Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Sweetest Juice

There is an oriental proverb which says, "The first juice that flows from the grapes, is always the sweetest; crushed grapes are sure to give out the flavor of the skin." Recently my eyes fell upon this proverb and it set me to thinking. How many sermons nature preaches to us! How many things in the spiritual world, have their counterpart in natural things! When I thought of the sweet, luscious grapes cast into the wine press, bursting of their own weight and the sweet juice running out without the application of external pressure, I thought of the difference between two kinds of service.

I thought how many Christians are urged on to service by a feeling of duty. I remembered how many times in my own life I had felt that I ought to do something, or that I must do something and had acted from that consideration. To be sure, there is a blessing in even that kind of service. There is the sense of having done one's duty. There is the sense of having filled God's requirement. There is a sense of being blameless in the matter. 

But ah, how much richer and sweeter and fuller the service that is the outpouring of love, the service that flows out by itself from a heart bursting with love that pent-up love which, when it reaches out and finds an avenue of service, delights in that service! How the heart is enriched by doing such service! How love rejoices at the opportunity! How the joy-bells are set ringing!

On the other hand, the service that is "squeezed out" is like the wine when the powerful pressure is applied to the grapes. There is a different flavor in the wine; there is a different flavor in the service, and that different flavor detracts from the quality, both of the wine and of the service. Service that is based on duty is always in a measure compulsory, but service that is the out-flowing of love runs ahead of duty and is always free. It feels no compulsion, but the compulsion of desire. It is its food to do the will of the Father, its delight to anticipate his will. It seeks opportunity to expend itself. It does not have to be coerced nor constrained. There is no reluctance in it.

Paul laid down a basis for acceptable service saying, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:7-8). 

Here we find three elements that enter into service, or three kinds of service. Paul is applying it especially to giving, but the principles apply to every kind of service. We are to give as we purpose in our hearts, but this purposing may be in three different ways: 

1. It may be grudgingly, that is reluctantly, with a feeling that we would be glad if we did not have to do it; that we would be glad if God did not ask it, or that we would be glad if there were no necessity of its being done. Such a disposition of mind would prefer that there were no need for service, but since there is to be service, it will give, but it would prefer to withhold.

There are so many who serve in this way. There are things that must be done for the cause of Christ. There is need of accomplishment, but the lips and if not the lips, then perhaps the heart, says, "Oh, I wish it did not have to be done"; or, "I wish someone else would do it." However, even then they may purpose to do it since it has to be done, but there is little joy or sweetness in such service.

2. Again, there is the service of necessity, a feeling that if I do not do certain things, then God will condemn me and my conscience will condemn me, or my brethren or my neighbors will condemn me; and so, to retain God's favor and the approval of my conscience and the confidence of my fellow men, I feel under the necessity of giving or serving, and thus I serve. 

How many people there are who do things because they feel that they cannot be easy in their conscience if they do not! Well, they have their reward, even for such service. It is the reward of an approving conscience. But how little either of these two forms of service is acceptable, either to God or to ourselves! We have within ourselves a consciousness that such a service is not the kind of service that can be freely given or freely received. It is better than no service, but how much better service than this we are capable of giving!

3. The third sort of service which men purpose to give is expressed this, "God loves a cheerful giver." It is the unforced giving, the uncompelled service, that enriches both the server and the one served. Cheerful, ready, willing service brings immediate reward but such service is never done with a view to receiving the reward, for the service is counted higher than the reward. 

But there is something that lies behind willing service. This is set forth in the eighth verse: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." Willing service has a background of grace, and that is just the reason willing service is always an easy service. The task may be difficult; it may require the exertion of all our powers and determined perseverance; but if there is a willing mind, then the service is easy, because the ease of the service lies in the willingness with which we undertake the task. 

Often service is hard because there is lack of grace, and grace is lacking because willingness is lacking; but if there first is a ready mind to serve then grace makes service easy. God is able to make all grace abound toward us, and he will do so if there is the ready mind and the open heart to receive it. 

But the reluctant mind is a barrier to grace that leaves the heart void. Whatever service may be rendered is a compulsory service, a wine that has in it the taste of the skins of the grapes.

What is the voice that speaks in our heart today? What does it say to us? The sense of duty says, "I must." Grace and love say, "I may." In the one case is the urgent necessity, in the other case, is the glad joy of love because its desire is gratified. Which voice is in your heart? Which prompts you to action? Is it I must or I may?

[Charles Naylor]