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Why Volunteering Isn’t Enough

Serving others isn’t about what you do—it’s about who you are.

Tim Rhodes September 22, 2022

We get the most out of our work when we view ourselves as servants. Now I know that absolutely strikes against everything this society believes. We want to talk about our rights. We want to talk about our group, and we want to talk about our independence, and we want to talk about our conversation, and we want to talk about what we're going to get. The very idea of being a servant and having a servant spirit is totally foreign to our society. Nothing like what Jesus talked about.

—Charles F. Stanley, “How to Get the Most Out of Your Work”

Illustration by Adam Cruft

When I think of servanthood, I usually picture things like doling out food in a soup kitchen or providing clothes and blankets to people experiencing homelessness. And growing up, I thought my mom was the ultimate example of caring for others. I was inspired by what she did to help struggling people and the way she would include us children—especially when we didn’t have much ourselves. Serving food downtown or providing meals to shut-ins and new mothers, she made sure we were aware of the needs in our community. I felt compelled by the way she would not only see a need but also act on it, seemingly before assessing the cost.

We all know the story of Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man, also known as the “rich young ruler.” Three of the four gospels tell how he confronts Jesus, asking what it takes to inherit eternal life. After the man recites a list of commandments, almost like rehearsing a resume of accomplishments, the story ends in a disquieting way: “Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But he was deeply dismayed by these words, and he went away grieving; for he owned much property” (Mark 10:21-22).

I’m still my mother’s son, and she remains a source of inspiration. But the older I get, the more I see myself in this young man. I may not be “rich” by many people’s standards, but I am financially stable—a form of wealth, to be sure. I am certainly not a ruler, but I do walk this world with a certain amount of privilege. And I now recognize the influence of our culture and how a collective fear of not having enough is ingrained in us. We're deeply rooted in a society that operates differently than the Way of Christ. Generosity, as I understood it in my youth, is still a worthy and substantial of way of helping others. But now I can see that it’s not enough. And if I’m being honest, most of my attempts to live generously still fit nicely within what I find comfortable and safe.

God is not concerned with our comfort so much as He cares about the condition of our heart. 

Charity is certainly necessary, but too often I’ve let it absolve me of the servanthood Jesus exemplified. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others.Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).

Servanthood done Jesus’ way doesn’t merely set aside time on a particular day or week for a good cause but is all-encompassing. And while the Philippians passage doesn’t directly mention sacrificial giving, its emphasis on humility and an others-centered focus is relevant. The Bible is clear about what our priorities should be: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, along with caring for the sick, orphans, widows, and prisoners. We should give sacrificially, and not just an amount that keeps us comfortable. Doing so is an act of humble obedience, but it also produces good fruit in our soul—it helps us walk in the freedom, love, and joy promised to those who follow Jesus. If all of this seems like a big ask, that’s because it is. God is not concerned with our comfort so much as He cares about the condition of our heart.

Servanthood done Jesus’ way doesn’t merely set aside time on a particular day or week for a good cause but is all-encompassing.

C. S. Lewis wrote something I think about often: “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good.’” And that goes for each of us—though our background, circumstances, strengths, and limitations differ. But there’s one thing all of us have in common: When we’re willing to give up our life for God, we can each be sure we’ll find true life—an abundance beyond anything imaginable.

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