I have written on previous occasions about serving and servanthood. These are topics close to my heart. But it is such an important feature of the role of the church and of individuals, as modelled by Jesus, that I make no apology for writing on this topic once again.
Servanthood is not an option
At times Jesus must have nearly despaired. He had been seeking to teach and train the twelve for well over two years and yet they still did not seem to get it! In Matthew’s gospel (Matt 20:20-28) we read that on one occasion the two Zebedee brothers, James and John, even enlisted their mother as an advocate for them to lobby Jesus to give them places of prominence in his kingdom. Jesus patiently spells out the error of their ways and the other disciples rise up in indignation that she would even ask for such a favour. (I sometimes wonder how much of this indignation is self-recrimination for not having thought of it first!)
Recently I was sitting with some Romanians who had been visiting our church for a few weeks. They said ‘Do you know what we like about this church? Everyone seems to serve and there is no competitiveness’. That was music to my ears! I felt that it was an encouragement from God. Maybe we have learnt something from Jesus’ disciples!
Never one to miss the opportunity Jesus calls the disciples to himself and teaches them about servant leadership. He contrasts it to the way the world views leadership as ‘lording it over them’ (Matt 20:25). He forbids them to think the same way and uses extreme language; ‘whoever wishes to be first … shall be your slave’. He continues ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve’ (Matt 20:28).
Many years ago I visited a church in Sheffield. Above the preacher’s pulpit was a banner ‘Saved to Serve’. That church had got it! When God, in his mercy, called us he did so for purpose and that purpose was to join his army and serve his kingdom purposes to go into all the world and take the gospel to the nations. If we see our salvation as an opportunity for accomplishing our own personal ambitions we can expect as painful a reprimand as must have been felt by the Zebedee family on the embarrassing occasion above.
Jesus – our example
We have abundant scriptural evidence of Jesus demonstrating that he practiced what he preached. From the prophetic utterances in the famous servant passages in Isaiah to Paul’s letter to the Philippians we find the pages of our Bibles peppered with examples of godly servanthood, primarily demonstrated by Jesus but also shown by other men whom God commended, such as young David who was described as a ‘man after God’s own heart’ (Acts 13:22) for his willingness to do God’s will. God loves willing servants.
Does a servant have any rights? We will explore this next time.