One of the great privileges and responsibilities of the Christian life is service. Different individuals and churches may call it volunteerism, ministry or some other title, but the idea is the same – we show our love for God and appreciation for his blessing by doing acts of service in his name. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that what appears to be service for God is actually service for ourselves. This may not always be easy to detect, but there is an interesting verse of scripture that gives us 3 signs our service might be selfish.
The verse is John 3:26 and it describes a relatively minor incident with John the Baptist’s disciples. Speaking of Jesus, they come to John and say, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” This brief statement and John’s response clearly indicate that these men were struggling with some jealousy over Jesus’ ministry and were, at least for the moment, serving for selfish reasons. Before I articulate these signs, I do want to be clear that the presence of these signs in the lives and ministry of these unnamed disciples does not make them bad people. It just makes them human and I would suggest that each of us be aware that we are indeed susceptible to falling into selfish service in our own ministries from time to time. The following signs of selfish service should help us in determining our own motivations for serving.
- Ministry is competition. To John’s disciples, ministry was a competition. John was their master and their ministry was the right ministry and they didn’t like Jesus messing with it. Anyone that followed Jesus was someone not following John and was thus a problem. While this seems ridiculous when thinking of Jesus, it is a big problem in today’s church. If you are involved in serving in any capacity, I want to urge you not to let ministry become a competition. That means, don’t view everything different as wrong. Don’t compare results, leaders, accomplishments, etc. – this can lead to jealousy. Don’t view your personal ministry as “the good one.” Your church isn’t the singular light in your community. Your ministry isn’t the only good one within your church, either. This kind of competitive spirit is a sure sign your service is taking a turn toward selfishness.
- Ministry is about numbers (26). Remember what John’s disciples said about Jesus: “all are coming to Him.” They exaggerated; John was still baptizing people and over-all Jesus was rejected. However, the point is that they were watching the numbers. They were measuring Jesus’ success by the crowds and this made them feel less successful. The world and fleshly believers equate success with numbers. The size of the crowd doesn’t necessarily indicate the success or validity of a ministry. However, selfishness causes us to measure success with the wrong standard. Any attitude that equates spirituality with numbers is dangerous. A large ministry might offer the temptation to discount the significance of a smaller one. In a small church, we might accuse all big churches of compromise so we can feel better about ourselves. We might feel our ministry is better because more kids show up or begin to feel insecure if our church event is not as well attended as another church’s similar event. This emphasis on numbers is a common indicator of a selfish view of ministry and we must guard against it.
- Ministry is self-serving. The very idea of ministry is that we should be serving something other than ourselves, but selfishness can cause us to lose our way. Slowly, our service becomes about self-glory, fame, importance or any other of a number of wrong points of focus in our work. We are left ministering for our own purposes rather than for God’s. As servants and ministers, whether by profession or volunteer, we must resist ever serving out of a desire for what we might gain from our service. Though service for God naturally comes with a variety of immediate and eternal blessings, we should never serve because of what we might get out of it.
Service for God is an incredible privilege and can be a genuine act of worship when done with the proper motives. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to slip into a mindset of service that is partially or totally selfish. I would encourage everyone who serves in any capacity within the church to examine their heart as to what their motives for service actually are. Confess any selfish motives and pursue once again a posture of humble, sacrificial and selfless service.