“And I will show you a still more excellent way”…1 Corinthians 12:31 (ESV)
I have a love/hate relationship with Burger King. I love that patented flame broiled smell that rises up from their buildings. I love that their coupons allow me to feed my kids for less than $5. I loved that I could get a large Frozen Coke there for $1 all last summer.
But despite all this, there is one thing about Burger King that I just can’t seem to get over- Almost every time I’m there, with very few exceptions, I feel like an absolutely unwelcome guest, like the fact that I just drove up to buy some chicken nuggets is ruining their employees’ day. As a result, the service I receive there- inexpensive as it might be- is generally slow, sluggish, and nearly always lacking in delight.
Now let’s contrast this experience to that of the other place I regularly go for cheap chicken- Chick-Fil-A. I’m going there to do the exact same thing I do at Burger King. And yet, regularly I leave there amazed at the fact that my $13 purchase really seemed to make some 16 year old’s day. It is as though it is actually their employees’ “pleasure” (to use their common catchphrase) to serve me in this simple, altogether unremarkable day. Needless to say, the difference in these two standard experiences could not be more stark.
In thinking this week about service as it relates to God’s church, this question struck me- Does my service to God and others in the church look more like Burger King or Chick-Fil-A? Specifically, does my service carry with it a spirit of delight or drudgery, of pleasure or obligation? As those who claim to follow Jesus in the context of His church, I think that’s a question worth asking ourselves consistently.
I have some core convictions from the Bible- specifically this 1 Corinthians 12 text- that guide my thoughts on service. Here are a few…
• God, through His Holy Spirit, gifts each of His followers personally and purposefully (1 Cor 12:11)
• This gifting is done with the aim of building up of God’s church, and each member of it (1 Cor 12:7)
• There is a genuine, heartfelt joy that is experienced when we identify and operate in that “sweet spot” of calling and gifting.
• A strong sense of calling and gifting can be one of the most powerful motivators for perseverance in difficult seasons of service.
I believe all of these things strongly. But I also that in the “flow” of this chapter, Paul saves his strongest argument for service done with delight for last. It comes in the form of a somewhat oddly placed statement in 12:31- a statement which he expounds in full in the following, the famed 1 Corinthians 13.
So what, then, is this “more excellent way” to which Paul points? It is the way of love- for God, and for others. Summarizing the message of 1 Corinthians 12:31 through all of Chapter 13, Paul says to us, “The truest measurement of service in God’s church is its motive. Is it done in love? If not, even the most impressive acts will be a waste. But if so, even the simplest acts can be glorious.”
This should be self-evident. It certainly is when you’re on the receiving end of service. Taking my earlier Burger King / Chick-Fil-A contrast, for example, what’s the primary distinction between the behavior of two establishment’ employees? They are essentially performing the same task, for essentially the same length of time, for essentially the same amount of compensation. The difference, then, isn’t external, but internal- in the heart and focus of those rendering the service.
If you serve God and others with a sense of begrudging obligation, your heart and focus will be directed inward, at yourself. And if all you can think about is how this (whatever “this” is) is impacting you, what this is costing you, and the like, you can be almost assured that there will be no delight in it. But if, on the other hand, you serve in genuine love, your heart and focus will be directed outward, at God and others. And when you consider how even the simplest things you do can honor Him and benefit them, you suddenly possess a powerful sense of delight, of opportunity, and of endurance.
In light of that, here’s my encouragement to you today- Self-evaluate your service. Even better, ask some trusted others to evaluate it with you. Is it motivated by love, or something less? And is it characterized by delight, or something less? Are those on the receiving end of it leaving their time feeling like they’ve been to Burger King, or Chick-Fil-A? As you ask these questions, be open to God’s work in your heart and life to lead you to a place that reflects and honors Him. Be encouraged. Be challenged. Repent and move forward. And in the end, serve well- according to “the most excellent way.”