You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13, NIV).
Living for God through Christ means serving one another. This service is not to be given out of duty, or grudgingly, or for self-serving purposes, but out of love. Since it is out of love this serving is going to be marked by the presence of some things and by the absence of others.
Let’s start with what it is not.
First, this service is not about gratifying yourself as Paul says in Galatians 5:16. It is not about your pride, or selfish ambition. Serving one another is not about gaining power or authority for yourself. Jesus says in Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV),
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Second, you don’t serve people by sinning with one another. Paul lists several examples of these kinds of sins: sexual immorality, debauchery, and drunkenness. Charlie Jones used to say one of the proofs that our hearts are bad is that sin is fun. “If you don’t think sin is fun, you don’t know the right sins!” he would say. Engaging in sin with one another—even if they like it—is not serving one another. It is serving yourself.
And third, if you don’t serve people by sinning with them and you certainly don’t serve people by sinning against them. When we are stirring up hatred, discord, having fits of rage, dissentions, factions, and envying each other we are not advancing the kingdom of God or the Gospel, no matter how strongly you may feel about any given issue; you are serving yourself and your agenda and your kingdom.
Serving one another in love requires the absence of those things. So what should be present in our serving of one another? The fruits of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22, NIV).
You know you are serving rightly when…
It is motivated by love for one another. John Piper has a great definition of love in his book Desiring God, a book I highly recommend, he says, “love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” Love for God always leads to love for others, and that love drives us, moves us, and compels us to serve one another.
You know you are serving rightly when…It is done with joy. I’m not saying that serving one another is always going to be a fun and attractive way to spend our time. It isn’t going to be. It’s not supposed to be. But the offering of it, the attitude it is given in should be one of joy.
Hebrews 12:2 that for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. The cross was not fun. Dying was not fun. Jesus did not wake up on the day He was going to be betrayed and say, “Yes! Today I’m going to be betrayed, beaten, judged, flogged, and crucified! Awesome!”
No way! The opposite was true. But His joy was serving His Father. And He knew there was a joy in serving us in that horrific way that could be gotten no other way. He did it in joy and to get joy. Our serving one another is no different. Our joy in serving our Father should motivate us to serve one another, and we need to know that in serving one another there is a reward of joy waiting for us when we do.
You know you are serving rightly when…It strives for peace with one another. It is going to look for opportunities to be gracious and forgiving. It is going to be done in a humble attitude that does not bite back or point out everything it doesn’t like or agree with. Where there is conflict, sin, and strife, this serving one another comes with the Gospel of grace and works to heal, restore, and make peace.
You know you are serving rightly when you are… Patient with one another. Serving one another does not always go as planned. Can I be honest and admit to you that that is more often the case than not? Things get more complicated. We thought we could handle it, but we can’t. We thought people would grow quicker. Sometimes the thing we really want to get to is not where we are able to do anything about it. Serving one another takes patience because everything happens in God’s time not our time, and His time often makes football time seem like roadrunner time!
You know you are serving rightly when you are…Doing good to one another. A servant’s heart is dedicated to doing good things for the people he or she serves. It will be asking “How can I bless this person?” It will be looking for ways to do good to one another and will act on those opportunities. And can I make a suggestion here? Don’t feel like you always have to have permission before you do something good for someone. I have found that most people like it when good things happen to them.
You know you are serving rightly when you are…Being kind to one another. This is the opposite of hatred, discord, fits of rage, dissentions, factions, and envy. It is living out the Golden Rule, So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12, NIV).
You know you are serving rightly when you are…Being gentle. Serving one another sometimes brings us to situations where people are angry, hurt, confused, beset with difficulties, or are struggling with sin. Breaking out the “Holy Spirit bat” should not be your first choice in responding to people. We are not called to lay our brothers and sisters out in the lilies when they sin, but are to restore them gently (Galatians 6:1).
When people are hurting or struggling under the weight of pain, trial, or circumstance, they need gentleness and compassion more than your thoughts on what they did wrong, or what they should do now, or how everything is not as bad as they think.
And that leads right to the last characteristic of serving one another in love,
Showing self-control towards one another. We don’t always have to open our mouth when someone says something that conflicts with Calvin’s Institutes. We don’t always have to give our opinion. Serving one another will not always be in the way or place you think they most need served. We need to be serving one another as God leads us to, where God leads us to, and how God leads us to; not how or where or when we want to. Serving like that takes self-control.