Service is something that Christians seem to struggle with in modern days. There is no doubt that some Christians are deeply involved in their communities and spend countless hours and immeasurable energy working to improve the lives of others. This is commendable. Far too many Christians, however, seem to have forgotten what it really means to serve in a Christ-like way. They may do a bit of volunteering here and there, but service is not something that is at the forefront of their minds. It is something they think about when they feel like it has been too long since they gave back to the community or when someone else mentions it. They mean well and may truly intend to get involved in their community. Those good intentions, however, are not enough. When service remains nothing more than a pleasant idea and an item on a person’s to-do list, it is not helping anyone. After opportunities to serve have been ignored long enough, even the rare impulses to reach out can fade away.
Serving others is something that far too many people have forgotten how to do. They confuse service with charity and think that writing a check and never giving the matter another thought somehow is what Jesus envisioned when He called on His followers to serve others. There was a word for people who never bothered to reach out to their neighbors with anything other than a bit of tossed aside coin. That word was “Pharisees.”
Charity is valuable and should be encouraged. It should, however, be done with the proper mindset. This means deciding to freely give to another. It does not mean that one gives money in order to look good, advance their own agenda or assuage their guilty conscience. If their conscience is guilty, they cannot buy back their innocence. They must earn it through penance and forgiveness.
Service is different than charity. Charity involves freely giving money or monetary possessions. When a person donates their clothing or buys toys for a toy drive, they are performing charity. Service also involves giving, but it does not involve giving anything material. It involves freely giving something even more irreplaceable — time and energy. If someone is going to serve, they need to get down in the trenches and get their hands dirty. Someone performing charity might donate toys for a toy drive, but someone practicing service would collect the toys, deliver them to the children and go door to door trying to get more donations. One person gave away material possessions. The other offered up their time. Christians need to do both.
The Bible makes it clear that Christ understands that some people can give more money or more time than others. A young woman struggling to pay her rent, after all, cannot give as much money as a successful business woman at the height of her career. Similarly, the father of a pair of newborn twins does not have as much time on his hands as a young man just breaking into the career world. Each person gives what they can at that moment. When that young woman is making more money, she can give more money. When the twins get older, the father can donate more time. What matters is that people make the effort.
People can serve in hundreds of different ways and at all stages of life. Young professionals trying to get their foot in the door for their career may feel lucky if they have time to shower. No one would expect them to join the church committee in charge of organizing a massive event involving dozens of moving parts and scores of hours. That does not mean, however, that the young professional could not volunteer to help clean up after the event or offer to man the ticket booth for the first hour of the event. On the flip side, an elderly person may have plenty of time to spare in the day but be more physically limited. Again, that does not mean that they should not serve. Instead of unloading tables and moving chairs prior to a fundraiser, the elderly person could volunteer to make cupcakes for dessert or keep an eye on young children whose parents are working the event.
There are so many ways to serve, and there is no excuse for stopping. Service is not something from which a person will one day retire. Service is meant to be a lifestyle, not a series of sporadic events. Just as a person should continue to pray all their life, so they should continue to serve. Just as there are always people in need, so Christians should always be looking to help fulfill those needs.
Committing to a life of service can seem daunting in today’s culture where a person’s success, usually measured by a dollar figure and their number of Instagram followers, is all that matters.People are not trained to humbly serve. Instead, they are taught by example to brag as loudly as possible on social media. It is all about getting ahead by whatever means necessary. Service runs counter to all of that, and it always has. Christ knows what He asked of His followers. Greco-Roman society was built on ideas of conquest and cutthroat competition. It was truly a winner take all situation. It is more than possible to succeed in the modern world without trampling others to get there, but the mentality of success at all costs does continue to flourish. As such, it is more important than ever that Christians remember to serve others with humility. When everyone is shouting about their success as loudly as possible, no one can hear what anyone is saying. In that cacophony of bragging, the silent, anonymous assistance Christians offer speaks louder than any scream. This sort of humble perseverance and determined service once changed the heart of the Roman Empire. How much more could it do today?