Day 29: We’re Called to Serve Together – By Being Willing To Serve

Point to Ponder: We’re saved to serve others.
Verse to Remember: “Each of us needs to look after the good of people around us, asking ourselves ‘How can I help?’.” — Romans 15:2 (Msg.)
Question to Consider: How will you serve someone in your church or small group today?
[Read More] thoughts on Day 29 of Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Community, including some radical ideas about love for others.

Today’s lesson touches on another crucial truth about humanity, though (perhaps unsurprisingly 🙂 I feel he doesn’t quite explore it deeply enough. I do very much like his formulation:

We are not saved by serving, but we are saved for serving.

For me, this succinctly captures the difference between orthodox Christian (at least Protestant) beliefs, and various para-Christian viewpoints which treat service as a pre-condition, rather than post-condition, of salvation.

However, the key implication of this (from my perspective) is that serving others is in fact an intrinsic part of the human experience, and that Christ’s redemption enables us to live that out.There appears to be a tendency to assume that “self-love is natural, inevitable, and wrong while other-love is supernatural, rare, and right.” While there is at least one sense in which that is true, I think it is in general a vast oversimplification. I much prefer Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which I interpret to imply (among other things) that “a healthy self-love includes a healthy attitude of loving others.” That is, the problem is not that we never love others and always love ourselves, but that our understanding and experience of love (in both directions) is faulty.

To be sure, it is true that we often indulge ourselves to the point of ignoring the needs of others. Yet, it is equally possible (if somewhat less common) to indulge others to the point of ignoring our own needs (can anyone say “co-dependence” –). I also think it can be misleading to say that “Few people use their lives to serve others” — especially after Mother’s Day! To be sure, it is probably fair to say that few people truly do love others — we often merely gratify ourselves by the appearance of serving. Yet, by that same token, few people truly love themselves — we merely indulge ourselves without truly acting in our own best interest. Real love — that accurately represents God’s character and heart for us — is difficult and rare on any level.

To be fair, that’s a fairly subtle and minor quibble, which I need to be careful not to overstate. I completely agree with the overall thrust of today’s devotional, that we — I in particular — need to become more other-centered, as part of allowing Christ to transform us into His image. And while I defend healthy self-love (as I think Rick would and does), I totally agree with his condemnation of selfishness, in the sense of indulging our own needs to the exclusion of serving others. I also agree that the solution is love, not merely the act of serving others, which can itself become very unhealthy if done as a selfish indulgence.

Perhaps what I really mean to say is that along with all our self-oriented needs, we humans also have a deep need to love and serve others. Thus, while serving others may well be counter-cultural, it is not against human nature — rather, it fulfills human nature, the way God originally intended, and our spirits still long for.

Enough theorizing. As useful as it may be to think rightly, it isn’t worth a hill of beans if it doesn’t lead to right actions (with the right attitude) — as I’m sure both James and Paul would be quick to point out!

Prayer: God, I want to learn what it means to love others. Rather, I want to truly love others, period. I want to be a complete human being, which is to say I want to manifest the image of Christ. I want to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I want to die to my selfishness and self-indulgence, and live to glorify God and find my fulness in blessing others. Open my eyes, ears, and heart. Teach me to love my small group, and to pray for those in my circle of influence. Take away my heart of stone, and give me a heart of flesh, which beats with love for others. That I may love myself only as you love me, in terms of seeking my transformation into a person that builds Your kingdom. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.