Serving Others When Life is Hard

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August 24, 2008

By Derick Parfan

Philippians 1:18b-26

Yes, and I will rejoice, (19) for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, (20) as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. (21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (22) If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. (23) I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (24) But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (25) Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, (26) so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. (ESV)

My eyes are weak, having a 200/250 vision.  I cannot see clearly without my glasses or contact lenses.  In highschool I had a habit of watching too much TV and when I watch, I want to be very near the TV set.  I even read books or study for my exams while watching.  I think this contributed to my vision deficiency.  Without lenses on my eyes, I cannot see clearly the things around me.  I think many Christians too have a vision deficiency.  We cannot see clearly the needs and problems of many people around us.  The reason: we are too focused and too engrossed on our own needs and problems that it seems like we don’t care anymore for other people.  When life is hard our vision for serving other people’s needs becomes blurred.

We too must wear eyeglasses so we can see clearly.  We must always have in front of us the eyeglasses of a clear purpose for our life and a passion to live for that purpose at all cost.  In our treatment of Philippians 1:18b-26 last week, we already saw the eyeglasses we need to wear in order to see with clarity the meaning and direction all our life must take.  Our single and all-consuming passion must be to magnify Christ  in all of life.  Just like what Paul said, “it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (v. 20).  To magnify Christ is our life’s purpose.  This must be our single passion to live by.  It does not change with the circumstances in our life.  And if the passion to magnify Christ really consumes us, it spreads and it flows to other people.  Our vision to serve people becomes clear.  We realize that one of the best means to magnify Christ is by serving his people.

To magnify Christ and to serve other people are not two options.  A passion to magnify Christ overflows in gladly serving others even when life is hard. When we are passionate for Christ, we are passionate to serve others also.  This is Paul’s passion, too.  And this passion is an overflow of his passion to live only for Christ.  Notice how he defined the meaning of life in two different ways.  He wrote in verse 21, “To live is Christ…”  The center in which his life revolves is none other than Christ.  His life is Christ, he will live only for Christ.  But he said also in verse 22, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.”  He is saying that when he was finally released from prison and escaped execution, he will continue to see the fruits of his ministry and that he will continue doing what he was called for.  He was passionate to magnify Christ; he was passionate to serve others that Christ may be magnified.

Paul’s passion must be our passion also for he said, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (4:9).  Life’s hardships do not excuse us from giving a considerable amount of our time, energy, and resources to magnifying Christ by serving others.  We must not play blind to the needs of other Christians.  We do not live for ourselves.  We live for Christ.  And when we say that we are living for Christ, it also means we are living to serve other people.

We are saying that one of the clearest expression of a life lived with a single passion to magnify Christ is by serving other people.  But how do we magnify Christ by serving others – by preaching, teaching kids or adults, sharing the gospel, cooking and serving food, driving, encouraging, praying for others, and helping in whatever ways we can?  How is Christ shown as infinitely great and worthy to be our only treasure and satisfaction when we live a life of service to others even if life is getting so hard?

Submitting to the Will of God

First, Christ is magnified in serving others if we submit to God’s will even over our own good desires.  In life, we have our own preferences or desires and some of them are really good desires.  But even that must be subjected to God’s desire for our lives.  Paul already said that “to die is gain” and to live means “fruitful labor” for him.  Both of them are profitable but he said in verse 22, “Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.”  I think the ESV translated it well unlike the NIV and NASB, “I do not know.”  Although the two – living and dying – are like two opposing forces creating a tension in Paul’s desires when he said in verse 23, “I am hard-pressed between the two,” he still knows what he will prefer for he knows which is better.  “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

For Paul, death is more desireable; not in order to escape sufferings but to experience the fulness of Christ.  Immediately after death, he will be in conscious fellowship with Christ – his life’s passion, his all in all.  Death is not something to be feared, it is something to be embraced with excitement.  A true Christian will desire death not just because it will end our sufferings but more importantly, it will start something very good – being with Christ for all eternity.  In using the verb “to depart” he is depicting death as just like a ship living a port to sail for another destination – a better destination.

But he said that he is not at liberty to tell what he will choose.  He will let God choose for him.  And because he knows that it is the will of God that he remain alive, he will submit to God’s will.  Death is better for him, but his remaining alive is better not for him but to the Philippian believers.  “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (v. 24).  Paul believes that he will be set free because more people will benefit from his ministry.

There are three attitudes people have regarding death: (1) not wanting to die because of the pleasures of this life, “May the Lord not return soon so that I can get married first”; (2) wanting to die because of wanting to escape from life’s hardships, “May the Lord take me now because I cannot bear this problem anymore”; (3) wanting to die because it means being with Christ and wanting to live also because it means service to other people, “I want to die and be with Christ but I will do whatever I can to help other people in their faith as long as I live.”  This is Paul’s attitude and may we be like him who lived with what he preached, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4).

I know some of you are old and tired and really wanting to be with our Savior soon.  That desire is good.  But as long as you still live and still have strength to be of service in whatever ways you can in this church, serve with all your might.  Don’t just wait for your death.  In God’s service, there is no retirement.  We are at his employ until we breathe our last.

But often what competes with our Christian privilege of serving other people are merely selfish desires like our own comfort, security, health and money.  We hesitate to serve because we thought that it takes a lot of sacrifice and we might lose some of what we value.  My prayer is that may our desire to live be motivated not by our desire to satisfy our own cravings in life but to satisfy other people’s needs.  God’s will for us, as long as we live, is for us to serve his people.  May we submit to his will and in due time, we will all be together with Christ our great reward.  Life is short.  Make the most out of it by serving other people.  John Holt wrote what real ministry or service looks like when we submit to God’s will and therefore, Christ is magnified:

Ministry is giving when you feel like keeping, praying for others when you need to be prayed for, feeding others when your own soul is hungry, living truth before people even when you can’t see results, hurting with other people even when your own hurt can’t be spoken, keeping your word even when it is not convenient, it is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away. (Leadership, Vol. 10, No. 1)

Supporting Others in Their Faith

Second, Christ is magnified in serving others when we labor in supporting others in their faith even when our life is hard and especially when their life is hard.  Paul, too, worked for this in his ministry, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith” (v. 25).  He is so convinced that he will not be executed because he knows God’s purpose for him regarding the Philippian believers.  God wants him to serve them.  How?  By doing everything he can – pastoring and encouraging and caring – to minister to them especially during this time that they were suffering for their faith like Paul.

What is the specific target of his ministry or support to them?  It is their “progress and joy in the faith.”  He knows that the faith of the believers became fragile during hard times.  There can be doubts about the Lord’s trustworthiness and in his promises.  People may begin to look for other things for their satisfaction and comfort instead of finding their joy in Christ alone.  Paul wants them to continue believing in spite of the many hindrances.  He also wants them to continue rejoicing even when life gets hard.  He wants to be with them so he can help them in this regard.  He does not just do ministry.  He does it with a clear goal in mind – supporting others in their faith. As God’s servants we do not serve our own needs but that of others.  Paul and the other apostles that they did not “lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24).

Whatever ministry you are in right now, always put in your mind that you work so that other people’s faith will be strengthened, that they will have more reasons to rejoice even when life is hard.  Do not just do ministry so that you can be busy.  Do ministry so you can support others in their faith.

I believe in my ministry of preaching and teaching.  I believe that it can sustain people’s faith during hard times.  That is why I will labor for it even if it will take so much of my time and when some people do not believe in what I do.

Several years ago a reader of the British Weekly wrote a letter to the editor as follows: “Dear Sir! I notice that ministers seem to set a great deal of importance on their sermons and spend a great deal of time in preparing them. I have been attending services quite regularly for the past thirty years and during that time, if I estimate correctly, I have listened to no less than three thousand sermons. But, to my consternation, I discover I cannot remember a single one of them. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else?”

The letter kicked up quite an editorial storm of angry responses for weeks. The pros and cons of sermons were tossed back and forth until, finally, one letter ended the debate. This letter said, “My Dear Sir: I have been married for thirty years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals-mostly of my wife’s cooking. Suddenly I have discovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them I would have starved to death long ago.”

Most of you would have starved to death in your faith long ago if there are no people who do not help you – in teaching God’s Word, in praying for you, in encouraging you, in crying with you, in doing the things you cannot do.  Our proper response is not to criticize those people who are doing those things without pay, those who worked long hours in order to serve you, those who chose to serve in this church rather than have some fun time in rest and recreation during weekends.  Our proper response must be to be like them, to imitate their zeal for service.  They are not perfect people but they are passionate people.  All of us must be passionate to serve.  If until now, most of your time is spent in meeting your own needs, don’t you think that it is now time that you lend some helping hand to support others in their faith?  It may be the most worthwhile thing you can do before you die.  You might want to start by praying for other people and see God’s hands moving in changing their lives.

Spreading a Passion to Magnify Christ

Third, Christ is magnified in serving others if we give people reasons to magnify Christ also, that is, if we live to spread our passion to magnify Christ.  Paul’s ultimate reason for wanting to live and serve them is that Christ will get all the glory, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (vv. 25, 26).

The Philippian believers should not give glory to Paul because of what will happen when he was released and came back to them.  Rather Paul desired that because of what will happen and because of the continuing of his future ministry to them, the believers will “have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus.”  Their boast will be in Christ.  Paul lived only that his boast may be in Christ.  He will not boast of his accomplishment.  Rather, he desires that those people to whom he was serving will magnify Christ in whatever happened.

This is the heart of a true servant of Christ.  This is the passion of a servant: that in all things Christ will get the glory and that he will labor with all his might to spread this passion to other people.  He will be like a fire that will lit one part of the forest so that after some time, the whole forest will burn.

We should not miss the ultimate reason why we do ministry.  Many people do not have yet the passion to magnify Christ in all of life.  Last week we saw how we can have that passion ourselves so that we can say, “My single passion is to magnify Christ in all of life!”  And we really have this passion we will not rest content that people do not have enough reasons to magnify Christ, to see Christ as their only joy and treasure in life.  We will serve others so that they, too, can have the passion we have.

What are we supposed to do?  Are you content on just sitting in church Sunday after Sunday?  You have hands and lips and feet that you can use to serve people.   Why not use them to magnify Christ, to serve his people, to spread a passion to magnify Christ in all of life?  You, Sunday School teachers, as you do ministry have this vision in mind – to see kids growing in their knowledge of God so that a time may come that they too will embrace the Christ you are embracing.  You, Praise and Worship leaders, as you do your ministry, have this vision in mind – to lead people, with a burning passion, into a true worship of a great God and Savior.  Elders and Bible teachers, you have been entrusted to teach a great book, be passionate in teaching, be diligent in study, lead other Christians in the transformation of their lives so that many will come to Jesus and say, “Lord, you are my all in all.  Nothing and no one can satisfy me like you do.”  If you pray for others, pray that they may have a clear vision of the greatness of Christ.

And in whatever ways you think that your gifts can best be used for service, do it will all passion.  If you are not yet sure what to do, just do anything your hand finds to do.  Ask some people how you can serve.  Your leaders are here to give you a helping hand.  And as we serve, we will serve together.  Not in separate ministries, not individually, but together.  That will be the last part of our series, “Standing Together When Life is Hard.”  Always pray that God’s Word will work miracles in our lives as we continue serving one another even when life is hard.

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