Monday, November 30, 2009

Love, the Gospel, and Service

What is love? 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as follows:

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
-- 1 Corinthians 14:4-8 (NASB)

We often overlook the beginning of the chapter which says:

"If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing."
-- 1 Corinthians 14:1-3 (NASB)

The passage seems to be discussing our actions, and clearly indicates that they must be acts of love, since love is also an action. Without love, nothing we do matters, and it is not pleasing to God.

That said, we are incapable of love. Love by God’s standard is impossible for us to accomplish on our own. The unbeliever cannot love in accordance to God’s standard. The only reason the believer is capable of love is through Christ’s imputed righteousness- the perfection that God sees in us not because of our own doing, but due to the blood Jesus shed on the cross to atone for our sins, our depravity, and our inadequacy.

I wonder often when we serve others who we are really doing it for. Just because we say we are Christians does not mean we do everything to God’s glory. There are things we do that do not please Him, things that He hates. When we serve out of a selfish nature, the things we do- though good by human standards- are worthless to the Lord. His standard is so much higher than ours.

I think sometimes we get so caught up in “doing” that we forget why we do it. We don’t clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless to make sure they are dressed, full, and living in a warm house. Have I lost you?

We do acts of service because it enables us to spread the Gospel, to share Christ with others, to fulfill the commands Jesus gave us. What good does it do us to install a smoke alarm when the building is already on fire? Similarly, what good do our works do unless we also share the Gospel with those who we are serving?

Our desire should be that all would be saved, not that people would be “comfortable” in life. After all, what good is it to make the world a better place to go to hell from? The Christian walk is difficult, and God often uses hardships to draw us close to Him. There is a reason that it is nearly impossible for a rich man to be saved. When we are down, without hope- that is when we have only the Lord to turn to.

So when we serve, let’s focus on first getting the person out of the burning building, then work on helping them build a new house through discipleship and further acts of service. People will not always know we are serving because of Christ- we must make that clear by unashamedly sharing the Gospel message with them.

True love is caring enough about a person to want them to be saved from eternal hellfire and damnation. Jesus told us He came to seek and save the lost- to glorify the Father- his signs and miracles were an aid to that, not the main goal. Let us keep that in mind as we strive to serve others- to the glory of God, not man.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..."
-- Matthew 23:19-20 (NASB)

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father…”
--1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NASB)

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