When it comes to serving the Lord, there is a balance to be struck. The twin dangers of dutiful legalism on the one hand and licentious, lazy cheap grace on the other are ever present.
Some will (rightly) insist that unless we are serving out of love for the Lord, our service is as naught. They will tend to argue that if we are serving simply out of duty, perhaps we shouldn’t be serving at all. We are not earning meritorious favour with him as it pertains to our salvation nor are we paying him back for his cross-work, as if anything we could do might even come close to repaying him. Such people will emphasise the importance of heart-devotion before dutiful service. This can lead to a sense that we don’t need to serve and shouldn’t bother unless we really feel it.
Others will (rightly) insist that if we really love the Lord, we will serve him in a variety of ways. They will tend to argue that if we are really saved that should work its way out in various acts of service. Whilst such service is not earning us meritorious favour with him as it pertains to our salvation, what does it say about our love of him if we never serve or obey him? Such people will tend to emphasise the importance of serving dutifully as an outworking of our heart-devotion. This can lead to a sense that we should serve even when our heart really isn’t in it.
In truth, both positions land on truth. Our service ought to be a genuine outworking of our love for Christ. At the same time, because we serve a God of grace, he is more concerned with our heart motivations than our outward acts of piety. So which is right? Do we fake it until we make it or do we wait until it feels great?
The two things are perhaps more symbiotic than we acknowledge. Sometimes, it is our moving to action that causes our feelings to follow suit. Other times, our innate feelings lead us to action. I don’t think we can make a hard and fast rule here. There will be times when, despite how we feel about it, we ought to serve and this may cause our feelings to fall in line. There will be other times when we won’t serve until such time as our feeling lead us to do so. But I do want to take some issue with the view that we don’t serve unless we really want to do so.
The best analogy I can think of is of a father with his baby children. I will be honest, I don’t particularly like changing pooey nappies. I don’t think many people jump for joy at the prospect of wiping their children’s bums. It is a job that, both literally and figuratively, stinks.
This means the task of wiping my children’s bottoms is something of a duty. Neither I nor my wife relish that job. Does this mean that I shouldn’t wipe their bum until I really desire the task of cleaning their poo? Of course not! If I took that view, they would end up very sore, very smelly and very unhappy. I may not enjoy wiping their bums but it is not an act of love to leave it until I really want to do it. The point here is that I do it because I love them. I don’t especially enjoy the job of itself – wiping bums is a chore and there is no two ways about it – but because I love my children, and I want the best for them, I do it gladly.
The same is true when it comes to serving the Lord. There are times when the work itself is not enjoyable. Some of the things we are called to do are scary, uncomfortable and not particularly enjoyable of itself. It is very much true that if we did not love the Lord we would not do it, because the thing itself is not much fun. But because we love the Lord, we want to do what pleases him and that causes us to do the thing.
I think all too often we struggle because we sense that unless we really love the hardest forms of evangelism, or enjoy nothing more than giving our money away, or take great delight in serving people who are essentially ungrateful that we don’t really love the Lord. But I do think we can rightly distinguish between loving the thing per se and loving the Lord and thus being pleased to do the thing for him.
I will readily admit that I find all sorts of evangelism difficult. There have been plenty of times I have looked out the window and prayed for rain so that I didn’t have to go. Nonetheless, when no rain was forthcoming, into the town we went. I can think of lots of examples of stuff that, of itself, I would rather not do but because it serves the Lord’s glory I choose to do it anyway. This strikes me as good evidence that I really do love the Lord when I go I am doing it only because it serves the good of the gospel and his glory. I may not especially love the thing itself, but I do it because I actually love him.
I remember as a teenager my Dad used to drive me every weekened to play basketball. I know my Dad had no interest in basketball and I’m fairly sure the hour round trip, combined with the hour and half watching me run around playing a game I am fairly sure he had no knowledge of (or interest in) its rules, was a huge pain for him. I am quite sure it had no intrinsic value for him. Yet, he continued to do it because he knew I wanted to do it and he loved me enough to serve me despite the lack of anything in it for him. Was this just cold, hard duty on my Dad’s part? Or, was this the sort of action you might expect from someone who loved his son? There is no way he loved the thing itself but he certainly loved me enough to do what he knew I would enjoy.
It is true that we should want to serve the Lord and we should serve out of a heart that loves him. But that does not mean that we have to love the thing itself. We don’t always have to love every mode of evangelism or all sorts of things, but we do have to be motivated by a genuine love for the Lord if we are to do them. Some are so desperate to rid us of the concept of duty that I think they miss the point. Duty for duty’s sake is, indeed, dead. But dutiful service because it serves the glory of the Lord and we love him is no bad thing.
After all, who loves wiping their children’s bums? But I am glad to do it because it serves my children and works for their good. I don’t always love specific acts of service, but I love the Lord and I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t. There is a place for duty; but a service born out of love for the Lord, not what we might get out of him or for its own sake.