Christian service is obviously the service of a Christian, and if words have any meaning, it is the work he does or the duty he discharges unto another in the character of a servant. That raises four questions:
What is a "servant"?
What are the distinctive marks of a servant?
Whose servant is he, or who is his master? —for master and servant are just as truly correlative terms as are husband and wife, parent and children.
What is the nature of the "service" unto which Christians, all Christians, are called by God?
If all ambiguity of thought and confusion of terms is to be avoided—then we need to obtain answers to those questions from the Word of truth, and then "hold fast the form of sound words" (2 Timothy 1:13) and not perplex ourselves and mislead other people by using them in a way quite foreign from their Scriptural import. God's Word is made up of words, and as soon as we wrest its language and invest its terms with a signification different from the way in which the Spirit has used them, we land into error.
What is "Christian service"? Many of our readers, especially American ones, will deem it unnecessary to ask such a question. One of the favorite slogans over there is, "We are saved to serve." When special meetings are held for Christians, for "the deepening of the spiritual life," for "a baptism of the Spirit," or for entering upon "the victorious life," one of the pleas used is, "Such an experience is necessary to fit you for Christian service."
On the lips of many religious people, "Christian service" signifies Christian usefulness: to be a regular attender at church, and a liberal contributor to its finances; to become teacher of a class, or leader of a young people's society; to engage in evangelistic activities, and do personal work; to "witness for Christ" by verbally announcing His power to save and satisfy, telling others of "what He means to me."
Yet, as the term is used in Scripture, one may do all those things—and not be engaged in any Christian service! When Christ said "you cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24), it is clear He did not mean, Be useful unto mammon or bear witness for mammon; but rather, be a lover of and subject unto it. The word is quite plainly defined in "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as servants—you are servants to the one whom you obey" (Romans 6:16). Thus, such expressions as "the servants of sin" (Romans 6:20), "serving divers lusts and pleasures" (Titus 3:3), "the servants of corruption" (2 Peter 2:19) mean being the willing and obedient subjects of sin, lusts, corruption.
A "servant" is one who is not at his own disposal—but is at the beck and call of another, having voluntarily yielded and agreed to do his bidding. It is thus we find him described in the scriptures: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters [for an intimation of their will], and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God" (Psalm 123:2). Such too is the New Testament description. Said the centurion, "For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (Luke 7:8).
Servants—then, are not in their own power to please themselves—but are under the control of another, to be employed entirely at his discretion.
Now the Christian is God's "servant." He is so by purchase (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He is so by covenant, having solemnly entered into a compact with God, to perform the duties of a servant—that he may enjoy the privileges of one. He has recognized and yielded to God's claims upon him. Previously, he was his own servant, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, gratifying himself. But upon his conversion, he surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, took His yoke upon him, to henceforth submit to His rule over him and be subject unto His will in all things.
Thus, to "serve the Lord" is not to do something for him—as though we showed Him a favor—but it is to render something unto Him. It is to perceive His just requirement of me, to own His absolute authority, to dedicate myself wholly unto Him. It signifies that I take the place and honestly endeavor to discharge the obligations of a servant; and a "servant" is one who does as his Master bids him, who seeks to please Him and promote His interests.
Above, we pointed out what "serving" mammon does not signify; let us now define it positively. To "serve" mammon is to love riches and make them my dominant quest, to devote all my faculties and energies unto the acquiring of the same. So, to "serve" Christ is to love Him, to give Him the supreme place in my heart and life, to devote all my powers and strength unto the doing of what He requires, and abstain from all He prohibits. Love to Christ is to be expressed in obedience unto Him: "If you love me—keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
God glories in His people in this particular character: "My servant Moses" (Num 12:7), "My servant David" (2 Samuel 7:8), "My servant Job" (Job 1:8). As the saints glory in being able to say "my God," "my Lord," "my Savior;" so God glories in them as His "servants" because He has honor and pleasure by such. It is our honor to be God's servants; and He is pleased to consider Himself honored by our obedience, yes, more so than by our worship: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22). He was supremely honored when His own beloved Son took upon Him "the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Said the Father, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my elect, in whom my soul delights" (Isaiah 42:1).
And of what consisted the service of Christ? In ministering unto others, in dying for sinners? Incidentally, yes: but fundamentally and essentially, in that He came not to do His own will, "but the will of him who sent" Him (John 6:38), in that He "became obedient unto death" (Philippians 2:8)!
"Christian service," then, is the response made by a regenerate soul unto the Lordship of Christ, the voluntary and hearty subjecting of himself to His dominion, the carrying out of His revealed will. In a word, it consists of obedience unto God: not merely in one particular or direction only—but in a full and entire obedience. Christian service is a running in "the way of [His] commandments" (Psalm 119:32), an acknowledging Him "in all [our] ways" (Proverbs 3:6); and that calls for a diligent searching of the Scriptures, that we may ascertain the details of His will and discover those things which are pleasing or displeasing unto Him.
But am I not to "witness for Christ"? Certainly—but how? By your lips, or your life? By your words, or your works? "Let your light so shine"—and light shines silently, though nonetheless effectively. We are to "show forth the praises of him" (1 Peter 2:9) in the home, in the office, factory, shop, in the world; and unless we do so there, God will not accept what we do in the church. Only so far as our daily walk is regulated by Christ's precepts—are we serving Him.
Most of the so-called "Christian service" which now prevails in the religious world, is seen and heard by men—but much of the service which God has appointed His people is beheld by none but Himself. Most that passes for "Christian service" has a tendency to puff up with a sense of self-importance; but that which God assigns humbles, by a realization of how far short we come of measuring up to His standard. Much of the humanly invented "service" is wrought in the energy of the flesh, whereas that which God requires from us can only be performed by the enabling of His grace. Those activities now so prevalent in the religious realm occupy with the creature—but that service which God has enjoined fixes the eye on His glory.