Service to Others = Freedom from Self

If anyone knew, without a doubt, that the Spirit of God was willing to meet with him or her at a specific time and place, I have to think that most Christians would probably make a priority of at least showing up…out of curiosity, if nothing else. It seems unlikely that the Spirit would issue a clear invitation only to be met with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders, right?

Jesus Healing the Lame ManBut then again, maybe that sort of thing happens all the time. Worse, maybe I do that sort of thing on a regular basis?

I have personally witnessed the Spirit of God move forcefully (and obviously) when two or more Christians are gathered (Matthew 18:20) to selflessly serve someone else (1 Samuel 12:24; Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Colossians 3:23-24), especially when the one being served has almost no chance whatsoever of “repaying” the favor. I’m not saying that serving others does not come with its own peculiar brand of human-wrought anxiety, because it most certainly does. What I am saying is that I find it odd that we can clearly see the Spirit of God move among us as we serve others, and yet most of us – myself included – still find it hard to choose to give our time to others over relaxing at home, letting the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be guided by some hack Hollywood screenwriter or talking-head news reporter (Psalm 19:14).

It’s taken me over half a lifetime to appreciate the grace given via the warning bells of selfishness. When I first accepted Christ as Savior, it was definitely “all about me,” heart-wise. I’m not even sure I would have called it selfishness, but clearly it was. All these years later, I can finally see that it’s never been about me at all. It’s always been about Him, and my willingness to allow Him to be Lord over my day-planner, my finances and my abilities; all these things, it should be noted, are God-given gifts in the first place.

Predictably, Jesus routinely feels free to ask me to serve others, whether I feel “ready or not.” If you are a Christian believer but have not yet swung a hammer or wielded a paint brush in the selfless service of the Lord, then the Lord’s half-brother James says that you might want to re-examine your faith (James 2:14-17). As a new believer, serving others always “felt like” a pain in the…neck. “I’m too busy.” “I can’t give my Saturday over to others when my own house is a wreck!” So I am incredibly thankful that the Spirit just kept right on dropping wave after wave of opportunity on the rocky places in my heart to the point that I finally softened…and learned to ignore my feelings about how I would “rather” spend my time, talent and treasure.

In “Living an Others-Oriented Life,” Washington D.C. pastor and author Mark Dever* does a great job of articulating why it is we need to set our eyes firmly on service to others. The selfish heart thinks that serving others is a pain; the redeemed heart sees instead an opportunity to walk closer with Christ:

Do you ever wonder how to exercise spiritual power? Maybe people will tell you, “Eat this.” “Say these words.” “Pray this prayer.” “Read this author.” “Have this experience.” “Go to this conference.” “Look inside yourself.” But no! Spiritual power is exercised in strenuous self-giving service for others. The word for struggling in Colossians 1:29 can also be translated as “agony.” Which is to say, agony rather than ecstasy is the way to spiritual power. Do you want to know the power of God and a faith that works? Then give yourself over to the struggle of working for the good of others, even as Christ himself worked and struggled for our good. True Christian faith is not lazy faith. It is faith that works, like [the Apostle] Paul’s.

If you or I hope to contribute any good to others, it will only happen as God’s Spirit works in us and through us. Knowing that God works in us counters pride. It reminds us that all that we have and are, all that we can do and achieve, comes from God. If you or I have observed any fruitfulness from our labors, there’s no reason for pride. God has worked. It was his power. All spiritual fruit redounds to his praise.

The “hidden” truth that has become clear in these last several years is that the “agony” of serving others leads to peace with God and (notably) peace in our hearts and with our fellow man. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this when an “unwanted” phone call or text message lights me up, or when I’m hanging on a ladder wishing I was home watching “Phineas and Ferb” reruns with my young son. Thankfully, pushing through selfishness not only leads to obedience, but my experience has been that it also leads to a good night’s sleep and a boatload of solid friends you would never have found through any other means.

Jesus in Mark 10:45 (ESV)
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

*Living an Others-Oriented Life (April 18, 2016), adapted from Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and pastor of 9Marks Ministries.


  1. Judy Sheppard said:

    My husband refers to this as “God’s meddling”. This message is convicting but true. Thanks for this reminder.

  2. Patti Laffoon said:

    A daily struggle for me. Thanks Warren, for the reminder and encouragement. I have all of what you say to be true.

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