One of the biggest struggles churches and other organizations have is finding volunteers to do many of the tasks required. In churches, it usually revolves around teaching Sunday school or working with youth. Other organizations have problems getting people to take time out of their busy schedules to help at bingos, casino nights or at fundraising events. Unless there is something in it for “me,” serving; giving of one’s time is rarely practiced. Jesus said that He did not come to be served but to serve. In Mark 10, we read a story where Jesus is confronted regarding who would sit at His side when He restores His kingdom. Instead of answering the question, He breaks into an impromptu speech on servanthood.
Mark 10:35-45 says, “And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
James and John wanted the seats of honor in heaven, but Jesus told them they would have to drink the cup He drank and that was not for Him to grant. Jesus Christ wants to make it crystal-clear to his disciples, who are following him, that they are to put others first and serve them. The New Testament says very little about this world going to church, but it says a whole lot about the church going to the world – that’s our responsibility.
I believe serving is one of the greatest tools of Christian witness. And in our serving, I believe there are four reasons why we should serve.
The first reason is serving promotes unity. When people look at the church, they see a fractured image. With the myriad of denominations and groups, it is a wonder that people would be attracted. But when Christians serve, they put others ahead of themselves and shows what true unity is. And at the heart of it, the very foundation of unity, we find humility.
Jesus said in Matthew 23:11–12, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Instead of being like the world, looking out for number one, we should look for ways to use our gifts wherever we are – service can build unity within our neighborhoods and the body.
At my first church, our youth regularly went on mission trips put on by our denomination. It was called SERVE. These were great opportunities for the youth to work hard at being a blessing to communities across western Canada. Although it was hard work, and when it is over, they loved it. This leads to the second benefit.
Serving fosters teamwork. Service can build relationship because it is an expression of grace to someone else. We ought to have eyes and ears that are always on the lookout and always listening for whatever needs might arise in our communities. When we serve, we realize how much we need each other. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” We each have gifts we can offer to others.
Another benefit is in serving, we imitate Jesus. Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the best way of teaching. It is the only way of teaching.” If you are a parent, you know that to be true. Children only practice what is modeled to them. At the Last Supper, the disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest, so Jesus put servanthood into action. In Luke 22:28 Jesus says, “But I am among you as one who serves.”
Jesus came as a servant. John records in 13:1-17 that Jesus took the lowly of lowly positions and washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus was servanthood personified. Since his words had fallen on deaf ears before, Jesus told His disciples they would be blessed if they did as He did. The thought of washing others’ feet honestly disgusts me… I don’t like feet. The thought of allowing someone to wash our feet targets both our pride and our fear of being vulnerable.
Serving is not glamorous, so we should leave our dignity at the door when we go to serve others. The people around us will begin to see our resemblance to Christ when we serve. Richard Foster says, “There is a difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When I choose to serve, I retain control about who I serve and when I serve. But when I choose to be a servant, I have given up all rights and all control.”
All opportunities to serve have a good side and a challenging side. For those who are older, you probably remember the “45s” where on one side was the “good” song and on the other was the “other” song… the “B” side. Ministry is the same. You can have fun putting hampers together at the Food Bank, but sorting through the donated food is dirty and at times really gross. You can serve food at a soup kitchen, chatting away with the guests… but then someone has to clean up…
In the end, the most important thing you will discover in serving is that it changes you. If you serve with an attitude of love, and if you sense that Christ is the one who is receiving the glory out of this, then you can accomplish much and will earn the right to be heard. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” Although I believe it is incomplete, it does echo the words of John in his first letter. 3:18-19 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence…”
When we begin to serve others, we will never be the same. Remember that Jesus said, “when you do it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto ME…” Jesus lives in your neighborhood; He lives in the form of that person who needs to be touched and served by you.
As we go into this week and into the Advent season, I would like to challenge you to think of ways you can impact your community for Jesus. You will never know how much your service can impact others until you humbly pick up a towel and a basin of water and you begin to wash feet.