We must act always as if we are serving Christ, not just when we are being watched, in order to “curry favor,” but also in our private actions.
This partial quote of Ephesians 6: 8 gets at the heart of the matter of the moral life. The moral life is always oriented toward the knowable good. The habits of moral character bring with them rewards of many kinds, intellectual, social, psychological, and spiritual. On the other hand, any thought, word, or deed that does not aim at the good is a denial of the good, or worse, a rebellion from it. This, too, has its consequences. In this chapter of Ephesians, Paul is exhorting the Christian community to remember that all of their relationships must have within them a true sincerity of heart. We must act always as if we are serving Christ, not just when we are being watched, in order to “curry favor,” but also in our private actions. When our love is sincere we are moved to serve others willingly. We do this out of a humble desire to do the will of God from the depth of our hearts. A love that is sincere serves happily, because it always has the good of the other in mind. Indeed, as Christians, we believe that when we serve our neighbor out of a sincere love for them, we are not just serving human beings, we are serving the Lord.
Paul’s admonitions here are not new, but they must be learned in every generation. This is the wisdom that parents try to pass on to their children. When parents teach these things to their children they are giving them a true gift. For example, when children are lovingly taught to honor their fathers and mothers, they discover that such a virtue has great rewards, not just in the now, but for the rest of their lives. For in learning these things, they gain self-discipline. They learn that love is a matter of serving the other, not of being served. Parents who learned this in childhood and continue to develop it in adulthood, will never be guilty of provoking their children to anger, for all of their instructions and admonitions directing their children toward goodness in act and deed will be done out of love, patience and understanding. In learning to honor and respect our parents we are learning to do the same for others. When these habits are brought to all of our relationships there are real rewards. Harmony, mutual respect, compassion and understanding become the tenor of our lives.
Christians do not love the other, though, in order to gain a reward. When our love is sincere, that is, when we are moved to serve by seeing the suffering in the other, we do not think of the reward, we think only of the other. We see their suffering, we see their need, and we experience in our hearts the need to be with them in their suffering, to touch them, to feed them, to pray with them, to love them. In this we may experience much suffering ourselves, but it does not matter, for we are not concerned for ourselves but for the other. Their may, or may not be, earthly reward in this. But if our love is sincere, this will not matter, for there is a far greater reward that awaits us, if we serve our brothers and sisters out of a love that is Christ-centered and, therefore, sincere. A Christian serves not to be rewarded, but for love, for the love of God.
Christ is the suffering servant. He did what he did out of a sincere love for each of us and for the Father. He is the model that all Christians desire to emulate. In order for our love to be sincere we must love one another as Jesus loved us. As human beings we know from experience that this is not easy. Indeed, in all humility, we know that we are very weak and that we need the graces of God to even begin to be able to love in this way. But our desire to do so is enough, for God knows our hearts and he will give us what we need. That grace is reward enough for now. The great lesson for all of us is in Jesus’ words: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 28) That is the model of love that we are to emulate. As Jesus was obedient to the Father, so we must be obedient to the Law of Love that Jesus modeled to us when he walked among us in the flesh.
Lord, heal our deepest wounds, relieve our greatest fears, and strengthen us where we are weak. Increase in us each day an ever-deepening desire to know you, to love you, and to serve you in our words and in our deeds toward those we meet throughout the course of our day. Help us to desire always to serve, rather than to be served. We humbly pray in your name, Jesus. Amen.
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