As modern-day Christians, we tend to think of “service” as something we do for a group, society, or an act we do out of charity. There is an entirely different side to service which surrounds how we serve one another as Christians. Crucial to this discussion of service is our level of accountability we hold towards those who claim to be a part of the family of Christ.
Service to One Another is Love
In Galatians 5, Paul writes on the subject of service towards one another…
For your were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out or you will be consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13-15)
Our ability to serve one another is intertwined with our ability to survive as a Christian body and our ability to accomplish great things in God’s name. When Paul writes that the entire law is fulfilled through loving your neighbor as yourself, that is to say that when we show the same type of love to each other that mimics the love Christ showed us, we glorify God’s name and allow people to witness a taste of Christ’s love. We grow and illuminate God’s kingdom to all around us when we love one another and serve the body of Christ.
The converse is also true. If service to one another through acts of encouragement, kindness, and instruction is equivalent with “love”, then refusing to help one another through our weaknesses and times of temptation is a type of hate that threatens to destroy us. Think about it this way: if a soccer team only ever communicates for the purpose of criticizing each other and never works together constructively, how can they every expect to win a game? The team can only achieve it’s goal when each part of holding the other accountable in an encouraging and/or instructional manner. When that service towards fellow teammates occurs up and down the roster, the entire team is far more likely to succeed. The same is true of the church. When we serve one another through accountability, instruction, and encouragement, we are more likely to achieve our goals of bringing the Word of God to the world and glorifying God’s kingdom.
Judging verses Being Judgmental
It can be difficult to talk about service towards fellow believers without addressing the subject of judgment. There is an extremely American ideal that each individual is independent and that it is no one’s right to judge a fellow human for their own actions or beliefs. This is a feeling based on noble intentions and broad-brush assumptions, but somewhat at odds with the instructions of Christ and the apostles.
Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourself so you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5)
The problem with encouragement, accountability, and instruction is that it is meaningless unless someone has been judged to be in need of encouragement, accountability, or instruction. In practice, this can often be implemented in a judgmental way by an overly-aggressive fellow Christian or perceived as judgmental by an overly-sensitive believer needing correction. In reality, Paul and Christ both instruct believers to hold each other accountable in love and compassion so that they will not have to carry the burden of their sins alone.
This plays a role in both our ability to take criticism and our ability to give criticism. In giving criticism, we must do so with clear intentions so that those hearing our critiques do not assume we are pointing out their flaws out of arrogance or a desire to belittle them. In receiving criticism, we must be slow to ask yourselves “why is this person telling me this?” and quick to ask “what truth is there in what this person is telling me and could I use this to help improve my walk in Christ?” When both parties accept responsibility for giving and receiving criticism, we can move the needle from being judgmental to offering constructive judgment that allows us to serve one another through accountability to the teachings of Yeshuah, encouragement in the things that we know to be good and true, and instruction through the offering of emotional and intellectual support which aids us in becoming a stronger Christian.
Service Through Encouragement, Accountability, and Instruction Leads to Renewed Life
Christ often served His followers through the three concepts of encouragement, accountability, and instruction and frequently did to simultaneously. Consider the story of the adulterer who was set to be stoned by the religious leaders…
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)
Jesus did several things to serve this woman and the model He follows is a good one for all of us to follow.
- Jesus acknowledges that the woman has sinned. In verses 4 and 5, the Pharisees levy the charge of adultery against the woman and Jesus’ response in verse 7 begins with “Alright”. He didn’t argue or attempt to sugar-coat the sin. He also didn’t dwell on it or make sure everyone, including the woman, knew how horrible the sin was. He acknowledge sin for what it was and moved on.
- Jesus acknowledged what justice entails and instructs the crowd and the woman as to what is ‘just’. Again, Jesus didn’t really argue that death was deserved for the woman’s sin. Instead, He changed the focus of the individuals surrounding the woman from what they can do to punish the lady to considering who really has the right to levy the punishment. The answer was obvious: no one but God alone has the right to levy the punishment for sin. Punishment is not ours to initiate on a fellow believer. Instead, we are right and just to acknowledge the sin of others and ourselves and to acknowledge that sin is a transgression that has a penalty: the penalty of death.
- Jesus offers grace to the woman and forgiveness of her sins. After the woman’s sin has been acknowledged and the penalty of her sin (death) had been agreed, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and saves her physical being. He ‘lightened the burden of sin’ from the woman by dispersing the crowds who sought to kill her and judge her unfairly. After physically saving the woman, Jesus spiritually saves her by offering grace. In the same way, we serve our fellow believers well when we seek to lighten our fellow Christian’s burden and remind them of the everlasting grace that God offers.
- Jesus commissions the woman as a new creation. When Christ says, “Go and sin no more”, He does to to commission her as something different and new from the sinner of the past. When a fellow Christian stumbles and finds themselves mired in sin, it can be difficult to begin life anew. When we encourage and offer accountability to our fellow Christians, we help them to move away from the sin of their pasts and to live a life as a new creation.
Jesus acknowledged sin, instructed the crowds and the sinner of the penalty and appropriate executioner of judgment, provided forgiveness and deliverance to the woman’s sin, and commissioned her as a new creation. When it comes to serving one another, especially service through encouraging each other to live stronger lives for Christ, the end goal should always be to send off our falling brothers and sisters as new creations capable of serving God and serving others just as we served them.
As we consider the subject of service, we should remember that service isn’t just something we do on mission trips and in community centers. Service is something we do on an individual basis to help encourage, instruct, and hold accountable our fellow Christians in love and compassion so that they can be free from the snares of sin and surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.