18th December 2023

John Piper asks



What does it mean to serve God?

I think this is one of the most important questions a Christian can ask about living the Christian life in a way that glorifies God and does good to other people.
It gets at the utterly crucial issue of a right way of serving God that honours him and blesses people, and a wrong way of serving God that dishonours him and doesn't help people.

Now, as soon as we say that, we must ask, really pointedly, what's involved in serving God and what's not involved in serving God.
If we start serving God as though we could earn wages from him, or as though we could meet his needs, or as though we could put him in our debt and make him our beneficiary, red biblical lights start flashing very brightly.

For example, Jesus says to his disciples
"You are my friends if you do what I command you."
Whoa. What kind of a friend is that?

So, the meaning of "friend" is qualified.
We can't just assume that what we mean by servant or friend is what Jesus means by servant or friend. We have to listen.

Or here's another bright, flashing red light:
"[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything".

So yes, serve him, but not that way - not as though he needed your service.

Here's what we need to ask. Well, how should we serve him? You keep telling us all the bad ways. What is right service?

Maybe the deepest and clearest answer is 1 Peter 4:11.
This got prayed over me every time I preached at Bethlehem.
"Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever."

So, every effort expended in the service of God is a God-given effort.
That may be the most important sentence.
Let me say it again: Every effort expended in the service of God, the right service of God, is a God-given effort.

That's what must absolutely sink into our souls.
Otherwise, we will always think of ourselves as bringing to God things that he doesn't have, as though we could meet his needs, when he doesn't have any.
He's not served as though he needed anything.

The conception of service that dishonours God and will not help people - because it points them away from God's all-supplying grace toward our own supposed self-produced moral efforts - is serving without relying upon him to serve us in our serving.

All God-pleasing service is done in the moment-by-moment reliance upon God's service-enabling power.
Or to say it another way, the only service of God that pleases God is done through the glad acceptance of his undeserved service toward us and in us.
Therefore, we should never think of our service to God as a way to repay him in gratitude for his goodness to us, because every step we take in that so-called payback is another gift from him, and it takes us deeper into debt to grace, which is a glorious place to be forever and ever and ever.

We will never not be debtors to God's grace. For all eternity, with every act of glad obedience, we will go deeper and happier into debt to the praise of the glory of his grace.

Here's one last picture of this peculiar kind of service to God.
Jesus said,
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money".

So, the question is, How do you serve money?
That would be a clue. Serving money doesn't mean doing things to meet money's need. You serve money by calculating all your plans, your efforts, to benefit from what money promises you.

You calculate your whole life to benefit from what money promises you.
Your life revolves around trying to put yourself in the position of the greatest benefit from money.

That's also what it means to serve God.
You serve God by calculating all your plans and all your efforts to benefit from all that God promises to be for you.
Your life revolves around trying to put yourself under the waterfall of God's greatest blessing, positioning yourself for the greatest benefit God has to give - namely, himself.

So, I conclude, yes, God enlists us into his service, which means he calls us to have a part in accomplishing his purposes, not meeting his needs.
And he accomplishes his purposes precisely by supplying the grace to do our work, because the giver gets the glory; the servant gets the joy.

That's God's purpose for his world: his glory and the joy of his people in him.

Un-edited version avaiable, on request

John Piper (@JohnPiper)
is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Foundations for Lifelong Learning: Education in Serious Joy.


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