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Freed to Serve

January 19th 2014 by Joel Schultz

Today is week 1 of our Consecrated Stewards emphasis and we hear God's Word concerning our service. Read or listen to find out more...

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CONSECRATED STEWARDS: SERMON 1: FREED TO SERVE - Ephesians 2:8-10 – January 19, 2014

Are you in shape? I’m not and according to a May 2013 report most Americans are not. In fact, 60% of Americans are overweight and 80% do not do the recommended amount of aerobic exercise. Although proper diet and exercise are good ways to take care of this creation God gave us, we are going to talk about a different shape today… the shape of service.

When it comes to serving God, what kind of shape are you in? Well perhaps we should first ask: what is the shape of serving God? St. Paul leads us into the understanding of the shape of a servant with familiar words from Ephesians 2: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10: “[God] has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.”

So let’s get it straight from the start. Being shaped as a servant begins with God’s grace. Our faith and our works are all responses to the grace-filled work of Christ. It is that grace that motivates us to do the hard work of understanding and living out our servant shape. His grace is so wonderful that life lived in it and from it must also be wonderful.

God blesses us from the beginning with His abounding love. He doesn’t motivate from guilt, like the mother who received a phone call from her son. “How are you doing?” he asked. “Not so good,” she said, “I’ve been very weak.” “Why are you so weak?” her son asked. “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.” Her son, aghast, asked, “Why haven’t you eaten for 38 days?” His mother replied, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food when you called.”

But God doesn’t use guilt to motivate us. St. Paul says, “We are his workmanship.” That is a very rare word in the Bible – it is used here to describe us and in one other passage (Romans 1:20) to describe God’s creation of the world. Even as He took infinite care to create this world so that it works perfectly, and so that it works even after humankind introduced sin into it, so He has taken infinite care with each one of us. We are each unique, and each of us has a unique servant contribution to make.

So what makes our work servant work? St Paul tells us in Phil. 2:5-7: “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

“Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus….” That’s an interesting sentence. Paul tells us to have something that we already have – the mind of Jesus, the way Jesus thinks about people and about God, His whole attitude toward life. Paul knows that this “mind” of Jesus is God’s gift to Christians; and He also knows that it is one thing to have something in your possession and it is quite another thing to make use of it, to put it to work.

Paul apparently needed to encourage the Philippians to put Christ to work in their relationships with one another. It appears that even in this basically healthy Christian congregation there lurked a kind of selfishness among its members. Each pursued his own concerns, and there was a tendency on the part of some toward conceit.

Self-concern, of course, is not exclusively a Philippian problem. It is a human problem. So many demands are made on our time that it is difficult to be sensitive to the needs of those around us. With all the commotion about us, it is difficult to hear the quiet inward sobbing of those who need our care. And sometimes it seems that we need to focus all of our energies on our own concerns just to make it through the day.

So Paul reminds us of what we have, and he encourages us to use it. We have the “mind of Christ,” Christ’s attitude toward life and toward other people. For although Jesus had always been God by nature, He did not cling to the glory and honor that He had by right. Rather, He emptied Himself of all privileges and chose to be born a man. As a man, He walked the way of the cross all the way to His death for us all.

As a result, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I can’t crawl into the mind of our Lord, but I can’t imagine that when every knee bows to Him, He is thinking, “Finally I get my due! It was tough dragging that cross to Golgotha, but it was worth it! Just listen to those cheers!”

I rather believe He’s thinking, “It was all worth it! Those knees bowed to me are bowed in acts of service to others, and those women, children and men are living life as I originally intended and are finding true joy in the process!”

That’s what makes a life a servant life. We do for others so that they, in turn, find their joy in doing for others, and on and on. In God’s perfect plan, I would not need to worry about myself. God would have me busy serving others. Others would serve me and others as well with the love and provision that God has shown each of us. So the servant mind thinks of ministry as an opportunity, not an obligation. Spend some time reading the first 10 verses of Ephesians and the 2nd chapter of Philippians this week. Picture the mind of Christ and what that means about your mind, or thinking. Choose a place and a time to share Jesus’ love with others.

In his book, The Edge of Adventure, Keith Miller writes of a business executive in an Eastern city who was struggling to have the mind of Christ in his daily life. This particular morning he ran into Grand Central Station, and stood in line for his ticket while watching the train’s departure time loom closer and closer. Finally, as he charged across the lobby and down the platform with his bags, he heard the last “All aboard.” He was about to board when he brushed a small child with this suitcase. The little boy had been carrying a new jigsaw puzzle, which was now scattered all over the platform. The executive paused, saw the child in tears, and with an inward sigh stopped, smiled, and helped the boy pick up his puzzle as the train pulled out. The child watched him intently. When they had finished picking up all the pieces, the little boy looked at the man with a kind of awe. “Mr.,” he said hesitantly,” are you Jesus?”

Yes, in that moment he had been Jesus, or the servant, to that little boy. So can you to your friend, or even to the person whose words rub you the wrong way each day. Remember that God’s grace shapes you into His servant form. So we are freed to serve! Next week we’ll understand how God’s grace frees us to give. Amen.

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