The word most commonly translated “worship” in the New Testament is latreuo. The same word is also translated “serve.” In many cases, the translators disagree as to which is the intended meaning. For example,
(Heb 12:28) Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship [KJV: serve] God acceptably with reverence and awe,
(Acts 7:7) But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves,’ God said, ‘and afterward they will come out of that country and worship [KJV: serve] me in this place.’
Why the ambiguity? And why choose such an ambiguous word (used 22 times in the New Testament) when there were plenty of other words for “worship” in the Greek vocabulary?
Well, quite plainly, because the ambiguity didn’t exist in the minds of the apostles. To serve God was to worship God. That’s not to say that formal worship was foreign to the apostles — they certainly believed in worship in the traditional sense, too. It’s not either-or. It’s all worship.
Which should explain why both the assembly (redundantly called by us the “worship service”) and service to others in the name of Jesus are both sacraments. Both effect a special work of God in our hearts.