As I pumped $1.88 a gallon gas on State Line in Texarkana recently, pleased that I was getting a bargain, I had an involuntary remembrance that flooded in from many years ago. I was a kid just beginning to drive a car, pausing at the Spur station on North West Avenue in El Dorado, Ark. I asked the uniformed, bow-tied attendant for a dollar’s worth of gas. It was 12 cents a gallon. The man pumped the gas, washed my windshield, front and back, evaluated things under the hood and checked all the tires, asking if he should check the spare. Then, in my recollection, he gave me a handful of little coupons to save up for a table service for Mother. They were giving away really pretty cups, saucers and plates for a collection of the coupons. So I could come close to filling the old Chevy up for that dollar while making substantial progress towards a nice gift for Mother.
Because of that memory, I started thinking about the word “service” as in “service station” and “table service.” That word goes way back, with versions in Old English, Old French and Latin. In some cases, it had the connotation of “slave” and in some, “ceremony,” as in serving some entity through ritual. I remember signing up for my tour of duty in the service, not thinking much about whom or what I would serve. I had no high, altruistic ideas about what I was doing; I just did not know at that point what else to do. When I was sworn in down in Shreveport, however, I suddenly understood what it meant: I was agreeing to serve with all that is within me, even my life itself.
As to serving with one’s whole being, the New International Version of the Bible uses the word “service” in Romans 12, where Paul explains that giving our bodies as a living sacrifice to God is our spiritual service. The King James Version calls it our reasonable service. It amounts to the same thing, though, doesn’t it? Giving all that is within us (our spirits as well as our reason) is the Christian’s true service.
We call what happens in a church building a service because it is there we make such a commitment: a promise to be doers and not hearers only. Plus the word “service” has to do with ceremony, as I observed above—serving through ritual or liturgy. In what way is singing hymns or praise songs in a church building an act of service? Scripture teaches that the Lord inhabits the praises of his people. The word “praise” is related to the word “prize.” Thus, we show how much we prize our God by singing about and to Him—that is one aspect of service. I cannot imagine why God likes to hear me sing. Neither can I understand why he likes the music of many Christian meetings I have attended. Nevertheless, scripture teaches that He does like it enough to be in attendance. So we should try to sing as beautifully as possible with the equipment we have been given.
True service, though, happens outside the four walls of the church building, doesn’t it? We could ask Mother Teresa, the Good Samaritan or Jesus Himself about that.