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In the Spirit of service

by Luke L. Keefer

We value serving others at their point of need, following the example of our Lord Jesus.

“Service” is one of those words that falls too easily from the lips of Christians. Often, it is used as a general term for doing things for others. But Jesus plainly told us that much of our doing good to others fails to achieve the level of Christian service (Matt. 5:43–48). At other times, it has become nothing more than social convention: doing nice things for those who will do nice things for us. But Christian service involves doing good to those who cannot return it, loving and serving even when it’s inconvenient, and helping those whose ways do not readily endear them to us.

When Jesus preached to His neighbors in His hometown of Nazareth for the first time (Luke 4:16–30), He chose the opening verses of Isaiah 61 for His text:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor [. . .]

These words highlight the comprehensive nature of Jesus’ ministry—salvation of souls and bodies, minds and relationships. Not only did Christ come into the world to die for every person; He also came to minister to all the needs of the human race. And He emphasized that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison were the standards by which His people would be judged. It is clear, then, that any concept of the holy life is un-Christian if it stops short of active witness and service on behalf of others’ needs.

The motivation for this service is love. When one asks why God redeemed the world, the answer is love (John 3:16). This was also the motive behind every healing, every miracle, and every compassionate deed Jesus performed.

But when we ask how Jesus did these things, the answer is by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which equipped Him for this ministry on earth. Indeed, it is one thing to be “compelled by the love of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14) and to have compassion for people in need. It is quite another thing to be able to minister to that need. If the Church truly has become Christ’s people, it will share God’s concern for the world and will feel the compassion of Christ for hurting people. But it will also know its limitations. Unless strengthened and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we cannot serve nor survive in the depressing world of human need. And unless every believer is also made a bearer of God’s Spirit, there will be large numbers of people untouched by the Gospel. The whole Church must be thoroughly equipped if the total Christ is to be offered to the entire world.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2009 issue of In Part magazine.
Luke Keefer

Luke L. Keefer, Jr. is professor emeritus at Ashland (Ohio) Theo-logical Seminary and director of the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan studies at Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.). He and his wife, Doris, attend Ashland BIC. They have three married children and five grandchildren.

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