by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Jesus: “I did not come to be served but to serve.” ~ Matthew 20:28
This is the 6th in a 6-part series of articles on, “What Does It Mean To Be The Church?” Here, we’ll explore the 5th of 5 characteristics,
“The Church offers a tangible SERVICE of love towards God and others.”
From the very beginning, God created us in His image to grow in His likeness so that we may have everlasting life. He’s always intended for us to have such unity with Him. Of course, that begs the question: What is His image and likeness? It’s a self-emptying offering of love and service (diakonia) to others. So, as we grow in His likeness, God calls us to serve Him and our fellow human beings in a continual offering of love, because doing so makes us, both, more human (at least as the kind of humans that God created us to be), and it also makes us more Christ-like. This is actually an expression of our praise and thanksgiving and worship. God calls every human being to become an offering of love, participating in Him as the way to life. And He enables and empowers each of us to do this by sending His Son and His Holy Spirit to us, who each invest us with unique gifts and resources, for the sole purpose of offering a service of love to God and to others.
For the early Christians, tangible acts of self-sacrificial love, were a dramatic mark of distinction. It offered a profound contrast to the self-absorbed ways of the non-Christian world. This distinct outpouring of radically loving deeds stood out so vividly, that 1st century pagans wrote about it in total bewilderment. They were, at the same time, confused by the whole thing and yet strangely attracted to it. Christianity removed boundaries between different types of people, proclaiming that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female” but all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:38). Thus, in its practical application, Christians’ philanthropic service to others went beyond Jews, Greeks and Romans. Christianity emphasized the fact that ‘love comes from God, and only the people who love are born of God and know God. However, if someone’s life isn’t marked by an outpouring of love, then it’s a safe bet that they don’t really know God, since God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8). God’s love requires that people love one another, not just with words, but rather with tangible action. Saint Paul helps us to (Philippians 2:1-11) recognize this type of love in the Person of God’s Son, describing the event where He left the comforts of heaven, to compassionately take on human flesh, offering His love to a humanity who dished out our worst upon Him…even to the point of killing Him on a cross, so that He, as Life itself, might enter death, and fill it with Himself, healing us of the finality of death. We’re called by God, to consider that if we have any encouragement from being united with Christ…any comfort from His love…any part of the Holy Spirit…and have even the slightest amount of compassion in us, that we should become like-minded with Christ, having oneness of mind and spirit, by taking on His way of offering love…looking to the interests of others above our own. This is an act of praise and thanksgiving and worship.
All service is an act of worship, but, unfortunately, not all of our worship is directed to God. Some of it is directed at serving and giving honor and worth-ship to lesser gods—or, what we call, idolatry. We serve the things in life which we generally allow to have rule over our hearts. For instance, when people are said to “serve money,” we understand that money rules over their hearts and their lives. If we speak of serving God, we mean that He alone rules our hearts and our lives. It’s also the reason we often refer to our Divine Liturgy as a “worship service.” The word, “Liturgy,” means a work/service of the people. So, we serve God, to give Him honor above all other things in our lives. But it’s not “as though He, who gives of Himself to all humankind, needed anything” (Acts 17:25).
In some of His last dramatic moments before His own death, Jesus indelibly seared onto the hearts and minds of His disciples just what it looked like for anyone to be joined with God. In Jesus’ day, it was common hospitality to have one’s servants wash their guests’ feet before having a meal together. When these sweaty, sandal-clad people entered the house from the filthy, dung-diffused roads, their feet were rather dirty and foul-smelling. Washing guests’ feet was a routine way that lower-class people dealt with the filth of life on behalf of their higher-class masters. This is what makes Jesus’ actions so very remarkable and incomprehensible to the very disciples who had been with Him for the last three years. Jesus picks up a basin of water and a towel and embraces the role of servant, washing the feet of His disciples. Peter is beside himself with objections about this whole process. The other disciples are also scandalized to have this Person who they believe is God’s anointed king do such a thing. But Jesus insists, that they must participate in this teachable moment with Him, to understand, that if the Creator, who was there from before the beginning of all time, is willing to make Himself servant, then they too must follow His example in becoming an offering of servanthood to others.
Being a disciple of Jesus and being a part of His Church is all about serving one another and serving God with our gifts and resources. He expects each of His followers to do and to be what He did…and what He is (from before all time)…an offeror of ourselves in service to the other. That means He’s calling us to become the one who is always ready to help and serve here in the Church. Has God given you the ability to sing? Are you withholding that gift from the Church for your own amusement when our Church has a need for chanters for Orthros? Can there be any unity with Christ when you refuse to offer your gifts back to Him…and refrain from using them to edify other people in our Church? Are you offering your time and service and resources to some amusement, when you could be offering tangible acts of love to our neighbors, drawing them to the Kingdom of Heaven? Are you even bothering to do the most minimal offering of love you can make by coming and praying with us for our neighbors on Wednesday nights? If each of us participates in the dynamic creativity that is given to us by the Holy Spirit, what can we do to help others…to serve others…to bring God’s love in concrete ways to those in need all around us? Do you come to Church merely as a consumer (which is what the demons strive for), to be served…or are you ready to become unified with Christ as someone who offers of themselves as an act of praise and thanksgiving and worship to God?
Here Are the Links to All of the Articles in this Series About
What It Means To Be The Church: