Another Look by David Faust
What are the marks of authentic service?
Service has a sound. It’s the sound of snow shovels scraping the sidewalk so neighbors will have a dry path to walk. It’s the sound of hammers pounding nails into a Habitat for Humanity house. Service is the sound of sanitation workers emptying your garbage cans before you’re barely out of bed in the morning. It’s the screeching siren of an emergency vehicle speeding to the scene of an accident, and the gentle rustle of pages turning when a volunteer helps a third-grader with her homework.
Service has a fragrance. It’s the aroma rising from hundreds of loaves of homemade bread my wife has baked and given away over the years. It’s the smell of leaves raked from an elderly friend’s backyard, and the odor of motor oil when an amateur mechanic fixes his neighbor’s car. Sometimes service smells like changing diapers in the church nursery or going on a mission trip to a city where raw sewage runs in the streets.
Service has a feeling. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable—like the time I spent the day in a Mexican village helping a dentist. Along with the sights and smells, my awkward efforts confirmed my inner certainty that God didn’t call me to be a dental hygienist. But all day the dentist’s skill turned painful problems into thankful smiles, and the dentist smiled too because she was doing what the Creator wired her to do.
Service has a name. There’s doulos (“slave”), the word used to reveal that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). There’s therapon (from which we derive “therapy” and “therapeutic”). It appears in Hebrews 3:5, which says “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.” There’s diakonos (“deacon,” “minister,” “waiter,” or “helper”), used in the verse where Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). And there’s uperetes (“assistant” or “attendant,” someone who does menial or lowly tasks). It was used of slaves assigned to row in the lowest deck of a ship. Paul used the term when he said, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
Service has role models. Jeremiah served God even though it meant being known as the weeping prophet. Daniel served with such integrity that even the highest officials of a pagan government were impressed with his character and skill. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Tabitha (Dorcas) was “always doing good and helping the poor,” and when she died, the widows showed Peter the clothes she had made for those in need (Acts 9:36-42). It’s the husband and wife who stay late to clean up after the fellowship dinners; the woman who faithfully visits the sick; the man who teaches the junior high Sunday school class week after week. I have fond memories of a friend who led well in public, but he also did little acts of service behind the scenes like wiping off the countertop in public restrooms so someone else wouldn’t have to do it.
Service has a purpose. We don’t serve to earn points with God or to impress others. Serving brings joy and satisfaction, but we don’t serve because it makes us feel good. We serve because God first loved us. We serve because “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).
Service has a reward. Jesus said, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple . . . he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). Sometimes service seems overwhelming. I can’t feed every poor person in the world. I can’t meet every need in my own neighborhood. I can’t solve every problem or fix every situation, but I can give a cup of cold water. To carry water for Jesus’ sake—quenching others’ thirst for a taste of God’s goodness—may be the most rewarding role of all.
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