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What makes the church beautiful? The Bible tells the original love story of a damsel in distress who was trapped in the clutches of a serpentine foe. Emboldened by genuine love for her, her righteous Hero laid down His life in unhesitant sacrifice for His bride, fighting that dragon of old in a duel to the death, while His beloved stood helplessly by, watching and weeping. Death—our mortal foe—would seem to have won. But death did not win. It could not win. Death was conquered by the resurrection of Jesus, the hero of our story and the original hero copied by every worthwhile love story since.
But the gospel is far more than just a story; it is history. Only the One worthy of eternal life could defeat death and rescue us from the insatiable flames of hell and eternal wrath of God, and thus safely bring us into the “happily ever after” of heaven itself and eternal fellowship with God. That is why our hero entered into our story—into history. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), thus freeing us to love Him and all that He loves.
Paul’s language in Galatians 5:13–15 addresses the idea of serving one another through this lens of gospel freedom. According to the old hymn, Jesus has “hushed the law’s loud thunder; he has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.” Jesus satisfied all that God demands: perfect righteousness. But Jesus also yielded Himself up in a loving sacrificial death upon another trembling mountain—Calvary. There He served our death sentence. There He fought for us and won our freedom and our hearts. And it was there that He taught us how to serve one another—in love. Simply put: we are to love and serve one another because we have been first loved and served by Christ Himself.
Paul does not see our serving one another as an arduous duty driven by guilt, fear, or manipulation. To the contrary, it is the beautiful freedom of the liberty heroically purchased for us by Christ in the gospel that drives our serving one another. The gospel teaches us that we are no longer slaves to sin, as sin’s guilt and power have been defeated by Christ. We are now free, but free for what?
This is Paul’s point: we are free, but not to use our freedom to serve our old fleshly master that harshly enslaved us. That would be returning to bondage in the dragon’s foul lair. Instead, we are free to love and serve the One who saved us, and we do this through the way in which we freely love and serve one another. The Christian’s freedom is vividly expressed when we use our freedom in Christ to serve others in Christ. When we serve one another, we dramatically embody what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. We participate in Christ’s display of His love toward His church. We also demonstrate that we do not belong to the world and are thus not enslaved by its selfish passions, thereby testifying even to those outside the church that true freedom is in Christ. The church is thus a theater of redemption, service, and love as it lives out the gospel before a world that is still enslaved by sin, selfishness, and unbelief.
Serving the church is not always easy because the church is not always beautiful in our eyes. Sometimes she can appear rather unlovely and unlovable. The imperfection of the church’s members is real and can discourage our service. It is for this reason that I would implore you to look at the church the way Christ sees her—with a beauty and glory that reflects His own. The church is beautiful because of who she is in Christ. Loving Christ means loving what He loves, and there is great spiritual joy and refreshment in laying down our lives for others.
Serving Christ means using our gospel freedom to serve that which Christ loved enough to purchase with His blood. That is why the church is beautiful and why serving her is a glorious privilege.