Saved to Serve

Ephesians chapter 2 verses 1 to 10 

Last week I talked about our dreams for 2004, our personal dreams, our dreams for our discipleship, and for St Albans. I asked some questions about how well our dreams fitted into God’s purposes for our lives, both for the relationship and the role that God has for us. That the purpose of our lives is not about us but it’s all about God.

I asked what we are building with our lives, and how we are growing in our lives, that is of eternal value, of kingdom value? What specific plans have you got in 2004 to help you go on maturing in worship, church, loving relationships and using your gifts in God’s mission?

I then went on to share my dreams for St Albans Church. Sermon copies are available.

I said that we need to keep asking ourselves as individuals and as a church, whether our dreams and plans fit into God’s big picture and long-term perspective.

So what is our part in this overall purpose God is working out in everything and everyone?

Two key words in God’s purpose: a loving relationship with God and his family, and a loving role as God’s witness and servant. The relationship is made clear in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 4 & 5 and chapter 2 verses 6 & 7. The role is made clear in Ephesians 2 verse 10 which reads:

"God creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." (The Message version)

"For we are God’s masterpiece ("workmanship" in the NIV). He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." (New Living Translation)

God has created us for a life of good deeds…. To join God in the work he is doing to build his kingdom. The word translated "workmanship", "masterpiece", "craftsmanship" is from the Greek root meaning ‘poem’. We are God’s creative expression, God’s masterpiece, although we may not always feel or look like it! We are not mass-produced on a production line, but a custom-made, original, masterpiece, for a task God has long intended.

God’s purpose for us is well described in an excellent book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ written by Pastor Rick Warren. Warren started the Saddleback Church in Southern California, by door to door visiting in a new housing area, which has become one of the largest churches in the USA with over 20,000 weekly attenders.

His book has now sold over 10 million copies and was on the New York Times’ best sellers list for 43 consecutive weeks and got to number 1 five times! The book is designed to be part of a local church programme called ‘Forty Days of Purpose’, during which the children’s and youth programmes, small groups and Sunday services, all focus on God’s five purposes for our lives. The programme is based on this book which church members are invited to buy, and then to read one brief chapter each day for the forty days.

Some of the Palmerston North churches along with many others throughout NZ are doing this programme after Easter, and our Elders have decided that it would be a great programme for St Albans to launch us into the next chapter of our life in the new building. The dates have yet to be decided.

Ephesians chap 2 verse 10 makes it clear that we were Made and Saved to Serve God. We were put on earth to make a contribution. You and I weren’t created to take up space, to just eat

and breathe. We were made to contribute not consume, not to get the most out of life but to give the most with our lives; not to take from life but to add value to life.

Ephesians 2 verse 10 makes it clear we were created to do good deeds; verse 9 makes it clear we were not saved by good works, but for good works.

The Bible’s key word for "doing good works" is service, serving; and we serve out of gratitude.

Romans 12 verse 1 says, "So then my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service."

We were created to serve and saved to serve and we do so with thankfulness. Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t take us straight to heaven the moment we believe, the moment we accept Jesus as out Saviour? It would be a good method of controlling the world’s population!

Some Christians act as if all they need to do after being saved is to sit on the sideline and wait for the next bus to heaven! We don’t go straight to heaven, because God has a purpose for us, a role for us to play, in relationship with Him. We have a role, a service to do in the church (often called a "ministry"), and a mission in the world.

The term ‘ministry’ means ‘service’, to serve or help, and the terms are interchangeable. So too are the words ‘minister’ and ‘servant’. We are called to be ministers, servants in the church community, the body of Christ.

Some churches make this point very strongly. On their newsletter where it says ‘Minister’ they type: ‘The Whole Congregation’ or ‘All our Members". Then underneath they put the ‘Pastor’ / ‘Presbyter’ / ‘Teaching Elder’ / ‘Vicar’ is Steve Jourdain, or whoever.

When we think of being called to serve, to be a minister, to ministry, to full-time service, we tend to think of the professional clergy – pastors, ministers, priests, nuns, missionaries, church workers. But the New Testament makes it quite clear that all Christians are called to belong, to love, to serve, to follow Jesus, in every moment of the day and in every area of our lives. Regardless of our work and our career, at home or outside the home, every Christian is in full-time ministry, in full-time Christian service. A non-serving Christian is a contradiction.

  • How much of our time, how often in our work, do we conscientiously make ourselves available to God to be useful in his service? Paul says in Romans 7, v 4: "and now you belong to Christ who was raised from death in order that we might be useful in the service of God."
  • How available are we to be useful in God’s service?
  • Do we have the sense that we are being useful in God’s service?

In some churches in China, a new believer is welcomed into the church by the leader saying, "Jesus now has a new pair of eyes to see with, new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, a new heart to love others with."

The reason we are all called to serve in an interdependent, multi-gifted body is so that, as each of us serves and ministers with our gifts and passions, no one person or ministry should be stressed or overworked. But if some parts of the body don’t do their role, the other parts suffer. Some churches seem glad enough that their members just turn up on Sunday and put $5 in the offering – just like waiting at the bus stop to heaven and paying off the fare on time payment! But we are made and saved and called for much more, in the active service of God.

We are also commanded /told to serve. Jesus told us to follow his example.

John chap 13 has Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, the menial work of a slave and Jesus says, "If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet….I have set you an example to follow". And then in verse 17 says, "Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice."

In Matthew 20 verses 24f, disciples James and John are seeking prestige and power in the future Kingdom of God. Jesus replies that those who want to be great or first, need to become the servants of others" because that is what he is modelling as the way of the Kingdom, "for the Son of Man came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people." These two verbs, action words, "to serve and give", define Jesus’ life on earth; and we are called to do the same.

At the end of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, after discussing what it means to love our neighbours, Jesus says, "Now go and do likewise", just as in John 13 verse 17 above.

We must act on what we know. Christian maturity, Bible knowledge, spiritual gifting, are not ends in themselves. Maturity is for ministry. We are saved to serve, healed to help, blessed to be a blessing. We grow up to give out; so often we grow and mature through giving out in practical service.

There is a wonderful example in comparing the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea in Israel. Both have water coming into them but only Galilee gives out water. It is a vibrant living sea. But the Dead Sea is just that. It doesn’t have any outlet; it does not give out. You and I risk dying , risk stagnation in our faith, if we don’t give out.

Most of us are well grounded in our faith, have a good grasp of the Gospel, know what God wants of us. We don’t need more Bible studies, more training, more church services. We need to do more ministry, more service, more practical experience of doing the Lord’s work, to stretch our faith, to develop our spiritual muscles.

This is why I dream of housegroups, study groups, getting involved in some practical ministry in our community. Not spending year after year studying the Bible, praying mainly for one another’s needs, and often going stale as we grow to know one another so well. But just imagine taking on a practical project to serve some people or group in the community. Imagine if housegroups only met three times or even twice a month for Bible study and discussion and spent the other one or two evenings serving Hokowhitu or Palmerston North in some practical way together.

  • Offering to weed people’s gardens who were elderly, or plant flowers in Crewe Crescent gardens?
  • Maybe going out to the prison one evening a month to take a service or to run an Alpha course. Wouldn’t that get us on our knees, make us pray more, and give our Bible study more focus, as we decided what to share?
  • offering to take away people’s inorganic rubbish on a Saturday morning, instead of meeting on the usual housegroup night? or maybe some other random act of kindness?
  • Taking part in a door-to-door survey on behalf of St Albans, to enquire about people’s needs and the community’s needs and how we could serve them; to introduce them to St Albans, leaving an introductory brochure about our ministries? Then after an hour of door knocking on housegroup night, come back to your group, share your stories and pray for those you visited. Perhaps a Homegroup could commit themselves to visiting one whole street over a six month period, say Te Awe Awe St, Winston Avenue, your own street.
  • Cooking a meal one night, at one of the night shelters or at one of the Mash houses around town and spending a couple of hours chatting with the residents.
  • Maybe you’re not in a housegroup but could get together a few people you know – even some you don’t know – and offer to run the Sunday children’s programme in one school holidays or do something with the youth group one evening to give Brendan a break.
  • Go to the Square with James Hanly or Bill Campbell and share the gospel message with people through the Black Book method; or do a prayer walk around some streets of our suburb.

The possibilities are endless. As you prepare for and pray for and come back to discuss your experiences you will grow and mature in your discipleship. One of our best Christmas days Shirley and I ever spent, was serving lunch at the Christchurch City Mission. It was a formative, stretching experience, putting aside our own celebration and pleasure, to give pleasure to others, to try and see and treat people as Jesus does, and love the needy.

Too often when we are looking for a church to belong to, we look for a church that meets my needs, where I feel comfortable, which will be a blessing to me. Maturing Christ-followers don’t ask, ‘How will my needs be met?’; don’t say, ‘This church isn’t doing anything for me!’ Maturing disciples of Jesus ask, ‘Where can I serve, who needs my help, how can I be a blessing?’

Serving is not natural in our modern, western, individualistic culture. But if we aren’t serving, we aren’t living life to the full; at least not the Jesus’ Way. If you’re not involved in some ministry or service, what excuse have you been using? You may have had a very good excuse, like many Bible characters.

Albert Schweitzer said, "The only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve". The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has a collect, a short prayer for peace:

"Oh God, who is the author of peace and lover of harmony, in the knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: defend us your humble servants…."

Service of God, through the service of others, is the pathway to real significance and true freedom. Freedom is not ultimately about doing what we like, but doing what is right. God wants to use you in his service, to make a difference in his world. Will you dedicate yourselves to God’s service in this new year, taking practical opportunities to carry out your calling?