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Service is universal

May 2021 | by Robert Chamberlain

Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, recently declared that ‘service is universal’ ahead of a highly-publicised interview with Oprah Winfrey.

While acknowledging the ongoing controversy surrounding many of Harry and Meghan’s revelations, a Christian can nonetheless say a hearty amen to the remark about service being universal.

In one of his gospel albums, Bob Dylan once sang, ‘Well it may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.’

Biblically, we are all in one of two camps, and it’s more nuanced than just the dutiful and the rebellious.

Jesus described the dutiful Jewish leaders of his day as being ‘of their father the devil’. They would soon thereafter clamour for his death for the supposed offences of claiming to be the Son of God and the King of the Jews.

Paul expands the point in Romans 6. We’re either slaves of sin, or set free to become slaves of righteousness. We’re not saved from the drudgery of sin in order to indulge our sinful selves. Instead, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to the one who gave himself for us.

When God asks us to serve him, he doesn’t do so as a hard taskmaster. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light, and he gives us rest for our souls.

The Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t ask us to serve him without serving us. He loved us and gave himself for us. Service as slavish duty is onerous and unbearably heavy to bear. But a service that is motivated by love is a delight.

Of course, life in this fallen world is a bed of roses: there are fragrant delights, but there are also thorns. Our service to God is never going to be perfect. But Jesus calls us to leave our lives of apparent self-service (in reality, service to sin and the Devil), to voluntarily serve the one who gave himself up for us to be set free.

The attitude of many people to work is to work hard enough so that they don’t have to work and may retire early. Jesus, on the other hand, calls such an attitude foolish, for who can say when he will return and call us to account for how we have lived our lives?

Jesus provides spiritual rest for us in him, but that doesn’t mean we can retire from spiritual duties and put our feet up. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and to follow him.

Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. We will be devoted to one and despise the other. We cannot serve both God and money. He’s not saying that we all have to serve him in some kind of official, full-time capacity. Even Paul made tents at different times in his ministry. Jesus is getting at the heart of the matter. Money isn’t necessarily the problem, but if Satan uses it to gain mastery of us, it is.

Satan can take good things that can be blessings in God’s service, like money, and make idols of them. An idol is ‘a good thing that becomes a god thing’.

Few would admit to serving money. Fewer still would admit to serving the Devil himself. But the Bible makes clear that if we’re not serving the Lord, then the wages of our sinful lives will be death.

We need to receive the free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord, and then to serve him who has set us free, forevermore.

‘Service is universal’, say Prince Harry and Meghan. Amen. But let’s make sure we’re not serving self, sin, and Satan. Let’s make sure we’re serving the Lord. If we’ve allowed idols to clutter up our hearts, it’s time for a spiritual spring clean.

We are to work in anticipation of hearing the words of our Master, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’, to which our response surely will be, ‘We are only unworthy servants; we only did our duty.’

I’m currently training to be a teacher. It’s not easy, and I must admit to feeling, at times, like giving up. But as one of my mentors told me, one of the key things which students look for in teachers is ‘consistency’. As Christians we might use the similar term, ‘faithfulness’.

As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are to call others to serve him too. But what if we fail in our task? God isn’t calling us to numerical fruitfulness in souls saved: salvation is of the Lord. We must cry out to the Lord to work in saving power (and to use us to help serve his purposes).

God is calling us to faithfulness. When we don’t see numerical fruitfulness, we might be tempted to throw in the towel. But we will reap a harvest not necessarily of souls, but of righteousness, if we don’t grow weary and give up. One of the fruits of the spirit is ‘faithfulness’, and as God’s servants we must strive to produce such fruit.

Service isn’t easy, but service for the Lord will be fruitful in hard-to-quantify ways, such as in our faithfulness. If we serve ourselves, all we’ll be left with is thorns and thistles, death and condemnation.

Joshua summed up the options for God’s people well: ‘Choose this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’