During the 2014 final four NCAA basketball tournament, one of the coaches of the final four teams was asked about his team’s success. He replied, “We have a motto on our team. Good people do for themselves; great people do for others.”
Jesus is teaching something similar to His team (the disciples) in today’s text. The mother of James and John approached Jesus one day with a request on behalf of her boys. She was a “helicopter mom,” one who hovers over her children. Her request was rather self-serving and inappropriate in its context for Jesus had just revealed that He would be killed in Jerusalem. She broke in anyway and asked Jesus to make her sons vice presidents in His Kingdom. Of course, Jesus refused.
When the disciples heard His conversation, they became very angry at James and John because they wanted the same thing. It was almost like a playground fight. But Jesus stepped in and diffused the situation before things boiled over. He used it as a teachable moment. “. . . the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” In God’s kingdom, greatness is measured by a willingness to have the attitude of a slave.
Then Jesus gave them His own personal mission statement as an example to abide by: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In other words, He was telling them to follow His lead (Matt. 20:28).
Those who follow Jesus Christ are following a servant King. Following Him means salvation and a restored relationship with God, something we cannot have outside of Jesus Christ.
I am reminded of another episode in which Jesus illustrated this truth for the disciples when He washed their feet the night before He was crucified on the cross. Washing one’s feet was the work of a common servant in those days. The disciples were horrified and aghast as their Master and King washed their feet. Afterward Jesus told them, I have given you an example. If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, then you ought to wash one another’s feet. In My kingdom, people serve one another.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this message is for you. You are called to be a servant. If you want to grow in your effectiveness for Christ and have a positive impact on this world for the Kingdom of God, be a servant.
This message is very countercultural when you think about it, because we live in a what’s-in-it-for-me world. Look out for number one. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to commit ourselves to doing just the opposite. We may find ourselves rather hesitant about following these directions for a variety of reasons. One, it’s goes against the way we are wired. We are sinners and have a tendency to look out for number one. Self-preservation is the top of our priority list. Who will look out for me if I don’t?
Kevin Miller, a writer for Leadership Journal, was once preparing a sermon on servanthood. He asked his Facebook friends this question: “Why is it so hard for us to serve?”
He received a host of answers. Someone said, “Serving is hard. It doesn’t fit my schedule or plan.” One person said, “It’s hard when people’s needs seem so endless. I don’t want to get sucked in and drained out.” Another person said, “I have such limited energy after a demanding workday meeting basic responsibilities.” Here’s my favorite answer: “What makes it hard to serve others? Others.”
People are sometimes just difficult to serve. Some are unlikable, unlovable, and don’t know how to say thank you. They don’t know how to acknowledge the kindness you’ve done for them. I remember someone saying, “Real servanthood begins when the applause ends and the thank yous stop.” How true that is.
Being a servant calls for an attitude change to take place inside of us. This is what Paul told the Christians in Philippi: You need an attitude change. He said, “Look not only for the interests of yourself but to the interests of others. Let the same attitude be in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited but emptied himself taking the form of a slave. Being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 4:8).
There you have it! It’s an emptying of self, a humbling of self. Humbling oneself means to exercise a healthy amount self-forgetfulness and being willing to admit that it’s not all about me. It’s a willingness to acknowledge that I am not the center of the universe. I am not God. I am one of God’s humble servants.
What Paul is describing here is a desire to be faithful to the One who first loved us, Who emptied Himself for us, and in loving response to Him say, I want to be like you, Jesus. I give myself away.
In my congregation, we have a new members class called New Connections in which we explain our theology and point to our various ministries. At our final session, we share the expectations of our members as they enter a covenant relationship with our family of faith. One of the things we emphasize is for them to have a servant’s heart. Servant attitudes make a healthy congregation that can have an impact for the kingdom of God. It is as simple as somebody asking, What can I be do for you? instead of focusing on what the church will do for me.
How does one cultivate a servant-like attitude? Three things make a difference.
1. Pray for an attitude change in your life. Servanthood doesn’t come naturally. It calls for a supernatural change, and only God can do the supernatural. Prayer doesn’t just change things, prayer changes us. Put yourself on call and ask for an attitude change every day. Ask God to help you see someone who needs your servant heart.
2. Pray for others around you. Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on people around you: people at work; people in your apartment building, community home, prison, neighborhood, or church. Pray for others around you. When we pray for others, we begin to view them in a different way as we see them through the eyes of Jesus.
3. Commit yourself to serving at least two hours a week. Be willing to say yes and then step in. Be intentional in your servanthood; the attitude will follow the actions.
One doesn’t have to look far to find opportunities for serving. Multitudes of lonely people are standing on the outside looking in and need someone to reach out and befriend them. People are hurting and have health issues. People are grieving and need someone to come along side, to just sit with them and be a friend to them. Kids need older folks to mentor them, to step into their lives in the community or in the church. People in the community need help making ends meet as they go to the food shelf.
I have a friend who works the food shelf a couple times a week. She gives herself away in that fashion, and she’s hooked on serving in that way. I have a friend who does short-term mission work. He is a retired dentist who works with an orphanage three times a year helping children.
We have opportunities in our church communities. A few weeks ago, I saw a friend in the work room on a Sunday morning. I was getting ready to preach, and she was getting ready to teach an adult class. She was as chirpy as could be and said, “I was up until 3 o’clock this morning. I had so much fun preparing this lesson. I can’t wait to share it with the folks today in our class!”
There is a nursery that is looking for people to look after kids, or there is Sunday school, or there’s people who need to be greeted as they come in the door on a Sunday morning. Or ushers Ð there’s always a shortage of ushers in our church. Card ministry, prayer ministry. Ask your pastor what you can do for the cause of Christ around the church. You will thrill him!
If you are retired, hear this: Retirement in the church of Jesus Christ does not exist when it comes to serving! Hear that again. Don’t let anyone put you on the sidelines just because you hit a certain age. There is no retirement in the Church of Jesus Christ! You still have the ability to serve.
What does giving yourself away like that do in your life? After Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in John 13, He explained to them, “If you know these things and you DO them, you will be blessed.”
I am reminded of a story out of the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W. found sobriety in the early days of A.A. However, he also found himself feeling like he was slipping and being tempted to start drinking again. So he told his story to another drunk named Dr. Bob. In the midst of telling his story, Bill W. was strengthened in his own weakness and was able to overcome the desire to take a drink.
I have a lot of AA folks in our congregation and many of them have said to me, “If you ever have someone who has hit bottom, call me anytime, night or day – I don’t care – I will come running to be with that person, to help them and take them to a meeting.” They have learned, you see, that in giving yourself away, you will be blessed and strengthened.
Dr. Tom Ranier once taught a class in a church about changing one’s attitude to that of a servant. A church member who attended his class began to pray for an attitude change and pray for others. In an email seven months later, she said to him, “Tom, I have never been more joyful to be a church member. I don’t have to worry about getting my way. My mission is now to serve others. It’s much more fun to serve than to be served. I still pray every day for my attitude, and I pray for specific people in the church every day, which has changed my attitude incredibly. I have also made certain I do something of service in the church at least one hour a week. I volunteer for nursery duty once a month, and I committed to visit at least three persons a month who are shut in. I truly have learned in action what Jesus meant when He said we would be first if we put ourselves last. I am last in the sense that I serve others before me. I am first in the sense that I have incredible joy coming directly from Jesus. I wish I had made this effort years ago. I have truly learned how to experience the joy of Christ by serving!”
There you have it! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ (and I hope you are for He is the way of salvation), here is your assignment that comes straight from the lips of your Lord and Master – BE A SERVANT. The only question left to ask is, Will you?
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if over the next ninety days everyone listening today would make the commitment to pray for others, pray for their own attitude, and give themself away two hours a week in service to Jesus. Let’s say 10,000 people are listening today. What would happen in our personal lives, our families, our church or communities? Multiply ninety days times 10,000 people. That’s 900,000 hours of service to others in the name of Jesus Christ. We would have a service revolution! Think about the lives that would be positively impacted for the cause of Jesus Christ.
Service in this way is done with God’s power. If you are willing to commit, pray this prayer with me now, would you? Repeat after me:
Lord, open my eyes to see the needs of others. Help me to live more like Jesus who always put others’ interests first. In the days ahead, show me how I can best serve in my church, my family and my community. I WILL be a servant for you.