Servanthood is a high calling. Jesus said of himself that he had not come to be served but to serve. As we have already seen he expressed this verbally to the disciples when teaching them not to seek high position (Matt 20:28) and it was also a major part of the prophecies about him through Isaiah in the servant passages already referred to (Isaiah 52, 53). But what are the purposes of serving? I suggest there are three.
1. To help others
The primary purpose of the church is to be a change agent to advance the kingdom of God. This, of course, may be achieved in many ways, starting with the lives of individuals as they aspire to fulfil the potential that God has vested in them. So serving within the church contributes to the ‘improvement’ of others, helping to create an environment for them to draw nearer to God and become more like Jesus. This could be, for instance, in a church meeting, by helping create a context for them to meet with Him, or through seeking to bless and encourage others (believer or unbeliever) by helping them in a time of need. These are just two of countless different opportunities for people to be helped to grow and draw closer to God.
2. To accomplish a task
Within every church there are myriads of activities. Some are high profile, others unseen. We have in our church a retired lady who wanted to serve in the church. For various reasons this did not work easily during ‘normal working hours’. So she used to get up early (5am!) and visit the church building to clean the toilets and rooms used during the previous evening’s activities. This was definitely an unseen task yet one from which we all benefitted. I believe God has a special ‘well done’ for such people who serve without expecting any acclamation.
3. To shape our characters
I have already written about the character of a servant. Such characteristics are often shaped and formed through the pressures that come with active service. Diamonds are formed in the hidden place under intense pressure! So serving is a wonderful opportunity for our characters to be shaped so that we become more like Jesus.
Are there rewards for serving?
Serving is itself fulfilling. We don’t serve for recognition (although it is encouraging when that happens) but for satisfying Jesus; it is an expression of worship.
I believe we are all called to serve. I have noticed that inactivity tends to provide fertile ground for negativism; it gives time for the ‘luxury’ of criticism. Those who are actively contributing to the mission of the church are willing to overlook things that may irritate or be uncomfortable. Those that don’t get involved ultimately lose out on the joy of a task well done.
Nehemiah 3:5 is a very sad verse: ‘And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord’. Can you imagine what happened when the wall was complete? All the people would have rejoiced at the amazing achievement of rebuilding the city wall in 52 days (which must have been very character shaping) and would have enjoyed the protection of the wall. But the Tekoite nobles, although they would have also enjoyed the protection of the walls (an example of grace), would not have been able to join in the celebrations with integrity nor been a part of the ‘do you remember when…’ stories that would have been told by parents to children. They were too proud to get involved.
Next time we will begin to look at how to identify our unique abilities and qualities that will make our service both fulfilling and effective.