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JESUS CAME TO SERVE, NOT TO BE SERVED…TO GIVE, NOT TO TAKE.
We live in a “volunteer cheque” culture. In Edmonton, if you have young kids in activities you are often required to write a cheque ($50, $75 or $100) that will only be cashed if you do NOT volunteer. This obviously has a helpful effect in getting parents to step up and be involved at some level, but it also produces a “lowest common denominator” approach to volunteerism: “What’s the least I can do and still get my cheque back.” I usually volunteer to bring orange slices once and hope that it’s enough for them to deem me worthy. This is the culture we live in, but this is NOT the culture of the Kingdom of God.
The Biblical analogy that compels me more and more as I think about what church is meant to be is that of family. In 1 Timothy, Paul calls the church the “household of God.” Serving makes sense and brings joy as we increasingly see ourselves not as springs or gears in a machine but rather as loved children of the Father blessed with the privilege and called to the responsibility of being in his household. Families that work well share an understanding that the tasks of life are shared, and the load feels light as everyone works together.
Serving is the most practical way to follow Jesus.
One day Jesus said to his disciples: “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” (Matthew 20:25-28). In the world greatness is determined by the number of people that are serving me. In the Kingdom of God this is exactly flipped around: greatness is determined by the extent to which I see myself as a servant to others.
This passage says that Jesus knew that “the Father had put all things under his power” and he was spending time with his twelve closest friends and followers, those who saw him as the ultimate Rabbi, the Messiah and ultimately their “Lord.” Yet he chooses to turn the org chart upside-down and take the role of a servant among them. In the hot, dry climate of the Middle East, before running water and Dove soap had been invented, in the midst of 12 twenty-somethings wearing sandals, Jesus puts a towel around his waste and begins to wash their feet, a task so degrading it would never be expected of family members if there was a servant around. And Jesus sums up his act simply by saying that we should do the same.
Serving starts with simply helping out.
Later on in the New Testament we learn that God is not creating a machine, but rather creating a family, a body. Every follower of Jesus has been gifted in unique ways to strengthen the church, and the call on every follower of Jesus is to put those gifts into practice today. These gifts are unique to us and given at the Father’s discretion. Paul describes them as different angles or sections of his grace for us to share. They flow from his grace and fit together with the details of our lives and the uniqueness of our personalities and passions.
That being said, we are part of a family, and in families a whole lot of work needs to get done whether someone feels it is their “calling” or not. To this day I have never yet met a person who likes cleaning up puke, but when someone pukes on the rug someone’s gotta clean it up. Families work together to get the work done. I believe we should walk together with those we “church” with to explore the particular ways that God has gifted us, but I also believe we should start with an attitude and outlook of “How can I help?” and “I’ll do whatever I can!”
This approach will get us into the environment where we can discover the specifics of our gifting and, as one of my friends said to me last week, it will not devastate our destinies! I believe God has big, amazing, world-altering plans for every single person who surrenders their life to him. And cleaning a mess off the floor might just be the first step towards discovery.
Serving in community builds community.
Jesus lived in tight community, and he served in tight community. So tight was his community that he literally stripped down to his underwear as he prepared to wash his disciples feet, a detail we rarely emphasize. There was nothing inappropriate about this intimacy. Rather, it serves as a sign to us that Jesus did not keep “professional distance” from those he walked this earth with. He allowed himself to be known and desired to know others. There’s nothing wrong with helping as a peg in a hole of a massive organization that is doing good things. But in the example of Jesus we see that serving is meant to happen first within our spiritual family.
And when we do this—when we serve in community—it builds community. Just two chapters later Jesus says to his disciples that he no longer calls them servants; now he calls them friends.
This is what happens when we serve in community: we become friends. I can honestly say that my best friends in the whole world continue to be those with whom I have worked together in serving Jesus. When we dream together with others about Kingdom ideas and then work together to pull them off, it so often results in deep, life-giving, blessed friendship.
Serving brings God’s blessing to all involved.
Obviously when we choose to carry ourselves with a giving posture, others get blessed by being around us. It’s basic math. If you give me $20 I’ll be $20 better off. But the amazing, upside-down mystery of the Kingdom is that it blesses the giver even more. At the end of this story, Jesus says simply, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Along with the blessing of community, God brings his maturity and fullness when we unselfishly serve. I see teaching as one of the primary ways that God has gifted me to be involved in the Kingdom, and I have to tell you that he grows me up 100 times faster when I’m preparing to teach the Bible than when I’m simply reading the Bible to grow personally.
If you follow Jesus, God has a unique and critical role for you to play, so open your eyes and ask around: “How can I help?”
On-Ramps: Ways to step in this week
- Ask God to give you the same attitude as Jesus.
- Ask one of the leaders at your church to talk and pray with you about finding your fit in the Kingdom.
- Intentionally look for “how can I help” opportunities in your church, neighbourhood and city, and respond to them by serving like Jesus.