Sister to Sister: The Door to the Purest Service

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We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Romans 15:1-2
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Dear Sisters in Christ,
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To be frank, servanthood never mattered to me much growing up. I rarely served my parents and friends out of love. Usually if I did serve them it was to make myself look good, or because of some special occasion. I was particularly sacrificial if there was a scholarship up for grabs and I knew my teachers would see. I took Matthew 23:12 quite literally: "Whoever humbles himself will be exalted." So I would busy myself trying to look humbled so that ultimately I could be exalted. But of course humility is not forced--it is Spirit-driven. And it is not easy to find true humility--sacrificial spirits are elusive and escape your grasp whenever you purposefully reach for them. On the outside I may have looked like a servant at times, but most often I was hot-tempered and self-conscious. Thus I could never truly pay attention to others, because even in service I was always paying attention to myself.
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But in college I began to see Christ's heart for service, sacrifice, and humility. I saw these qualities in the Word and through friends who lived them out. And after a few years of learning and studying, I began to see how to serve, out of real love, my family and friends. I learned that these qualities were not just character traits that Jesus wanted us to pursue. They were his character. His very decision to be made man was born of his perfect humility.
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But Christ doesn't stop there--as hard as all of that is. It can be tiring and frustrating to put your parents and siblings first, especially when you disagree with them completely. It can be hard to let even your best friend have a say when you know you have a better story. But how intensely difficult it can be, then, when we're called past them, to the people with whom we don't want to spend any significant time.
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In Romans 15:1-2, Paul tells the believers in Rome, "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." These "weak" were not physically weak but spiritually weak. They were young believers, often close-minded and judgmental, and it probably took real pains even to be around them. But with them the Romans needed to take the attitude of Christ: "For even Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written, 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'"
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Becoming a servant to others by human standards is simple--do nice things for people. But when I look at Christ, I become so convicted. Do I take the insults other people receive onto myself? When I see someone teased or disheartened, do I take on their burden as if it were mine? He literally laid down his life, not for friends but for enemies. He forgave men and women of their sins who had deserted and denied him. He washed the feet of poor, ignorant, accusatory men and women. And he volunteered his glory-body to us in order to lose all glory, to experience paper cuts and sweat and disease, and ultimately his own death.
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I wish I had considered the ramifications of his life, death, and resurrection more in high school. My attitude towards service would have been a lot different. I encourage you to pray about how you can be serving the most unlovable. For me it sometimes means forgiveness--not just saying that he or she is forgiven, but praying for the person that offended me and wishing him or her good, never speaking of the wrongdoing again or gossiping about it to others. It means not having a complaining spirit, which is so contagious, but living with thanksgiving, which is also so wonderfully contagious.
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Sisters, the gospel is our door to the purest service. With it we can find true humility, because looking to the cross will flatten us to the floor in repentance. Christ's sacrifice for us is our hope, our inspiration and our perfect example. He teaches us to love our dearest friend, our closest cousin, but also our worst enemy--to serve those who never serve us back.
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Servanthood can look like a lot of things. We could feed the homeless at a soup kitchen, clean up a friend's spill, or give our parents a night off by making dinner and cleaning up afterward. But I would love to encourage you all toward serving people also in the silent, painful ways. Forgive even those friends who never asked for it. Pray for people who may never know, but who need it. Spend time with those classmates who look angry and miserable, even if approaching them intimidates you (it probably intimidates them more). That's laying down your life. And it is a beautiful discipline.
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The best part of service? God gives us great gifts with it. He gives us the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. And he gives us fellow Christians to challenge and equip us. As we serve each other, we grow in love. And as we grow in love, the world is reached. I pray for you what Paul prays for the church in Rome after he encourages them toward serving each other: "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Jesus Christ." May God indeed give you unity as you serve one another, and may he call many other women and men to himself through your kindness.
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Love to you, in and through Christ,
Joanna
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Joanna Miller is 25 years old and graduated from New York University in 2006, where she majored in dramatic writing through the Gallatin School, with a concentration in history and television writing. She is married to Michael and they currently live in Ithaca, New York, where they serve on staff with the Navigators at Cornell University.
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This article was originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Bloom! Magazine.
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Comments

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for this challenge - it is just what I needed to hear right now. His timing is so perfect and He is good!

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  2. I completely agree with Emilia's comment! I've been thinking about serving others and about the phrase 'dying to self' all week, and this has just confirmed what I really believe God's been telling me. Thanks so much for posting this!

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