The Right Service
Nobody likes doing something the wrong way. No one enjoys building something backward, driving to the wrong destination, or purchasing the wrong product. We are inclined to do a task and do it right. When we find ourselves failing to achieve what we set out to do, we often go through a vast array of emotions: anger, being distraught, embarrassment, and a host of other things. It can be demoralizing when we have a goal in mind, but in our attempt to attain that goal, we find out we have been going about it the wrong way. It’s one thing to fall short in our individual aspirations, but it is another thing when we go about our spiritual practice wrong; when we get it wrong, it can have a grave impact on those around us.
Going through the motions is not sufficient for God.
Serving Those in Need (Isaiah 58)
In Isaiah 58 God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and tells the Israelites that they have been fasting wrong. This message challenges the very core of the community. The Israelites fast because of their supposed relationship with the Creator. They posited that when they abstained from food for an extended period and committed to God, they would be seen and noticed (Isa. 58:3). They know the right posture for the fast: bowing of the head, spreading out sackcloth and ashes.
But God says this is not what He wants. Going through the motions is not sufficient for God.
God tells them that they have a greater responsibility, that the fast that He is calling them to is one of justice for the world and relief to the heavy laden. He tells them that they ought to “ ‘loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free’ ” (verse 6, NASB). In the next verse, God tells them to share their bread with the hungry, bring the poor and homeless in their house, and clothe those who are naked. Those in society who can help others less fortunate should extend their resources. God says this is the fast He requires. And God reminds the Israelites that in helping others, they help themselves. When we serve those in need, when we finally get it right, healing comes forth, and not just healing but also righteousness will be in front of us, and God’s glory will be behind us (verse 8).
Serving Despite Our Differences (Acts 10)
Peter, too, thinks he is living his life the right way. Peter is a devout Jew who has accepted the teachings of the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth. Peter spent years as a disciple of Jesus, saw Jesus taken away to be executed, saw the risen Lord, and received the Holy Spirit. Peter is committed to following Jesus. While Peter’s motivation is right, his methodology is wrong. Peter is still influenced and affected by his culture and upbringing. Peter struggles to accept those who are not Jewish (Acts 10; Gal. 2:11–14). Peter is attempting to live right, but he gets it wrong.
Peter falls into a trance and sees a strange vision. He sees all kinds of four-footed animals and is told to kill and eat. Peter, being a good Jew, opposes the message because the animals are unholy and unclean.
But Peter hears a voice that says, “ ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy’ ” (Acts 10:15, NASB). The message is finally made clear when Cornelius’s men arrive at his house. Cornelius is a Gentile, deemed unholy by Jewish culture. But Cornelius is in need of the service Peter can provide. Peter must put aside his prejudices and presuppositions and do the right thing that God is asking of him. Serving in the Harvest (Matt. 9:37)
In Matthew 9:37 Jesus laments to the disciples that the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. We tend to view this text as a call for more workers, and while that aspect is true, this text is also highlighting the vastness of people in need. The harvest has plenty of broken families, oppressed individuals, unfair systems and policies, and communities lacking adequate food, clothes, and resources. If we are to be laborers for Christ, we must prepare to face this harvest ahead of us.
1. What, if anything, does the church do wrong even though it has the right motivation? How can that be corrected?
2. How can we overcome cultural assumptions about individuals who are different (ethnically, financially, etc.) from us?
3. Why are the laborers few for the harvest, if people love God?