GALATIANS 5:13 (Part 1)
Serve With Love
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Galatians 5:13 (Holman) For you are called to freedom, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
We Christ-followers are to serve one another. This lesson will talk about the worst way to serve, under compulsion, and how to find a better way to serve.
God’s children often serve under compulsion. They are trapped POWs, victims of infamous annual Recruitment Wars. Let me dramatize a true story.
When I was about ten years old, our church always had trouble finding a leader for our Royal Ambassadors (RA) group. RA was Christian scouting for boys, with a major emphasis on missions education.
Our church sat on the wrong side of the tracks. We RAs were hoodlums. We knew how to cuss and fight, plus be mean and obnoxious. Corralling us was a tough assignment. No one wanted to tackle the job, but everyone knew the current RA leader, Bob, had a soft spot in his heart for us hooligans.
Every year at enlistment time, the nominating committee would go to work. They filled positions, knowing full well which job would be the hardest and last to fill. The committee knew the RA routine and worked it with finesse.
Bob had to be approached early on. It took a while to whittle down his resistance. They began their craftily planned assault with a simple question, “Bob, we need a RA leader for next year. Will you do it again?” His first answer was always, “No, I think God wants me to do something else next year.”
The committee member, knowing it was too early to press the point, would piously say, “Amen. That’s the main concern, Bob, but don’t close the door on God. He needs someone to care for these boys. Let’s all pray about it.”
As days went by, other positions were filled quickly. In each case, the three main requirements for service were a pulse, a warm body, and ability to breathe. The committee never asked if the people had a job they would like to try.
A certain number of positions had to be filled, and it was assumed spiritual people would let themselves be buttonholed into any one of them. A person’s desires, goals, dreams, and plans didn’t count.
Happiness and fulfillment were inconsequential. The predetermined list of jobs, sanctioned by the nominating committee, blessed by the church, and made sacrosanct by years of tradition, was all that mattered.
Every year, the last position filled was the one dealing with me and the other criminal elements. Bob would remain strong against the committee for a while.
He suggested they check to see if someone else would accept us “beloved” boys. To placate Bob, the committee did ask others to take the job. Everyone laughed out loud, scowled, or responded with such pompous disdain for us vultures that the committee never asked any of them again.
As the clock ominously ticked toward the recruitment deadline, only one position stood between the committee and success. They began applying more pressure. “Bob, we’ve been praying. We truly believe, in fact we are absolutely convinced, it is God’s will for you to be our RA leader for another year.”
Bob hated to go against God’s perfectly revealed will, and the committee did seem to have the Lord’s mind figured out. Bob bought a little extra time, saying he would pray a while longer.
The committee felt victory was close. They sensed Bob weakening. They held back their ace in the hole until the eleventh hour. At the deadline, when it would be Bob or nobody, they thrust their most effective sword into Bob’s conscience.
“Bob, there is no one else. If you don’t take these boys under wing – we hate to say this, Bob, but it’s true – if you don’t take this job, these boys are going to bust Hell wide open when they die.”
With that, Bob choked down a gasp, fought back tears, and stammered with quivering lips, “I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” The committee members hugged him, patted him on the back, congratulated his spirituality, and walked away, never thinking of us juvenile delinquents again till next year’s recruitment war began.
With a good heart and best intentions, Bob, who truly did love us, once again tried to lead our aggressive pack of wolves. For two or three weeks, while we threw spit wads, paper airplanes, pencils, and insults at one another, Bob would try to teach us Bible lessons, attempt to help us memorize Scripture, and try to teach us about missions. By the fourth week or so, he gave up, and for the rest of the year we spent our RA time outside playing dodge ball.
This dramatized tale of woe doesn’t miss literal fact by much. Somehow, I don’t think Bob’s nightmare is what God meant for His children. I believe Jesus intended something better than annual recruitment wars, resulting in miserable people serving with halfhearted mediocrity.
It is much easier to serve when it rises out of a passion that flows from love. What is your passion, the thing that quickens your pulse, makes your heart beat faster, and grips you emotionally at the core of your being?
What makes your blood boil when you hear or read about a wrong done in a particular area? What are you willing to give up sleep for, to stay up late at night to do, or to talk about? These are important questions because everyone needs to serve in the area of their passion.
This fact raises the key question of this lesson. Once we are willing to serve in an area of passion, how do we find what it is? In 43 years I have found only one adequate answer to the question. My only known solution is trial and error.
Repeating the process of trial and error often over the course of a lifetime is our only foolproof means of discerning what God wants for us at any given season of life. Sermons on spiritual gifts help, as do spiritual gift inventories. But in the final analysis, success comes from repeatedly diving in; sailing through uncharted waters, till the fit feels right.
Maybe my story of trial and error could help. When I was fifteen, God cleaned up my life, clearing away sins I had been picking up on the wrong side of the tracks since age nine.
I was clueless as to God’s will for my life, but surrendered to do anything I was asked to do. I helped the janitor clean on Saturday, taught youth in Sunday School, sang in the choir and in a quartet, and began preaching.
The latter happened because I sat next to Jerry Oliver in the choir one Sunday. Dad was making announcements, reminding us next Sunday would be Youth Sunday, and that Jerry Oliver was in charge of enlisting the youth. Jerry gasped, and quietly said, “Oh no. I forgot.” He then said to me, “John, will you preach?” Since I had promised God I would do what I was asked to do, I said yes. My first sermon, at age 15, was on the difference between love and lust. I knew little about love, but was well experienced in lust. Later, still at age 15, I preached my second sermon, a message on how to raise Godly children. It was actually a pretty good sermon. I discussed ways Mom and Dad had raised me.
Not until 25 years later did I learn about spiritual gifts, and peg teaching as my gift, but I did know enough through the years to realize preaching was the strongest weapon in my professional arsenal. Finding my precise niche within the preaching ministry required a zig-zag path of trial and error.
About the time I baptized our Teaching Pastor, Shane Segars, God forced me out of my comfort zone and into bus ministry, giving me a heart for the lost. Later, He let me stumble through a professional failure to upend my pride.
When I was 34, He sidetracked me beside still waters to heal my decades-long battle with depression. In 1991, I had to go to Fort Smith for my crash course in how to handle a large church organization.
In 1995, the Lord brought me here to Springfield and arrested my heart for missions. He added to this a renewed passion for holiness and a new burning for ministry, especially to the poor.
Now He seems to be pushing me in the direction of church planting. This zig-zag trial and error method continues, bringing to my ministry new horizons, ever-changing nuances, and freshly stoked areas of passion.
Knowing what my gift was has not been enough, but it has remained the ballast, the anchor, the steadying and stabilizing force in my life. It has kept me focused, and on target with well-defined limits, but trial and error has led me to the specific areas of service at different times.