The Gifts of the Spirit- Service

Service was a big part of the ministry of Jesus. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we read that Jesus, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). He ultimately served humanity by becoming the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). … Jesus' whole life is an integrated act of loving service to us and to his Father. His birth, baptism, teaching, healing, exorcism, cross, resurrection, and ascension are all about Jesus' loving service.

Once at a meal he got up and served his disciples by washing their feet, which was completely unheard of for a Rabbi to do for his disciples (John 13). That was usually the job of the lowest ranking servant. We read, 

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:12-15).
 … Elsewhere Jesus says, 
“whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matt 20:26).
 This is a message that Paul continues to teach his churches, 
“For you were called to freedom, brothers [and sisters]. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Service is something all Christians are called to. To serve is to be other-centered, rather than self-centered. Service is exerting our energies for the benefit of another. It is love in action. The author Richard Foster says that being a servant enables a person “to say no to the world’s games of promotion and authority”. It frees us from the game of having to feel better than others. Service is good for our soul.

Today we are continuing our series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As I just said, all Christians are called to serve, but there are some who have the gift of service. … In the book of Acts some were designated as deacons (Acts 6:1-7). They were seven individuals who were selected to distribute food to widows. St. Stephen was among those chosen. Even today we continue that order of clergy- the deacons. They have a particular calling to service in the world, but the spiritual gift of service extends beyond that group of people.

So how might you know that you have the spiritual gift of service? Those with the spiritual gift of service are very hands-on and practical, and they often like to operate behind the scenes. They get joy from being helpful to others- It isn’t drudgery.

Those with the gift of service often have an uncanny ability to see a need. It’s almost as if they are looking for it. If someone is speaking and they cough, someone with the gift of service is up to grab a glass of water for them. They are often setting up chairs and tables before a funeral. They are cooking in the kitchen, and cleaning dishes afterwards. They are fixing the building and repairing the fence. They are shoveling the snow and mowing the lawn. Generally, this is a source of joy for those with the gift of service. Many will help with these things because they know they have to be done. But those with the gift of service are usually enjoying themselves (if they aren’t over committing themselves).

They often have a good memory. They will remember how you like your coffee. They remember birthdays and anniversaries. They are usually tidy, and they usually complete the jobs they commit themselves to, but they want to do the job well, so they don’t like being rushed.

Each gift also has its own dangers. For example, those with the gift of service often have a hard time saying “no” to requests for help. This means they can get overwhelmed by all that they have committed to do. They might even involve themselves when they have only been asked for advice. Someone might say their car is having a hard time starting. Instead of saying “well, you should check your battery, then check your starter if you are still having problems…”, suddenly the person with the gift of service finds themselves elbow deep in the engine. …. A person with the gift of service will often have responsibilities at home that get neglected because they put the needs of others ahead of their own. … The person with the gift of service needs to be careful to ask God where they should exercise their gift of service, otherwise they will find themselves over-committed and that will suck the joy out of their gift.

That means they might have to let go of some things, and that means others might do them but not do as well as them. Someone with the gift of service might have a hard time watching their child make a sandwich. Their eyeball starts to twitch as they watch them scoop out too much peanut butter and clumsily apply it to the bread… unevenly. They know they could do it better and faster, so they are tempted to do it themselves.

Another danger is that sometimes an immediate practical task can overshadow a greater good. For example, we can look at Mary and Martha when Jesus visits their home in Luke 10. Martha seems to have the gift of service. She is running around being the hostess. She gets frustrated with her sister, Mary, who isn’t helping. She is learning at the feet of Jesus. Martha gets frustrated with Mary and says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus responds by saying, 
“Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
 … Those with the gift of service are generally on Martha’s side. And there is nothing wrong, generally, with what Martha was doing. She was exercising her spiritual gift of service. The problem was that she became frustrated when she saw Mary slacking. Martha thought the more important thing was to help host Jesus and the disciples. Jesus said she got her priorities wrong this time. Sometimes there is something more important happening.

That’s probably a danger for all of us, no matter what gift we have. We can be inclined to see the world through the lens of our spiritual gift. If we have the gift of serving we might think that Christianity is really about service and everything else is not as important. Serving might even overtake what is practically helpful. Someone with the gift of service might ‘overhelp’. They might empty your dish washer for you, but then you can’t find your soup ladle for 6 months.

Those with the spiritual gift of service are a beautiful gift to the Christian community. They show love in very practical ways. They inspire us by the difference they make and the selfless ways they expend their energy (which they seem to have an endless supply of). They are joyful as they work for the good of others and for the benefit of the community. They even do things that we don’t always notice, and that can (maybe) be hurtful. But God sees it all and no loving act of service goes unnoticed by Him. Ultimately, God is the one they are serving in their actions. … The Lord of the universe washes our feet, and in return he doesn't ask that we wash his, He asks instead that we wash each other's feet. Our service and love to him is shown in our love and service to each other. And this is how we become known- it is by our love. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus by the way we dress, or what we eat or don't eat. We aren't shown to be followers of Jesus based or our rituals, or our rule following. … We are shown to be followers of Jesus by our love for one another- by our willingness to serve each other. Thank God for those with the gift of service among us who show us how to do this. AMEN


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