The Call is to Serve… Them, Too

One of the defining qualities of Jesus is His servanthood. Maybe the most vivid picture of His service comes in John 13 when instead of choosing a place of honor at the last meal with His friends, He took up the towel and basin and washed the dirty, dusty, well-worn feet of His followers.

But He wasn’t just washing feet; He was giving a tangible example for His followers:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).

Jesus did not hold onto his rights; Jesus did not demand his privilege; Jesus did not claim unjust treatment. He served, and He left that example of service for us to follow.

Now when we think about service, we usually think in terms of the work to be done. That’s a fine perspective to have – we look in our homes and ask what job might I do around the house. We look at the church and see which ministry needs our help. We look around at work and see what a task which is not pretty and will receive no acclaim needs doing and we volunteer. We do these things not only because they need to be done, but because we are following the example of Jesus.

But in addition to thinking about the specific “thing” that needs to be done, we also ought to consider the people who we are serving, and this is where it gets a little stickier. We serve in the nitty gritty at home for the sake of our spouses and children whom we love. We serve in the church, even if the job is thankless, because we have a great affection for God’s people. We serve at work because we believe in the mission and respect our coworkers.

But while service is a good thing in and of itself, we should be careful that our acts of service are not limited by the objects of our service.

Jesus taught us about service in another of the gospels, this time in Matthew 20. In that passage, Jesus was caught up in an argument instigated by the mother of James and John who wanted some assurances that her boys would be given a place of prominence in the kingdom Jesus was bringing. That request caused an argument to erupt in the other disciples, all of whom wanted to secure their own place of importance. This is how Jesus responded:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).

Here’s the thing, and the thing that points us to the objects of our service – the disciples who heard this teaching looked around, and who did they see? Who were the people there looking back at them? Who were the people most directly in their path to serve?

They were their competitors.

This is the call of Jesus – it is to not only serve those you love, those you respect, or those who are comfortable to serve – it is to serve those people who would gladly take your service as an opportunity to advance themselves. This was the attitude of the disciples that day. They were so fixated on improving their own station that they would gladly step on anybody who was foolish enough to lower themselves.

And here we see the truly counter-cultural call of Jesus. Too often we willingly serve, but we secretly do so based on the idea that serving will have some earthly benefit added to us. Our reputation will be enhanced, the compliments will flow, and we will be thought well of. But the call of Jesus is not to serve so that we might receive some kind of acclaim for doing so; indeed, it is to serve with the full knowledge that our service might actually be taken advantage of.

When we make that choice, we are truly following the way of Jesus. And we are trusting that the kind of greatness that Jesus offers is nothing like the kind of greatness we find on the earth.

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