Freedom to Serve
Well, good morning to the good people of Northwest and the good people here. I’m glad to be with you this morning. I really appreciated hearing the beginning of Jonathan’s testimony and praise God for him! He has been serving in Kidstuff before it was Kidstuff, so he’s been serving for probably 15 years, faithfully. Most of our kids have had him, and what a joy. And I could identify with his testimony, the beginning of it. He was called to serve, and he was out of his comfort zone. And then he was called to lead, and he was nervous. He was hesitant, but he jumped in. Praise God! Why would anyone do that? Why would a teenager in high school volunteer his time to teach fifth graders? Why would he do that
I didn’t do that. When I was Jonathan’s age, I didn’t act that way. I was a nice boy. My mother’s here, so I was pretty nice. But I mostly did what I wanted to do. I helped people, but I would say that my help was conditional. It really mattered how you treated me as to whether I would have a good attitude in serving you or whether I’d come back to serve you. It was mostly about me. And I didn’t have time to volunteer anyway because I was involved with sports — football, basketball, baseball. Every year I had four days off throughout the year.
I developed this kind self-centeredness, I guess. I liked being the center of attention. And in my younger years I was far from God. I found myself, I could not just be the center of attention in sports but also at the fraternity house. And just to give you an idea, my mom might be hearing this for the first time. First year, I played baseball, I participated in spring football, I was going to play the next season, had to do school. And I had either a 0.7 or 1.7 grade point average. I couldn’t do all that. Let’s go with 0.7 because that makes it more dramatic. But in addition to all that, I was maintaining this party lifestyle, and something had to go. So, football went because I couldn’t give up these other things.
But after God saved me, which is a miracle, he gave me a heart to jump in and serve others. And God has used ministry in both my life and my wife Peg’s life in a huge way. It’s not hyperbole. It’s huge life lessons that God has taught us through serving in life groups, serving in short-term missions, and serving in ministry. And we learned things, God taught us things that I don’t think that we would have learned otherwise.
We have loved sitting right over there. There’s a little empty seat over there. That’s where I sit; it’s my seat. Peg and I have enjoyed being there on Sundays, hearing God’s Word, learning from it. But it’s really been in the going and the doing that what we have learned has been put into practice and challenged. Weaknesses got exposed, and our strengths were made stronger. So why would Peg and I jump into ministry knowing that our weaknesses would be exposed? Why would we do something like that?
Well, Paul is going to address this in his letter to the Galatians and I’m hopeful that God’s going to use this time to help us connect through ministry. So, Paul is going to show us two common deceptions that people believe that keep them from truly connecting and then the two truths that combat those lies. And I want God to use our time together today to show us why we serve and how God has enabled us to serve. And I want him to show you some of your hindrances. Paul calls them persuasions — things that might be binding you, keeping you from freely serving in love.
And then at the end I’m going to give you a ministry update on how we’re helping connect people to ministry. And then I’m going to call you to serve. I know that’s a lot. My wife listened to my sermon yesterday, and she said I give a lot of information. But Tommy Monts said I stepped on his toes. So, I think it might be not too bad. So, I hope it flows for you. And I know that preaching on serving in Greenville, South Carolina in the religious culture that exists here, it can energize some of you. Some of you already have your pens out hoping that there are some boxes you can check. But that’s not what this is about. Now it’s de-energizing for others. Some of you right now are thinking, “Here comes the guilt trip. You’ve wanted my money, now you want my time. What else do you want from me?” But that’s not what it’s about either because that isn’t from God. So, I hope as you’re listening that you’ll hear me speaking just a little like Paul spoke to the Galatians, with passion because he loved them, and he wanted what was best for them.
Let’s go ahead and look at the text. You can turn to Galatians 5. It’s on page 975 if you’re in a pew in Northwest, and it’s on the same page in the seat back in front of you here. I’m going to start. Keren just read it, but let’s read it again in verse 7 and 8, and then we’re going to drop down to 13.
Paul told the Galatians,
“You were running well.” [You were running well!] “Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you … for you were called to freedom, brothers. Only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Galatians is a story about a people who became free but went back into bondage. They became free when they heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ that was preached by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He said,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,” [who is Peter] “then to the twelve.”
The gospel is: Christ died for our sins. It’s what it says in Scripture. He died, he was buried, he rose again, and people witnessed that. We’re witnesses of that. And the Galatians heard this simple, pure gospel, and they believed. But soon after, a false teaching began to circulate amongst these churches that in order to become a Christian you needed more than trusting in Jesus for salvation. They taught that you also needed to become a Jew through circumcision. And the Galatians heard this, and they believed, and they began following this teaching.
They were running well. They believed the gospel, they planted churches, they were growing. But they were hindered. They were hindered by Jewish Christians who Paul called “the circumcision party” in chapter 2. And the ungodly persuasion was a deception. It was a lie, and at its root was the belief that you need more than Jesus to be saved. So, everything that Paul had taught them was being undone by these Jewish Christians, and Paul was furious. And you can hear it as you read through Galatians. He said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” It was God, through Paul, who had called them to freedom through God’s grace, but they were believing what Paul referred to as “man’s gospel.” And there’s a formula for man’s gospel. It’s Jesus+. Jesus+ ….fill in the blank, whatever it may be. And that equals achieving or maintaining our eternal security. And it’s man’s gospel because it’s the “plus.” It’s that fill in the blank that now puts salvation and sanctification firmly within our control. If only I do this, then I’ll be saved. If only I do that, God will stay pleased with me. And Paul cursed these false teachers twice in this letter, and he called the Galatians foolish for believing that lie, that persuasion, and he made his argument.
And the argument that Paul made was that when you add anything else to trusting in Jesus for salvation, then you actually put yourself back into bondage, needing to meet yet another requirement. And you’re watering down the power of the gospel. So, it’s with great passion and a pleading tone that Paul writes chapter 5:13, and he reminds them of the truth, and he calls them to freedom. The truth is you are free, and you were called to it. And more accurately, Paul was calling the Galatians to remember God’s call to freedom. And they were free because they had received the grace of Christ. They had trusted in Jesus alone for their salvation and there was proof in the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit. And Paul reminded them of this in chapter 3, verse 2 in a rhetorical question that was more like a mic drop today. He said,
“Let me ask you only this; did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
This work of the law, this hindrance in obedience in verse 7, this persuasion in verse 8, Paul said it’s not from God. God called you to freedom. And Paul called the law a yoke of slavery. Yokes were harnesses that farmers used to control and guide their oxen. So, the law helped control and guide the people. But the law was only necessary until Christ came. So, the Galatians had become free but we’re putting back on a yoke of religion, and that yoke was hard, heavy. Thankfully Matthew 11:28-30 reminds us of a different yoke. A yoke that frees. Jesus said,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
And that word for “easy” means “gentle or kind.” So, the law and Spirit were two totally different systems, realms, regimes Peter was calling it. One was harsh, the other kind. So, when the Galatians became free, they moved from the system, or the regime of the law where there was sin and death into the regime of the Spirit where there was freedom and life. But when they trusted in Jesus plus circumcision, they stopped trusting in God’s grace, and they swapped yokes. They put back on the yoke of slavery.
As Christians, the Bible’s clear. It says that we are free. We’re free from the guilt of sin because we’ve been forgiven. We’re free from the penalty of sin because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. And through the power of the Holy Spirit we’re free from the power of sin in our daily lives. So, we’re free people, and it’s for that freedom that Christ set us free. And that’s what’s true.
Paul also reminded them in this passage that they were family. He calls them brothers. And that word is “adelphos” meaning “from the same womb” or “sharing the same mother or father.” He’s calling them brothers because God is their father and that makes them family, and that makes us family. Twelve times Paul reminds us of this in this letter. They were erring in their thinking and actions and as they were led astray, they could lead others astray. So, he was speaking to them in a way that only a brother could, and he was passionate about it.
One of my wife’s favorite verses, and my kids will all be nodding their heads, is Proverbs 27:6. In the New King James version it says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of the enemy are deceitful.” The Message translates it this way: “The wounds from a lover are worth it, but kisses from an enemy do you in.” The entire letter to the Galatians is a “wound to a friend.” Paul was being a brother, a true friend, helping them see something they obviously couldn’t see. And praise God for friends like that. Satan on the other hand, he’s the enemy who wants to do you in. His entire game plan is to steal, kill, and destroy, especially when we’re walking in freedom because he is a freedom killer. And one of his desires is to distort our freedom. And that’s the next deception that Paul is warning the Galatians about.
“You were called to freedom, brothers. Only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”
Amen. For the entire letter to the Galatians, Paul is arguing against legalism because they were adding circumcision to the gospel. And legalism isolates us, because we only end up hanging out with our own tribe, right? But in this passage, he’s highlighting another popular false teaching, and that is believing that we are free to do whatever we want. I’m saved. I have internal security. I don’t have to be controlled anymore. I don’t have to be bound by anything, no matter how good it might be. I don’t have to be committed to anything. I’m completely free. But Paul is saying, don’t come out of one kind of bondage just to go right back into another kind. You’ve already fallen off the path of freedom into the ditch of legalism. Now don’t overcorrect and veer off into the other ditch of license because that’s a false liberty. It’s a fake freedom. And that isolates too because it’s all about yourself, right?
Fake freedom is fertile ground for these opportunities for the flesh to grow, and the opportunities for the flesh are unlimited, and they all focus on self. So, if we’re using our freedom as Christians for selfish means, then you’re experiencing fake freedom. And it points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the grace that we’ve been given by Christ. And that’s why fake grace fuels fake freedom. Grace is a gift from God through Jesus to undeserving sinners like us. And the undeserving sinner’s response to this gift of immeasurable value should be a lifelong shout of amen, not a lifelong pursuit of our selfish desires. So, when we use our freedom this way, we’re experiencing some other kind of grace — a counterfeit grace, a fake grace. And that’s what leads to fake freedom.
What might fake freedom look like? This is my definition. In general, it might look like avoiding or disconnecting from Christian community — going to life group, worshipping, witnessing, serving — in order to serve yourself in the different areas of your life — work, recreation, social life, even sports.
As I was writing this out, I immediately thought of a personal example that’s going to get really close to the third rail for some of you, and I’m probably going to lose you. I hope not. We have four children. The boys are the oldest, the girls are the youngest. When the boys were 9-10 years old, playing baseball they were really good. Coaches wanted them, wanted them on their teams. And it was then that we heard about these travel teams. They didn’t have this stuff when I was growing up. These travel teams would travel all over, and it was great competition. And the goal was a college scholarship. Because if you play at this elite level, you’re going to get a college scholarship. So that was the thing, and we kind of got into it. And then we started noticing it encroached on almost every day of the year of our life it felt like. During the week games, certainly in spring and fall. It started interrupting Sundays because tournaments were on weekends. We started arguing; Peg and I weren’t getting along. The kids and us weren’t getting along. We weren’t unified. And that was when the boys played together on the same team. But they had a couple of years difference, so then they started playing on different teams, and it was like, “this is insane.” And we were always toting the girls along with us and it just became too much. And all that money that we spent in the travel, if we’d just banked it, that would have been a great scholarship, right? Nobody told us this. We were pursuing this goal.
But then we just said, we can’t do this anymore. And it was then that I was able to coach my sons, and I was able to coach my daughters as they came up. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, nothing. Some would say, “well you just sealed their fate. They’re not going to get that opportunity.” But as it turns out, both of my boys went to college. Both of them played baseball. Both of them made first team all-league. One of them led the nation in home runs for Division I, II, and III and had a tryout with the Tampa Bay Rays. I’m not sure that we limited them. Could they have achieved more? Maybe, maybe. But we believed that God was sovereign, and that lifestyle was totally disconnecting us in all sorts of ways. It just wasn’t worth it.
I didn’t hear too many gasps, I didn’t see any pitchforks, so I’m happy about that. So, let me clarify that I’m not saying that you can’t enroll your kids in athletics or music or art. I think that stuff’s fantastic. God’s used sports in my life to make me who I am, to think the way I think. I think a lot in terms of “team.” So, I’m not saying you can’t enroll your kids in that, because I know that your children are truly exceptional.
What I am saying, if it’s disconnecting you from God and God’s people and ruling your lives, I believe that God wants more for you. He wants us to experience real freedom, and one of the ways we do this is through loving service. And that’s the truth.
“You were called to freedom, brothers. Only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
When we zoom out to look at all of Galatians, it appears that Paul is saying that the grace of Christ fuels real freedom, and real freedom fuels real love, and real love fuels real service. And God’s love for us started it all. Through love Jesus came to us. Mark 10:45 says,
“The Son of man came not to be served but to serve.”
God himself became flesh and rather than exalt himself, he lowered himself, and he became a servant to us by giving his life for our sins. And that love that saved us now enables us to serve others and not ourselves. And you will see that love and service seem to go together. They’re companions. Romans 12:6-9 shows us this this close link. Paul is explaining that the church is one body with many members and then he says,
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”
We are all graced gifts by God, and in his wisdom, God has equipped us in a unique way to serve his body, the church, and it takes everybody. And there is an exception that we all use the gifts … or there is an expectation that we all use the gifts that God has given us. He said, “Let us use them.” He didn’t say, “Think about using them. I’ve gifted you. Consider that, when you are able, when you have time.” He didn’t say that. He’s like, “I have gifted you. I’ve made you. I’ve made you in my image and I’ve given you part of me and you’re gifted. Now go use it!”
“If prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
And you may think, “I don’t see myself on this list, so what can I do?” The answer is the next verse. The answer is love. If you don’t know what to do, if you don’t know how to serve, you can always love somebody. And where love is, serving is close at hand. So, let it be genuine. The word “genuine” means “without hypocrisy, undisguised.” In other words, your love shouldn’t have conditions like mine did. It shouldn’t be disguised. Disguises are temporary, they always come off after the performance is done. But real love, real love is a commitment. According to Paul, loving service is not a one-time deal. So, I’m about to get nerdy on you. The word “serve” is written in the present tense imperative and in the active voice. So, it’s an ongoing command to everybody. Paul is telling all the Galatians and all of us to serve in an ongoing way.
Now some of you, you might be gamophobic and I want to be sensitive to that. Anybody know what that is? It’s a fear of commitment. But the good news is that when Jesus committed to you, he gave everything. And then he left you the Holy Spirit, which as it turns out is not a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control. So, this may be a way for people like this to grow, grow in dependence on God and trust his Spirit. He is way more powerful than your gamophobia. And for those of you who are experiencing a little fake freedom and really nervous about volunteering, love says “I get to serve,” not that “I have to serve.”
And I love my job for a lot of reasons. One of them is that I get to see the love of God working out through people as they serve others each day of the week. I get to see people like Larry who, despite a disability, volunteers with his wife excitedly to serve you with what he can do. People like Sarita who pray fervently for those at North Hills who are experiencing crisis or hospitalization or confinement, despite herself being confined. People like Joe and Nadine who connect to our teenagers sacrificially for years and open their home to them. People like Sandy and Luke who have found a way to our hearts on staff through our stomachs. She feeds us every Thursday. People like Bryan who do anything to serve the people of Northwest with integrity and skill. People like Ginger and Pam who give hugs from God to the precious kids at Brook Glenn. People like Joe and Ben who sacrifice weekends to help single moms with their yards. Joe and Annie who care for others in a way that makes you consider having an operation. Tommy and Bob … all of the life group leaders. I could go on and on.
There are so many, so many people serving that I couldn’t possibly mention them all. But I want to thank you. For those of you who are serving, thank you. I’m not sure how often you’re told that. Thank you for your ministry. God sees you. God sees what you’re doing, and it’s good. And we are so blessed that you would invest the love that God gave you to serve us. We’re blessed. And love is a good place to conclude this series because love is what enables and authenticates all of our connecting, everything that we’ve been learning about over the last three sermons. When we gather in life group through love, when we cast seeds of the gospel through love, and when we serve through love it’s then that we are living real freedom. That’s when we start living real freedom. And we want that for you.
To bring it back to the original question I asked at the beginning. Why would teenage Jonathan jump into ministry and sacrifice his time to minister to fifth graders and then keep doing it? Why would he do that? Why would Ryan and Rebecca serve? Caleb and Claire? Jeff and Janet? Why would Jessica and Kelly serve? Why would they do that? And the answer is that they serve because they’re free. I think this is freedom. They serve because they’re free. God made them free to love. And we have so many free people here, so many opportunities to serve. So, we had to take a hard look as a staff at how to communicate these opportunities and how to administrate these opportunities. And although we’re still growing, we’ve made some, I think, some really positive strides in helping people connect to ministry.
I wanted to share some of this. On your handout you see at the bottom of the back is this little list. So, we created a form. So how great is that? That’s real progress, right? A form will fix everything. So, we made this form, and we’ve never really had just a consistent way of trying to connect people to ministry. It was all done by each department. So now we’re just trying to make a more centralized effort. So, we made this form and it tells you what ministries you can participate in if you’re a member. And if you’re not a member, here are some things that you can do. And we made a big box there. If you have a particular burden that’s unique and you want to develop it, we want to invest in that and help you with your ministry. And then we gave you a little box to check “I will do anything.” I put that on there because I love people who check that box, because they come into ministry with their hands wide open thinking “I don’t know that I can do this.” And those are the greatest people because God uses them and they become dependent on him, and they rely on him, and they give him glory for the ministries that they do. So, I love that box.
Secondly, at the bottom left there you see “handy skills.” The last couple of years we’ve been harvesting or making a database of people who can do those things — carpentry, plumbing, electrical, things like that — so that they can help single moms, people in need, people who are hospitalized and are really struggling with things. And by God’s grace we’ve been able to connect loving people with need to loving people with skill, and we continue to do that. And we’ve been using this form with all of our new members at our membership meetings. We’re being intentional about connecting them to ministry. And after the meeting we have a new process that helps us connect them quicker.
And finally, we’re just being more intentional about letting people know about real needs that we have. I think in the past we’ve been a little hesitant to just ask. But we’ve found that a lot of people want to help, they just don’t know what to do. So, in a lot of cases just to say, “Deborah, would you go do this thing?” (Would you go do that? Yeah, no. She’s complying.) That helps people.
I want to be an adelphos. I want to be a brother, and I want to let you know about a need that we have. So right now, we need 90 people. 90 people, and from the looks of it I think we’ve got that covered right here. We need 90 people in the nursery, nurseries. 90 people to serve in the nurseries in Northwest and in Taylors. Most of these are to serve once a month. And by the looks of Jonathan, I think I can say that you don’t age when you serve in children’s ministries, so that’s a byproduct. But we have 200 children who are 1 year old to 4 years old in our nurseries. And for those of us who have had kids who are grown now and those of us who have kids now, this is a vital ministry not just to the children, but to the parents. Because the parents, they’ve been feeding their children all week, and this might be the only time during the week that they can be fed. To have this time is amazing. For Peg and me, when we had children, we knew the need of that ministry, so it was very natural for us both to serve in that ministry and to be served. So, we served in the little 3-year-old nursery during one service, and then we went and worshipped in another. We can do things like that.
And I remember someone telling me one time, “don’t just be someone who deposits in ministry, be an investor. Be someone who invests in ministry.” God has gifted you. He’s given you specific gifts to help the body. Without you we’re not as healthy. It’s just the truth of it. So, God’s gifted you, and he’s giving you opportunities to use those gifts through his love and for his glory.
And if you want to serve in that ministry you can be as young as 12 and as old as 17 to serve without membership. But if you’re 18 years or older than we want you to be a member, and we want you to be a member for six months. And then everyone goes through child safety training because it’s best and safest for our kids.
And I think that nursery ministry can be a way to display our unity as one church in two locations. So, I would love to see our two locations learn how to cross pollinate. So, wouldn’t it be amazing if people from Taylors said, “Hey I’m going to go serve Northwest so that all those people can worship together.” And then people at Northwest coming to Taylors in the evening and serving our kids so that those who serve there can participate in worship. So, I’d love to see that migration. We have a need for 15 in Northwest and 75 here in Taylors. So please fill out the card. And this card has had these three sections all along. We wanted you to connect through life group, connect through missions, and connect through ministry. It’s okay if you fill one out one week and you don’t have to do it just that week in life groups. You can fill them all out today. And if you want to serve, if you’re here in Taylors, you want to serve in Northwest, just put a little “NW” down there and circle it. And then people in Northwest to put “T” and circle it.
As we conclude I want to honor one of the first elders we ever had at North Hills. His name’s Dave Dorn. Dave went to be with the Lord about ten days ago. He and his wife Dorothy have served this body so well for so long, and they’ve done quite a good job of populating the church as well. On Monday I learned that he loved a story called “The Wheelbarrow,” and I know that he would want me to share it with you today.
It goes like this. There was a tightrope walker. He put his rope across Niagara Falls, and crowds would assemble to watch him walk across the falls. And he would ask them, “Do you think I can do this? Do you believe I can?” “Yes, we do. We think you can.” And he would walk across, and he would come back. The next day he brought a wheelbarrow with him. “Do you think I can push this wheelbarrow across the falls here?” “Yes, we do. We believe you can.” And he did it. Then the next day he said, “Do you believe I can do this, push this wheelbarrow?” “We know you can. We’ve seen you.” He’s like, “Okay someone jump in the wheelbarrow. Let me take you across.” And there was silence. It’s a big shocker, right? There was silence. So, they believed he could do it. They just didn’t trust him to do it. There is a difference.
I want to talk to two people. For those of you who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, I want to ask you to jump in the wheelbarrow. Jump in the wheelbarrow of his love and trust in Him. We’ve talked about the gospel — that God came. He lived a life, he died a death for your sin, and he was raised. He is God. I want you to trust in that. The Bible says if you trust in that, believe in your heart, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you’ll be saved. If you haven’t done that, we’d love for you to trust in him now. You can do that, and I’d love to pray with you afterwards. And then I want to talk to those who aren’t serving; they’re not connected. They’re not free. I want you to jump into the wheelbarrow. Jump into ministry. Trust God, trust his Spirit to enable you to be able to love others well. So, I’m going to pray. But before you leave, please fill out the card — life group, missions, ministry — and we’ll connect with you later this week and get you going. So, jump in.