Service to Others- John 13:4-8, 12-17

He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

COMMENTARY

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
He who is a master has great freedom, that is obvious. Once again, the scriptures here are stressing that we are intended to use that freedom to serve others. The more power one has, the more they are expected to use that power for the good of others.
The thing about being a master, though, is that there isn’t anyone else to subject you to service, you have to submit to it by your own volition. True service is something that can only be imposed on the self by the self.
Most churches that I know of teach their parishioners to performs acts of service, but rarely prescribe exactly in what way or to what extent. I believe this is extremely appropriate, as otherwise it would start to feel like compelling people. After all, who made Jesus wash his disciples’ feet but himself?

Service to Others- Matthew 7:12, James 1:27

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

COMMENTARY

I remember one winter, years ago, my church’s youth group decided to put together a bundle of gifts for a family that could not afford them. We went to the store and bought nice toys and clothes off a list, honestly nicer things than I would receive myself for Christmas. Then we went to the little home of the family where a couple kids about our age took the gifts, saw that we were done delivering things to them, and quickly closed the door.
I felt quite disappointed. It had none of the gratitude and love I had always heard of in Christmas stories.
Frankly, I think we do people a disservice by how we over-glamorize service. None of the stories you hear prepare you for the fact that sometimes you might not get told thank you. We don’t ever mention that the person you help might establish a manipulative relationship to try and get more things from you. We never warn that your effort to do good might backfire and cause more harm.
None of which is to say that service is a bad thing. It’s just that if all I hear is how wonderful the experience is going to be for me personally, then my primary motivation is likely going to be for myself.

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them
Visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction
Notice that neither of these scriptures give any expectation for what will follow your act of service. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Full stop. No promise that they’ll respond in kind. Visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. Full stop. Doesn’t matter if they appreciate it. Doesn’t matter if your effort had a meaningful impact or not. Just do unto others. Just visit the afflicted.
Though it seems ridiculously obvious, I believe a lot of us struggle to instill this one core principle of service: it is about others, not ourselves. Yes we often receive good feeling from doing it…but sometimes we don’t. And when we don’t, that’s fine, that does not mean that we failed. The true purpose of service, to do unto others, has still been fulfilled.

Service to Others- Matthew 5:42-46

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?

COMMENTARY

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?
Yesterday we observed how giving charitably is to give unfairly, or in an unbalanced way. It is giving where it is not deserved. And yet God is a fair God, and so if we give excessively, then justice must demand that we receive excessively in return. Thus by giving charitably you have simultaneously blessed the life of another and also tipped the balances in your favor. Everyone is lifted together.

That ye may be the children of your Father
God is the freest being we can conceive of, a personage entirely able to do as He pleases. His intention is for us to be as free as He is. The way of the world, is not this freedom. As mentioned yesterday, the way of the world is a pattern of choosing selfishly, followed by a predictable retaliation from another, followed by a predictable counter-retaliation, and so on forever. Thus begins a dance whose steps have been chosen for you. There is no freedom in this.
The only way to be an actor, and not one that is acted upon, is to do something entirely unnatural and unpredictable…like loving an enemy. One must receive a wound, be entirely justified in retaliating, and instead say “no, I’ll just take it.” It is the only way to liberation.

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you
One is not only made free in this manner, they are also made the most empowered. If you can only love those that love you, then they have the power to make you love them or not. They can steer your behavior by their influence. Even if they were to steer you into a rage that destroyed them, they still steered you. But if you do one of these unnatural acts of freely giving and freely forgiving, then who is in charge of your actions but yourself? To act by no other compulsion than your own, even if it is to act in subservience of another, is to be a true master.

Service to Others- Matthew 5:38-41

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

COMMENTARY

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth
Our carnal tendency is to give as we have received. Not to give as we would like to receive, such as the golden rule recommends, but only to give as we have already received. As such, we have no mortal motivation to show a kindness to another unless they have already shown a kindness to us first. The problem with this approach is that then no kind act can ever be performed, as it requires an initiating factor. The whole pattern must be begun by one who does a kindness without reason, having received no kindness of their own. To the carnal mind, this is inconceivable.
What is conceivable, though, is an initiating unkindness, a moment where someone takes advantage of another for their own benefit. This would then start a toxic chain of retaliation unkindness through all humanity, and there could never be an end to the series because it requires a terminating factor. The whole pattern could only be closed by one who receives an unkindness and then, without reason, chooses not to retaliate. To the carnal mind, this is inconceivable.

Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also
So would acting charitably mean giving unfairly and forgiving where it isn’t deserved? Quite frankly, yes. And that is the ultimate ambition. It is just that sort of charity that brought our Savior to lay down his life for us, even though we did not deserve any such kindness. And so charity is a principle in direct contrast to that of an eye for an eye. It is an uncomfortable principle, one that goes against our natural sense of indignation. But it is the only way to ever end a dance of abuse and counterattack, and the only way to ever start a dance of benevolence and generosity.

Service to Others- Moses 7:32-33, Galatians 5:13-14

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

COMMENTARY

They are the workmanship of mine own hands…and also gave commandment, that they should love one another
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

These verses suggest that our selfish indulgences are misappropriations of the freedom God gives us. All people at all times have been given an inherent freedom in the form of being able to choose for themselves. Yet that freedom was give to us for a purpose, there is a reason to our liberty.
That reason, it would appear, is to “love one another” and by that love “serve one another.” In other words, because we are free we can then bind ourselves to whatever we choose. God’s hope is that we will choose to bind ourselves to Him and to our fellowman. Unfortunately, we all too often bind ourselves back to our own selves instead. We consider our own pleasure before all else, and resort to serving others only when we have something to gain by it.
I am supposed to be free and then make myself a servant to others, not make myself a slave to my appetites. So long as I fail to fit this part of my creation, I will feel incomplete. A hole inside that no amount of self-indulgence can ever fill. It is only in the giving of myself that I can ever find the full me.

Service to Others- Personal Example #3

Why is it that we don’t do the things we know will make us happy? I’m sure each one of us could write a long list of things we wish we did on a regular basis…but just don’t. Most recently I’ve been noticing my own shortcomings in being social, giving others my time and attention, and finding ways to serve them. I don’t doubt that I will be a better person and find joy in doing these things, and yet I put them off even so.

As I’ve considered my situation, I’ve noticed that it is following the same pattern as a past experience I had. For the last several years I struggled to get into a regular exercise regime. I would start-and-stop over and over, flurries of intense workouts and then long doldrums of absolutely nothing. But then, a little more than a year ago, the struggle stopped. Today I run every workday during my lunch break, and if I happen to miss, I do aerobics at home in the evening.

Find Your Own Way)

What made the difference? Well one thing was finding my way of doing exercise. Early morning running might be great for some people, but it wasn’t for me. Leaving it until the evening never worked either, because after a long workday all I wanted to do was relax. Each time I chose a workout plan and it failed I would get disheartened and stop trying for months. But by trial and error I finally found something that worked.

It has been the same with reaching out to our neighbors. A little while ago my wife and I tried inviting a different family over for dinner every week. It went great for a little while, but it wasn’t sustainable as Summer vacations ate up so much of our schedule. Having people over for dinner is still something I want to do regularly, but I’m now adding quick cookies-and-chats visits as a fallback because they work more constantly.

You Enjoy What You Are Good At)

The other lesson I’ve learned is that when I say I do not like something, what I might really mean is that I am not good at it. For the longest while I was convinced that I hated running. But as I persevered, I found I enjoyed it more and more because I was getting better at it. During those first runs I would jog for five minutes, get winded, have to walk, try running again, get winded even sooner…it was embarrassing, so of course I “didn’t like it.” No one enjoys that experience.

Socially it is the same. At the start of my mission I was terrible at talking to people, but after being constant interaction with them all day I really got quite a bit better. Now I haven’t maintained that skill, but I know I can get it back with practice.

I think this is the same thing that keeps so many people inside of their shells. So many of us don’t know how to talk to people at first, so the experience is awkward, and of course we don’t like it. But there is a surefire way to get better at anything you want. By doing it. Yep, it’ll be awkward, stilted, and embarrassing for the first while. But then you’ll get better, and then it’ll be fun.

God’s Plan)

“Seek and ye shall find” still requires seeking. To “take his yoke upon us” is lighter than trying to do things on our own, but it is still a burden. I think many of us expect the way to be clean and paved for us when we do God’s work, but that would prevent us from having any growing experiences.

So yes, have confidence that you will succeed, that you will see miracles, and that God will show up for you. But temper that with the knowledge that it will take effort, that you will fail and have to pick yourself back up again, and that you will have to grow to make it. And then, with both those sides in mind, also remember that it will all be worth it in the end.

Service to Others- Personal Example #2

My commitment yesterday was to try and reach out to that couple in my neighborhood again. I was glad that I made the commitment, because without it I don’t think I would have followed through. There was no great obstacle, mind you, just the general apathy that keeps me at home most days.

Things actually went almost exactly as before. That couple I was trying to reach wasn’t home again, so this time I left the plate of cookies on their doorstep with a quick note. Just something that said I was thinking of them and hoped they were well.

I had prepared two plates of cookies that night, though, and also made a visit to another couple that recently moved into our community. They were home and invited me in to sit down and chat with them for a half hour. It was a really nice talk, and I left feeling blessed from the interaction. I hope they did, too.

These have been fun experiences, and I like that they’re so sustainable. I could easily do a visit like this every week. I could also change it up, and perhaps instead of bringing cookies simply ask “Hey, our family is really hoping to help yours out for the next half hour. Could you give us some little task that we can take care of for you?” It’s certainly a bit unusual, but who is going to feel anything but positivity from that?

So I find myself wondering why has this been so difficult? I never doubted that it would be a positive experience, and yet I just didn’t want to do it. As I’ve thought about why that is I’ve been able to glean a few insights about myself. Truths about me that I think many others will be able to relate to as well. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about them.

Service to Others- Personal Example #1

One week ago I had an experience which was the catalyst for this whole study session. I had been thinking for a while about a couple in our neighborhood, and how I ought to bring them some cookies and ask how they’re doing. I always found reasons to put it off until later, but finally last Monday I decided “no, today I’m doing it.”

So I made the treat, packed my son in his push-car, and walked over to their house. They weren’t home, which was a bit disappointing, but after having finally committed to doing something good I decided that this moment couldn’t end in failure. My son and I looked for someone else to deliver the cookies to.

Three homes later we finally found a person at home. We had a brief, but nice chat, and left the cookies with him. I have no idea if he felt touched by the gesture or not, but I felt content in my heart.

That contentment stood out to me a good deal. In fact I noticed that my resolve to bring a treat to the initial couple almost entirely deflated. I still feel just as strongly that I should, but I don’t feel very motivated for it. As I did some introspection, it seems that I have two motivations for doing service to others. One is because someone I see someone specific that I think needs a kind act, and the other is because I generally need to do service to feel complete.

And so with my little excursion last week I satiated the general need, but not the specific one. For whatever reason, it is that general need that comes on more strongly for me, and without it I have difficulty in acting. I guess I just happen to have a stronger love for all mankind in general than for any random stranger.

That’s not an ideal way to be, but having recognized this weakness I accept that it is real, and I resolve to improve on it. And to that end, I am committing to try and reach out to that married couple again tonight. Because even if I do not yet feel strongly motivated, I can do it anyhow and so exercise my weaker spiritual muscles. I’ll report tomorrow how things go.

Service to Others- Matthew 25:34-40

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

COMMENTARY

These my brethren
I like this set of verses from Matthew…but I didn’t always. Most often I would hear people quote this passage, and then preach a message about it that rubbed me the wrong way. That message went along the lines of “so that’s why you should do kind acts for others, because really you’re just doing them for Jesus.” And I would hear that and think “well shouldn’t I really be doing service to others for their own sake?”
I mean, I would personally feel a bit hurt if someone did a kindness to me and then said “actually, that was for Jesus.” Gee, thanks.
So instead, I prefer to put the emphasis on these my brethren. Here Jesus is telling us how he views these people and testifying of his love for them. “These are my brethren, my kin, my people.” He isn’t trying to tell us to put his image over their faces, he is telling us to put his love over them. He wants us to see how important to him they are, how worthy of being helped, in and of themselves.

Ye have done it unto me
I am a father, and I can attest that any time I see someone do a kindness to my little son, I feel that a kindness has been done to me as well. I love people just for their willingness to give my son their attention and hear what he has to say. But I wouldn’t if they were doing it for me instead of for him. If they were listening to him only to please me, I would feel offended at their insincerity.
So yes, Christ feels served when we do service for others. But I am convinced that he wants us to do that service by making his brethren our brethren. By doing our kindness to them for their own joy. That he will derive joy from the service as well is simply a divine dividend.

Service to Others- Luke 10:34-37

And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

COMMENTARY

And went to him, and bound up his wounds
Go, and do thou likewise

What was it that the Samaritan did for the wounded man? Binding wounds, healing and anointing him, carrying his burden, placing him in safety…he gave him the sustenance of life.
When Jesus told us to “go and do likewise” I don’t think his injunction was only to watch out for men dying on the side of the road. I mean, yeah, if we ever see that we should do something about it! But more generally I believe he is asking us to give the sustenance of life to others.
And as we do so, we should remember that not all wounds are visible and not all hungers make a noise. Just as people need food and drink, they also need to feel seen, appreciated, heard, and wanted. And these are the needs that people are usually the most starved for, because these are the ones they cannot give to themselves.
We have an epidemic of emotionally dehydrated people. Every now and again one of them will cry for help, but more often they stay quiet, walking around and looking “perfectly fine” on the outside.
When you give service to others it isn’t just “doing something nice,” it is literally preserving life.