Serving One Another in Love
"Serve one another in love." Galatians 5:13
The teaching of our Lord that the highest life on earth is that in which men live "not to be served, but to serve," is very far-reaching. It is a lesson, too, that is very hard to learn. It is easy enough to utter sentimental platitudes about the nobleness of such a life, but no one can truly live after such a heavenly pattern, until he has "the mind of Christ," until his being is saturated with the Divine Spirit. Naturally we are selfish, and nature must be revolutionized before the center of being, shall lie outside the circle of SELF.
We should definitely understand just what the lesson is, which our Lord sets for us. It is, in a word, to so relate ourselves to others that our chief thought concerning them shall be, not how we can get pleasure, profit or honor for ourselves—but how we can give them pleasure, or do them good, or put honor upon them. If we have this spirit, we shall see in every person who comes into the circle of our life—one to whom we owe love and service, to whom we are a debtor.
God has so ordered that we cannot love and serve Him—and not love and serve our fellow-men. If we love God, we will love our brethren also. In serving his people—we are serving him; and in neglecting his people—we neglect him. It is useless, therefore, for us to think that we can fulfill all of our duty by loving Jesus and serving him—while we ignore our fellow-men around us. He accepts all such service. If we say we love him—he points to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the burdened one, the suffering all around us, and says: "Show your love to these. I do not need service now, but these need it. Serve them in my name; look at each of them as if I myself were the one in pain or need; and do, for these, my brethren, just what you would do for me if I were actually in their precise condition."
This makes it very plain—how it transforms the lowliest service for the lowliest into more than angel ministry! We are serving Christ in whatever we do for another in his name. We cannot get away from this relationship to Christ. It binds us to every other life. Christ always stands before us. To act selfishly toward anyone, is to act selfishly toward Christ. To neglect anyone who needs our ministry or our love in any practical way, is to neglect Christ himself. To do good to anyone, is to serve Christ. This settles the honorableness of ministry; for who thinks himself too good to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ?
So we are debtors to everyone we meet. We owe something to the stranger who comes into our life for but an hour. Nor will any mere theoretical acknowledgment of this universal obligation of man to man avail. Fine sentiment is not enough; we must get the fine sentiment into practical life. We must bring our visions down out of mere ethereal mists—into something tangible and real. We must let the love of our hearts flow out in love and acts and helpful ministry.
Stern old Cromwell showed a good deal of common sense when, seeing the silver statues and learning that they were the twelve apostles—he ordered that they be taken away from their dusty niches, converted into money, and sent to do good to the poor.
That is what we need to do with all our fine creeds and sentiments concerning brotherly love. Brotherly love has no business to pose forever in mere creed and sentiment; there is something far better for it to do. In this world which has so much need and sorrow and heart-hunger, love has a holy mission everywhere.
Every energy of Christ's own life was given out in ministry. If we would be Christlike we must, like our Master, go about doing good, seeking ever "not to be served—but to serve."
Perhaps we can think of the lesson in a still simpler way. We are to look at every individual who comes into the range of our life, even for an hour, as one to whom we owe something.
A little child is said to have closed her winter evening prayer in this way: "I saw a little girl on the street this afternoon, and she was cold and bare-footed—but it isn't any of our business, is it, God?" She was only more honest in her prayer than some older people, for many people certainly act as if they regarded it as none of their business when see their fellow-men suffering and in need. They do not recognize any obligation on their part to render any help or service.
But the teaching of Christ allows that it is our business—that we are under obligation to love and to serve all men—for all men are our neighbors and our brothers. We are every man's debtor; we may not owe him money but we owe him love, and love means whatever help he needs—bread for his hunger, or sympathy and cheer in his trial and struggle.
If we but meet people always in this spirit and look at them in this way, we shall find ourselves asking concerning everyone, "How can I be a help to this person? What does God want me to do for him?"
We certainly have some sacred errand to everyone who crosses our path. Meetings are not accidental. God is continually sending people to us that in some way we may serve them or do them good. To busy men the interruptions of frequent callers is very trying, especially when the callers have no particular errand. There is apt to be a strong temptation to treat the visitors almost rudely, at least coldly. We are in the midst of important duties, and the time is all too brief in which to finish what we must do before nightfall.
Certainly we have no right to waste time with any such interruptions—"devastators of time!" as someone calls them. God will not approve of this.
Yet doubtless we have an errand to each and every such caller. We owe him something. We owe him at least a kindly greeting, and a pleasant word. To treat him rudely and turn him away as if he were a dog, is to insult Christ himself. Perhaps we cannot do for him what he wants us to do; but we can at least treat him as we would treat Christ himself if he had come in upon us in the midst of our pressing duties.
People with sad, discouraged hearts need love more than they need money. We do not read that Jesus ever gave a penny of money to any poor person who came to him; but he did give to everyone something far better than money. No one ever came to him with any real need—and went away unblessed. We may always do the same. Without losing many seconds of time, we may send our visitor away with a lighter heart and a little more hope and cheer to strengthen him for the struggle of his life. At least we can pay him the service of love we own him, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
All around us are those who are forever in need of love's ministry. Life is very hard for many people.
Someone speaks of the great stretches of lava fields for miles around a volcano, and of the desolateness and dreariness of the paths over those fields. But here and there in the cracks and crevices of the lava beds, he saw little flowers growing, and he says flowers never seemed so lovely even in finest garden or conservatory, as there amid the blackness.
Like those walks across the lava fields, are the paths of many in this world—full of hard toil, and bitter sorrow, and heavy burden-bearing. And like the lovely little flowers which so cheered the traveler in those desolate regions—are the human kindnesses that here and there come into these sad and dreary lives, with their sweet fragrance and cheer.
We have it in our power to put untold gladness and help into the lives which every day touch ours. We can do it by learning this divine lesson of service and by regarding every person as one to whom we are sent on an errand of love. This attitude toward others will put an end to all haughty pride and arrogance. We shall no more put ourselves up on little pedestals of self-conceit, demanding homage from all who are around us—but rather, like our Master, we shall stand with basin and towel ready to wash the feet of the lowliest. We shall no more think ourselves too good to perform the humblest ministries to the humblest—but shall consider it the highest honor to do the things that are least—for Jesus has said, "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Matthew 23:11-12