Service: the second pillar of relationship

In continuing our series on the biblical principles of relationship, today we will cover the second pillar: Service.

We began this series by laying the foundation of the basis of human relationship with God, as a reflection of the relationship amongst members of the trinity, and of God with mankind. On top of that foundation rests three pillars: Character, Service, and Trust. These pillars, together with a sturdy foundation, support healthy interpersonal relationships.

Three pillars of relationship graphic - cropped

In keeping with the story of Jacob and Rachel, we already established that God had to bring Jacob out of his comfort zone to ready him for a conversion experience that would establish his personal relationship with God (the foundation) and then begin the process of building Jacob’s character (the first pillar).

Having grown up under the care of a manipulative mother, and then having developed these traits in himself to the point of causing his brother to want to kill him, Jacob had no choice but to escape from the promised land to the land of Separation, which is the literal translation of Luz. This is where God showed him a vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder reaching to heaven, which represents the communion between heaven and earth, and between God and mankind.

God was no longer just the God of Jacob’s father, but also Jacob’s own.

This was just the beginning for Jacob. The foundation had been laid.

After meeting Rachel, the woman who would become his wife, he would experience what some might call karma. His father-in-law tricked him into marrying the first daughter, Leah, although it was the younger daughter whom Jacob loved. The deceiver is deceived.

Jacob was soon given the younger daughter as well, but at the cost of a total of fourteen years of service to Laban.

This brings us to the second pillar of relationship: Service. Prior to Jacob’s conversion he served only himself. After his experience we begin to see a life marked by service to others.

When Jacob first met Rachel at the well where her flocks were to be watered, his first act toward her – even before he announced himself or his intentions – was to remove the heavy stone from the well for her sheep. Prior to that, his conversation with the other shepherds revealed that the stone over the well was so heavy they waited until all had gathered so that they could combine their strength to move the stone together.

This is interesting in that the bible points out the physical differences between Jacob and his brother Esau. In the comparison that is made we learn that Esau was a manly man. He was a skilled hunter, and presumably strong (Genesis 25:27a). Jacob, however, stayed “among the tents” (Genesis 25:27b), and as a result was weak in body and spirit.

How then, did he have the strength to move the stone when it normally took at least three shepherds (three were waiting by the well and they were still waiting for more to come before they could move the stone)?

Whether Jacob experienced a physical transformation as a result of his 400 mile journey, or because of the adrenaline rush at seeing the love of his life across the field, this physical transformation from weakness to strength is a representation of a greater inner transformation from selfishness to service.

Jacob and RachelThe physical exertion of the act of moving the stone was nothing compared to the end result of gaining Rachel’s love. Likewise, when Jacob promised his uncle, Rachel’s father, that he would work for him for seven years to earn Rachel’s hand, the years “seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).

Serving God and serving others is not meant to be slavery, but freedom. When the prize is love, it hardly seems like service at all.

We also see a shift in Jacob’s character and motivation to serve after Rachel is given to him and the second deal with Laban is made to work an additional seven years. The first seven years required Jacob to serve first and then earn his prize; however, Jacob served the second seven years after he attained his prize.

In this we see two very different, but corresponding motivations for service: result and response. Jacob was well-versed at serving for the purpose of bringing about a particular result. He served his brother stew for his birthright. He served his father meat for the blessing. He served Rachel for her kiss. And he served Laban for Rachel.

After Jacob was deceived and humbled, he was given Rachel in exchange for the promise to work another seven years. And so, he didn’t need to work to gain her hand in marriage this time around. His second seven years of service became a response to the blessing.

Our service to God and to others should always be considered a response to God. It is an outpouring of ourselves, an act of worship, and a characteristic of spiritual maturity.

Wm. Paul Young, in his book “The Shack,” exemplifies this concept beautifully. In the book, the trinity is represented by three characters in human form: the Father is a matronly black woman; the Son is a carpenter; the Holy Spirit is a waif-like woman flittering about like a butterfly.

These three characters interact with each other throughout the book, doing normal things such as cooking dinner and gardening. Each of their interactions involves service to one another in some way. Jesus washes the Father’s feet. Jesus and the Holy Spirit do the dishes together, and so on.

“Relationships are never to be about power,” the character representing the Holy Spirit explains, “and one way to avoid the will to hold power over another is to choose to limit oneself – to serve.”

We must limit ourselves to serve others, the way that Jesus limited himself by walking on earth and living and dying as a human, and the way that God continues to limit himself by reaching from eternity into time to have communion with His creation.

Jacob gave up his independence because of his love for Rachel. When we give up bits of ourselves for others through acts of service, we are actively turning our backs on our “insane lust for independence” (Young, pg. 143), the very thing that got us into this mess in the Garden of Eden.

Selfishness comes from a place of fear, and the desire to take from others is a response to a wounded paradigm that paints a picture of freedom, but can only be seen through the lens of bondage. We are too broken, and we have become to accustomed to notice that the lens is skewing our perceptions! As sinful humans, we continually act out of our brokenness, but service is the one thing that removes us from these shackles and allows us to experience relationship with others in the same way we are to experience relationship with God. Service removes pretenses, humbles us, and exposes us to greater purposes beyond ourselves.

Is it any wonder this is a requirement to truly love others?

It is in this place where we can freely exercise trust in God, and through that trust in others and in ourselves, which we will be discussing next time in Trust: the third pillar of relationship.

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Abigail Easton is the author of Prodigy and Heart of Grace.

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