Many characteristics may define a Christian life. Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel. In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.
Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone. But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that. Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life. More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character. In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.
The teachings of Jesus Christ, found throughout the Gospel narratives, are the foundation on which a Christian builds her life. These teachings are most concentrated in the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon holds such well-known commands as, “Do not judge,” “Love your neighbor,” and “Turn the other cheek.” The teachings of Jesus come fast in this passage, and are overwhelming in their expectations. If you don’t read it carefully, the famous sermon may be nothing more than a peaceful evening with the “good shepherd” on a grassy hillside, everyone holding hands while breathing deep sighs of contentment. But if we really consider the life this sermon called Jesus’ disciples to live, one can imagine that those sighs of contentment as shocked gasps. How could anyone be expected to live that way? If we realize this, Jesus might possibly respond, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” as he does in Mark 12. The reason being that to understand these standards are impossible leaves room to believe that the only way to achieve such impossible standards is through power greater than our own. In fact the only way to meet the standards found in this famous sermon is to be drawn to the power of God, not the power of self-will.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
In the previous three readings we explored three issues directly pertaining to the idea of serving God. First, we found that we must serve with obedience. Second, we must serve recognizing God’s power. Third, we must always be prepared to suffer in service as our “suffering servant” served and modeled before us. In all of these scriptures, what we read were descriptions of what God wants from our service.
The fascinating aspect of Matthew 5 is that here we finally hear the voice of God speaking through Jesus Christ about service. God says that when we come to serve him, we must be motivated, inspired and focused on serving God alone, devoted to serving him and nothing else. Jesus tells the people that if there is anything else that occupies any space in our hearts or minds, we might as well take the offering, set it down, go take care of our “more important business” and then come back and serve.
Today, it is not unusual to find a church on any given Sunday at any given location filled with people who have set aside a one or, for the “high-level Christians,” a two-hour block in their weekly schedule for God. Our world is fast-paced and full of obligations. We have many things to do and have little time to get anything done. In this environment people find it increasingly difficult to “make time” for God. Unfortunately, this includes our time as we take our seats at church.
While many of us face schedules and commitments that require much of our energy, time and attention, we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task. Multi-tasking is a great skill when the objective is to complete several tasks in the least amount of time.
But the danger of becoming a professional multi-tasker is that we become so proficient at occupying our time with multiple tasks at once that we lose our ability to determine when one task deserves our complete and undivided attention. For example, the idea of ” family time” has suffered increasingly over the past 20 years. The amount of quality time that families spend with one another with no distractions whatsoever has been on a steady decline, a trend that may be attributed in some ways to “busyness” and “multi-tasking.”
When you don’t give your undivided attention to something or someone you hold to be important to you, the quality of that relationship will suffer and the relationship will ultimately lose that sense of importance.
From this perspective we can better understand the demand of Jesus that we take care of certain issues before approaching the altar with offerings. When we come to God preoccupied with a thousand different things, we are doing the equivalent of starting an important discussion with a close friend and then immediately answering a seemingly trivial phone call while “sharing” this “quality time.”
Being raised in a Christian household gave me many impressions, assumptions and ideas about how to live a Christian life. However, what I understood was superficial at best when it came to who God actually claims to be and what he specifically desired from me as a Christian. I believed God was the egotistical, power-hungry “man upstairs” who, without much proof or explanation of his true existence, wanted me to trust him with everything and believe that the basis of this demand was loving and in my best interest. I believed what he wanted from me was regular church attendance, prayer and the practice of impossible standards, many which are noted in Matthew 5.
When I at last read through the entire Bible, I did not find the God I expected to find. This God was not obsessed about the things I thought he would be. In regards to service and worship, like the verses in Matthew 5, God clearly states that he would rather have no offering, no church attendance and no money from a so-called “Christian” if those things came with a divided focus and a divided heart. I discovered that God’s desire was to have all of my heart, but not if I was unprepared and unwilling to give it all away.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands many things from those who choose to follow him. He desires service, a level of commitment to his promise of transformation that seems impossible. However, without a fully prepared heart and mind to pursue this new life, Jesus would rather we not accompany the offering into his presence.