It's Your Serve, Part 1
Jesus: The Radical Servant
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 12, 2005

 

Main Passage: John 13:1-17 (NLT)

What does greatness mean to you? When you think about being successful and achieving greatness, what do you think of? If you’re like most people, you most likely think about having lots of wealth and fame, lots of power, and probably lots of employees to do all the “little things” for you. You probably think about the prospect of never having to do the “dirty jobs” again.

I expect that concept of greatness has been around for a long time. If you go back to the time of Jesus, you discover that even then people equated greatness with power and prestige and position and prosperity. A person’s success could be measured by the number of servants they had.

But then along came Jesus, and he redefined greatness. He said such radical things as…

Matthew 5:5 (NLT)
“God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.”

Mark 9:35 (NLT)
“Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Matthew 20:28 (NLT)
“For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”

And He didn’t just talk about it… He modeled it. He set the standard and became the example. How did Jesus spend His time? He went from town to town, healing people and teaching them and reaching them, meeting their needs… He genuinely cared about people and did whatever He could for them.

Luke 19:10 (NLT)
“And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those… who are lost.”

Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)
Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.

Earlier, Kim read a passage from the book of John chapter 13. And in that passage, we saw Jesus do a very radical thing and wash the feet of His disciples. Now, let me explain that a little bit.

We’re coming up on summer here, and pretty soon the beaches of PEI will be filled with people. Imagine that you were to go out to Cavendish one day and just walk the beach for a few hours… you don’t go swimming, you just walk on the beach. And you’re wearing your sandals. Can you imagine what your feet would look like after a few hours? Can you imagine what they would feel like? They’d be caked with a layer of dirt and dust, and you’d probably be looking forward to getting them washed.

Well, back in Jesus’ day, the main mode of travel was walking. People could walk for hours each day, wearing their sandals, and walking across the sandy, dusty roads. So a custom evolved that when a guest would enter a home, a servant would be there to wash the feet of the guest. Today we offer to talk a person’s coat and offer them a drink. Back then, they washed their feet. It was a pretty menial job, and really only a servant or a slave should have to lower themselves to that level.

So here we have Jesus and His disciples entering into a room. We know it was suppertime, so it’s late in the day, and we know that Jesus had probably walked around teaching people that entire day. So His feet and the feet of all of the disciples would have been caked with dirt. But on this occasion there were no servants present to wash their feet.

So they all went in and sat around the table. And after a while of sitting there, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet. And that was a radical thing for someone who was regarded as a great teacher and leader to do. In fact, His disciples protested. Think about it. Put yourself in their sandals. It’s the end of the day, you’ve been working hard, and you know that your feet are dirty and calloused and smelly. And then the one person you admire most wants to wash your feet for you? Riiight.

But Jesus insisted that they allow Him to wash their feet. And then, after He had washed their feet, He taught them the significance of what He did. I think what He said was pretty powerful, so let me just read it for you again…

John 13:12-17 (NLT)
After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things--now do them! That is the path of blessing.”

Servanthood. Jesus modeled it and He demanded it of His disciples. And He expects it from us today, too. So over the next few weeks we’re going to be addressing this topic. We’ll talk about what it means to be a servant. We’ll talk about how to serve others and how to use your spiritual gifts in service to others. And we’ll talk about how it’s really not about doing acts of service… it’s about being a servant. You see the difference? You can do acts of service and never be a servant. You can do them grudgingly, you can expect applause for your great humility, and you can even become resentful over it. But if you have the heart of a servant, you can’t help but serve others in true humility. And you won’t be keeping score, you’ll simply be serving them because you genuinely care about them.

So today, as we begin this series, we’re going to address the question: Why Should I Serve?

 

Why Should I Serve?

1. To express love.

What motivated Jesus to wash His disciples’ feet? We’re told in the very first verse of the chapter…

John 13:1 (NIV)
Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

It was the love that Jesus had for people in general and for His disciples specifically that led Him to serve them. And that can and should be the motivation for us to serve others today, too. You can do it to express your own love and to express the love of God.

Several of us have been going out and doing Kindness events to express the love of God to our community. We’ve raked lawns, washed cars, and given gifts like bags of apples in the Fall, scotch tape at Christmas time, and hot chocolate in the wintertime. People are typically shocked to receive anything for free, so they will often ask us why? “Why are you doing this? Why won’t you accept any donations? Why are you giving this to me for free?” And our response is always that we are simply doing it to show them in a practical way that God loves them.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Galatia…

Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)
For you have been called to live in freedom--not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So first and foremost, love should be the motivation for you to be a servant to others. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you refuse to “lower yourself” to doing acts of service, you’ve got a heart problem. The love of God is not in you. Because if you truly have the love of God in you, you can’t help but serve others.

And you can’t fake it, either. The love you express must be genuine, or regardless of what you do it will all be meaningless.

1 Corinthians 13:3 (NLT)
If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.

Do you see how greatly important it is that you be motivated out of love, and not out of guilt or duty or even pride? If you lack that kind of love, then you need to start praying about it. Ask God to fill you with His love. And keep praying. Don’t let up until you are filled to overflowing with the limitless love of God.

Your first and primary motivation for being a servant should be to express love… your love, and God’s love. Secondly, you should serve others in order to obey the commands of God.

 

2. To obey the commands of God.

Jesus told His disciples…

John 13:14, 17 (NLT)
“And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet… You know these things--now do them!”

Sounds like a command to me. Sounds like that’s what God expects of us. And this is not the only place in the Bible where we see this.

Colossians 1:9-10 (NLT)
We ask God to give you a complete understanding of what he wants to do in your lives… Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and you will continually do good, kind things for others.

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere.

So it seems apparent to me that God expects His people to be willing to set aside their own preferences and their own agendas in order to yield to others and serve them.

Hey, we do that as a church. Let me give you an example. We all have our preferences in regards to music. Personally, I like the music we do here at Sunrise, but there’s other music that I also like that we don’t do. There are songs that I sang 20 or 30 years ago that have a lot of meaning for me, but we don’t sing them here because they’re dated and sound old and convey the message that God is a God of the past, not the present. That’s not the message we want to send, so we don’t sing those songs. I also like hymns. And we do sing hymns here every once in a while. But they’re not part of our regular repertoire. The Bible talks about “singing a new song”, not a 450 year old song.

Plus, many hymns are done in a musical style that is totally alien to our society today and use archaic language which people don’t understand today. There’s one hymn that I used to sing growing up that contained the words, “Here I lay my Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I'm come.” First of all, it’s bad grammar. Secondly, I don’t even know what an Ebenezer is, let alone where and why I should lay it down!

Here at Sunrise, we want to be a church that relates the transforming message of the Gospel in ways that are relevant to today. So even though I like hymns, we don’t do them. And when we do throw a hymn in here or there, we at least try to do it in an updated style. The message of the Gospel is timeless and can never be changed, but the method of conveying that message is flexible and should change with each generation. So we’re committed to being innovative and intentional about how we share the message about Jesus Christ, even if it means setting aside our own preferences so that we can communicate that message more clear in this present age.

Or here’s another example. Some of us when we arrive here on Sunday mornings have our choice of parking spots. We could park right outside the door if we wanted to. But we don’t do that. No, we park at the back of the parking lot instead. Why? I mean, when I go to the mall, I want the closest spot possible. I’d park in the entrance if they’d let me. But here I park at the back, and some of you do the same. Why? Because we want the guests who come here to have the very best parking spots. We want to serve them.

Because let me tell you something… the Church is the only organization in the world that exists primarily for the sake of those who are not a part of it yet. Our task is the same task that Jesus had… to seek and to save the lost. And if that means that I have to sacrifice my own preferences for a time, so be it. I’ll have eternity to enjoy my preferences… right now there are more important things at stake.

So I obey the command of God by yielding myself to others… setting aside my own preferences in deference to theirs.

We should serve others to express love to them and to obey the commands of God. We should also serve if we ever hope to discover true greatness.

 

3. To discover true greatness.

We read from Mark 9:35 earlier, and in that verse Jesus said…

Mark 9:35 (NLT)
“Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Here’s something that seems completely foreign to our society… achieving true greatness by becoming a servant.

But think about it a little bit. It happens even today. The best example from recent years that I can think of would be Mother Teresa. She devoted her entire life to loving and serving the very least on the streets of Calcutta. She never sought any positions or recognition. She was content to just serve the very least.

But she became admired and respected in ways that go far beyond what any elected office could achieve. And eventually she was invited to speak before world leaders and they listened! In fact, they would go to see her instead of having her come to see them! She descended into greatness.

Now, we all know about Mother Teresa. We’ve heard about her expressions of love and compassion in service to her God. She became famous for that. But that’s not the way it always happens. Many times, those who devote their lives to serving others are never recognized for it.

1 Timothy 5:25 (NLT)
…Everyone knows how much good some people do, but there are others whose good deeds won’t be known until later.

But they still achieve greatness. Just because you may not be recognized for it now doesn’t mean that there is no reward. The Bible frequently talks about how the good things you do now in secret will be rewarded in Heaven. And that’s where it really matters. That’s where true greatness will be recognized and rewarded in ways that go far beyond what can be experienced now. Jesus Himself said…

Matthew 6:19-20 (NLT)
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves.”

Now, we’ve been talking this morning about the time when Jesus modeled servanthood by washing the feet of His disciples. But His disciples were just a few chips short of a cookie. They just didn’t get it. We know that just a little while earlier the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. Then Jesus gave them this object lesson by washing their feet before they ate supper. But after supper they started up again! Listen to what happened…

Luke 22:24-27 (NLT)
And they began to argue among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men order their people around, and yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Normally the master sits at the table and is served by his servants. But not here! For I am your servant.”

He had to reiterate that greatness was not something to be argued over. In fact, you can’t even strive for true greatness… you discover it. It’s the result of servanthood, not the goal of servanthood. That’s in your notes…

Greatness is the result of servanthood, not the goal of servanthood.

 

Now, just as we finish up here, I want to take another look at the example Jesus left for us when He washed the feet of His disciples. And I want to draw out of it three steps you and I need to take if we are going to follow that example. And we’re going to look specifically at John 13:4…

John 13:4 (NLT)
So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist…

Using that verse as a template, here are the three things you and I need to do if we are going to follow the example of Jesus…

 

Following the Example of Jesus:

A. Get up and do something for God.

Jesus took the first step by getting up from the table. He took the initiative. You and I need to take the initiative, too, and seek ways to serve. Whether that be an organized Kindness Event here at Sunrise, or whether that be something you do on your own that nobody else ever finds out about. Get up and do something for God by serving others.

 

B. Take off the standards of this world.

What are the standards of this world? Being obsessed with seeking praise and recognition and status and rewards and promotion. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be ambitious and want to succeed in your work, but the standard of this world typically takes that too far.

I used to direct youth camps and young adult weekends on Caton’s Island in New Brunswick. That’s part of our church campgrounds there. On more than one occasion, I found myself cleaning up messes in the kitchen, scooping up… horse remnants…, sweeping up bat droppings, and cleaning toilets. But I was in charge of the weekend! I had people under me to do that, didn’t I? Well, yes and no. There were times when I had to ask other people to do those types of jobs because I had other responsibilities. But I was also there to serve, so I jumped right in when there was a need. Hey, you should see some of the messes I have to deal with when I show up here on Sunday mornings… I’ve even had to clean blood off the floor.

Or how about Gail? Gail arrives here early every Sunday to help set up and prepare the hospitality area. She doesn’t look for any recognition (although I’m giving her some right now), she simply does it in order to serve.

So my admonition to you is this: Don’t look at acts of service as being menial or beneath you. It’s the standards of this world that tells you to let someone else do the dirty work… but Jesus was willing to get dirty, and He’s our example.

 

C. Put on a willingness to serve in any and every situation.

You know what? We live in a society with a consumer mindset. We’re always looking to be served rather than to serve. We tune ourselves into WIIFM… What’s In It For Me? And what’s the result? We have a society filled with people doing this: (arms outstretched with hands indicating, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.”)

My great concern is that this very mentality has crept into the Church. There are a lot of selfish people attending churches today. People attend church looking for what’s in it for them. And if any one church doesn’t meet their every need, they go looking elsewhere. My challenge to you is, instead of looking for what you can get out of a church, look for what you can put into it instead. You only get out what you put into it, anyway. Instead of looking for others to add value to you, add value to them. Instead of looking to be served, be a servant yourself. I think you’ll find that as you do that, all your other needs will be met anyway.

Jesus took a towel and wrapped it around His waist was He washed His disciples’ feet. Let me give you another picture. If you were to go to a very expensive restaurant… I’m talking about the kind that would never let you in… a very prestigious, Donald-Trump-type of restaurant. But if you did get in and you sit down to eat, I’m told that there would be a waiter assigned to your table that would stand nearby with a towel over his arm. Why? Well, he’d be right there in case you spilled something or in case you started to drool… He’d just be standing there letting you know, “I’m here in case you need me. Whatever it is, I’m here to serve.”

That’s the picture of a servant. And we need to go from this (“Gimme, gimme, gimme”) to this (arm held out as if draping a towel.)

Something I first heard about 20 years ago still rings true today…

God is more concerned with our availability than our ability.

How available are you to minister and to serve the people around you? Are you willing to invest the time necessary? Are you a true servant?

We’re going to pick up on this next week. Let’s pray.

 

 

 

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