Grace to Serve

We're not inclined to it, so we'll need grace if we're going to do it.

When We Need It (4)

But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Mark 10.42-45

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us… For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4.7, 15

Our narcissistic age

When Rick Warren began his book, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2002) with the sentence, “It’s not about you”, he was acknowledging a condition in the Christian community which has leached into it from our narcissistic age.

We actually think that everything in our lives is supposed to be all about us.

I mean, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? We need a church that cares for us, meets our needs, helps us make Christian friends, provides a satisfying worship experience, and doesn’t demand too much of us.

The rampant narcissism, which has inundated the unbelieving world around us, has washed over the decks of the Church; and we are in danger of being submerged in mere self-interest and self-indulgence. If my church is not sufficiently about me – my interests, concerns, needs, comfort level, and so forth – then I will find a church that is. And churches are competing with one another for narcissistic attenders, positioning themselves as “full service” congregations, by which they mean something like, “providing everything you need or think you’ll need”.

But narcissism is a dead-end street, as can be easily seen by Solomon’s testimony in Ecclesiastes 2. Here the wisest king ever reports on his campaign of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction, only to end up regarding his life as vanity of vanities and feeding on the wind.

All this thinking that churches exist to serve us obscures our true calling, and makes it very difficult for us to realize the true, powerful, and joyful nature of the life of discipleship.

The joy of following Jesus comes as we serve others, not as others serve us. And if we are to realize this incomparable joy, and fulfill the calling Jesus has appointed to us, then we shall need grace.

Called to serve

We are called to serve, following the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus served by setting aside certain divine prerogatives and perquisites (Phil. 2.5-11). He denied Himself, chose the way of hardship and suffering, and moved continuously throughout the land of Palestine, looking for people in need of His service (Lk. 19.11).

The nature of Jesus’ service is perhaps best understood by contemplating the scene in the upper room, just prior to Jesus’ Passover meal with His disciples (Jn. 13.1-15). Jesus understood that He had the right to expect others to serve Him, since “the Father had given all things into His hands” (v. 3). He was the King. He was the Lord and Teacher (v. 14). People should have been doing for Him.

Instead, Jesus surveyed the situation, discerned the need, equipped Himself for the work, humbled Himself before His disciples, and washed their filthy feet with His soon-to-be-nail-scarred hands. Not even the looming crisis of the cross could get Jesus thinking about Himself rather than about His friends. He loved His own to the full extent of His love, and He explained that this is how they were to relate to one another and to the world.

But when we’re stuck on ourselves, thinking only about what we need, what we want someone to do for us, and how we’re going to be encouraged or strengthened or provided for, the virus of narcissism will prevent us from knowing the joy of service that Jesus knew (Heb. 12.1), and that He intends for us as well.

We need grace to overcome our narcissistic tendencies so that we look out on our world like Jesus did, full of compassion and a readiness to serve (Tit. 3.1).

Only grace
Only the grace of God can fit us for service. To serve others we must deny ourselves, empty ourselves of our sense of privilege, and take up the cross of suffering. We won’t have to suffer like Jesus did. Mostly our suffering will be a matter of inconvenience. We’ll have to give up some time, invest some strength, learn some new skills, become more attentive, risk rejection, and set to one side our own needs and concerns.

When we empty ourselves like this, we make room for Jesus to fill us with His thinking, His compassion and love, His priorities and designs; and then His power can flow through us – frail vessels though we are – to bring grace to those who are in need. And as Jesus fills us with Himself, He brings the joy of God to greater fullness in us, so that, even in all our being inconvenienced, we are filled with the joy of the Lord.

The Kingdom of God is joy (Rom. 14.17, 18), and the joy of the Kingdom is known as Jesus knew it, by serving others.

Grace can empower us to serve, because Jesus is all grace, and all of Jesus indwells everyone who believes in Him. Jesus was sent to this world to serve our greatest need – the need for redemption. The redemption of the Lord aims to bring wholeness, newness, life, hope, and peace to every aspect of our lives – so great is the salvation we have in Jesus! And Jesus said that, as the Father had sent Him, so He has sent us – in precisely the same manner, to bring the Good News of God’s love and salvation to the lost world, and to build up our fellow believers for good works of love (Jn. 20.21; Heb. 13.24).

As Christians, as those who know and are increasing in the great salvation of our Lord, we are called to serve others with Jesus’ love. And grace is ready and ample to empower us to do so.

For reflection
1. How can you see that narcissism has infected the Church?

2. Opportunities to serve others are all around us, every day. Explain.

3. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and our fellow believers as Jesus loves us. How can you prepare each day to be a vessel of God’s love for serving the people in your world?

Next Steps – Demonstration: Think of two people you will see today. How will you serve them? How will you demonstrate the love of Jesus to them?

Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book,
To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore