Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 12:7a (Holman) . . .if service, in service;
This grace-gift entails actions rather than words. It is significant, worthy of close examination. Service is a spiritual empowering that enables us to perform the practical acts of ministering to the personal needs of others in Jesus’ name. The Greek word here often denoted the work of a slave, the service of one for another.
Our Lord said He came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28). Thus it is no surprise that service, along with teaching, is the gift most commonly claimed by His followers. Anyone with the gift of service is drawn to people and projects needing assistance. Helpers don’t have to be asked to serve. Their antennas are always up, looking for ways to pitch in. They see what needs to be done and do it.
If a classroom is in shambles at class time, a person with discernment will say, “Someone missed an assignment.” An administrator says, “Find a custodian.” A person with wisdom would say, “We should check our room earlier each week.”
The church member with the gift of service starts rearranging chairs and picking up trash. They have the room in order in about two minutes, finding as much satisfaction in doing this as the teacher will later find in teaching the lesson.
People with this gift find it hard to say no to any need. They gladly serve to the point of exhaustion, regretting there isn’t more to do. They admire Dorcas, who abounded “with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did” (AC 9:36b NAS). They do dishes, take out garbage, clean floors, set up tables, visit the homebound, take food to the sick, care for the poor, greet strangers at the door, help older adults navigate stairs, pat children on the head, etc. They ever seek ways to minister a kindness to others, to let Jesus love through them.
People with the gift of service do not have to be in the limelight. In fact, they often find attention to be a detriment. Quietly working behind the scenes is okay.
A helper enjoys sincere appreciation, a simple thank you, but is embarrassed by public recognition. This is one reason I know I do not have the gift of service. I never met a camera I did not like and never regretted seeing my name in lights or in big letters on the program. Folks like me need the example of servants.
People with the gift of service set the standard for the rest of us. This trait is vital, not peripheral, to what we are about as a church. We may not all share the exuberance of servants, but none of us should ever feel too good to stoop. We should all serve and help in every situation that presents itself to us. If you ever feel hesitant to serve, say to yourself, “My Master washed feet.” Thank you, dear servants, for demonstrating again and again the spirit of our precious Savior.
Service, in whatever form it takes, is a labor of love. It requires that we see others from the Savior’s point of view. We must let Jesus love people through us.
There is a difference between ministry and what we commonly term social services. Deeds of compassion within the fellowship are not the same as those done by the government and other secular organizations.
The Christian in ministry goes forth in the name of Jesus. All we do is done that others might see His compassion through our deeds. We do what we do in order to make a good impression on others for Jesus. In our deeds of compassion Jesus should somehow be mentioned and glorified.
Another unique feature of ministry is that it is spiritual work. It requires spiritual gifting and strengthening to be done at its best. In Acts 6 the seven men who were set apart for the work of ministry had to be “full of faith and the Holy Ghost.” Just as I must seek the anointing of God to enhance my gift of teaching, even so those involved in ministry must seek constant help from above.
Stay in prayer, read the word, commune with the Lord. Spiritual work drains us. We must always renew our inner strength. One day Spurgeon was looking out a window above a city square. People were coming to draw from the town’s water pump. One man, with a yoke over his shoulders carrying two large buckets, kept returning again and again throughout the day. The preacher said he learned a lesson from that water carrier. It was obvious the man was not drawing for himself only. He was working to provide water for many people. Since he had many to carry water to, he had to come to the source more often than others did.
The same is true of all who serve. You carry living water to others. Your supply of strength will quickly diminish unless you are constantly replenishing it.
Serving others is truly a blessing to the server as well as to the served, but unfortunately, churches often act as if service is a burden. They see it as something undesirable, a job they want to pass to others. For believers, such an attitude is sad.
Caring for the needs of others is not a peripheral matter for the church, nor is it optional. It is a command from God and it is very, very important. It is certainly high on this list in our text, second only to preaching.
It is difficult to over-estimate the importance placed upon this gift by Paul and the early church. Paul travelled all the way to Jerusalem to carry an offering to the poor saints there. The early church set aside an order of men in Acts 6 to see that this vital work was not neglected.
Compassion for the less fortunate must be a priority in our lives. Wherever we have a chance to show kindness in any form, it must be done.
Service must be a priority in our individual lives, and also a priority in our fellowship. Collectively we must prepare to help others. It deserves our best effort.
We must find those who have this grace-gift and then urge their whole-hearted commitment to leading us in this work. A church’s ministry is not a work that can be done in a haphazard way. If we do not consciously make every effort to do it, it will not get done adequately.
Ministry is the kind of thing that can easily get lost in the busy shuffle of a congregation. Therefore, it must not be left to chance. In fact, the poor and suffering should not even have to come seeking us; it is our duty to go after them. We must actively be looking for ways to help the suffering.
The Bible teaches us that he who gives to the poor gives to the Lord who will repay the gift (Proverbs 19:17). Matthew 25:34 – 40 carries this concept even further. To feed the hungry means to feed the Lord. To give water to the thirsty is to give a drink to the Master. To take in a stranger is equal to receiving the Lord. To clothe the naked means to cover the Lord. To visit the sick is the same as visiting the Lord. To go see those in prison is as going to see the Lord.
Every deed of mercy, every act of compassion, is a gift unto the Lord. Since this is true it provides me a way to express this love I have in my heart for the Lord. If giving to the poor is a way for me to give to Jesus, then help me find the poor. I do not want to wait until they come to me. I want to seek them out.
The church never has a right to take a “come to me” posture. Our purpose is to “go find,” to seek opportunities to bless. May God drive us into the field to do both sides of the same coin, evangelism and ministry. The two are forever wed, may we never put them asunder.
Dr. Harold Renfrow, my missionary friend to Brazil, says our churches in America have been hurt by abdicating many of their ministries to government agencies. He believes we must reclaim them to be more effective in evangelism.
Several years ago, St. Louis was stunned beyond words by learning that a mother there had murdered her three children. The lady’s home was seven blocks from Tower Grove Baptist Church. The pastor there, my dear friend, Gary Taylor, was asked to visit this mother in prison. At first he found her to be cold and hard, saying things like, “People told me to have an abortion every time I got pregnant. What’s the difference between what I did and having an abortion?” (That’s a good question. It needs to be pondered by those who favor murder of the unborn.)
As the conversation progressed, however, the pastor’s warm heart began to melt her coldness. He spoke to her of the Lord and shared from the Bible. When my beloved pastor-friend stood to leave, the mother put her arms around him, held him as tight as she could, and said, “I wish I had found your church before last Wednesday.” Without realizing the full significance of his own words, Bro. Gary instinctively replied, “Ma’am, it’s not your duty to find our church; it’s the duty of our church to find you.”