March 1-2, 2003
Can You Hear Me Now?
Part 4: Acts of Service


ILL: One day as Mother Teresa was working in the slums of India dressing the wounds of a dying leper, an American tourist asked permission to take a photograph.  The tourist, observing the tenderness with which Mother Teresa dressed the leper’s wound, said, “Sister, I wouldn’t do what you are doing for ten million dollars!”  And Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I, my friend.” 

Why did she do it?  Love.  The Bible says that one of the primary ways we show love to others is by serving them. So one of our five love languages is acts of service: doing what others want done for them.   That’s what we’re talking about today.


ILL: A few weeks ago I told you about an experience I had in Guatemala in 1993.  Rick and I and Chris Sheeran, a missionary from our church, were in a tour group with a French couple, a German couple, a Spanish man, and our two Guatemalan guides. The Spaniard served his country as an ambassador, and was multilingual.  In fact, he carried on a conversation with the French couple in French, with the German couple in German, with the Guatemalans in Spanish, and with us in English—all at the same time, from one language to another. It was amazing. He had also served in China and knew Mandarin Chinese.  He spoke five languages fluently.  He was the only guy in the boat who could communicate with everyone. He was amazing. I don’t speak French, German or Spanish—just English…barely.  I could communicate with my 2 friends, and that was it.  I was pathetic!  I wished I could be like that Spaniard—five languages, able to communicate with everyone in the boat.

Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book, The Five Love Languages, says that just like we all speak different verbal languages, everyone also has a love language—a preferred way to receive love and express love. He says that there are five love languages.

  • Words of affirmation.
  • Quality time.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Acts of service.
  • Physical touch.

If I tell you that I love you in English but you only speak Hebrew, you probably won’t get the message.  In the same way, if I communicate love with words of affirmation, but you prefer acts of service, you may not get the message. If we want to communicate love with everyone in our boat, with each of the important people in our lives, we need to become multi-lingual in love.  We need to learn their love languages, each of the five love languages well enough to love anyone God puts in our boat.

We’ve talked about words of affirmation, quality time, and receiving gifts. The fourth love language is acts of service.


1. Love Language #4: Acts of service.

How many of you love it when someone:

  • Fixes you a special meal?
  • Does all the clean up after dinner?
  • Washes and vacuums out your car?
  • Picks up the dog poop in the yard?
  • Makes your bed?
  • Helps you with your homework?
  • Changes your baby’s dirty diaper?
  • Helps you clean the house?
  • Opens the door for you?
  • Takes a bunch of work off your desk and says, “Here, let me do that”?

If those kinds of things fill your love tank, maybe your love language is acts of service.  Thousands of people communicate love by doing nice things for people, or receive love when others do those things for them.  It’s a very common way to express love.

Jesus expressed His love for His friends this way.  The story is found in John 13. 

John 13:1-17  It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

It is the last night of Jesus’ life. He shares one last meal with his friends—in fact it is often called “the last supper.”  Now it was customary at a dinner like this to have a servant who would welcome the guests and wash their feet.  The roads and streets were very dusty, and everyone wore sandals, so feet got dirty, and it was a customary courtesy to wash your guests’ feet.  Today, we’d offer to hang up your jacket, offer you something to drink, ask if you’d like to freshen up and point you to the bathroom (although we probably wouldn’t go in there with you and wash your hands for you).  Courtesies.  But there was no servant in the upper room, and so Luke tells us that the men began to argue about who was the greatest.  Who will wash the feet?  “It’s not my job.  I shouldn’t have to do it?”  Have you heard that before?  Each of the disciples had a reason why the job was beneath them:

  • Peter: “I’m the acknowledged leader here—top dog—I shouldn’t have to do it.”
  • Andrew: “My gift is evangelism. I bring people to Jesus. Washing feet is not my gift.”
  • James and John: “We’ve got the inside track on the vice-presidency—being Jesus’ right and left hand men. We shouldn’t do it.”
  • Judas: “I take care of the money—don’t ask me.”
  • Thomas:  “I doubt that I should do it.”

Each of them saw the job as too menial, too low, too humble to do—beneath them. 

And while they each argued their own greatness, Jesus got up, took the towel and basin, and without a word, knelt before the first man and began to wash his feet. I’ll bet it got real quiet as Jesus, God in the flesh, held their dirty smelly feet in His hands and gently washed and dried them.  The first person to speak was impetuous Peter.  “Lord, you can’t wash my feet.”  Peter knew who was the greatest.  “It’s not right Lord.  You shouldn’t wash my feet.” 

And Jesus said, “Peter, unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  There’s a double meaning—Jesus was talking about more than just dirty feet.  He was talking about our hearts.  “Peter, unless you let me wash you clean—not just your feet, but your heart—inside—we can’t be partners.” 

And I love Peter’s response.  “Then Lord, not just my feet, but my head and hands as well.  Wash all of me!”  I want that to be my response too: “Wash all of me!”

And when Jesus was done, He told them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  Serve each other.  Clean up.  Do the dishes.  Take out the garbage. Wash their feet. Serve each other.

But look again at verse 1.  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” That is John’s introduction to this story.  Jesus showed them the full extent of his love.  How? By washing their feet. By serving them. This is how Jesus showed them His love. And then He said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”  You should show your love for others by acts of service.

Acts of service are one of the primary ways we express and receive love.  And every Christian is expected to learn this love language.

Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If you are a Jesus-follower, you are to be a servant. You follow the example of your master and serve and give your life for others.  The greatest in God’s view are those who serve others. Of course, this kind of loving is difficult.  It goes against the grain of two deep things: my pride and my selfishness. And that makes it hard—a hard language to learn.  I don’t want to serve you.  I don’t want to wash your feet, make your bed, do your dishes.  In fact, I think you ought to do that for me!  It goes against our grain.  But every Christ-follower is called to serve.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

So Jesus spoke this love language—fluently—and calls His followers to master it as well.

Here are some ideas.


A. Acts of service are doing things for other people that they would like you to do.

Look on the back of your outline.  There is a list of ideas that you turned in last weekend—acts of service that communicate love.  There are some great ones on there.  I really like:

  • Warm your spouse’s side of the bed. (That’s service!)
  • Do the unpleasant tasks. What do you really dislike doing? Cleaning the bathroom? Changing the kitty litter? Ironing?  Changing the oil?  It’s different for everyone.  But doing that one thing that someone else hates doing can communicate love in a big way.
  • Respond when the church asks for help. That’s big time love, baby!

My wife likes the first one:

  • Open the door for others. When we were in Oregon last week, she said to me, “Did you notice that Rick always opens the door for Janine?” Why, no, I didn’t notice that—thank you for pointing that out, honey.  And thank you Rick for being such a good example!  Why do you think Laina likes me to open the door for her? She’s a strong healthy girl who can open her own doors—why does she want me to do it?  Because it says that I’m thinking of her, that she’s important to me, that I’m paying attention.  It’s not the door—it’s what it says. It says, “I love you.”

If your wife likes you open the door, then by all means, open the door for her!  But if she pushes you aside, and says, “Out of my way bucko; you’re slowing me down,” then you need to do something else.  And that’s the point here.  Acts of service that communicate love are doing the things that others want you to do. Find out what the other person wants and appreciates, and do that.

If you want to love people the way they want to be loved and need to be loved, you don’t do just anything—you do the things that they would like you to do. If Laina wishes that I would vacuum the house, and I empty the garbage, I’ve done a good thing, but it doesn’t make her feel loved.  It wasn’t what she really wanted.  But if I vacuum the house, then she feels like I’ve paid attention to her, that I’m tuned in to what she wants.  I’m loving her in her language.  So while any act of service is good, the one that really communicates love is doing the thing that the other person wants you to do.

But how do you know what that is?  Listen! Usually, they’ll drop hints, like, “Would you vacuum the house for me?”  Or maybe they are not so direct and they say, “I wish someone would vacuum the house for me.”  Or maybe even less direct, “Look how dirty the house is.”  Now maybe you’re the kind of guy whose idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.  You don’t pick up on the hints so well. You’re clueless. You truly have no idea of what your wife, or your husband or your friend really wants.  What then? 

Ask! Ask the other person what they would like you to do for them.  In fact, ask the other person to make a list for you.  (Dr. Chapman says that lists force you to think concretely.) Ask your spouse, or your friend, or your child, “Write down 3 or 4 things that I could do for you that would make you feel loved by me.”  Everyone’s list will be different, which is why it is important to ask.

So here’s the first suggestion: find out what the other person likes to have done for them. Listen.  Or just ask.  Then do the things they would like you to do.

Second idea:


B. Be a servant not a slave.

Some of you, especially those who are married to someone with this love language, might be thinking, “Oh great.  Just what I was hoping.  I get to be his domestic slave.”  Or, “Terrific!  I’ll just be her doormat.”  That’s not what this is about.  You should be a servant, but not a slave.  What’s the difference?

A servant is someone who chooses to serve out of love; a slave feels forced to serve out of fear or manipulation or guilt.  They may do the same thing but for very different reasons.  A servant offers, a slave is forced. I want to do this for you; I choose to do this for you.  That’s a lot different than I have to do this for you, or I’m forced to do this for you.  A servant serves with love; a slave serves with resentment. 

ILL: One lady said about her husband, “I have served him for twenty years.  I have waited on him hand and foot.  I have been his doormat while he ignored me, mistreated me, and humiliated me in front of my friends and family.  I don’t hate him. I wish him no ill, but I resent him, and I no longer wish to live with him.”  That wife has performed acts of service for twenty years, but they haven’t been expressions of love.  They were done out of fear, guilt and resentment.

It’s good to serve one another in love; it’s bad to be someone’s slave or doormat.  Don’t do that.  Have you ever heard this: “If you loved me you would do this for me”?  That’s not love; that’s manipulation by guilt.  Or how about this one?  “Do this or else.  Do this or you’ll be sorry.”  That’s not love either; that’s coercion by fear.  Doing things out of fear or guilt, being manipulated or coerced—that’s not love, that’s slavery.  And if you’re in a relationship where that kind of thing is happening, the loving thing to say is, “I love you too much to let you treat me this way. It’s not good for me or you.” Don’t be a slave or a doormat. But do serve out of love.

Here’s the other side of this coin.


C. Make requests not demands.

If you enjoy being loved by acts of service, make sure that you ask rather demand. When you demand things from others, they may do it, but it is no longer an act of love.  They feel forced, and resent doing it. They won’t enjoy it, and you won’t feel loved. 

If you receive love through acts of service, and those acts aren’t being done for you, it’s tempting to resort to making demands, but it will always be counter-productive.  Love is a choice, and cannot be forced or coerced.  I can’t make you love me.  I might be able to force you to do something for me, but it will never be an expression of love as long as it is forced.  Love is a choice.  You offer love; I can’t demand it.  So when I make demands, I may get my way, but I won’t get loved, which is what I really want.

Sometimes we make demands by criticism and nagging.  “Why don’t you ever mow the lawn?  You’re so lazy.”  Or, “I can’t find the children anywhere.  I think they may be playing in the yard, but I can’t find them because the grass is too tall.”  If you nag enough, you may get your way, but you won’t get loved. If he mows the lawn, but does it grumbling at you, does that make you feel loved?  Not at all.

Sometimes we make demands by giving ultimatums or even throwing tantrums. “Do it or else.” You get your way, but you don’t get loved.  It’s counterproductive.

Instead of criticism, nagging, threats, ultimatums, or tantrums, simply make requests. You may not always get what you want, but in the long run, you’re more likely to be loved.  Love is choice.  It can’t be demanded or forced.  So ask…and let them choose.

By the way, Dr. Chapman shares this wonderful insight.  My spouse’s or friend’s criticism about my behavior may provide the clearest clue about his/her primary love language.  People criticize most loudly in the area where they have the deepest emotional need.  

ILL: A few years ago, a couple in our church complained to me that our church was too big and impersonal.  “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, we think the pastors ought to visit people in their homes—you know, a home visitation ministry.”  For a couple months, every time I saw this couple, they repeated their complaint.

I mentioned this to a friend and said, “It’s starting to bug me. We can’t visit everyone in their homes.  And I can’t imagine that most people even want us to.”  My friend said, “Maybe this couple wants a home visit.  Maybe you don’t need to create a huge ministry to visit everyone—maybe you just need to visit them.”

So I did.  I scheduled a time to drop by for coffee.  We had a great time.  They never complained about that again.  Their criticism was a clue about their need.  They needed some quality time to feel loved.

Do you have someone—a spouse, a child, a friend—who is critical towards you?  Listen to those criticisms—they may be the clue you need to love that person the way they need to be loved.


2. What if a love language doesn’t come naturally to me?

Five love languages.  The truth is that we need some of all of them—we may prefer one or two over the others, but we need some of all of them.  We all need

  • some words of affirmation and
  • some quality time and
  • some gifts and
  • some acts of service and
  • some physical touch.

We all need some of each, but we also want more of one or two. 

In the same way, we all need to learn to speak all five languages.  Some will come more naturally than others. Some will be easy for us, others will be harder.  So, what if your spouse’s or kid’s or friend’s love language doesn’t come naturally for you?  Here’s what Dr. Chapman said:

I am often asked this question at my marriage seminars, and my answer is, “So?”

My wife’s love language is acts of service.  One of the things I do for her regularly as an act of love is to vacuum the floors. Do you think that vacuuming floors comes naturally for me?  My mother used to make me vacuum.  All through junior high and high school, I couldn’t go play ball on Saturday until I finished vacuuming the entire house.  In those days, I said to myself, “When I get out of here, one thing I am not going to do: I am not going to vacuum houses.  I’ll get myself a wife to do that.”

But I vacuum our house now, and I vacuum it regularly.  And there is only one reason I vacuum our house. Love. You couldn’t pay me enough to vacuum a house, but I do it for love.  You see, when an action doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.  My wife knows that when I vacuum the house, it’s nothing but 100% pure, unadulterated love, and I get credit for the whole thing!

Remember, love is a choice.  Love is doing what’s best for the other person no matter what it costs you.  Every day, we make choices to do things we don’t want to do, or do things that don’t come naturally for us.  We do it because it’s good or right or worthwhile.  If your spouse or friend’s love language isn’t easy for you, swallow hard and do it anyway.  And the more you do it, the more natural it will feel, and the easier it will become.

ILL: Friday night several of us were talking about our love languages.  One young lady who is engaged to be married said that her love languages are acts of service and receiving gifts.  Physical touch is number five for her.  When she said that, someone said, “But you and your fiancé hug a lot.”

She said, “I do it for him because I know that physical touch is his love language. It was uncomfortable at first, but I’m getting more comfortable with it.”

That’s love. Love is a choice. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs me.