Grace on Mission - Serving Others
Topic: Mission Passage: Ephesians 4:7–4:16
For the month of September we are looking at our mission as a church in a series called Grace on Mission. Our mission statement consists of four easy to remember points: Loving God. Growing Together. Serving Others. Going to the World.These are the four things that Jesus has called us to do and what we want to focus on doing. We've got it on the front page of our website, we want to make sure it's on the front page of everything we do. This morning let's look at the third point of our mission statement:Serving Others. Let's turn together to Eph. 4 again.
The great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, who lived in the 1700's, willed his Guarneri violin to Genoa, Italy on condition that the instrument never be played. After his death it was put on display in a museum behind a glass pane, but something began to happen to that priceless violin. A finely crafted wood instrument like a violin, as long as it is used and handled will show little wear. But when left unused it begins to decay and over time Paganini's exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, the victim of disuse.
The same is true about our lives was well: a life that is withdrawn from service to others will eventually lose its meaning.God created us to serve, He has wired it into our hearts to want to be useful and have a purpose that is bigger than just living for ourselves. The Christian faith isn't meant to sit unused behind aglass display. We need to take it out and use it for the good of others if it's going to remain healthy and vibrant and strong. And so in Eph. 4 we see that Jesus gives grace to each one of his disciples - not grace to look good behind a glass pane, but grace to serve. Look with me again at verses 11-12:
And he (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry...
The word ministry just means service, but look at what Paul says: Jesus gave leaders to equip the saints (that's every believer!) for the work of ministry. Ministry isn't reserved for a few trained professionals inthe church. Years ago there was a commercial showing a professional stunt car driver driving towards a drawbridge just as the bridge was separating and rising. As the car leapt across the gap between the bridge sections, the words flashed underneath: Don't try this at home! That's probably pretty good advice in that case, but that's not what ministry is. "I am going to minister now...don't try this at home. Leave ministry to the professionals." God has filled the church with ministers! This is a minister's convention. Leaders are meant to monopolize ministry in the church, they're meant to help multiply ministry in the church!
Here's why this is such an important and exciting part of our vision as a church: for us to accomplish all that God has for us to do as a church, we all need to be a part and do our part. That's the way God designed it. Verse 16 says: when each part is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. As we looked at last week, that growth and maturing is centered on Jesus Christ and our growing up in him, but it happens as every part is doing its part. God is the one doing the work, but He's doing it through everyone.
God want us all to take our spiritual gifts out from behind the glass display and put them to work serving others! And so many here are doing just that and I am very grateful for the way this church works together. This message isn't born out of a need for volunteers. It's not that we need 3 more volunteers in the toddler class so maybe if I preach on it I can twist some arms - I mean convince some hearts - to sign up. Let me say this up front: I don't want you signing up to do something you absolutely hate doing. That's not what this is about. This is about our mission as a church, and serving others is a value we want to grow in, and get better at helping people connect with. As God brings new people to the church, we want to help them get connected, get involved, and find their place of service in the church and outside of the church.
So here's what I want to do this morning. First I want us to consider three biblical principles that goes to the heart of why we serve. And then we'll close by considering a couple practical thoughts about how we serve.
I. Three biblical principles that go to the heart of why we serve
1. Jesus calls us to follow him into a life of serving others
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him... (John 13:3-5 ESV)
This passage really goes to the heart of what biblical serving is about. Jesus knows that God the Father has given him all authority in heaven and earth- and his response is to take his robe off, wrap himself in a towel, and begin washing his disciple's feet. That was the lowest of jobs, the job that no one else wanted to do. Power usually has the opposite effect on us - we get a little power and it goes to our heads and we want other people to serve us. But to Jesus power and serving went together - the higher he was exalted, the lower he stooped to serve others. Jesus didn't come to be served, he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus lowered himself even to the cross and a criminal's death to save us from our sin and that we might be reconciled withGod. Jesus' heart wasn't to serve until he got power and authority; the more power and authority was revealed to be his, the more his heart was moved to serve others.
And then he calls his disciples - calls us - to follow in his footsteps: 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given youan example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (vv. 12-15)
The Lord calls us to lay down our pride and take up the towel and serve others. This goes to our heart and motive as to why we serve. Some people come into a church and right away want to serve, but they don't have a heart for people, they have a heart for position. Jesus calls us not only to imitate his actions here, he calls us to imitate his heart. Biblical serving isn't about promoting ourselves, it's about promoting love and the good of others. Jesus calls us to follow him into a life of serving others.
]2. Serving others is God's path to a great life
This may surprise you, but God wants you to have a great life. He does. He wants you to have a great life...as He defines what a great life is. How would you define a great life? Is it when you have everything you want? Is it when you are able to do whatever you want? Is it a life where everything comes easy and there's little hardship? Is a great life when you have a lot of money, or when you do something that causes your name to be remembered for posterity?
There is something inside of us - it's called sin - that wants to bend everything in on ourselves. The latin phrase is incurvatus in se - it means the inward curve of sin. When incurvatus in se gets done with our concept of what a great life is, invariably it's in one way or another a life bent in on ourselves. A life lived for self rather than God and others.
Jesus said whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Matt. 20:26). God's path to a great life is a life lived in service of others. And by the way, when Jesus says the path to being great is serving others, I don't think he means that if we serve others, one day we'll be remembered as being great. There's that inward curve again: "I'll serve people now, but I can't wait until everyone says what a great guy I was. I hope it's soon..." Incurvatus in se again. Many people serve quietly and in obscurity and no one ever knows their name or how they served and the world never considers them great. So what does Jesus mean that the servant will be great?
He must mean that when we go to heaven we'll be applauded as great. I'm not so sure that's what Jesus means either. Yes, the greatest commendation we can ever have will be hearing Jesus say to us, "well done, good and faithful servant." But I think that's about all we'll hear. I don't Jesus is going to be like, "hold it everybody! Could you quiet down for a minute? I appreciate that you want to worship me, but Allen is coming before my throne and I just want to take this moment to point out what a great guy he is. Let's give a round of applause for Allen as he comes up to the throne." I don't think it's going to be like that. So what is greatness? What is a great life?
I think it's a life taken from behind the glass pane, taken off display, and being used for what God created us to be used for. You've got a song in you that God put in you. You've got a melody that is uniquely yours to play. There are ways that you are shaped and gifted, and grace that Christ has given you, to serve his kingdom and purposes.
See, this understanding of a great life takes that inward curve and bends it outward. It's pay-off isn't that we're applauded and exalted. The pay-off is the joy of being useful to our Master, and serving others. The pay-off, the reward, is that our eyes are taken off ourselves and we experience the joy and fulfillment of being used by God to help and serve others.
This path frees us from the bondage of incurvatus in se whether our tendency is to think we are God's gift to the world or to think that we have nothing to offer so why bother? This path frees us from prideful self-promotion and prideful self-pity to play the song God created us to play. And that, I think, is God's definition of a great life - doing what He has called us and shaped us to do. Serving others is God's path to a great life.
3. God does amazing things in the church when every part does its part
When we combine our song, our melody, with others in the church, a symphony of grace is produced. Health and growth, truth-speaking in love, maturing, Christ is formed in us. Not from any one or two people, but by the symphony of a church playing together - each part playing it's part. That's the beauty of God's plan.
1 Cor. 3 says that God causes the growth in the church, but here in vs. 16 it says that it's every part doing its part that causes the growth. God causes the growth but He uses us to do it. Growth that can't be measured by the size of a building or budget - not that there's anything wrong with large buildings orlarge budgets. But that's not the growth that God emphasizes. That growth is measured by people touched and transformed by the power of God's grace. Saved by the power of Christ's blood shed for them. Lives and marriages and children who are growing in the knowledge and the grace of the Lord Jesus. Lonely people who find love, hurting people who find healing, hardened hearts that are melted by grace, and broken lives that are put back together by mercy. A church body that, rather than tearing itself down in division, is building itself up in love. What a glorious vision God's word gives us for the church!
So a part of our vision as a church is to help people move from attenders to contributors, from served to serving. Again, not out of desperate need for volunteers but because it's a necessary part of all of us maturing. So...let's look at three quick practical thoughts about how we do that.
- Ask God to give you His heart to serve
We need Jesus to give us his heart to serve. We all suffer from incurvatus in se and we need the power of the Spirit to break that inward curve and bend us outward in a life of serving others. To be "good and faithful servants" we need God's help and power. So ask God to give you His heart to serve.
- Figure out what you love and are good at
God made you in a particular way to serve Him in a particular way and probably it's not going to be doing something you hate and are bad at. Now, there's a time and place to serve in the church in whatever way is needed - when we first planted the church we had one criteria for serving in a ministry: you needed to have a pulse. And for some ministries even that was open for negotiation. But when someone plugs into what they love and are good at, they're going to serve so much more effectively in that area. And they will be far less likely to burn out.
When I was pastoring a church on Long Island, one day the office phone rang and when I picked up, it was a woman asking me if I did oil changes. Turns out our phone number was just one digit different than a nearby service station. But I didn't have to think hard about it, or pray about it, oil changes just wasn't a part of what God had called me to do. And I'm pretty sure if the service station got calls asking if they performed marriages, they were probably pretty quick to say no too. Figure out what you love and are good at.
- Get involved!
There is a tremendous barrier that we break when we just get involved. Here at GCC we want to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved in a ministry. And so there is a brochure on the welcome table in the lobby that lists the ministries that are taking place in the life of the church here.
And you don't have to track down who's leading what ministry and call someone you don't know to get information. You can just email or call the office and we will put you in touch with someone who can getyou information about that particular ministry. And asking for information does not mean that you are obligated to serve in that ministry. We want to make it as easy and pressure free for you to figure out how and where God might be leading you to serve within the church. If GCC is your home church or you are considering it as a possibility, and you aren't already serving, please take one on your way out.
Maybe the Lord has put something on your heart that isn't currently going on in the church. This morning you heard about a new ministry called Showers of Blessing, and that really was birthed by Alicia Roberts who listened to a recent message about the importance of using our spiritual gifts and finding our spiritual assignment, and the Lord brought this burden back to her heart and she emailed me to ask what she might do with it. I encouraged her with something I heard from Chip Ingram: dream a dream, form a team, write out a one page summary of how the ministry might be carried out. So she contacted some women who had a heart for the ministry to unborn children, and from that a ministry has been birthed. Maryah Wilber also came with a ministry dream of forming a dance ministry, and same thing, she wrote out a page summarizing her ideas about the ministry and is in the process of assembling a team of young girls interested in serving the Lord in this way. Tim Rawleigh is another who came with a burden for discipleship in the church, and has led two How People Change classes and is currently leading the Financial Peace class. These things wouldn't have happened if these people hadn't stepped forward with a burden on their heart.
And all ministry doesn't need to be - and shouldn't be - centered on the local church either. There is a whole world in need of ministering to! Showers of Blessing isn't to meet a need in this church, but to helpand support pregnancy resource centers that are doing such an important ministry to young women who need loving and compassionate care to help point them towards life. Cathlyn Cole isn't with us this morning because she is sharing with another church about the Potter's Hands Foundation - a ministry to young women caught in sex trafficking industry.
I can't guarantee that every idea/burden that a person has is necessarily going to flow with our DNA and vision as a church. But as we seek to serve the Lord and others, ministry should and will flow. Every member a ministry, and ministry multiplied to the glory of God and the healthy growth of the church. Let's pray.