Serving God Is Not Equal to Serving Others

Luke 4:8I’ve been wrestling with some things this last week. I’ll save you the details because I’m still working out many of these things with God.  Yesterday, however, a friend posted a blog that resonated deeply with me.  (You can read it here.)  Many of her words could have been my own.

One part of her blog post that stuck with me was her reference to Jesus’ temptation and how it related to her own personal struggle.  I went to Luke 4:1-13 and decided to meditate on this familiar passage.  God knocked me off my feet when a phrase I had read countless times caught my eye:

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” (Luke 4:8, emphasis mine)

Hmm… I thought.  This says that God is the only one we are to serve.  But Scripture shows us in many other instances that we are to serve one another. Even Jesus told us to serve one another.  So how can we serve God only and still serve others?

My next train of thought was critical.  I wonder if the word “serve” in this verse is a different word in the original language from the word “serve” in the other contexts.

I pulled out my handy dandy Strong’s concordance and discovered that yes, in fact, those two words are different.  Then I began to look up every other instance in Scripture where each of these words is used.  I was blown away with what I discovered.

If you’re a nerdy person like me, I’m going to give you a brief explanation. If this is all “Greek to you” 🙂 then just bear with me a couple paragraphs.

The first instance of “serve” – where we are to serve God only  – is the Greek word latreuo.  The other instances of “serve” – where we are to serve others – is the Greek word diakoneo.  (A third word is also used – doulos – but this wasn’t my focus.)

What knocked me off my feet was that almost every instance in the New Testament where latreuo was used was in the context of serving or worshiping God (or worshiping an idol).  It was never used in the context of serving each other.  Diakoneo, instead, was the word primarily used in serving one another.

I’m still studying all of these verses in depth (I think I may have found my next Bible study!) but I’ll leave you with the initial takeaway I got from comparing these two words.

Serving God is not equal to serving others.  In other words, the way we are commanded to serve God is completely different from the way we are commanded to serve others.

Why is this significant?  Because sometimes I start “doing” things for God in an effort to “serve” him.  And as I’ve learned the hard way these last two weeks, when I begin to serve God in the same manner I serve others, my relationship with him slips.  Okay, slips is putting it nicely. It flat out tanks.

And I couldn’t understand that.  Why, if I’m doing all this for God, then do I feel farther away from him than ever?  Something isn’t right here, and I couldn’t figure it out.

I realized I had my “service” mixed up.  In my reading of these verses where these two Greek words were used, I saw that God never called us to serve him in the same way we are called to serve others.  God doesn’t need my service. He wants my worship. He wants my heart.  And only out of an overflow of serving him in that way will I ever be able to serve others in the way I am commanded.

What about you? Do you find yourself burning out trying to “serve God?”