Why is service considered a spiritual discipline?

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Service, often perceived as the act of helping others, holds a deeper, more intrinsic value in the Christian faith. It is considered a spiritual discipline because it reflects the heart of Christian doctrine—the imitation of Christ, who came "not to be served, but to serve" (Mark 10:45). Service, in this context, transcends mere acts of kindness. It becomes a formative practice that shapes our spiritual identity, molds our character, and deepens our relationship with God.

The Biblical Foundation of Service

The concept of service as a spiritual discipline is deeply rooted in Scripture. Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity, set the ultimate example of service. His life and ministry on Earth were marked by acts of profound service, which included healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and ultimately sacrificing His life for the salvation of humanity. In John 13:1-17, Jesus washes His disciples' feet, a task typically performed by servants. This act was not just a lesson in humility; it was a call to a life of service. Jesus said, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15).

The Apostle Paul also emphasizes service as a way of life expected of all believers. In Galatians 5:13, Paul writes, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." Here, Paul is not merely suggesting service as an optional activity but framing it as a fundamental expression of Christian liberty.

Service as Imitation of Christ

Service as a spiritual discipline is essentially about imitating Christ. As Christians, we are called to be 'Christ-like,' which includes embodying His servant-hearted nature. This imitation is not about a superficial copying of external actions, but a profound internalization of Christ’s attitude towards service. Philippians 2:5-7 urges believers to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who "made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant."

This call to imitative service is transformative. It shifts our focus from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. In serving others, we reflect God’s love and compassion to the world, and we align ourselves more closely with Christ's example.

Service as Formation of Character

Engaging in service influences and shapes our spiritual character. It acts as a mirror, reflecting our current spiritual condition, and as a mold, forming us into the image of Christ. When we serve, we often encounter situations that challenge our patience, humility, compassion, and other aspects of our character. These challenges are not incidental; they are divinely permitted opportunities for growth.

The discipline of service also cultivates virtues such as humility and selflessness. As we prioritize the needs of others, our own desires and ego are gradually subdued. This is beautifully captured in Matthew 20:26-28, where Jesus explains, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Service as Relationship with God

Service deepens our relationship with God. It does so by aligning our actions with God’s will and drawing us into closer dependence on Him. When we serve, we are often placed in situations where we must rely on God’s strength and wisdom, not our own. This reliance deepens our communion with Him, as we experience His power and provision in our acts of service.

Moreover, service as a spiritual discipline involves not merely the actions we undertake but the spirit in which we perform them. Colossians 3:23-24 advises, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." When we serve in this way, our service becomes an act of worship, a way to express our love and gratitude towards God.

The Impact of Service on the Community

The practice of service not only transforms the individual believer but also has a profound impact on the community. It fosters a spirit of unity and love, essential qualities of the Christian community as described in Acts 2:44-47. Service builds bridges between diverse groups, breaks down barriers of ego and pride, and cultivates a culture of mutual care and support.

In serving others, the church embodies the tangible reality of God’s kingdom on Earth. It becomes a living testimony of God’s love and grace to the broader society. Service, therefore, is not just a personal spiritual discipline but a corporate one that builds up the body of Christ and reaches out to the world in love and service.

In Conclusion

Service is a spiritual discipline because it is a practical expression of our faith, a form of worship, and a method of spiritual formation that aligns us with the heart of God. It molds us into the image of Christ, builds character, deepens our relationship with God, and impacts the community. As we commit to the discipline of service, we find that it is not just about changing the world—it is about letting God change us through our service to others.

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