What is the difference between serving in love and serving out of obligation? Merriam-Webster defines obligation this way: a formal contract, a promise, or the demands of conscience or custom that obligates one to a course of action, a duty.
When one serves out of obligation, it is a “have to” type of thing. On the other hand, when one serves another out of love, it becomes a “want to” action.
Jacob’s Vow of Obligation
On the way to his Uncle Laban’s, God gave Jacob a dream that renewed the covenant with him. God is always faithful to uphold the terms of the covenant. Humans, on the other hand, often fail. Even after this awe-inspiring dream, Jacob would only give conditional service.
Genesis 28: 20 Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. Jacob didn’t trust God completely and thus promised limited service to Him.
Serving out of Love
Even though Jacob was still going his own way, God pursued him. God began to address Jacob’s character issues. The first step for Jacob was serving his uncle. Jacob had to submit his will to the will of his uncle. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but he had no bride price. So, his Uncle Laban made a deal. If Jacob worked for seven years, he could marry Rachel.
This was a steep bride price, but because Jacob loved Rachel, the time seemed to go by quickly. Genesis 29: 20 So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days. These years of service were not out of obligation but out of his heart and his love for his bride.
God’s Training for Service
God gave Jacob this example of serving in love to teach him to serve Him out of love. Years later, Samuel would teach the people of Israel the same thing. 1 Samuel 12:20 “Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him… 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you.
God still does the same thing for us today. Too often, the organized church dictates that we work in obligation. It is easy to forget that the Lord desires a love relationship with us. He loved us first; as a result, we love Him and want to serve Him.
To hear more about serving in love, listen here:
[2-4] Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.