“But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.” Romans 7:6 (NLT)
As we continue to look at the spiritual discipline of service, Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline distinguishes between what he calls “self-righteous service and true service”. In the verse that we are looking at today from Romans, Paul talks about us taking on a new way of living in the Spirit. In other words, not living by a set of rules but instead living in step with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. To me, that’s a big part of the distinction between self-righteous service and true service. Let’s look at a few things Foster says are part of self-righteous service.
The first point he makes is that self-righteous service is achieved through human effort. He goes on to say an enormous amount of time is invested in how to do this kind of service versus true service that comes from whispered urgings and promptings from the Holy Spirit.
Another self-righteous service is the big deal service – only serving when it’s something huge. True service serves wherever there is a need, no matter how big or small.
When external rewards are a requirement for serving, the service might be self-righteous. True service does not need or seek the applause of others.
Self-righteous service is concerned with results and reciprocation. I do something really impressive for you in the hopes that you will in turn impress me with what you’ve done for me. True service doesn’t look for results and serves both friend and enemy.
Another self-righteous service picks who will be the recipient of the service based on what it will look like to others. Serving the poor because we want to look humble or serving the rich because of what they could do in return are examples.
Self-righteous service comes when and if we feel like it. It’s based on feelings, not on need. It is also temporary. It’s insensitive, forcing service as opposed to waiting until the right time.
The final thing about self-righteous service is that it fractures community instead of building it. It uses manipulation to put others into its debt and to bring glory to the one doing the serving.
Spend some time with Jesus today asking Him to give you a true assessment of the role of service in your life. Probably for most of us, it will be a mixed bag of true and self-righteous service, but as we look to develop these disciplines more deeply in our lives, the Holy Spirit promises to guide us.
Executive Director of Education and Outreach