“The 5 Love Languages: Acts of Service”

March 1, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
March 1, 2020

The 5 Love Languages: Acts of Service
John 13: 3-17

When many long-time church go-ers think of the Lenten season, we think of Jesus’ journey to the cross. That is what the 40 days (plus Sundays) leading up to Easter is generally about – it starts with Ash Wednesday reminding us that from dust we come and to dust we return – and it ends with Jesus in the grave on Good Friday and Saturday. The reason this season of Lent is so sacred is because it is one of self-reflection and sacrifice. We reflect on our own spiritual lives and what we are willing to do for our faith.

When the season of Lent is done properly, it can be deeply spiritual. At other times, it has done harm…
• For those who struggle with low self-esteem, the focus on sin becomes another reason to doubt God’s love
• People get mixed up about what sin really means – that it is personal and social – and reject the idea of sin altogether
• The deeply spiritual season can turn dour and morbid if misunderstood or handled poorly
• When we focus on the torment Jesus suffered instead of the love he lived, Lent becomes gruesome and perverse
As I was planning for Lent this year, it occurred to me that the whole idea of Lent is that Jesus’ life and death was all about self-giving love. This willingness to offer one’s self in love for the benefit of another reminded me of a New York Times bestselling book that has been reprinted again and again – “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman.

It seemed to me to be a fabulous sermon series for Lent – focusing on the ways we give and receive love from others and how to deepen our commitment to love selflessly. Chapman originally wrote the book for couples. It was so popular that he expanded his work to include all kinds of relationships, including those who are single and those in the workplace – whatever your situation, there is something about the love languages that will apply to you and the relationships you hold dear!

Each week, we will explore one of the 5 different kinds of Love Languages:
• Acts of Service
• Receiving Gifts
• Quality Time
• Physical Touch
• Words of Affirmation

Arguably, love is the most important word in the English language. But it can also be the most confusing. We are told that “love is a many-splendored thing” and that “love makes the world go ‘round”. Thousands of books, songs, magazines, and movies are centered around the word. Jesus certainly valued love and told us that it was to be the distinguishable characteristic of his followers: “Love God with your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself”. The Apostle Paul wrote a lovely poem about the nature of love that is read at many weddings 2,000 years later.

This word permeates human society, but it is a confusing word. You are supposed to love your mate, but you may also love tacos and hamburgers. You may love your child with your whole heart, but you also may say that you love a car or a movie, a school or nature. We do all kinds of things that we call love but are unhealthy behaviors –
– A spouse cheats with another person and says they are in love, but it is cheating…
– A parent indulges a child who is poorly behaved and calls it love, but it is irresponsible…
– A friend picks up the pieces after an alcoholic’s drunken escapade, but it is really codependency…

We are going to focus this Lenten season on the kind of self – giving love that is essential to our spiritual and emotional health. This is the kind of love that Jesus exemplified in his life and taught his disciples to share with the world.
Today’s love language is “Acts of Service”. Jesus gave a simple but profound illustration of expressing love by an act of service when he washed the feet of His disciples. In a culture where people wore sandals and walked on dirt roads, it was customary for a slave to wash the feet of guests when they arrived. However, Jesus took it upon himself to do this task when he took a basin and a towel and washed the feet of his own followers… and then encouraged them to treat others in the same way.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
John 13:3-17

Such actions as cooking a meal, vacuuming, taking out the trash, changing a baby’s diaper, painting a bedroom, washing a car, mowing the grass, or changing the cat’s litter box are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If they are done with a positive spirit, they are expressions of love.
This is not just limited to things we do in the home. You may notice someone in your workplace doing some act of service – washing other people’s coffee cups, making certain the lights are off in unused rooms, taking out the over-flowing trash, picking up crumbs from the floor. They often do these things unnoticed. They are offering love to their co-workers by acts of service. (People whose job it is to do these things may be in the position because they choose to do that service full-time. And people who hold other positions may choose to do these things as an act of service for their co-workers. It is all about the spirit and intention with which they do the act.)

Jesus said that those who are great would serve others. The life of service has always been recognized as a life worthy of emulation. We can all probably recall people from history who viewed their vocation as a calling to serve – from physicians to national leaders to educators to missionaries to explorers. Service to others is a great aspiration. Some even give their life for it.

Albert Schweitzer, who became famous serving the poor of Africa as a physician many years ago said repeatedly, “As long as there is a man in the world who is hungry, sick, lonely or living in fear, he is my responsibility.”

Of course, we all have different love languages. In relationships, we may give love in one language and the other person may prefer to receive love in another language. This is where the sacrificial part comes in. When we love someone, we offer ourselves in ways that are not our normal pattern. So, if “acts of service” is their love language – we may choose to do things to show love.

My husband Eric is an act of service kind of guy. Before I pull myself out of bed in the morning, it is not unusual for him to have: done laundry, cleaned the kitchen, fed the dogs, worked in the garage, cleaned the cars, or some other major task around the house. He almost always does the vacuuming. Okay, he always does the vacuuming. I hate vacuuming. It’s not so much that he loves it. He loves me. This is his love language. If I want to show him how much I love him, I should pay attention to what he is doing – and give it back to him. He really appreciates it when I take care of little things behind the scene to help. Ironically, I have a different love language (and this is typical of most married couples). I love to give gifts! Eric doesn’t care too much about gifts.

The point is that when we love someone – our spouse or a friend or someone else – we need to learn their love language and show our love in that way. So, here is the Lenten challenge this week….

Instead of giving up something for Lent like chocolate or meat, I would suggest that you add something for Lent! Add a loving action. Think about the people in your life and consider which person might need a bit of service…. And then do an act of service for them with love. If you’re ambitious, do several. And then, would you please drop me an email and let me know about it? I won’t mention you by name, but I would love to hear what is happening in your life and how this series is helping us all love more effectively.

Resources Used:
Chapman, Gary & White, Paul. “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace; Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2019.
Chapman, Gary. “The Five Love Languages; How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2004.
Chapman, Gary. “The 5 Love Languages; Singles Edition”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2017.