March 2023 GPS
The admonitions we will look at this month and the next, like those of the previous months, call us to do good for others, but they also address the matter of the attitude which is to govern what we do for one another. In today’s social climate these admonitions are especially needed. The one we will study this month is that we are to serve one another.
The call to serve one another is found in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV) The context of this verse helps us to get a better understanding of what it means. Paul has been talking about how in one sense we are no longer under the Mosaic Law code. Here he reminds his readers that they were not to use that freedom to satisfy their own personal desires. Rather, they were to use that freedom in a way that would serve one another. The culture in which we live in America today encourages us to think of ourselves first. From a song taught to children years ago that said, “The most important person in the whole wide world is you,” to today’s commercials that encourage us to buy items because “you deserve these things,” we are bombarded with the message that we are to think of ourselves first. We are even told that we cannot love others unless we love ourselves, so self-love is a morally positive responsibility. That mindset shows how countercultural it is to teach that we ought to serve others. In contrast to this mindset, Paul admonishes us: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4, ESV) Elsewhere he writes “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2, ESV)
This instruction was to be applied in all kinds of interpersonal contexts. In the New Testament world where slavery existed everywhere, Paul wrote, “Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.” (1 Timothy 6:2, ESV) In relation to a totally different kind of relationship Paul wrote, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” (Philippians 2:22, ESV) I find it interesting that the Greek noun related to the verb “serve” is the word for “slave.” I am not suggesting that we are to attach all of the associations of being a slave to the meaning conveyed by “serve,” but I am suggesting that the mindset we are to have when we think of our relationship to other believers ought to be to minister to them rather than to satisfy our own desires.
Our Lord called His disciples to manifest this same attitude by reminding them that He had set the example Himself. “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be and served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25–28, ESV) In his letter to the believers at Philippi Paul reminded his readers of this fact when he wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5–7, ESV marginal reading) Since our Lord, God incarnate, came to earth not to be served but to serve, and since that service involved the great sacrifice that it did, and if we claim to be His followers, is it asking too much for us to make it a habit of life to seek to serve others rather than to be served, especially if they are fellow believers?
One other phrase in our Galatians passage needs to be noted as part of Paul’s instructions about serving one another. Galatians 5:13 says that this service is to be performed “through love.” It is not to be done with a resentful or resistant attitude but out of genuine love. Paul emphasizes the importance of love two more times in this context. The very next verse says: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:14, ESV) Earlier in the same section he said: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6, ESV) We are called to serve others through love. When something is said to be done “through love,” I understand that to mean that acts or expressions of love are the means through which we are to serve others. Jesus said, ““A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV) If we truly love, we will also serve.