One of the classic episodes of the Twilight Zone television show, which aired in March, 1962, was titled, “To Serve Man.” It’s the story of an alien race which came to earth offering peace and prosperity to all of mankind. As Mr. Chambers, the lead human figure in the episode, boards the alien spaceship to be transported to this utopian world, “Patty” alerts him that the strange book of the aliens has been decoded. It is, she tells him, a cookbook.
Perhaps it’s understandable that we should need to define what it means to serve man. We in the United States, and in many other nations around the globe, have gone through several decades of learning that they key to life is to “look out for number one.” Selfishness has become the standard by which business people, athletes – even cheerleaders – have judged themselves and others. We are so shocked when someone waves us into an intersection, that sometimes we are stunned into inaction. A kindness, or a lost article returned is worthy of the local newspapers – maybe even the evening television news. It ought not to be so – especially in the church.
Where do we lay the blame for this erosion of manners, this lack of a service mentality? The church should reasonably shoulder some of the responsibility. If the whole counsel of God were being taught from the pulpits of our land, Biblical principles about serving one another would be part of the regular teaching. Instead we get drama, we get anti-war rhetoric, we get lots of quotes from modern critics of society. What we need is God’s Word. This lack of service, this deficiency in care for one another, is a result and a symptom of the gulf between our society and Biblical understanding and faith.
The Motivation to Serve
What motivates us to do anything? Sometimes we simply have to: the law requires it, my paycheck rests on it, my grades are dependent on my actions. Sometimes it’s a matter of expediency. Many of us have been motivated by the words, “You can’t have dessert until you clean your plate.” God’s Word says that for the Christian community, there’s a more important motive than all of these: love. Paul states this principle simply, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).
Of course, in the church, we have committees to do the serving. We hire pastoral staffs to do the important (read: difficult) serving. It’s not our fault if they don’t do the job. Our hands are clean. But are they? The fact of the matter is that all who are called to be Christians are called to be servants. Peter teaches us that, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” Who within the Christian community is responsible for works of service? “Each one.” Every one: the clergy, the youth, the women, the men. Everybody who is a Christian is expected to use gifts – to serve one another.
The Object of our Service
The next logical question is: who is it that this legion of servants is supposed to serve? One Another. Paul, in Galatians, is preaching to the church. He primarily means the church. But the scope of his teaching also includes our relationship to the community in which we live, our neighbors, our village, our town, our city, our nation. It begins, though, with the church. We who are members of the community of faith are to serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, pray for and with one another. We are to help one another move, make suppers for one another, take charge of one another’s children on occasion, make telephone calls to one another, love one another.
After telling us to offer our gifts to one another in service, Peter offers an explanation with a benediction. “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:11). No halfway measures are acceptable in Christian service. The power source must be God – not our own strength. The reason is not that we may receive community awards and other accolades. The reasons Christians offer their bodies as spiritual sacrifices is so that God may be praised.
No Brag, Just Fact
Even the church is sometimes a place of a sort of “holy bragging.” We sometimes find very creative ways to tell others, “I give more,” “I serve on more committees,” “my family founded this church.” The Apostle Paul would not accept such talk. He wrote to the church in Corinth, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
We can’t even give love; we can’t give service; we can’t share our gifts unless they are first given to us. So if we are only passing on what God has given to us – what is there for us to brag about? Faithful service does, indeed, glorify God. When we do things in the Name of God – He is glorified. It may seem trite at times, but the old saw attributed by some to Francis of Assissi is a correct understanding of Christian responsibility for service. It states, “preach the Gospel everyday. When necessary use words.”
Serve Christ By Serving Others
If a life doesn’t have some purpose, it simply goes around in circles. It’s incomplete. The ultimate purpose for Christians is to be obedient to Christ – to serve Him. Sometimes this is done by what may seem to others simply religious acts. Church attendance, scripture reading, prayer, are all acts of service. This is why we call what we do on Sundays “worship services.”
Sometimes we serve Christ by serving others, beginning with the household of faith. Simple acts are important! Look at the list Jesus gave us in Matthew 25:31-40. What did He tell us are significant acts of service? A drink of water, a visit to the sick or imprisoned, a gift of clothing. We could add: a phone call, visit, a casserole, hand me down clothing. These are acts of service. Sometimes it takes a little bigger act of service. Giving blood; going to NY and digging in the rubble; paying someone’s rent; buying a transmission for someone’s car. Whatever it takes – with a smile. We can’t all give the same thing. But we can all give something.
Paul exhorted us, his Christian family, to serve. He wrote, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” It’s not the size of the gift or the greatness of the act of service that most impresses people – or God. It’s the act of giving. Sometimes the smallest act of kindness can be the most significant. It pleases God when we share either our time or our treasure. And people notice. Maybe they’ll praise God because of my obedience.
God’s Word is not a cookbook. It does, however, teach us how “To Serve Man.” It also teaches us why.
- Curt Lovelace
Curt Lovelace is a small town pastor and a student of history. He has finally moved to Maine where, when asked if he would like to declare a political affiliation on his voter registration card, he politely declined.