This week's Bible Study - May 17, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
This lesson continues with the 'should-be' practices of a believer. The title of the lesson is Practice Service. What do you think of when you think of service? The word service is overused with many meanings. In my line of work a software service is some code that performs some function or capability. However, even among software developers, the term service is often overused in many ways. We may think of one's service to our country, through one of the military services (US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, etc). In churches, we think of church service, which can be the 'service' held on Sunday morning, or it may be 'service' performed, as some sort of ministry. There are plenty of other meanings and application to service.
In this lesson, we are talking of service, as in serving someone. When you go to a restaurant and have a waiter or waitress, what type of service do you expect? Often, it depends on the type of restaurant, but generally we think of someone who takes our order, brings the food, refills drinks and takes care of other needs we may have while eating. We are often quick to talk about bad service if we don't believe that we were given the type of treatment we expected. In other areas, when we are being served, we have some expectation of how we might be treated. If you have served others, in a restaurant or in some other capacity, have you served them in the same way that you would desire to be treated?
For this lesson, we are talking some sort of spiritual service for another person (or persons). It may be serving in some ministry in the church or it may be serving in some other way outside of the walls of the church. Certainly, there are many opportunities within the church, as churches have many different ministries in which people can serve. Church members can work with children or other aged groups. They can serve by performing background tasks, or in high profile positions. Outside of church, the areas for service are even wider, as we have opportunities to serve others we come in contact with, in many different ways at many different times. What does it require to be a good servant?
In this letter to the church at Galatia, Paul writes that they have been free. Freedom is based on perspective, as some people would assume freedom to mean that they can do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. However, our real freedom comes in Christ. There are two basic enemies of Christian freedom. The first is license, in which some act as their freedom gives them the permission to live immoral lives. This should not be true, as our freedom simply states that we are not judged by the Law, but we still strive for obedience because of what we have been given. The Christian faith was never intended to be simply believed, but it always intended faithful obedience of the believer. The other enemy of Christian freedom is legalism. When we become legalistic, we act as if doing or not doing a list of rules and are essentially negating the impact of Christ.
While we should be careful about how we live, there is no value of believing that dogged adherence makes us more acceptable to God. We are only acceptable to God based on the work of Christ, and the impact of Christ on a believer is to have faith that expresses itself through love. We still strive to do the right thing, but we do it out of obedience and not out of compulsion.
Paul wrote that the church was running a good race and that they were going in the right way. However, he questioned who had stepped in and changed the signs to divert them in some other direction. When I was in high school, somehow I found myself running cross country, which was NOT my sport. On the courses, we would run through fields and on golf courses and in different places that were not clearly marked. If not for the throng of runners ahead of me, it would sometimes be easy to get lost. And, if that group went the wrong way, I likely would have followed unknowingly. This is the potential problem within the church. Even when things have been going in the right direction, it is possible to get sidetracked and focus on the wrong things.
Even when there is faith that expresses itself in love, aberrant teaching preached from the pulpit can divert the direction of a church. In some churches, there is so much stress on specific issues that it can potentially divert believers off of the course of the gospel. In the church at Galatia, there were leaders trying to revive the Law and adherence to it, specifically circumcision. Paul wrote of the error in this teaching. Certainly, there needs to be Biblical teaching and the acknowledgement of sin. There are certainly standards that we must strive to meet in life, but Paul wrote of the danger of focusing on the Law as a requirement for salvation.
Believers are called to be free, but our freedom is not to be focused on self. We are to serve each other humbly in love. To serve implies that we must do something, and the word "humbly" implies that we must do this with the correct attitude. Have you ever come across somebody who will do a task, but their attitude could be described as anything but humble? If we are not serving others or if we are only doing what we want to do, is our focus more on ourselves or others?
Often, some Christians end up serving out of compulsion. For many, they know of the feeling of being asked to do something in church that they do not really feel equipped to do. In some smaller churches, the same people seem to get asked to do almost everything. I suppose this is similar to some workplaces, where people show that they can handle a task so they often get asked to the do the next one. Especially in regards to time contributions that people make, the more that they are asked to do and feel manipulated in doing, the idea of freely serving is lost.
John Piper has spoken about freedom in terms of desire (if pressured, you aren't free), ability (true freedom requires ability, as in I may be free to tightrope walk, but I can't do that "more than once") and opportunity (without opportunity to do something, I am not free to do it). He pointed out that the concept of freedom can be misapplied in some cases, as there are times where you may have the desire, ability and opportunity, but to do something would destroy us. As believers, we have freedom in Christ, and that freedom leads us to being the people we are called to be. When we exercise our freedom in line with Christ, we will find that it leads to no regrets. How many times have we each exercised 'freedom', in line with what we wanted, only to regret what we did in the future?
As we think about service, we need to realize that to do so, we need to live as we have been called to live. We are to walk by the Spirit, such that we are not gratifying the desires of the flesh. You can't really walk both ways and have peace. The desires of the flesh, as described here, are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Some of these things are obvious and we would all fervently agree that they are wrong. However, do you see how many of these hide within each of us? We may not tell others that these things are prevalent in our lives, but we know that when they are, they are very destructive. These would include things like hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. When these are present in our lives (and we are able to take a step back and see them), we realize their destructive nature. For example, when we harbor hatred against someone, we begin to see that it can consume us and become all we think about.
In these verses, we read about the fruit of the Spirit, which is what needs to be evident in our lives so that we can practice joyfully and humbly serving. These fruits, as described here, are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Isn't this a much more pleasant list? It really doesn't matter where you are serving; these "fruits" enable you to serve with a much more open and willing heart. Isn't it interesting to think about how the Law tends to tell us what we can't (or shouldn't) do, and in most cases, they are very clear. Even when those behaviors and attitudes of the world are evident within us, we know that they are problematic. However, the fruit of the Spirit includes attitudes that should be prevalent within a believer.
There may be times where we think that we have conquered the flesh and that we don't need to worry about its impact any longer. However, we must always be diligent, so that we put to death our earthly nature on a daily basis. Otherwise, as the old Hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, reads, "prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the Lord I love".
We need to realize that the only way to truly have the fruits of the Spirit is in Christ. Certainly, you will find some nice people, but their goodness pales in comparison to what God requires of a person who is trying to live 'good enough' without Christ. In Romans 8:6-8, we read that the mind set on the flesh cannot please God and is in fact, hostile to God. Even those who seem to live morally upright lives, but do it based on their own merit, are unable to approach God. However, when we are led by the Spirit, we have to power to be the people that we are called to be, as opposed to what we may merely want to be. I have heard it said that we have a constant battle between the Spirit and the flesh, and the winner is found daily (if not hourly) based on the one we feed. Have you noticed that when you spend more time in Bible Study and prayer, you find it easier to defeat the flesh, and when you allow more of the world to take more of your time, you end up giving the flesh more opportunities to attack you? In Luke 9:23, we are called to deny ourselves daily. Do you realize that the attitudes you have and the ability to be the person God has called you to be has much to do with how you live your life each day?
As we serve, we need to be on our guards daily. When we start to see any negative type of attitudes that creep into our lives, we need to seek the power of the Spirit. If you are aware of yourself starting to become conceited, seek the Spirit. If you find that you are provoking one another, seek the Spirit. If envy becomes a driving force in your life, seek the Spirit. When you can keep in step with the Spirit, you can live by the Spirit.
In these verses in chapter 6, we read about those who need restoration. You may think of high profile people, but each of us, as believers, will encounter times in which we are in sin. It may not be some life altering sin, but each of us is more than capable of falling into the ways of the world. When this happens, there is a need for restoration and that often will involve others. When I first saw this passage with this lesson, I was unsure of its relationship, but perhaps one area of service is helping in the restoration of those who have wandered. If your service is in the area of restoration, we must remember the ultimate goal is to restore and not punish. It truly takes the right kind of people to serve in this capacity. These must be gentle and have an attitude that does not allow one to become too personally involved.
Some are able to serve as humble burden bearers. Many people in our midst are facing pressures and are struggling. At some point, we will all have burdens and having others to come beside us is of great benefit. In some cases, these people seem to know the right thing to say and at other times, their mere presence beside us is appreciated. Similarly, God brings people with burdens into our path. Are we willing to help them?
It is important that we can distinguish between heavy burdens and light loads. A burden is something that is very difficult to deal with by one's self, while a load may be thought of something that may be difficult, but is not what we might call overly troublesome. For example, dealing with a situation that is overwrought with emotion to the point that it feels like it could easily crush you, is what I would call burdensome, while a load might be more similar to tasks associated with seasons of our lives - such as taking care of multiple kids and their schedules. While that can be difficult, it is temporary and there are usually things we can do to lighten the pressure - burdens aren't so easily handed off.
Some people want to hand other everything difficult to others - from burdens to loads. When people take over for them, a person can often begin to expect help in every situation. On the other hand, there are people who are intending to help, and if not careful, they can find that they are taking too much responsibility from the person with the problem. We need to rely upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can know when we are helping others as opposed to enabling them and stunting their spiritual and emotional maturity.
If you are involved in ministry, you are serving. If you have some other task or function you perform, you are serving. But, whether you are working for a 'sanctioned' ministry or in a defined spot, we can all serve others. As we serve others, we should do this in love, as believers we are to be known by our love. Remember that you can serve without love, but you can't love without serving.
In scripture, there are many 'one another' passages. These are found all throughout the New Testament and include building up, admonishing, forgiving, comforting, praying for (and with), confessing to, teaching, greeting, accepting, encouraging, being devoted to, being kind to and submitting (to one another), and in many ways, all of these are examples of serving one another.
When we consider the freedom we have, the key as to how we use that freedom is our love for others. If we accept the liberty of Christ and love others, we will serve one another. If we accept the liberty of Christ and do not love others, life becomes all about 'me'. Are you loving others? Are you serving others? Our prayer for you is that as you go about your daily life, you will be sensitive to the power of the Holy Spirit and his prompting to serve others, that you will be willing to take advantage of those opportunities, and that you would be renewed by seeing what God does through you, and finally thank Him for allowing you to be a part of His work.