We are in the middle of a series called Life Rules where we are looking at some of the rules God gives us for relationships. While these rules can be helpful to all people, they are really non-negotiable for those of us who follow Jesus. When we enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are being invited to live a new life which means following a new set of rules. One of these new life rules is to treat others the way God has treated us. It’s no longer the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them to unto you, it is God’s rule of do unto others as GOD has done unto you. During the past three weeks we have seen that God says;
• Love one another just as I have loved you.
• Forgive one another just as in Christ I forgave you.
• Accept one another just as I have accepted you.
So we have a new set of rules to follow and when we follow them our relationships become stronger and we experience more of the peace and freedom that God wants for us.
Today’s life rule comes from the book of Galatians which is really a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a new group of believers in Galatia, which today is part of Turkey. Paul is writing to a group of people that are struggling with a new set of rules because Jesus has changed everything for them. For many people in Galatia, the way they experienced a relationship with God was by following a very strict set of rules found in the Old Testament. For the Jewish people, their connection to God came by following all the rules God gave them. There were rules that governed everything from eating to working to cleaning and even covered personal hygiene. Many of these rules can be found in the book of Leviticus and while it makes for some interesting reading today, imagine trying to follow every one of these rules to the letter. It was not easy, but many tried.
But Jesus changed all that and Paul said that our relationship with God was now going to be based on faith and trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. It is by grace alone that we are connected to God which means that people are now free from following the law. As you might imagine, when people first heard that they were now free from the law some felt they could now live any way they wanted to. No longer bound by the law, people could do what they wanted to do; when they wanted to do it and they could treat people anyway they wanted to without fear of being cut off from God. But there were others in Galatia who not only followed Jesus but they still clung to the old ways and said that how we treated people did matter and that the laws God gave still needed to be followed. They went on to say that when Gentiles accepted Jesus they also needed to follow the laws that God had already given. It is into this debate that Paul writes to the church. Do people have to follow the law or are we really free from the law when we follow Jesus?
Galatians 5:13a You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. You can almost hear the people on one side of the debate start to cheer saying, yes, we are free so we can do whatever we want and we can live anyway we want to. But Paul doesn’t end there…
Galatians 5:13b But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. So we can’t do whatever we want and whatever makes us feel good. We can’t use our freedom to live a life that is centered on getting what we want and doing what we want without any regard of those around us or the God who created us. Instead, Paul says there is a new rule…
Galatians 5:13c rather, serve one another in love. What Paul is saying is that we are free which means that we are now free to choose to do the right thing and live the right way. Instead of following rules that tell us to treat others well we can now choose to do it. Instead of rules that tell us to love and forgive and accept others we are now free to choose to do it because we know it is the right thing to do and it honors God and it builds everyone up. So instead of rules that tell us how we are to care for others, we are given a new rule, choose to serve others. Because you are free, Paul says, when you see a need, meet it and when something needs to be done, do it. That’s what it means to serve;
• See a need ~ meet it.
• When something needs to be done ~ do it.
Now this is not always the rule that guides our lives. Many times we stop and think about whether or not we should serve someone. We ask ourselves: What’s in it for me? Is it in my best interest to serve this person? Do they deserve it? What will I get out of it? When we ask these questions we are still focused on ourselves and our own self-interest, but when we genuinely serve others, we break the power of selfishness and the sin of self-centeredness and my guess is that have already experienced this kind of freedom and didn’t even know it.
Have you ever been asked to do something and even though it might be a chore you always did, just being asked to do it set you on edge? Maybe it was someone reminding you to take out the trash or empty the dishwasher or in my case cleaning up dog poop. Even though I knew it was my job, every time I was reminded to do it, it set me off and got me angry. But what happens when we just see that these things need to be done and we do them without being asked. That can feel good. True service feels good. Seeing what needs to be done and just doing it brings freedom which tells us that serving others helps us overcome selfishness. Service shifts our focus from what is good for us onto what is good for others and that helps break the power of self-centeredness. Choosing to serve can set us free.
But living this way isn’t always our natural instinct, sometimes we have to learn how to serve and sometimes we have to keep serving until it becomes a learned trait or our second nature. One of my first jobs was as a dishwasher in a very small family run Italian restaurant. Each member of the Fatone family had their own strong opinions and they liked to share them with one another in very loud ways. In other words there was a lot of yelling at each other in Italian and when they all started to shout I wanted to disappear. I would literally try to make myself as small as I could and wash the same plate or dish over and over again so they wouldn’t notice me.
Since there always seemed to be a lot of emotion in the kitchen I figured out it was better to always be busy, so I would find work that needed to be done and do it. As long as I was cleaning something they couldn’t yell at me. So I would wash all the pots and pans on the rack over and over again. I would sweep the floor endlessly. I learned how to clean the copper on the bottom of the pans until it shined. If I saw anything that needed to be done, I did it and through the summer, something happened in me. I started feeling good about what I was doing. I know it helped the family. Mr. Fatone, the father, said no one could get his pots and pans to shine like I could. It felt good to serve. While there was some self preservation in my serving at first because it was better to be busy than to be yelled at, I learned in one of my first jobs that service had its own rewards and its own freedom. It was my choice to serve and serving felt good.
I also learned that serving others could strengthen relationships. Mr. and Mrs. Fatone never shouted at me in Italian, all of that was saved up for their sons, so I learned that serving others really can strengthen relationships. Serving others can also heal relationships. As a pastor in Altoona there was a man who didn’t come to church but heard enough things about me and the changes we were making to form a very strong opinion about me and he was quick to share it. He sent me a letter telling me that I was doing the work of the devil and included in the letter a check with a large black ZERO on it. A year or so later this same man was sick and the man who took communion to his home asked if I would come with him. I said of course I will. When that morning came, I sat across the table from this man who at one point said I was doing the work of the devil and I served him communion and in that moment we both experienced some healing in the relationship. My being willing to serve him softened his heart but you know what, it also softened mine and while no words were needed, we both knew that our relationship was healed and strengthened.
Serving others not only sets us free from selfishness and self-centeredness but it works to heal and strengthen relationships and Paul affirms this in his letter to the Galatians. Look at Galatians 5: 15. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
The opposite of serving one another is serving ourselves and looking out for our own self interests and when that is our focus we end up having to tear others down, or as Paul says, biting and devouring each other. When we serve ourselves we are destroying others and in the process we destroy ourselves. So while serving sets us free and brings us healing and strength, choosing not to serve destroys us. The author Andy Stanley puts it this way, if we serve only ourselves we will end up all by ourselves. If we do all things for our own self-interest we will end up all alone and that is where many people are today – all alone.
Whether it is at work, at home or even in ministry and the life of the church, when we only think about what is good for us we end up biting and devouring others which leads us to a place of isolation. Focusing on ourselves alone leads us to being alone physically, emotionally and spiritually and one way to break the power of selfishness is to serve. One way to overcome the sin of self-centeredness is to serve. One way to not end up alone in life is to serve. Serve someone. Serve anyone and in any way. Start small but do something this week to begin breaking the power of selfishness which breaks the power of sin.
Serving others breaks the power of sin in our lives and it broke the power of temptation and sin in Jesus’ life. I want to close by looking at a moment from the end of Jesus’ life. Jesus has gathered with his disciples on the night before his death. He knows that every one of the disciples is only looking out for themselves. Judas has already agreed to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and while Peter professes his faithfulness to Jesus, Jesus knows he actually is only faithful to himself. In a few short hours Peter will end up denying that he even knows Jesus to save his own skin. And when the going gets tough, all the rest of the disciples who thought they were tough will actually get going – literally, they will all run away. So Jesus has them all together knowing full well what is about to come and this is what it says… John 13:2-3.
What would you do in this situation? You know that God has given you all power and all authority and in your moment of greatest need all your friends are just looking out for their own self-interest. What would you do? I would be tempted to let them have it. I would be tempted to look out for my own self-interest and tell them all off, but instead Jesus takes off his robe, kneels down and washes their feet. Jesus serves them. John 13:4-5
I wonder if Jesus serves them to break the power of selfishness and self-centeredness that must have been tempting him in that moment. Jesus was fully human and didn’t want to die on a cross, so was there a moment when Jesus heard from God that all power and authority are his and he could do whatever he wanted and while what he wanted to do is tell his friends off, he chooses in that moment to serve them because he knew that serving would break the power of temptation and sin. By serving the disciples and washing their feet Jesus destroys the final temptation to live for himself.
When we choose to serve we break the power of sin and selfishness which is constantly working in our lives. When we choose to serve we destroy the temptation we all face to live for ourselves. So serving others is not a sign of weakness but strength and serving others sets us free from sin, it strengthens and heals relationships and it leads us to a fuller and complete life that God wants for us.
Jesus gives us one more reason why we should follow this new life rule. John 13:14-15. Once again, we serve others because we have been served by God. Just as we love and forgive and accept others because we have been loved, forgiven and accepted by God, we also serve others because through Jesus, God has served us. We don’t deserve it and Jesus doesn’t get anything out of it, but in his freedom, Jesus chooses to serve us. Now in our freedom we are called to serve. So whether it is because of the example of Jesus, or because it sets us free, or because it helps heal and restore relationships – choose to serve others. Serve someone. Serve anyone. Start small, take one step but serve and allow the power of God to set you free and bring you life.
Life Rules ~ Serve
According to Andy Stanley, to serve means:
• When you see a need, meet it.
• When something needs to be done, do it.
1. Think back to a time when someone went out of their way to serve you. How did that make you feel? What did it do to your relationship?
2. Identify at least one need that you see in each of the following areas:
• At home (in your spouse, children, parents)
• At work
• In the lives of friends
• In the life of the church
• In the community
• In the world
3. Identify at least one way you can meet each of the needs listed above. What benefit would you experience by following through on these actions?
4. Chose one area and serve someone this week.
We can all help meet the need of those who are hungry both here and around the world by taking part in this year’s CropWalk on October 26.