Summary: The freedom we have received in Christ imposes responsibility to serve one another.
“You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
The tragedy of modern worship is that worshippers tend to serve themselves rather than serving one another. We seek out a church based on what it can give us, rather than seeking out a congregation where we may honour God by investing the gifts that He has entrusted to us. Moreover, this service to self is conducted largely in the absence of sound instruction and without benefit of training provided from the pulpit. In fact, we preachers are guilty of encouraging such self-serving attitudes among the members of the church.
I acknowledge that in making this charge I am painting with quite a broad brush; nevertheless, the assessment does generally appear to hold true among the churches of our Lord. I am assuredly grateful for every pastor who boldly declares the Word while pointing listeners to life in the Beloved Son. However, such courageous preaching appears to be increasingly rare. Likely, this deficit finds its roots in the exaggerated self-love that characterises modern life. Contemporary church-goers are generally so focused on fulfilling their own desires that they have scant time to serve one another in love. In fact, one has to question whether modern Christians know the meaning of the apostolic admonition delivered to the Galatian saints, “through love serve one another.”
Perhaps that assessment appears overly critical to many who listen today. However, ask yourself, when was the last time you were genuinely excited at the thought that you would be serving your fellow worshippers as you prepared to attend the worship of the congregation? When did you last enter the House of the Lord asking yourself what you could give, rather than thinking of what you might receive? When did your emotions last overwhelm you at the thought that you were permitted to serve another, and especially that you might be called to serve someone whom many would consider your social inferior?
Our language betrays us. We exit the worship and say, “I didn’t get anything out of that,” or we say, “That didn’t feed me.” If the service was stimulating, we may be more positive and say, “That really ministered to me.” We are the centre of our worship—not the Master. I remind the people of God that worship is not about what we receive; it is about what we give. Worship is not about whether we are present; rather, worship is about Who we meet. This contemporary attitude of putting self at the centre of worship is killing the contemporary church.
Too often, we go to church, rather than being the church. Worship too frequently refers to singing, or even dancing, rather than awareness that we have entered into in the presence of the True and Living God. We feel almost compelled to focus more on the liturgy than on the relationship. We are content to say prayers rather than praying. Tragically, few Christians appear able, much less willing, to define such terms as “worship” or “prayer” through appeal to Scripture. The Apostle to the Gentiles would argue that we were saved in order to be set free—free to know God and to be known by God.
FREEDOM IS GOD’S GIFT TO HIS OWN — In the opening verse of this chapter, Paul informs us, “For freedom Christ has set us free” [GALATIANS 5:1]. Now, this truth is magnified as he asserts, “You were called to freedom, brothers” [GALATIANS 5:13]. Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) was quite accurate when he sang,
“You’re gonna’ have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna’ have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna’ have to serve somebody.”
Ultimately, every individual either serves the True and Living God, or she serves the enemy.
Let’s explore that subject somewhat more fully. Challenged by religious leaders, Jesus responded by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” [JOHN 8:34-36]. The Master had just introduced a concept to which these leaders would have undoubtedly given assent. However, they would have imagined that they were as pure as the driven snow because of their religion.
Underscore in your mind that each person serves either God or the devil. Though many, perhaps most, of our fellow Canadians would argue that they serve their own interests, if those interests do not advance the glory of God, it ultimately advances the cause of wickedness. Let me demonstrate this fact by referring you to a truth which Paul wrote concerning each believer. “The heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” [GALATIANS 4:1-3].