“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
No one wants to be treated like a doormat. No one wants to be taken advantage of. No one wants to be manipulated. We want to help. We want to improve the quality of life for another. We want to bless others. So how do we serve others without getting walked all over?
The New Testament epistles have a lot to say about serving others:
• “…serve one another humbly in love…” – Galatians 5:13
• “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” – 1 Peter 4:10
• “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” – Philippians 2:10
There is no doubt that serving others is an important spiritual practice and an act of worship to God. Yet surely there are guidelines or boundaries to prevent us from completely collapsing under the strain of endless service?
The same New Testament epistles make a subtle but important distinction:
• “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters” – Colossians 3:23
• “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women” – Ephesians 6:7
• “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” – 1 Corinthians 4:1
The scriptures make it clear that we are called to serve God as revealed in Christ. We serve others because of the higher calling to God. The grandeur of God is present in all that is and for this reason (among others) we serve those around us. However, we cannot lose sight that ultimately we are “servants of Christ.” Understanding the distinction between serving God and serving others is what gives us the ability to set boundaries.
Christian service is focused on revealing, proclaiming, and celebrating the good news of the gospel (i.e. love, as revealed in Christ, has made a way for all to be with God) not on appeasing others. We serve others in order that the good news of God would be revealed to them. This is what Paul means when he writes in 1 Corinthians:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
Christian service does not mean trying to satisfy every whim of another. Christian service is meeting someone where they are and asking the question, what does love look like here?
“Lord of life, you affirm my dignity and my worth for I am yours and you are mine. Bless me with a servant’s heart that never loses sight of you. Amen”