When I was a new Christian, perhaps a year or two into my walk with the Lord, I read an article that differentiated between serving the house of the Lord and ministering to the Lord Himself. The distinction was made between our activities to help and bless the church and the separate and higher calling of ministering to Jesus the Head of the church directly.
I believe one scripture the article referred to was from the Gospel of Luke, where we meet the prophetess Anna, who “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (Luke 2:37, NASB). Anna was held up as an example of someone ministering to God directly, through spiritual devotion, and not only serving “the house of the Lord” — the church.
At the time I read it, to minister directly to the Lord sounded like a deeply spiritual distinction, pointing out a higher calling. However, as I have served as Cuba Ministry Coordinator for the past three years, a foundational philosophy has been birthed in my heart: serving the church is ministering directly to Jesus Christ. There is no distinction. If you want to express love to Jesus Christ, you love His people. If you want to express gratitude to Jesus Christ, you bless His people. All of the love for the Lord that is bottled up within you, awaiting your face-to-face meeting with Him, He wants you to uncork right now and pour into the lives of His people.
This realization has helped me cope with the awareness that my sympathy, empathy, and concern for my pastor friends in Cuba will wane. They will do things I disagree with and my affection for them will dip. Collaborating with them will reveal weaknesses and even faults, causing me to admire them less. I know I cannot sustain that initial love for them that comes at the beginning of a relationship, when all I saw was their warmth and joy in the face of persecution and poverty. After three years the motivation of pity grows colder, and the motivation of esteem and admiration is tempered by an awakening to the fact that – surprise! the pastors in Cuba are human and struggle just like me.
But my ministry to them and my desire to bless them grows, even as my love and appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ grows, because by serving Cuban pastors I minister directly to the Lord Himself. This is a foundational philosophy of ministry that can sustain me even when my human love and compassion fail. And it is a foundational philosophy of ministry that is amply taught in scripture.
The Lord does not distinguish between acts done to Him and acts done to his followers.
On the road to Damascus, Saul is confronted by Jesus, speaking from heaven and calling him to account for his persecution of “the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1, NASB). The phrasing of the question Jesus asks is amazing; it is not “Why are you persecuting those who follow me?” but “Why are you persecuting Me?”
Saul had not been targeting just the “elite” Christians, the leaders or super-spiritual, but was bent on capturing and imprisoning “any belonging to the Way, both men and women” (Acts 9:2, NASB, emphasis added). It is humbling to realize the Lord completely identifies with His people — any and all of His people — in spite of our shortcomings and faults. Nevertheless, it is the truth. In Matthew 25:40 the Lord emphasizes this point by saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, event the least of them, you did it to Me” (NASB).
It therefore does not matter if you like or dislike the believer you are serving at any given moment, or if that brother of sister strikes you as being particularly “spiritual” or not; it is a plain fact of scripture that all ministry, service, helpfulness, kindness, and generosity you focus on that Christian is in fact ministry directed at the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We have His word on it, and should therefore rejoice that He has given us this tremendous opportunity to lavish our love on Him until we see Him face to face.