All Believers are Called to Serve –
We Will Look Specifically at Serving in the Church
Romans 12:1(KJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Introduction: As a loan officer for a large bank, I enjoyed my job. I loved making loans, many times non-traditional loans. It was a means of helping people to have or achieve something they needed or desired. I was a fairly successful loan officer, always in the running for loan production awards for the state of Tennessee, and twice leading the state in loan production, allowing my wife and me to enjoy trips to San Francisco and Acapulco. While serving my employer well, it was not out of a feeling of obligation, but excitement and joy that I did so.
That was until the rules changed. Even though as a loan officer I had no employees under me, I was considered management, and drew a salary rather than an hourly wage. I worked many hours at my job to be successful, and the only extra pay I would receive was that of performance rewards and the satisfaction of a job well done. When the bank lost a class action law suit over the issue of salaried pay for non-managers, all loan officers were changed to an hourly wage. Within a matter of weeks, the bank realized the amount of overtime pay that was going out to those who had previously been on salary, and decreed that there would not be allowed any hours to be worked over 40 per week. By law, you could not stay and work “off the clock” even if you wanted too. You could only put in 40 hours and no more.
Now that sounds like a pretty good deal, does it not? The only problem was that loan officers had loan quotas or production quotas. We were expected to close a set dollar amount of loans that was adjusted annually and based on previous performance. Every year that you did well, the next year your quota expectation was raised a certain percentage. That had always been a challenge, and while it might require a few more hours a month to achieve the new expectation, the rewards of feeling successful and the possibility of “winning the prize” made the extra time and work a non-issue. But suddenly all that changed! Now the bank was demanding that the production quotas be reached, but they must be reached within the set 40 hours per week with no overtime allowed. This was an impossibility! My production was primarily due to working two or three hours per day after bank hours (average of 50 to 60 hours a month) and now I was told I must go home. The pressure began to build, as production began to decline.
About three months later I received notice that I had been placed on “probation” for not achieving my loan goals. I had 90 days to bring my production up to expectation, or I could lose my job. Desire to do a good job turned into responsibility to get the job done. Joy turned to resentment. Challenge turned to frustration. My service to the bank had turned into servant-hood. I was now an Israelite in Egypt being asked to produce more bricks but without a supply of straw. I was now in bondage, and I was miserable. There is much more to this story but if you wonder what the end result was, well I am no longer in banking!
Why would I tell such a story as this at the beginning of a Church Retreat focusing on “Serving in the Church”? Simply because I see too many people serving out of responsibility and not out of desire – they have lost their joy!
Somehow the joy of serving has been replaced by the responsibility of service. And if we are not careful, the responsibility of service can turn into an attitude of servant-hood, where joy is lost and only obligation and duty remain.
Let us examine Romans 12:1 more closely:
Therefore, by the mercies of God – “therefore” connects to the entire previous context as it has been a development of “the mercies of God.” Leroy Forlines in his commentary on Romans states, “We would be repeating the essence of what Paul says if we made it read, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, in light of the cross…’”
Beseech – to desire or to entreat. It appeals to a person’s sensitivities and better judgment rather than trying to control through a decree. This same word is used when Paul said to Philemon, “Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal (beseech) to you, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 8, 9 NKJV)
That you present your bodies a living sacrifice – “bodies” as used here is a part used for the whole, in other words, we should present our whole beings or our whole persons as a living sacrifice. This contrasts the OT sacrificial system of killing an animal and presenting it to the Lord, with the NT concept of presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord. It is the idea of living for Christ, not dying for Christ, that Paul has in mind here.
Holy – dedicated to God; set apart – separation from sin and conforming to righteousness. Holiness is a theme that ties well with our heritage as Methodists. If we are to give ourselves to God, our offering needs to be holy, both positionally and practically.
Acceptable unto God – meaning of acceptable is “well-pleasing,” as it is so translated in other passages of Scripture (2 Cor. 5:9 NKJV, Col 3:20 NKJV, Titus 2:9 NKJV, etc.).
Reasonable – some translations interpret this word as “spiritual,” however, the thought within the context is more that of reasonable or rational. In light of the “mercies of God” (or in light of the cross), and in light of God’s provision, it is reasonable and rational for us to present ourselves for service to God.
Service (Greek word logiken) – In Barclay’s commentary on Romans, an interesting development is given of the history of this word. He states that the noun comes from the verb meaning “to work for hire or for pay.” This was not slavery, but a voluntary undertaking of work, as for an employer. It later came to mean “a service to which a man gives his whole life,” or that to which one dedicates his whole life. Finally it came to be the word distinctively used of the service of the gods. In the Bible it never means human service; it is always used of service to and worship of God.
Jones Paraphrase of Romans 12:1
Because of all that has been previously declared, and in light of the cross of Christ, I entreat and implore you to offer your whole being and dedicate your whole life as a living sacrifice, a life that is voluntarily lived totally for Christ, a life that is separated from the sins of this world, and set apart unto the righteousness of God, a life so lived that it is well pleasing to God; for this is both a reasonable and a rational service to our loving God and Savior who has given for us His very life.
Now we are ready to talk about Serving in the Church
A couple of years ago I wrote a small booklet titled Free to Serve God. Some of you have seen it and perhaps a few may have even read it. The book was written from a viewpoint that every Christian has a desire to serve God. The very title itself indicates such a desire – free to serve. This is not serving out of duty or responsibility, but serving out of a freewill choice, out of desire, and out of love for a God who has provided for all our needs, even our very salvation.
We must also define “church.” As the adopted sons of God, we are all members of Christ’s Body, the invisible or universal Church. It is within this context that we, as individuals, are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve the Body. And it is usually within the organization of the visible or local church that our gifts are used in such service to the church. Is it a responsibility to serve in the church? Of course it is! But it is so much more than a responsibility; it is a privilege that our Lord has chosen us to serve one another in His Body, and to serve in a world that might only know of Him through us as we go in His name.
So then, how are we to serve in the Church?
I. We are to serve in the Context of Spiritual Fruit.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:19-23 NKJV
I never cease to be amazed how many times churches put people in leadership positions whose lives demonstrate the works of the flesh and not the fruit of the Spirit. A good businessman does not necessarily equate with a good church leader. If we are to effectively serve in the church, whether it be on the local or universal level, we need to walk in and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s look at these one more time before we move on: love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There is no law against these things! It is only with the “mind of Christ” that we become good servants, and the mind of Christ will always be demonstrated through the fruit of the Spirit. And so should our service within the church!
II. We are to serve in the Confines of Spiritual Gifts.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8 NKJV
What is it that Christ has called you to do in service to Him and to His Church? What special spiritual gifts have you been given in order to accomplish that calling? How many “good” activities are you involved in that are outside your gifts and your calling? In other words, are you focused? Do you know who you are, do you know what you are called to do, do you know who called you, and do you know what you must do each day to be successful in fulfilling your call? Most mature Christians are committed to serving God, and that is good. But far too many of these committed Christians are out of focus. If we are going to be free to serve God, we must be free from distractions, even the distractions of worthwhile endeavors. We must achieve “The Miracle of Focus in Our Commitment”. Only then will be able to say with Paul, “This one thing I do…”
There is a lot more to this particular “freedom from distractions.” But here is the key to fulfillment in our service. Discover what it is that God has called and gifted you to do, and do it. Even when there are other “good” things that need to be done, and there seems to be no one else stepping up to the plate, remain focused! God is in charge of labor. He will get the job done. And if you allow yourself to become unfocused, your assignment will probably not be completed effectively either. Our best service in the church will always be within our gifts and our calling.
III. We are to serve under the Conditions of Spiritual Warfare.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit… Eph 6:10-18a NKJV
How many churches and ministries do you know that have either been disrupted or destroyed because of believers fighting among themselves? Don’t you know that Satan just loves it when his plan of pitting believers against one another works? And it does work – over and over again.
I have been involved in three separate church splits during my years of ministry; the first as an outsider with close friends on both sides, one as a young pastor seeing otherwise godly men and women at each other’s throats, and one as a layman with my closest friend as the pastor. None of these were a pretty sight. None of these brought glory to God. None of these helped fulfill the purpose of the church. And none of these was over an issue worthy of division. In each case it was a matter of good people allowing themselves to be used by Satan to bring discord into the Body of Christ.
If we could only get people to realize that we fight not against flesh and blood, or in other words, against each other, but our enemy is the ruler of the darkness of this age – our enemy is Satan and his hosts of demonic beings. If we are going to effectively serve the church, we need to know who our enemy truly is, and not let the enemy bring conflict where there should be peace!
IV. We are to serve with the Conviction of Spiritual Victory.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? I John 5:3-5 NKJV
Let me bring you in on a little secret – – – WE WIN! Have you ever watched a close ball game on DVR or as a rerun – after you have heard the final score, and your team won? The nerves are gone, the nail biting is unnecessary, and you can sit calmly and watch the game. Even if your team makes a huge mistake with little time left in the game – no sweat! Now, if you did not know the outcome, you would swear they had just blown the game. But no, you know the final score. And even if you have not yet seen how they pulled it out, you can have perfect peace – because you know how it ends!
Brothers and sisters, we know how it ends. We know who comes out victorious. And we know that victory is ours. Just read the end of the Book! Does that mean that what we do doesn’t matter? Of course not! We can know that because of God’s sovereignty His plans cannot be thwarted. But God has, in His sovereignty, chosen to use us to accomplish His plan. We are on the team. We are the ones that will win the game. Yes, in the process of winning the game, some of us will come out with bumps and bruises, but we will overcome the world! For greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!
Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? It is our faith in Him that makes us over-comers. We are victorious because we are in Christ, and Christ has overcome the world. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Another freedom given in the Free to Serve God booklet is the freedom from self-sufficiency. The verse does not end with “I can do all things”; it continues with, “through Christ who gives me strength.” We are not self-sufficient; we are Christ-sufficient! If we are going to effectively serve in the church, we must do so with the conviction that we will be spiritually victorious.
My close friend, Pastor Jack Davis, recently preached a message entitled, “Serve-Us or Service?” It is our human nature to want to be served. But it is our divine nature that desires to serve. Which nature will you allow to lead you? I encourage you to let the mind of Christ be in you, a mind of humble service. It is only reasonable that you do so!
Finally, when the day comes when we stand before the Lord, may we all be able to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the course; I have kept the faith!” And perhaps you might add one more, “I have served the Church!”