Serve One Another

Serve One Another

Galatians 5:13-15


Who here remembers seeing Blockbuster movie rental stores everywhere? It hasn’t been that long ago that even the smallest town had a Blockbuster. Just 16 years ago, in the year 2000, Blockbuster reigned supreme in the video rental industry. If your family wanted a movie night, someone likely had to drive to one of Blockbuster’s 9,000 stores, sort through rows of DVD-lined shelves, and hand a membership card to a blue-clad employee. When Reed Hastings, founder of a fledgling startup called Netflix, met with the Blockbuster CEO in 2000 to propose a partnership, he was laughed out of the office. (Whoops!) Despite changing consumer preferences and new technologies, Blockbuster doubled down on its store-first model by offering popcorn, books, and toys, while Netflix played around with a subscription model and no late fees. Only 10 years later, Netflix became the largest source of streaming Internet traffic in North America during peak hours, with over 20 million subscribers. Blockbuster declared bankruptcy.[i]


Who here likes change? Change is hard. Whether it’s a business, or a church, or even an individual, change is hard. Most of us don’t like change. Sure, there are some who are out in front in when change is happening, early adapters, simply because they’re wired to like novelty. But most of us don’t like change. A big part of what counselors and therapists do is help people who don’t want to change figure out how to change. I have two quotes on the white board in my office. I use them sometimes with counseling clients, but I also use them to remind me how to embrace and manage change as a leader. The first is attributed to Henry Ford, and says, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” The second is a quote by Rick Warren, pastor and author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Rick says “There is no growth without change, no change without loss, and no loss without pain.” Change almost always includes the loss of something. Sometimes it’s your identity. Or maybe it’s your way of doing things. Maybe it’s your way of thinking. As we age, our bodies change and can’t do the things that we used to be able to do. And that’s a loss, and it’s hard for some people. Every person in this room is eventually going to come to the place where you realize, or maybe your friends or kids will tell you, that you are no longer a safe driver, and you have to give up driving. That’s a difficult change and involves a real loss. Change is hard.


Change is hard in churches too. Its hard when a new pastor comes in. Its hard when worship styles change. It’s hard when locations change. Researchers tell us that it takes one to three years for everything to settle in after a church merger. It’s one of those things you have to be patient with for a while. And we all know someone who has left, either because things were happening too fast or because they weren’t happening fast enough. The best advice you can give someone who is in a church going through a merger is to hang in there. You can’t make a decision based on a few months. There is no growth without change. There is no change without loss. There is no loss without pain. I love that, because it reminds me of two things: the change IS hard, but also that change isn’t always bad.


That’s why we’re in the middle of a sermon series called “One Another” right now. I think it’s very appropriate, as we bring two churches together, to look at the passages in the Bible that talk about how we are to treat one another in the church. These are good things to do for anyone, regardless of whether they’re in the church or not. Being authentic and real, praying for people, forgiving those who hurt us. Those are good things to do with anyone. But the context for the passages we’re looking at is specifically within the church, the body of Christ. I think sometimes, just like in our families, we treat others better than we treat those in church with us. We’ve all heard quotes like “The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.” We haven’t always been very good at taking care of the people closest to us. So we’re looking at the one another passages in the New Testament this fall. Turn in your Bible to Galatians 5:13-15.


Paul begins by reminding us of the freedom we have in Christ. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, really IS good news. In Christ, we are set free. In America we tend to think of freedom in political terms. We talk about living in a free country. We celebrate the fact that we are free to come and worship God whenever we want. We don’t have to worry about someone shutting us down or threatening to harm us if we don’t stop worshipping God. But in the Bible, freedom has a much larger meaning than that. When Paul says that in Christ I am set free, he’s talking about being set free from myself, from the sin that lives in me. Doesn’t mean I don’t sin. But I am set free from my slavery to sin, and I am forgiven and set free from the just, eternal punishment for my sin before God. I may still experience the impact of my sin here in this life, but Jesus took upon himself the just eternal punishment that my sin should have brought upon me. He died in my place, taking for me the punishment that should be mine. And when he did that, I was set free to live in a right relationship with God. You see, sin separates. It creates a barrier between me and God, and also between you and me. My sinful actions create barriers between me and other people, and yours do the same in your life. But in Jesus Christ I am set free from all of that. I am free to live in a right relationship with God, and in right relationships with other human beings.


Historically, we human beings have often tried to manage our sinfulness, we might call it our humanness, our tendency to mess up, with systems of rules and rituals: rules to keep us from doing dumb things and rituals to help us make things right when we inevitably mess up. We might disagree a little bit on the particulars, but most mentally healthy human beings try to live according to a specific set of rules, regulations, and laws to make our lives as good as they can be. And when we come to Christ, we tend to view it as another whole layer of rules and regulations that we must follow. Now I should be a REALLY good person. Or at least pretend to be one. And to those of us with that tendency Paul’s message is crystal clear: in Christ you are free. But some had a tendency to take Paul’s message and say, “Well, if I’m really forgiven for all of my sin, past, present, and future, and if I’m really free in Christ, then my behavior doesn’t matter. I can do whatever I want.” That’s why Paul said “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh …”

Our modern morally permissive society does the same thing. We tend to view God as some kind of cosmic, benevolent spirit who doesn’t really care what you do so long as you don’t really hurt anyone else, at least not intentionally. The problem is that this lopsided view of God, heavy on grace and mercy and being set free in Christ, ignores the holiness of God and the transformation that begins to take place in the lives of those who are really following Christ. We’re big into salvation today. But we aren’t as into transformation. We’re happy to be saved by grace. We don’t want to be transformed by that same grace. But look at what Paul says next: “… do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” There’s the transformation, the work that God is doing in the life of a Christ-follower. And the context here is specifically within the church. “through love serve one another.” It doesn’t say “serve with one another.” We’re good at that. We do that every Saturday night at the community meal. Every week at the food pantry. And we are supposed to serve side by side with one another. But that isn’t what Paul is talking about here. He says “through love serve one another.”


Express your love for one another by serving one another. Several kids were asked the question, “What is love?” These are their answers:


When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.


When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.


Love is when someone hurts you, and you get so mad, but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.


Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay.


Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.


Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.


Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.


Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.


You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.[ii]


One of the primary ways we show our love for another person, whether they’re inside the church or outside it, is by serving them. At this church we love our neighbors and the people of this community by serving them a hot meal every Saturday night, by providing food for their cupboards when they need it, by providing gas cards for trips to the doctor or for job searches or other emergencies. In my marriage to Becky I should be expressing my love to her by serving her, doing things that make her load easier, her day brighter. The same should be true of us in the church.


And it is the Holy Spirit who draws this love out in our life together as a church. Paul isn’t talking about a human effort at loving. He’s talking about love as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The word he uses here is “agape.” This Greek word for love was never used in popular culture. It is a word reserved for describing the love of God. And because our ability to love one another in the body of Christ and to love our neighbors outside the body of Christ begins with God’s love for us, it is the love that all who follow Christ are called to exhibit. For just a few verses later, down in V. 22 Paul says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love …” and the word he uses is agape. It is love as an act of the will. Agape isn’t an emotion. It isn’t some weak-kneed, trembling, romantic love. It is an act of the will that says “I choose to love you.” It is a love that only God is perfectly capable of. It is a love that only God can bring about through us. We cannot create it on our own.


And we express that love toward one another as we serve one another. So how do we serve one another? We serve one another by applying the “one another’s” we’ve been talking about. We serve one another by praying for one another. Maybe even by stopping what we are doing to actually pray with someone in need rather than simply saying “I’m praying for you.” We actually stop and pray. We serve one another when we forgive one another, overlooking offenses, refusing to allow them to trip us up. I think one of the reasons we are hard one each other and kind and loving to those outside the church is that because we spend so much time together, we have ample opportunity to offend one another in some way. I mean, I can promise you, if you spend enough time with me, I will eventually say something stupid that will probably offend you. But forgiving one another, being willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, is one of the primary ways we serve one another. We serve one another by encouraging one another. Cheering for one another.


We aren’t just called to serve alongside one another. Oh, we are called to do that. But we are also called to actually serve one another. Look at V. 14. The whole law is fulfilled in one word: love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus reduced the entire Old Testament law to two commands: love God and love neighbor. Why does Paul simplify it even further? “The  whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Because our love for God is expressed in our love for his body, our love for one another. And our love for one another is expressed in our willingness to serve one another.


Now, look at how Paul describes what it looks like when we don’t do that. Look at V. 15. The opposite of serving one another is biting and devouring one another. Sadly, many of us have experienced just that in the body of Christ. Biting and devouring. Sounds like a pack of wild animals, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if Paul is comparing a church that doesn’t, or won’t serve one another to a pack of rabid, out of control wild animals. And therein lies the struggle. As followers of Christ we are set free from ourselves and the sin that lives within us. We are set free and invited into the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, bringing about God-like love in us. But though I am no longer in bondage to sin, I still have sinful inclinations. I am still inclined to take the path of the wild animal, biting and devouring. But in Christ, I am set free to walk another path. The path of love expressed in loving service. We are called to serve one another.


In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes his wife Jan’s understanding of what it means to be a pastor’s wife. As I read Peterson’s words, I was struck with how apt the description was not only for pastor’s wives but for all Christians as they enter fully into the life of the body of Christ.

And so, I would like to modify Peterson’s words slightly and substitute church member for pastor’s wife. See if you don’t think this is a good description of what life in the church should be:


Being a church member is a vocation, a way of life. It means participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God’s grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who don’t fit are welcomed, where neglected children are noticed, where the stories of Jesus are told, and people who have no stories find that they do have stories, stories that are part of the Jesus story. Being a church member places us strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth.[iii] What a beautiful description of all that Christ is empowering us to be in his body.


Friends, change is hard. But there is no growth without change. And there is no change without loss. And there is no loss without pain. May we allow the process of merging these two churches to draw us more deeply into the love of God, more deeply into love for one another as we serve not just with one another, but as we serve one another.


[i] Kyle Rohane, Wheaton, Illinois; Greg Statell, “A Look Back at Why Blockbuster Really Failed…” Forbes (9-5-14)

[ii] What Is Love—From a Kid’s Point of View, LightSinger

[iii] Adapted from Eugene Peterson, The Pastor (HarperOne, 2011), p. 95