Salvation by faith alone by God’s grace alone is accompanied by a forward-looking call to walk in a new life characterized by good works. Ephesians 2:10 declares, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” In light of this calling, how often are we negligent to contemplate and reassess how we can become more zealous for working out the good works that God has already prepared for us to walk in?
One specific area to consider this question is in how we serve one another. The heart that understands and believes the gospel is following Christ on a path of servanthood. Each one of us is commanded and empowered by God to be others-focused and exercise our gifts in love for the building up of the body of Christ to the glory of God.
As we consider how to love and serve one another, we have the greatest example in the incarnation of the Son, Jesus Christ Himself. Philippians 2:5-8 describes the humble servanthood of God the Son, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” From infinite heights of glory with the Father throughout eternity past, Jesus humbled Himself to the lowest possible place of a criminal’s execution and absorbed all of the Father’s wrath for our sin and rebellion against Him.
Jesus taught His disciples to follow His own example of serving as the pattern for a godly life: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The night before His crucifixion, Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, the smelly and dirty task that only the lowest of servants took on. Jesus told them, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Central to His instructions to the disciples on that night was the command to love one another as He had loved them (John 13:34, 15:12).
As disciples of Christ, we too must obey His commandment to actively love one another and “through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13). How are we to do this? It starts in our hearts and minds with an attitude of humility toward others. In Philippians 2:3-4 God commands us to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
This requires us to be mindful students of other people. We need to slow down and take the time to understand the needs and feelings of our fellow images of God. Romans 12:10 makes clear that this is not a suggestion to consider how others might be feeling when we happen to have extra time and energy, but an exhortation to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (emphasis added). This is a high calling, and we can take heart that we are engaged in a lifelong process of learning to better love and serve others (Titus 3:14).
One truth that should bring life and zeal to our service toward others is the reality of whom we are serving: fellow images of God and eternal souls. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Within the household of faith, these images of God are also family for whom Christ died. Our brothers and sisters live amid constant spiritual warfare and struggle against sin and the devil. God uses our service in fellow believers’ lives as a means to protect them from sin and strengthen them in trials. In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus promises that those who lose much for the sake of the gospel will gain a hundred times more in brothers and sisters and houses in the present age. Where will this blessing come from but the members of the Body of Christ serving one another? God intends for our service to bless and provide for the needs of our family in Christ.
Serving one another is a command for every believer, not just a select few who believe they have the spiritual gift of service. In Romans we see clearly the universal nature of the command.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Rom 12:3-7).
Everyone must have an attitude of humility towards the brethren in the body of Christ (v. 3) and at the same time actively exercise the unique gifts that God has given to serve others (v. 6). Obeying this twofold command enables us to serve one another humbly according to our unique gifting. It keeps us from being puffed up about the gifts God has given us, and also from false humility that says our gifts are not useful to the church.
Peter shows that we are each commanded to serve, not by our own strength, but by the strength which God supplies. “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies” (1 Pet 4:10-11a). We must remind ourselves that God’s gifts of service abilities and interests come wholly from Him and not from ourselves. The various types of service effectively working to meet the needs in the local body proclaim God’s manifold grace and power at work in those whom He has chosen for Himself.
As we seek to sacrificially serve others, we must continually rely on God’s grace because this is not an easy task. The needs in the body are numerous and messy. Every follower of Christ must “deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23). Denying ourselves in service will require sacrificing time, energy, money, and other resources for the benefit of others with no expectation of return. But through every visit to the lonely, every baby soothed in the nursery, every dirty dish scrubbed, we can trust that Christ will supply all our needs (Phil 4:19), reward our good works at His judgment seat (2 Cor 5:10), ensure us a better and lasting possession (Heb 10:34), and grant us eternal fullness of joy (Ps 16:11).
God grants every gift and service ability for the ultimate purpose of His glory. Returning to Peter’s first letter, he concludes with the aim of all service: “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (4:11). God is glorified not only in the music and the teaching of the sermon but also in the setup, the nursery, the sound crew, and the fellowship meal. He is glorified in the servant’s heart, words, and actions, as he or she humbly depends upon God for strength and will to serve with a cheerful and loving heart.
God has designed the church to include a beautiful variety of gifts to meet the myriad needs within the body of Christ and to display His multifaceted character and glory. And, as each of us receives the benefits of others’ service, we give praise and glory to God for His provision. Furthermore, when the members of the local body are equipped for service and carrying out their roles, the body of Christ will be built up: increasing in unity, in knowledge of Christ, in spiritual maturity, in steadfastness in true doctrine, in love for one another, in Christlike character, and in proper functioning of the local church, all for His glory (Eph 4:11-16).
As part of the church body, each one of us needs to be proactive in discovering areas of need and following through on meeting those needs. On a practical level, a great place to start is to ask your elders and deacons about current service needs in the ministries of your local church. In addition to the needs of the church body, there are countless opportunities for the family of God to serve one another on an interpersonal level. Spend time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who might be overlooked. Pray for God to open your eyes to see places where you can serve as His hands and feet. Invite someone to a meal at your home, run an errand for a friend, or volunteer to babysit. Explore excellent resources on practically serving others through hospitality such as Rosaria Butterfield’s, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Above all, be devoted to one another in love as you walk in the good works God has prepared for you.
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 46.
Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes with a House Key (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).