If I wear a wedding ring and carry a picture of a woman in my wallet, and tell you that I’m married, would you believe me? Does that mean that I really am – beyond a shadow of a doubt – married, as I say I am? What if I just bought the ring at a pawn shop, got a photo of a woman I may or may have never met, and made up the rest? Does just the ring, the picture, and the story make me a husband?
If I wear a uniform and carry a weapon on my belt, and tell you that I am a soldier, would you believe me? Does that mean that I really am – beyond a shadow of a doubt – enlisted, as I say I am? What if I just bought the uniform at a used clothing store, and the weapon at a pawn shop, and simply made up the rest? Does just the uniform, the weapon, and the story make me a soldier?
Could I, in the same way, impersonate a parent, a teacher, and a priest? Carrying a child’s picture and telling stories does not necessarily make me a father. Nor does carrying a grade book and a stack of books necessarily make me a teacher, although I sure might look like one. And carrying a Bible and dressing a certain way may help me look like a minister, but aside from appearances, really it means nothing.
And here’s the thing. This world is full of impersonators… deceivers… liars! What is really scary is that people often get so used to their own fabrications that they mostly believe it themselves. But what is that *really* makes a person a soldier, a spouse, a parent, a teacher, or a pastor? What is the key ingredient that moves the profession from something I say to something I really am?
In a word: Service.
One is not really a soldier unless he truly serves his country.
One is not really a husband unless he truly serves his bride.
One is not really a father unless he is truly serving his children.
One is not really a teacher unless he is truly serving his students.
One is not really a pastor unless he is truly serving his congregation.
(As a note, this is not a gender-specific message. I tried writing that in a more gender-neutral way but it came out very awkward and wordy, so please feel free to restate them for your own gender. Thanks!)
The thing that makes a real soldier, a real husband, a real father, a real teacher, a real pastor… is service. The same is true of what makes a real Christian. And who is the real Christian serving? The answer should be obvious: One is not really a Christian unless he is truly serving Christ.
Perhaps the best question we can ask is, “What exactly is service?”
First, it is outward in its focus. It focuses on the one being served.
Second, it is specific. It renders whatever is necessary to satisfy the needs of the one being served.
Third, it is sacrificial. It is not selfish or superficial, but seeks what is best for the one being served. It is, in essence, a giving away of oneself to the one who is being served.
If the key ingredient, then, to being genuine and not counterfeit in these roles is service… what is the determining factor of success in this endeavor, and by success I simply mean the spirit to overcome and persevere when the way is hard and the rewards are few? It is the desire and the direction of the heart. When an individual is truly committed to the one(s) for whom he is serving – regardless of his sacrifice, irrespective of his gain – then he has assurance in his own heart the desire and direction thereof; his conscience is clean and his service is pure. It is when one has been called to a role of service, however, and they do not serve outwardly, specifically, and sacrificially — and when the desire and the direction of their heart is not for the one they serve but for themselves — that every manner of dissatisfaction will manifest itself in the servant, hindering their joy in serving and rendering their service unsavory.
Take heed! If you claim to be a Christian, but are not consumed with serving Christ and finding joy in serving Him, then you need to ask yourself what is it that your heart is *really* desiring and directed toward? And while your soul’s eternal destiny is important, yes, I think it is far more important that we serve our glorious King with a joyful heart and humble obedience. Our motivation should be our love for Him. The Great Exchange (our sin for His righteousness, our eternal death for His eternal life) is glorious indeed! But our focus should not be so much on what we have obtained, for we are not worthy of what we have received. Our focus should be on Him who called us out of darkeness, for He is absolutely worthy and deserving of at least your heart, and your service to Him is the supreme act of worship, the testament of your love.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…
“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul…
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
1 Kings 8:23
and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,
2 Chronicles 6:14
and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
2 John 1:6
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.