As Christians, we all know that Jesus calls us to serve others. However, as I understand it, there are two essential ways to serve others. One is effective and ultimately brings glory to God; the other is largely ineffective and human-centered. That said, both types of service often look identical at first glance, because the distinction is primarily inward.

However, the distinction is of vital importance.

Jesus’ Example

The first type of Christian service follows the example of Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verses 3-5. The Scripture tells us that “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, he girded himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:3-5).

Notice the place of understanding from which Jesus served others: He “[knew] that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). In other words, He served from the place of intimacy with God, and security in the inheritance that He possessed with His Father.

We can serve from this same place of understanding, since we have been adopted into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and are co-heirs with Christ himself. The Bible tells us that “when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).

When we serve from this place of intimacy with and security in God, we are serving as sons (or daughters). This type of service brings great glory to God and bears much fruit for eternity.

The Ephesian Example

The second type of Christian service follows the example of the Ephesian church from the book of Revelation, chapter 2, verses 1-7. Jesus said, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance… But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:2, 4).

When we serve in this way, we are serving as slaves rather than as sons or daughters. This is tragic, because while the outward act of serving remains more or less intact, it’s done without a dynamic sense of connection to the vine, the source abundant life (John 15:5, 10:10).

This type of service may look good at first, and it may even continue to look good for some time. However, it will ultimately bear very little, if any, fruit for eternity, and it will likely leave us feeling either burned out and overcome with disillusionment, or puffed up with pride and self-righteousness.

What does Jesus say to the Ephesians? He tells them to “remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).

Friends, ensure that your lampstand remains in its place, burning brightly in the darkness! We do this by nurturing and guarding our relationship with God as our extravagantly loving Father. Stay connected to the vine, and when you serve, do so out of a place of dynamic connection with Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Without this, we can truly do nothing (John 15:5).


Pat MacGibbon