It’s a wonderful thing when people respond to the needs of others. We’re seeing it in flooded Houston, Texas this week as we can actually see it in various forms continuously all around the world. People moved to serve and support others with good works of service. The motives may simply be to help others who need a helping hand.
In many Christian churches today there a healthy focus on Christian service. In some churches perhaps too little emphasis, in others perhaps too much. Church leadership and a dutiful congregation alike may put stock in volunteering time for important local and distant causes, ongoing programs, events or even outreach to help serve or reach the community. These can be wonderful, helpful activities and initiatives that proactively engage a loving church community with the larger community of believers and non-believers in varying levels of need.
While these are certainly positive acts of Christian care, utility and charity, is there a distinction between Christian service and Christian devotion? Does it really even matter?
Yes. I believe it matters to God significantly.
Our Real Service Objective
Oswald Chambers in his daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, maintains that our real service objective should be “the service of passionate devotion.” 1
We count as service what we do in the way of Christian work; Jesus Christ calls service what we are to Him, not what we do for Him.
He’s pointing out that true Christ-following discipleship is based on devotion to Jesus Christ, not in good actions we do on His behalf. Our mission in life is to be devotees to Christ, not devotees to actions and causes regardless how noble. This is not to say that one should stop “serving” but rather confirm motives and priorities.
A man touched by the Spirit of God suddenly says – “Now I see Who Jesus is,” and that is the source of devotion.
Christian service is therefore an outgrowth of devotion.
Noble Cause Dilemma
There have always been followers of the Christian faith who are attracted to good causes of service such as feeding the poor, providing for the needy, preserving wildlife and natural resources, advocating and administering social justice, and many like areas of real and urgent need.
There are many devotees to these causes who serve “in His name” but He “will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus also says: “If any man come to me, and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).
These are very difficult words. Indeed, Jesus is making a strong comment about full devotion to Himself.
Unfortunately I suspect that there are many active in good Christian causes who would take offense if confronted with the fact that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God and He demands 100% devotion to Him alone.
Will of the Father vs. the Cause of Humanity
Chambers points out that our Lord’s first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men. He modeled it for us. If we as followers of Christ are more devoted to the cause of humanity only, we will soon be exhausted and be found wanting. No, unfortunately for our reasoned minds, love for humanity is not enough.
But if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity with humility regardless of my stature. The secret of a disciple’s life is devotion to Jesus Christ, and the characteristic of the life is its unobtrusiveness.
My motive is to be humbly Christ-like and obedient to the will of God.
Motives, Works, Gifts, Lordship
But the world’s modern culture has an insidious secular vein that confuses good service and works with good faith, charity and Christian devotion. God certainly knows the truth that lies within each of our own hearts on these matters. We too can and should assess our own motivations here:
Here are 4 simple questions to ask yourself in conducting your own truth-seeking navigation of our own actions and motives:
- Ask Yourself: “Why Am I Doing the Service Acts I’m Doing?” – If your honest answer is related to social pressure, guilt, pride or envy, then your motives are suspect. Service done under social duress or peer pressure in any form is hollow, frustrating and may lead to lingering resentment and even anger. You’re better off just saying “No” and continuing further self-assessment.
- Ask Yourself: “Are My Works an Outgrowth of My Faith?” – Humble Christian service flows like a spring out of a humble heart devoted to the source of that devotion, Jesus. There is no outside compulsion but an inward compulsion led by the Spirit of God. You’re in a good place if you’re spiritually led or inclined to areas of service that just feels right and fill your heart with true desire to humbly serve.
- Ask Yourself: “Are My Works in My Areas of Strength or My Wheelhouse?” – God has wired each of us with unique gifts, talents and proclivities. There are just some areas in which we excel. It’s God-given. In your heart of hearts you’ve known or suspected these patterns of excellence all your life. And it’s not about size or scale – it’s personal to you. A life truly surrendered to God is a truly gifted life surrendered to His use and service in the Kingdom. Your service or works area should be something in which you thrive and which brings you natural joy and freedom.
- Ask Yourself: “Is Jesus Christ Lord of My Life?” – If you are coming up with hollow and empty answers to the first three questions, then you might examine the issue of real lordship in your life. Adherence to a belief or creed is ultimately insufficient in sustaining a vibrant Christian faith. Again, Christian discipleship is based on devotion to Jesus Christ. This bell-weather point exposes mere devotion to good human causes apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The good news is that the Life-giving antidote is clearly available through Christ.
So may we all continue to do good and love and support our fellow-man in our hurting world. But as even the godless want to do good for man’s sake, the devoted servant of God is personally directed to do good for Christ’s sake.
What drives you to do good works of service?
“But if you refuse to serve the Lord , then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15
1 My Utmost For His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, “The Service of Passionate Devotion,” June 19, Discovery House, 1935.