They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 (NLT)
As we live the Christian life and grow into our discipleship we become like a garment woven together with holy thread…the strands all provide and receive strength from each other.
As we consider the promises we make to God and each other as members of the United Methodist Church, today’s theme is serving. Within the Bible’s 1200 chapters, there are more than 1450 references to the word “servant” or “serve”. Something which is mentioned that often demands our attention.
I would like for us to look at developing our lives of discipleship through serving as a slave. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking…wasn’t slavery outlawed? Well, yes, of course it is against the law to make someone else a slave. But, in discipleship, becoming God’s servant is something for which we volunteer; we choose to be slaves of God.
There are three words in the language of the New Testament that are used to describe serving. These ancient Greek words, from “weakest to strongest” (from a Christian perspective), are latreuo, diakonos and doulos, forming a progression of relationship to Jesus.
The weakest relationship is that of legalities. The word , "latreuo" (latreuo) is translated "minister" in many cases, and it speaks of the one who is hired to perform a service. Many people see their relationship to God as dutiful, paying an obligation, or a legal responsibility to "worship" God. This is weak in thinking and theology. If God wanted people who were going to "pay Him back" he surely would look elsewhere. How can you repay the cross?
The next strongest relationship is the diakonos (diakonos), or “friendly host” to Jesus. We get our word “deacon” from this word. It describes the one who follows after Jesus to be a heartfelt lover of the Lord. Today there are many in our society who love the idea of "doing something for Jesus." They go to church, give, and serve on committees and boards.
It is a nice picture of nice people doing nice things in a nice way. As long as everything stays "nice," everything will be "nice." However, we know that this isn't a nice world; it’s a world “gripped and ripped” by sin. Not everything in the church, home or public place will be nice and ideal.
The third word is doulos (doulos), or "slave." This is the strongest word for relationship to Jesus. It literally means "bondslave," the person who had no choice with his own life. In ancient times a bondslave was committed for life to serve the master of the house.
It requires commitment to give yourself to someone. Paul, James, Peter, John and many early disciples referred to themselves as the bondslaves (doulos) of Christ. This is the strongest word of relationship because it requires the most bridges burned.
The latreuo is a hired servant, so he is there for what he'll receive in payment.
The diakonos is serving because of favored conditions.
The doulos, because of the cross and God’s mercy and grace, is there to lose himself in life-long, loving disposal to the Master's wishes.
Do you see the progression? It goes from receiving wages (weakest relationship) to giving self (strongest relationship).
Now, the essence of our text can be explained in the light of those three words. When Paul said, "...by love serve one another." he used the word "doulos." The relationship is based on giving ourselves to one another – servant/slavehood.
He didn't use "latreuo," saying we have an obligation to serve like a hired waiter.
He didn't say "diakonos," indicating "hanging-out with the brethren" until the going got rough.
He said, "doulos;” we are to be slaves, devoted to each other, even as we claim to be devoted to Christ.
Notice three implications about this:
I. Those who consider themselves slaves to everyone in the body are considered greatest in the body by the head of the body.
...and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:44 (NRSV)
When I first became a pastor the church had a work-day. I showed up in my jeans and sweatshirt. One of the men remarked, Preacher, we don't expect you to do any of the work here. It was a wonderfully affirming word of respect for the office of Pastor; however, there was work to be done, and I am part of the body.
It is the same with winning souls, visiting the sick and serving the body. Servanthood means you do the work because you are His servant.
II. Those who have compassion to meet the needs of people instead of just judge people will be truly serving.
Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36 - 37 (NRSV)
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the true servant of God's will was the man who put aside racial, economic and religious barriers to meet someone's dire need. There are thousands of people in this community who need the ministry of this body.
There was a little boy in the ghetto who was having his faith in God mocked. His companion said, If God really loves you, why doesn't he take care of you? Why doesn't God tell someone to bring you shoes and a warm coat, and better food? The boy thought for a moment and then, with tears starting in his eyes, said, I guess God does tell somebody, but somebody forgets.
III. Those who have consecrated themselves to serve the body will really be serving the Master
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
There is a beautiful story by Tolstoy about a humble cobbler named Martin. In a dream Jesus speaks to him, saying, "I will soon come to you." "When he woke up in the morning, he was excited. Jesus would pay a visit to him sometime during the day. He swept his shop clean, prepared a delicious meal, and waited for the visit.
In the morning a hungry exhausted child came to his shop, so Martin fed her and let her rest for a while. At mid-day an old woman happened by. The woman was cold and shivering. Martin gave her a warm shawl and she went on her way. Late in the afternoon, a barefooted beggar came to his door, and Martin gave him a pair of shoes. But Jesus did not come. When Martin went to bed that night he was disappointed.
That night Jesus once again appeared in a dream to him. Lord, why did you not visit me today? Martin asked in all sincerity. Jesus then replied, Martin, three times I visited you. First as a little child, then as an old woman, and finally as a beggar.
When we help a needy person, when we offer food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, we are actually helping Jesus. When we care for the forgotten of our society, as Jesus did, we are actually helping Jesus.
Serve one another?
We can take that to heart in varied ways. We can serve each other like Salome' did for the Baptist, serving his head on a platter. That's the world's way.
We can latreuo one another like hired servants, just doing what we do because it is our duty to do things around the church.
We can diakonos one another like fair weather friends, being nice among the nice as long as everything's nice.
– or –
We can be Biblical slaves, doulos, committed to each other, filled with mercy, meeting needs, doing it with love as unto the Lord.