‘Long before and after Jesus, prophets and philosophers have been trying to reconcile the fullest individuality with the most just community. Greatness of servanthood may have been as good an answer as any ever found. The best woman or man was the one who did the most for the community.’
Anyone who goes to church purely for what they get out of it – whether that be good sermons, lively worship or personal inspiration – will always end up unsatisfied and spiritually malnourished. This is because Consumerist Christianity simply doesn’t work.
Authentic Christianity needs to reflect the person we claim to follow. And repeatedly and unequivocally, Jesus puts serving others right at the heart of what it means to follow him:
‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ (Mark 10:43)
True greatness is not found in cleverness, wealth, in writing books, gaining fame or accumulating power. It’s not measured by the number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers or even the number of hits on your blog. No, true greatness is found in serving others.
The problems with serving others
But is this kind of talk about ‘serving others’ a bit unrealistic ‘in the real world’?
Surely it leads to becoming a doormat – allowing people to walk all over you? Isn’t it weak and ineffective? Shouldn’t we want to show God’s power and be bold proclaimers of the truth? If you want to bring about change you need to show people who the boss is?
Well Jesus wasn’t a doormat, he wasn’t weak and he definitely wasn’t ineffective in terms of creating a movement. But he served others. He was powerful but not the kind of power we get used to seeing in the world – the macho kind of power which crushes others and promotes itself.
The way of Jesus is radically different, as seen in John 13 when he washes his disciples’ feet. I think this passage gives some great pointers to how Jesus’ served others.
It was rooted in security and confidence
‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God, and was returning to God’ (John 13 v.3)
Jesus’s actions were rooted in a security about who he was. He knew where he had come from and where he was going. He knew his value before God. From this place he was able to serve others and show the full extent of God’s love.
This kind of security and confidence is so needed in the church today because anxiety and worrying are at epidemic proportions in our communities. Our service should not be rooted in a need to earn approval but rather in a secure identity in God’s love and grace. It is this security and confidence which leads us outwards to others so that we can serve them. This is what the theologian Lesslie Newbigin called ‘proper confidence’ in the gospel. Not a brittle confidence which leads us to Bible-bash people or seek to dominate them but a deeper security that helps us to serve others with generosity.
It was intentional and authoritative
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” John 13:8
Jesus took on the role as a menial servant in washing his disciples’ feet but His actions are deeply intentional: nothing was going to stop him demonstrating the full extent of his love. Jesus is authoritative, confronting Peter’s objections as he struggled to accept the servant role that Jesus took.
This is the authority that Jesus gave to His Church. We are His Ambassadors, charged with the responsibility of carrying ‘the full message of this new life’ (Acts 5:20) in the world. Serving others gives our message authenticity because we are giving of ourselves like Jesus did – rather than just words, people can see lives which reflect what is being said. People are ready to hear a message from a church which gets its hands dirty in the challenges of the community.
It was an example for us to follow
‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15)
Jesus could not be any clearer: he wants us to follow his example. Beliefs only become faith when we put them into practice. If you are not serving others then you are missing out.
Let’s be a church that takes Jesus’ life of service seriously and seeks to follow his example in serving others. We are all different, with different skills, experience and talents – but we can ALL serve others. And as Martin Luther King said ‘ “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
This blog post was based on a sermon Jesus: A Life of Service at Streatham Baptist Church on 2/7/12
* If you are looking for a theologically informed book on Martin Luther King’s life and ministry then there is no better book than ‘To the Mountaintop’ by Stewart Burns. It is beautifully written and a cracking read.