Spheres of Service for Christians

John Stott closes Chapter 11 of his book The Cross of Christ with a section called “Spheres of Service.”  “The community of Christ is a community of the cross and will be marked by sacrifice, service and suffering, how will this work itself out in the three spheres of home, church and world?” [Stott, 281].

That is a very reasonable question given the nature of the Christian’s life.  If a person gives their life to Jesus Christ and receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that Spirit can* cause a change in their life, a change which will result in a need to act out their faith in this world.  Becoming a Christian is not just a public statement; it may also be a commitment to change the world for the betterment of God’s Kingdom here on earth.  Stott discusses three spheres of change:  the family, the church and the world.  In all three areas, a righteous Christian will bear fruit** [their faith will have a positive impact].

In the home of a Christian family, love should be the main theme, what Stott calls natural human love, further enriched by supernatural divine love, between husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters.  Stott points to Ephesians 5: 21 which has often been cited as “difficult” for wives because it recognizes husbands as the head of the family.  Stott does not agree that Ephesians is harder on wives than husbands; “the quality of self-giving love required of husbands is arguably even more demanding.  For they are to love their wives with the love which Christ has for His bride, the church.  This is Calvary love” [282].  It is self-sacrificial, constructive, resplendent, caring and protective.  Of course what he is saying is that being the head of the family is not an easy job.

In the church the sacrifice, service and suffering inspired by the cross begins with pastors.  Their leadership style should be inspired by Jesus Christ and He led his followers by His humility and service.  With Christ as the model, pastors see a Man who lives by His Father’s power.  Jesus was not harsh in the exercise of authority and did not focus on wielding his own power.  “If Christian pastors adhered more closely to the Christ who was crucified in weakness and were prepared to accept the humiliations that weakness brings, rather than insisting on exercising their own power, there would be much less discord and much more harmony in the church” [282].

Within the church community the key word is unselfishness.   Many in church can find themselves working hard to be the most ambitious Christians in church but that effort should be devoted to helping others [the call is to love one another rather than self].  The needs of others come first, others are valued more than self because that is the model of Christ who renounced His rights and humbled Himself in order to serve. 

Finally we turn to the world and here Stott says that Christians should have a mission mentality.   Churches can be preoccupied with their own affairs but there is a very needy world outside the church building.  Stott says that “mission arises from the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.”   In other words, the church should be characterized by suffering service, akin to the attitude expressed by Mother Teresa who said that “Love means to be willing to give until it hurts.”  

Today, Stott claims that too many don’t understand suffering service because that has been overshadowed by the unbiblical prosperity gospel [which focuses on devout Christianity equaling personal success].  The cross calls us to “mission”, meaning that we are called to individual and family sacrifice, helping others over our own economic security, solidarity and empathy for the poor, and renouncing the idea that our wealthy culture is better than any other culture.  Stott writes that each of these ideas lead to a death of sin in us and a life dedicated to others who need our help

Related to mission in the world is the desire to work for social justice in the world.  When we see basic human rights being denied, it is our job to work to correct that injustice.   Stott lists many examples [of which I will give a few]: political injustice [the subjugation of minorities], racial injustice [discrimination against people based on race or color], sexual injustice [the oppression of women].  The church can let this injustice stand but if we love people, we care about how they are being treated.  It is our obligation to change institutional structures that inhibit the development of people.  “Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean His creatures” [285]. 

As I get ready to conclude this post and wrap my discussion Chapter 11, I have to ask what is our “sphere or service.”  I am reminded of the great commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”  Matthew 28:19-20a.  When one considers these words it sounds like Christians have a lot of work to do.

Stott would agree; work in the family, the church and the world.

*Of course, a Christian can ignore the urging of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in the family, the church and the world.  That is why I wrote “can.”

**We often think of Apostle Paul’s list in Galatians 5: 22-23 but one can argue that “Godly work” done in the family, the church and the world is also “fruit.”

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