“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will the Father honor” (John 12:26).
It is almost universally recognized that devotion to service is a good thing. Nations, cultures, and people throughout time have emphasized the value of service, and few are the people who do not appreciate it when they are served by others.
It is much easier to be served, however, than it is to serve. The call to live a life of service is a tough road indeed. Yet for those who would seek to be saved through Jesus Christ, the way of service is the only way that leads to eternal life. We would do well to remember what Jesus told His disciples:
“Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).
How do we develop lives of service? What does it mean to be a servant of others?
One significant element of service is humility. Jesus humbled Himself by taking on the form of a man and serving human beings (Philippians 2:5-11). It is difficult to maintain feelings of superiority over other people when you serve them. Service helps us to recognize that we are all equal in the sight of God and that every single person has value before Him.
Humility must also be paired with love. Love is a word thrown around rather freely in our society, yet when God speaks of love, He speaks of His own nature, made manifest in the gift of Jesus (1 John 4:8-9). This love seeks the best interest of the one beloved– a willingness to set aside our own wants and needs so that we can consider the interest of others greater than our own (Philippians 2:1-4). If love does not motivate our service, it is all in vain (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). By showing love through service to others, we gain a greater appreciation for the love that God has shown toward us.
Yet this love must be directed not only to men but also to God. Paul speaks often regarding our need to “die to sin” and be “crucified with Christ” so that we can devote ourselves as “living and holy sacrifices” for God’s purposes (Romans 6, Galatians 2:20, Romans 12:1). We must have the same mindset as Jesus did: not my will, but God’s will, be done (Matthew 26:39). God’s way is not easy or natural; it requires understanding, training, practice, and diligence (Hebrews 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:15, Matthew 7:13-14). We must always remember that no matter how much effort we expend to serve God, God’s rich gifts to us are well beyond any ability we might have to repay Him.
We must also look for opportunities to serve in every facet of our lives. While popular religion may be little more than a Sunday morning event, true service to God knows no time or day. A man must serve his wife, and a wife her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33). Parents must devote themselves to the raising of the children, and the children must heed their parents (Ephesians 6:1-4). Employers and employees must consider their workplace relationship (Ephesians 6:5-9). In every situation we must reflect the love of Christ that He has so richly given to us (Matthew 5:13-16). We must be servants to everyone in many ways at all times.
Service takes all kinds of forms. It may mean giving someone a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42). It may mean suffering a wrong (Matthew 5:38-43). It might require a sacrifice of time or money to take care of the needs of others (Galatians 2:10, 6:10, James 1:27). In all such circumstances, it requires that selfish desires take a back seat to the higher call of service in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:1-2).
And that is what makes a life of service so difficult in a “me” centered world. All around us are suggestions to consider the needs of ourselves first and to enjoy all the pleasures that we “deserve.” Yet let us remember that all we really deserve is condemnation for our sin and lives of misery (cf. Romans 6:23). The only reason that we can have hope for the future is that God loves us and sent His Son to serve and be a ransom for many. Is it too much, then, for God to ask of us to serve as He has served us?