How did you feel when the first rays of light crept into your room this morning? If you’re anything like me, you might have groaned, lifted the sheets over your head and given yourself five more minutes of sleep. The truth is that we enjoy comfort and do not relish being stirred from it. We naturally seek to avoid or postpone things that threaten to move us from a position of comfort into a position of perceived stress or toil. This truth does not merely apply in a physical sense. We naturally gravitate towards people, objects or situations that we are used to or find ourselves ‘comfortable’ with. Yet, as we begin our series on ‘Six Steps to Loving Your Church’, it is very likely that many of us will be challenged to move away from the comfortable patterns of church life that we have settled into. How should we begin to think and feel about this?
Left to our own devices, we fail to think rightly about anything. Indeed, Ephesians 2:3 tells us that all of us were by nature objects of wrath who sought only to gratify the cravings of our flesh and follow its desires and thoughts. This fleshly nature still exists in us, makes war against our redeemed natures and tries to persuade us to find false comfort in futile, worldly and self-centred pursuits. The painful reality is that on our own, we are foolish and blind. We don’t know what’s good for us. We have no idea what true comfort is.
But there is someone who does. Before anything existed, He dwelled in perfect relationship with God the Father. He experienced first-hand the fullness of joy that only the very presence of God can offer. With infinite power and majesty, He shaped the whole of creation and sustained its every motion. He was there in the beginning with God, and He was God. Yet, he left the comforts of heaven and made himself vulnerable. He relinquished his divine entitlements and came into the world as a servant, born in the likeness of man. He was despised and rejected by the very people who should have exalted him. One tear-filled night, he allowed himself to be betrayed and arrested so that his friends could go free. The next day, he allowed himself to be crucified so that all who put their trust in him might have eternal life.
This is Jesus, our Servant King. If he did not leave his comfort zone to embrace rejection, suffering and death, there would be no hope for us. But in love he came to die for us in order to free us from our enslavement to the empty promises and poisonous pleasures of sin. We rejoice that death could not hold him. He is risen and reigns on high. Now, all who come to him in faith and repentance can find true rest for their souls.
As we embark on ‘Six Steps to Loving Your Church’, our first step as a church family must be to rest by faith in the forgiveness and new life that Jesus has given us. It would be a tragic misstep to bypass the gospel and rush to perform these six steps mechanically and legalistically. If our acts of service stem from a need to fill an emptiness that has not already been filled by Christ, we are just performing an outward religiosity focused on works. Our service and love towards one another and towards outsiders must emerge and overflow out of gratefulness for our salvation and faith in the promise that His grace in Christ is sufficient for us. Let us ask God for this faith, that we may truly be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the cross-shaped, servant-hearted lives that He has called us to.
Yes, sacrificial servanthood is painful and costly. But having been loved and redeemed once and for all through our saviour Jesus Christ, let us encourage each other to follow by faith the example of our King, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Yes, none of us will ever be perfectly servant-hearted this side of heaven. It is likely that we will feel discouraged at some point because of our sin and failure to love and serve each other as we would hope to. But let us be tender-hearted, forgiving one another, and pointing each other back to the gospel continually, as we make this journey of faith together as a church family.
Even though the light of the gospel has shone into our lives, it would be all too easy for us to continue hiding under a blanket of weary self-centredness and fearful inaction. But instead of letting our sinful inertia have the final word, let us pray that God would empower us and grant us his grace to love Him and neighbour more and more as we go through ‘Six Steps to Loving Your Church’ together. Let us ask Him to give us hearts that find true comfort from living according to the Spirit and putting to death the selfish desires of our fleshly nature. Let us ask for a servant-heartedness that leads us to proclaim the gospel with boldness.
Father, it is only because you have loved us sacrificially through Jesus that we can now love you and one another. We thank you for Jesus, our servant king, who willingly left his heavenly throne to die on the cross for our sins to bring us into relationship with you. Help us to rest and delight in your gospel of grace, rejoicing that Jesus is risen and reigns with you. As we steep ourselves in your gospel, help us to understand what it means to be truly servant-hearted. We commit our church family into your hands as we embark on the course ‘Six Steps to Loving Your Church’, may you work through it to make us more and more like the cross-shaped servants you have called us to be. Help us to find true joy in a life that desires wholeheartedly to love you and love others. We pray also that you would make us more effective witnesses for Christ as we grow in servant-heartedness. May our service give us opportunities to proclaim Christ and lead others to faith in him. Glorify your name through us, Father. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.