For Jesus, service was not a peripheral issue, not just a neon sign splashing half-truth in a window of self-indulgence. When it came to service, he meant business. Near the end of his ministry, James and John asked to sit in positions of power and authority. Jesus responded to all twelve disciples: “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” (Mark 10:42-44 ESV). The pagans measured greatness by how much power and authority a person has. But it shall not be so among you. If you want to great in the Kingdom of God, you must be the servant of all.
Jesus’ radical statement was revolutionary because it turned the world’s completely upside down. The world measures greatness in terms of size, power, and authority. God measured it in terms of service.
As though his statement about radical serving was not enough, Jesus modeled servanthood. The night before his Crucifixion, he gathered with his disciples for the Passover Meal. During the meal, as the twelve disciples lounged on cushions around the low table, Jesus stood up, took off his cloak, and tied up his long gown with a towel. He poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel. When he finished, he put his cloak back on and sat down at his place. He told them that he had set an example that they should do as he had done for them.
The disciples clearly would have seen what he meant. He had acted out for them a fundamental truth of Christianity. The job of washing feet was filthy. People didn’t bathe very often. They wore no shoes or only sandals. People’s feet were dirty and smelly, and it was a demeaning job to have to wash them. The task became the responsibility of the lowliest servant in the household.
Jesus voluntarily took the lowly position, the position of lowest status and prestige. He put aside his due rank and privilege and became the lowly one.
The late Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators, visited Taiwan on one of his overseas trips. During the visit, he hiked with a Taiwanese pastor back into one of the mountain villages to meet with some of the national Christians. The roads and trails were wet, and their shoes became very muddy. Later, someone asked this Taiwanese pastor what he remembered most about Dawson Trotman. Without hesitation, the man replied, “He cleaned my shoes.”
How surprised this humble national pastor must have been to arise the next morning and to realize that the Christian leader from America had risen before him and cleaned the mud from his shoes. Such a spirit of servanthood marked Dawson Trotman throughout his Christian life.
Service, in the vocabulary of the world, is often synonymous with duty, a necessary chore. And to many in our hypersensitive society, the label servant is offensive. To them, it would mean belonging to a lower class of people. They would think it demeaned their status in life, marked them as “common people.” And, consequently, avoided at all costs.
Don’t avoid service; embrace it. Service is an act of worship. We often refer to a worship service. And in business, we speak of customer service. This fact is no accident.
Serving people is not dissimilar than what happens in a worship service. People get down on their knees. Jesus said right after he washed the disciples’ feet, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17 ESV). Interestingly, the Hebrew word for blessing is the same as the word for knee: berech. Because going down on your knee is a way of serving. It should not be considered a menial or degrading gesture. Instead, it is one to take joy in because we know we are serving another of God’s children. The result is a blessing or favor from God.