For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in life is learning how to do what we ought to do with the spirit in which we ought to do it along with the proper motivation for doing so. This is especially true in the “religious” sphere of existence. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of empty ritualism, or for people to work with the intent to earn merit. Too many are only willing to do the commands of God that are comfortable for them; many treat religion as they perhaps treated high school, trying to figure out how to do just enough to “get by.”
While all of these forms of religious service are popular, they are not what God intends, and they cannot lead to a saving faith. If we really desire to be saved, we will have to do as the Macedonians did so many years ago: we must first give ourselves to the Lord. If we are able to accomplish that, then everything else can fall into its proper place.
Yet, as with many things in life, such is easier said than done. Giving ourselves entirely over to Jesus is a challenging proposition. It requires us to be crucified with Him, making the decision to no longer live in sin (Romans 6:1-7, Galatians 2:20). We must then live as His servants, seeking His will in every facet of our existence (Ephesians 5-6). The cost is high– the path of Christ involves sacrifice, suffering, and persecution (Romans 12:1, Acts 14:21, Romans 8:17-18). The reward of eternal life, however, will make up for it and beyond (cf. Revelation 21-22)!
It is easy to understand why the temptation is always there to promote or to live a half-hearted religion, a belief system in which you go along with God as long as it is comfortable and does not infringe too terribly strongly in one’s life. Yet we must understand that a religion without cost tends to be a religion without benefit. Jesus came to the earth not to be served but to serve, and He gave fully of Himself for us (Philippians 2:5-11). If He gave Himself fully for us, how can we expect to get away with only giving a little bit for Him?
Jesus Himself makes it quite clear in Matthew 10:35-39 that becoming His disciple is an all-or-nothing proposition. You either put God in Christ first in your life or you do not. You are willing to allow the Lord to dictate for you through His Word how you will conduct yourselves toward your parents, spouse, children, employer, friends, and others, or you are not (cf. Ephesians 5-6). You either allow God in Christ to dictate how you will use the blessings of material abundance, time and talents for His purposes, or you do not (Romans 12). Half-hearted service, empty ritualism, or reward-based work is not true service to God, no matter how much it may feel as it is (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). It is only when we first and foremost decide that we are going to give ourselves over to the Lord that we can finally begin serving Him.
Thankfully, no matter how we have lived in the past, as long as we live, we have the opportunity to give ourselves to the Lord. Let us do so and become full servants of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knowing that if we glorify His name, we will share in His eternal glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry