Summary: Why do people serve God? People serve the Lord from many motives. We will start by learning the thankful spirit.

The Marks of True Spiritual Service 1

A Thankful Spirit

Why do people serve God? People serve the Lord from many motives. Some serve out of legalistic effort, as a means of earning salvation and God’s favor. Some serve the Lord for fear that, if they do not, they will incur His disfavor and perhaps even lose their salvation. Some, like Diotrophes (3 John 9), serve because of the prestige and esteem that leadership often brings. Some serve in order to gain preeminent ecclesiastical positions and the power to lord it over those under their care. Some serve for appearance’s sake, in order to be considered righteous by fellow church members and by the world. Some serve because of peer pressure to conform to certain human standards of religious and moral behavior. Children are often forced into religious activities by their parents, and they sometimes continue those activities into adult life only because of parental intimidation or perhaps from mere habit. Some people are even zealous in Christian work because of the financial gain it can produce.

But those motives for service are merely external, and no matter how orthodox or helpful to other people the service might be, unless it is done out of a sincere desire to please and glorify God, it is not spiritual neither is it acceptable to Him (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31). It is, of course, possible for a person to begin Christian service out of genuine devotion to God and later fall into an occasion or even a habit of performing it mechanically, merely from a sense of necessity. Pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, missionaries and all other Christian workers can carelessly leave their first love and fall into a rut of superficial activity that is performed in the Lord’s name but is not done in His power or for His glory.

In the opening verses of his letter to the Romans, Paul also set himself forth for his readers to see before he attempted to teach them some deeper truths of the gospel. He opened his heart and said, in effect, "Before I show you my theology, I am going to show you myself."

In his opening words to the believers at Rome, Paul tells of his sincere spiritual motives in wanting to minister to them. With warmth, affection, and sensitivity that permeate the entire letter, he assures them of his genuine devotion to God and his genuine love for them. Although Paul had not personally founded or even visited the church at Rome, he carried the heartfelt passion of Christ for their spiritual welfare and an eager desire to develop their spiritual and personal friendship. The letter to Rome reveals that Paul not only had the zeal of a prophet, the mind of a teacher, and the determination of an apostle, but also the heart of a shepherd.

When they first received Paul’s letter, the believers in Rome probably wondered why this great apostle whom most of them did not know would bother to write them such a long and profound letter. They also may have wondered why, if he cared so much for them, he had not yet paid them a visit. In verses 8-15 of chapter 1, Paul gives the answers to both of those questions. He wrote them because he cared deeply about their spiritual maturity, and he had not yet visited them because he had thus far been prevented. In these few verses the apostle lays bare his heart concerning them.

Paul did not serve because it was "fun" and self-pleasing. "For even Christ did not please Himself," he points out later in the epistle; "but as it is written, ’The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me’" (Rom. 15:3; cf. Ps. 69:9). Nor did Paul serve in order to gain glory and honor from men. "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). In a later letter to the church at Corinth he declared, "We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus’ sake" (2 Cor. 4:5; cf. 1 Cor. 9:19).

In verses 8-15, Paul’s words suggest nine marks of true spiritual service: a thankful spirit (v 8), a concerned spirit (v 9-10a), a willing and submissive spirit (v. 10b), a loving spirit (v. 11), a humble spirit (v. 12), a fruitful spirit (v. 13), an obedient spirit (v. 14), an eager spirit (v. 15). A tenth, a bold spirit, is mentioned in v. 16a.

I. Paul’s Thankfulness was Intimate Because of His Spiritual Closeness to God

A. For Paul, God was not a theological abstraction but a beloved Savior and close friend.

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