General Studies

The Heart of Service (Galatians 5:13-15)

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Our theme for this year as set by our shepherds is “Wired To Serve.” Our leaders are calling upon us to consider how we can improve in our acts of service toward one another. One of the challenges of serving is developing the heart required to be servants. We are not servants naturally. Serving is not innately wired within us.

Called To Freedom

To develop the heart for service requires knowing that we have been called to freedom. Notice Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ has set you free so that you can be free. There are two aspects of freedom that the apostle Paul is emphasizing for the Christian. In the immediate context, Paul is discussing freedom from the works of the law, notably circumcision. Christ has set us free from the keeping of the ceremonial laws that were found in the Law of Moses. The keeping of feasts and days, eating clean and unclean foods, circumcision and the like do not put us in a covenant relationship with God. Further, we have also been set free from the curse of the Law. Galatians 3:11 reminds us that no one can be justified before God by the law and therefore we were under its curse. But Christ has come and set us free from the curse of the law.

To help us understand the imagery, the scriptures are trying to show us that we are imprisoned. We are imprisoned because of our sins and because of the curse of the law. In the letter to the Romans and the letter to the Galatians Paul makes the point that God’s law shows us where we have come up short. The law shows us our failures (Galatians 3:22-23; 4:8; Romans 7:7-10). Christ has liberated us from these imprisonments. Our heart for serving begins by seeing how Christ has served us by freeing us from the sin and the curse of the law.

People Serving, Not Self-Serving

However, we cannot use our freedom in Christ as an opportunity to indulge in our sinful desires. I like the reading from the NRSV for Galatians 5:13. “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” Grace is never a platform for sinful living. I think this is a hard concept for us in this age of American individualism. We are not free to ourselves. We are not free to do whatever we want to do. Biblical freedom is not, “Now I can do what I want.” So often that is how people approach the scriptures and teach the scriptures. We cannot be lulled into the false idea that we have a choice in the matter as to our service toward. We do not get to decide what we will do in our service to God. Freedom does not mean we can decide what we want to do. Do not use your freedom in Christ as if it were an opportunity to selfish living.

Instead, our freedom is to be seen as an opportunity to serve. This is an extremely ironic teaching. Christ has set you freedom. For freedom you have been set free. Now your freedom is for the purpose of serving. Serve as slaves. As the NRSV reads, “Through love become slaves to one another.” You are set free; now become slaves. This is an amazing teaching! This is what Paul has been setting up for our lives. Biblical freedom is not, “Now I can do what I want.” Biblical freedom is, “Now I can do what God wants.”

Paul is picturing a complete reorientation in thinking about service. If we think about service as something that has to be done, we are not going to be very motivated to serve. Too often we take God’s commands and denigrate them to the level of taking out the trash. Taking out the trash is not something I want to do, but something that has to be done. We do the same thing with our service to God. I don’t want to come to worship God, but I guess I have to. I don’t want to have to help out my brothers and sisters in Christ, but it is something that has to be done. If this reflects our attitude toward God and toward serving we will never have the heart for serving. Loving Jesus, not rules, will change our heart and bring obedience. We cannot think in terms of serving our brethren and abstaining from selfish living as something we “have to do.” Such thinking is not going to bring about the renewing of our minds and holiness that God wants in us. We were enslaved to sin. Christ has set us free. Do not look at serving as a duty but a desire because of what Christ has done for us. Grace is why I want to serve you. It is through love, not through duty, that we serve one another. Paul does not say to serve one another from obligation, duty, or necessity. Serve one another through love.

Love God By Loving Others

Paul crystalizes his teaching in verse 14. The whole law is fulfilled in one simple statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We must firmly place this command in our minds because it sums up everything about our discipleship. Everything we do must be constrained by loving our neighbor as ourselves. Be ever conscious of how you would want to be treated. Do you want people to pray for you? Then you need to be praying for them. Do you want people to help you? Then you must be helping them in the same way. Do you want people to encourage you? Then you need to be encouraging to them. The moment you wish someone was doing something for you, you go and do it for them. Any time we have those selfish thoughts, do for someone else instead. Do for your spouse what you want your spouse to do for you. Do for your family what you want your family to do for you. We are often so bound up in selfish thinking and this is contrary to the life God has called us to live. Did someone teach your children for the Sunday Bible classes? You can teach the children now even if you do not have children or your children have grown up. Think about what was done for you. Think about what you want to have done for you. Then go do those very things.

Failing Miserably

When we bite and devour each other we are failing miserably at loving our neighbor as ourselves. A church that is not full of love and service will destroy and consume itself. This is a very real problem today as many of you know who have been at other churches. There should not be divisions when we are all acting properly. What we are doing is showing that we are walking according to the flesh and obeying our selfish desires when we are fighting each other. If we are serving one another because we love Jesus, then there will not be any cause for divisions and fighting. Stop biting and start serving.

Conclusion

What can you do to serve? It all begins by not seeing service as a duty but as a response of love to Jesus who died for us. Then we need to look for opportunities to serve. Then we need to create opportunities to serve by thinking about what you would want done for you if you were in that person’s circumstances. Any time you think about something you want or need, go do that for someone else. We have been set free to serve, not to indulge ourselves in selfishness.

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