These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
— Matthew 10:5–8

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give ya dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
— Luke 14:12–14

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
— James 1:27

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
— Philippians 3:10

Have you ever received something for free?

Of course you have. We all have. But I’m talking about something good. Really good. Something totally unexpected, super generous, and without cost to you.

Without cost to you, but not without cost. Because anything free is never free. It cost somebody something.

Let’s face it: when we serve, it costs us something. It may cost us time, energy, resources or, usually, all of the above. Because of this, serving is not something we do lightly. It comes with a cost.

The gracious part of serving is that we don’t require repayment from those we serve. This was a message that Christ often preached in regards to serving. He instructed His disciples to serve without compensation. And He instructed them to do good to those who could not repay them. James, the brother of Jesus, reiterated this idea when he claimed that the sign of pure faith was service to orphans and widows — those without the means to repay.

In serving, we get a taste of the free nature of the gospel as well as the cost behind it. When we give away our service, we are, in a sense, giving away a part of our life in the same way that Jesus gave away His life. And when we serve, when we labor and toil on behalf of the one we are serving, we are reminded of the great cost that Jesus paid in order to give us His “free” gift of salvation. The grace of God, as Dietrich Boenhoeffer famously said, “cost God the life of His Son… and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

And thus, the cost of the “free” service we offer gets transferred from the recipient to us. The pain and inconvenience we sometimes feel in serving is a small taste of what Christ endured on our behalf. And this is part of knowing Christ: being connected to Him means being like in all aspects of Him, including His suffering.

When we serve someone, we are quite literally sharing the gospel with them through our actions. We experience the necessary pain and sacrifice in order that they may have a fuller life as a result. When we serve in this way, we are modeling for them the very gospel we seek to share. This is not an over-spiritualization. It’s faith in action.

So next time someone gives you something or does something for you for free, just remember that their gift to you cost someone something. Let’s be willing to bear that cost ourselves as we serve others in order to bless them and to show them the gospel lived out through our service.