The original twelve disciples apparently found themselves debating their pecking order fairly often. Instead of being humbled in the presence of the divine, they squabbled over which of them was second or third best. They openly vied for positions of power, authority, honor, and control. They seemed eager to have others serve them.
Meanwhile, when Jesus entered a home, walked down a road, or struck up a conversation, he was attentive to the needs, cares, and concerns of others. In his climactic statement on servanthood, he said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
1. Jesus teaches on service.
It’s fascinating that, in a sense, Jesus didn’t rebuke his disciples for wanting to be first or wanting to be great. Instead, he just turned the whole concept of greatness on its head: “If you want to be first, you have to be last; if you want to be great, you have to be servant of all.”
Life as a follower of Jesus isn’t about getting others to serve you. It’s certainly not about using whatever authority you do have to flex on those beneath you, forcing them to do whatever you want them to do. It’s about using your authority, agency, and resources to care for others’ needs as if they were your own.
Serving isn’t merely something Jesus followers do. We are servants. It’s a core part of our new identity. And therefore it’s a core part of our purpose. If we were designed to be servants of God and others, than we find purpose and meaning in doing just that.
2. Jesus models service.
If the disciples wanted to know what it meant to serve others, they needed only to imitate Jesus. When nobody else would budge from the Passover table, it was Jesus who got up, grabbed the towel, filled the basin of water, and washed their feet.
It was Jesus who laid aside his eternal, divine glory, took on human flesh, and was made in the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). It was Jesus who came for the express purpose of serving others – even to the point of offering his own life as a ransom to purchase our freedom.
Serving was central to Jesus’ life. And Jesus would serve without limits, even to the point of death on a cross. The size of Jesus’ service was limited only by the size of our needs.
3. Jesus removes barriers to service.
Naturally, we object to this kind of service. It’s too costly. Too messy. Too open-ended. Too scary. Too . . . whatever.
In reality, we’re just proud. Or apathetic. Or self-absorbed. Or lazy. We’re preoccupied with our own needs and wants, and often don’t even notice those of others.
But what does the example of Jesus – and what does the grace of Jesus – say to our objections? Does it not melt our arrogant self-absorption to see his limitless love? Does it not level the playing field with the realization that we all depend on Christ’s sacrificial service for our very salvation? Does not the promise of an eternal inheritance in Christ destroy both anxiety and selfish hoarding, so that we are free to serve and share our limited resources with others?
But what if you find that service still feels like more of a duty than a delight? Or what if you’re motivated, not by altruism, but by the applause and affirmation of others?
4. Jesus motivates and empowers service.
Remember what Jesus has done for you. Better yet, rehearse what Jesus has done for you. He didn’t pay your debts so you could hoard. He didn’t liberate you from bondage so you could run right back to the chains of selfishness. He didn’t adopt you into his family so you could blow off your siblings. He gave you grace upon grace so you could be inspired to serve others.
So receive the gifts of the Spirit and find actual wisdom and power to serve. First, receive his gift of a new heart. You are a whole new person, you have a new nature, you’ve experienced a new birth, by the Spirit. You’re not that apathetic, arrogant, or anxious person who doesn’t serve; you’re a servant of the Living God – and a servant of his people!
Second, receive the gifts and power of the Spirit that are uniquely designed to enable you to serve your church body. Instead of using your gifts for self-promotion, invest in equipping and encouraging others. Find joy and purpose in seeing God work through you for his glory and for the good of others.
1. Observe and ask about the needs of others.
Be attentive to discover what you can. But also ask others to tell you what’s not obvious to you. That’s what Jesus did: he constantly asked people what they wanted him to do for them. Don’t just drift through life focused solely on your own interests, but also learn about the interests of others.
2. Be thoughtful about how God has designed you.
Think about your story so far. Your interests. Your abilities. Your spiritual gifts. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy? What are you good at? Where do you sense God’s pleasure? How does your unique design fit into the puzzle of needs that surround you?
3. Do something.
Don’t try to do everything, but don’t do nothing. Serve at a sustainable pace. There are seasons of completely emptying yourself, but there are also seasons of rest and renewal. Be steadfast. Be reliable. Let people know they can count on you to faithfully do your thing.
4. Serve Jesus, not serving.
In all your serving, remember that you serve and are sustained by Jesus. Don’t let service itself become an idol, where it’s your real source of identity or affirmation. Let the nearness of God be your greatest treasure, and serve from the overflow of his life into yours.