This morning, we were considering Ephesians 6:5-9 and what it is to be a godly worker. How do we glorify God in our secular work, whether in a subordinate role or a managerial position? You can listen to that sermon at the Oldham Bethel Church website.
From these verses flowed some important implications for our service in the church. How does God motivate us to serve? When should we serve? What if I don’t feel like serving? We touched on two basic truths. Firstly, God does not encourage us to serve Him for any negative reason. Second, God promises great benefits to us when we serve Him.
We saw in Eph 6:9 that masters are not to threaten those in their employ. We saw that God does not threaten us with punishment or Hell so that we might serve Him. As true believers, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 8:1). We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Eph 2:8-9). God does not threaten us with Hell and damnation every time we fail to serve Him nor does he bring up our sin every time we falter (cf. Psa 103:11-13). This means there is no negative reason to serve Jesus once we are saved; He does not motivate us to serve Him by threatening sanctions.
It therefore follows that God only motivates us to serve him positively. He doesn’t threaten us if we don’t serve Him, we merely miss out on his blessings and all the good things he promises to us when we don’t. And that is so obviously true. God could do all the forms and types of service that He gives to the church entirely by himself. What is more, He would do them quicker, better and more fully. There is not one element of Christian service that God could not do equally well, if not altogether better, were we not involved. So the very fact that God wants us to be involved rather suggests our involvement is more for our benefit than His.
The sum total of this is that if we don’t want to serve, then perhaps we should stop. God will not condemn us to Hell if we keep our faith firmly in Christ but draw back from running some of the programmes in church. To think otherwise is to trust our works, and not Christ, for our salvation. Service in scripture was never by compulsion. Doing it does not pay Christ back for his work nor does it add to our salvation. If we don’t want to it, we do it under duress or we serve for any other reason than our love for Jesus then the answer is stop serving.
Then why bother serving? I hear you ask. Certainly if your sole concern is avoiding death and Hell, serving isn’t going to make any difference. There is no negative reason for failing to serve in church ministries. There is no punishment awaiting you if you decide you’d rather not serve on a tea and coffee rota. The reason to serve is not to avoid anything; it is to gain something. And it is to gain something far more wonderful than the joy of sitting at home watching the telly! Here are just four of those things.
We gain assurance of our faith when we serve Jesus Christ and his church. Let’s be honest, why on earth would we serve if we didn’t love Him? What possible reason would we have for serving difficult people who are ungrateful about the things we do if it wasn’t for the love of Jesus? Why would we continue sharing the gospel which is always difficult, awkward and thoroughly terrifying most of the time if our faith was not real? Serving Christ affirms the genuineness of our faith.
Not only are we an encouragement to others who join us in ministry but we are actively encouraged by them. As we work together in a common purpose, we will find our friendships develop that much deeper with our fellow workers. The people we come to know and trust the most in church life are often not those who merely lend us a sympathetic ear. More often than not, it is those with whom we have laboured side by side in gospel. Those with whom we have spent gruelling hours together serving Jesus and encouraging one another, spurring each other on. Service deepens our fellowship and encourages others.
The power of the Spirit
Clearly the Spirit is still active whether we serve or not. However, we gain a more full experience of the Spirit’s power when we serve. Are we more likely to recognise the Spirit’s work in us sat at home watching back to back episodes of the latest box-set released on Netflix or when we are serving Christ and his church? Are we more likely to experience the empowering work of the Spirit in the comfort of an armchair or engaging in work that Christ commands but for which we feel ill equipped and wholly uncomfortable? Is it more likely that we will experience the Spirit’s empowering work reading a book about Christian service or when we are actively engaged in Christian service? If God’s power is made perfect in weakness, that suggests it is not made perfect (and perhaps rarely experienced) when we are totally and utterly comfortable.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus encourages us to store up “treasures in Heaven”. Clearly the idea that there are rewards to be gained is not unChristian. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:14f, also makes clear there are rewards to be gained in Heaven based on what we have done for Christ. In fact, Paul reinforces our earlier point. There will be those who are saved “as through fire”. They will still enter God’s kingdom but their reward will be lesser than had they served Christ. It seems clear that though there are benefits to be gained now in our service, there are even greater rewards to come. If we serve Christ faithfully now, he will reward us greatly when we stand with Him in glory.