That is the question of the hour, the day, and the reality of our present culture. Established contracts are killed, marriages are mutilated, and churches are crucified by the question of what I am going to get out of something, even at the expense of others. When I was a junior in High School, Janet Jackson quarreled with the question, “What have you done for me lately” and in a Presidential Town Hall debate, a college-aged woman rose to ask the then-candidate, George W Bush, what he would do for her if he were elected.
Suppose I were on stage that night and had been asked that question. In that case, I’d probably have responded with something along the lines of, “Well, I’m going to challenge you to take hold of every opportunity you have as an American citizen and get up and do something great.” I would have followed the call of JFK, who broadcasted in his Inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.”
That is what I would have said if I were on stage running for the Presidential gig that day. But honestly, who am I kidding? It’s one thing to point out the problem of selfishness in someone else. It’s another to own it yourself. The truth is that while I generally know the right thing to do, my flesh often dictates my actions, and I’m just as selfish at the core as the next guy. Then, hopefully, I remember Jesus. Right out of the shoot, Jesus, with laser focus, announced his mission, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Those were not mere words. He illustrated this by washing his disciples’ feet, which is the job of the lowest servant, on the night he was betrayed. The thundering picture here is ultimately that of Christ giving his life “as a ransom for many.”
The transformative power is not just how Jesus served me but how he calls his followers to, well, follow. To serve others as he served. Shortly after stooping down to wash his disciple’s feet, he coached them with the words, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Taking his lead, the apostle Paul exhorted those in the first church to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Honestly, sometimes serving can be easy and even cool at times. We see it every year during football season when some high-paid NFL player talks about serving his community and often says something like, “It feels good to serve.” But what about when it doesn’t feel good? And there you have it – we’ve arrived at the issue. There’s a vast difference between our serving, especially when it feels good, and taking on a servant’s attitude.
Jesus not only came to serve but, in fact, became a servant; he took on the nature of a servant. Therein lies the rub. True servanthood is not merely doing occasional random acts of kindness, especially when the camera is on us or based according to our schedule. Instead, the deeper issue is genuinely taking on the nature of a servant, as did Christ. Servants do not pick and choose when to serve – they serve. A servant will perform in any capacity, big or small, in the spotlight or the basement. They will serve regardless of whether they see praise for the fruit of their labor or must continue in anonymity.
So, in following Christ, we serve with our hands. We physically assist others not only when the need arises but we seek ways to make the lives of others better preemptively and proactively. We pick up the broom while everyone else walks around the mess. We serve with our ears by genuinely listening to others rather than preparing our following line of argument as though we are working to win a debate. We serve others with our tongues by deliberately choosing words to build up, edify, and encourage their lives. We help by using our resources, which belong to God anyway, in our tithe to a local church body and to those who run into financial needs living at the address right next door to us. We serve by granting grace when others blow it knowing that the only reason why we have peace with God is through the grace of Jesus Christ himself.
Yes, that is what Christ’s followers have been called to. In a sense, we were served to serve. Imagine how things might be different if everyone followed suit. Some of my atheist and agnostic friends are very big on making sure religion has no voice in the public square, to which I also want to ask, “Well, how’s that working?”
Think about it again, look around at our world that has rejected the divine design, and see the ever-growing chaos of our “ME FIRST” mentality. Then consider, what could be better for culture than more people putting others first? Imagine the fights set aside, sacrifices made in short order, and more people stepping up to responsibility over selfishness. Even when no one sees it, a kind of peace and stability ripple effect flows into our communities when people live for others. Another funny thing is that authentic submission and service also reform our hearts, and we begin to experience freedom from bitterness when we no longer have to get life by our own design and ways.
That’s one of the beauties of the true gospel of Christ. Authentic Christianity offers personal salvation and the practical fruit of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Eventually, people will see this realm’s futility and the radical transformation of Jesus Christ. This will draw them to Jesus like a moth to a flame. I suppose this is somewhat like what Jesus was talking about when he said that his disciples would be the salt and light of the world.
Returning to the night Christ washed the feet of his original apostles, I am reminded of a tune by Michael Card accurately titled, The Basin and the Towel.
What about you? How can you serve others today?