Suppose you were asked to create an epitaph for the (empty) tomb of Jesus Christ? What phrase would best capture the essence of His life?
“King of Kings, Lord of Lords?”
“The Alpha and Omega?”
“All things have been created through Him and for Him?”
Each of these phrases expresses the majesty of the second Person of the Godhead. But each of them was also written by someone other than Jesus. I suspect that if Jesus Himself were composing His own epitaph, He probably would choose the one He used to describe Himself in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
When you stop and carefully consider the above words, they almost take your breath away. No one deserves to be served more than the eternal Son of God, the King of Kings, the Creator of all things. But at the core of Christ’s being is a desire to serve us rather than be served by us. We should not be surprised then by the high value that Jesus places upon us learning to serve other people. I believe there are three essential ingredients for developing a servant’s heart:
True humility involves an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. In Romans 12:3 before launching into a detailed explanation of spiritual gifts, Paul encourages each of us to . . . “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
Some Christians view themselves as God’s gift to the church. An equally destructive attitude is the belief that we are lowly worms who have nothing valuable to contribute. In truth, every Christian has been empowered with a unique spiritual gift that is vital to the success of the church. You need other Christians . . . and other Christians need you. True humility acknowledges our gifts but attributes them to the Giver of those gifts.
Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ – the personification of humility – was fully aware that He was equal to God the Father (Philippians 2:5-6). However, in spite of His heavenly position, Jesus Christ demonstrated the second vital characteristic of a servant:
We have defined servanthood as meeting the needs of other people. But giving to the needs of others requires giving up what we value, such as money, time, or influence. However, realizing that anything of value in your life has been given to you by God makes releasing that position or possession a little easier.
Again, consider the example of Jesus. Philippians 2:6-8 says: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Why was He willing to sacrifice His comfort, reputation, and rights? Because He cared more about satisfying your needs than His own. He placed your interests above His.
Few of us will ever face the dilemma of surrendering our physical life for someone else.
But sacrifices don’t have to be drastic to be costly. Sometimes, servanthood requires us to sacrifice our pride. Other times, placing someone else’s needs above ours requires us to sacrifice other things of value. Some of you who are parents may be sacrificing a larger home or a newer car to provide your children with a quality education. Some of you are perhaps postponing retirement to financially support aging parents. Some of you are surrendering your right to travel out of town on the weekend in order to serve in the church as we meet the greatest need people have.
Think about the numerous interruptions Jesus endured in his ministry in order to serve a woman who was bleeding uncontrollably, a co-worker’s mother-in-law who had become ill, or a paralytic who dropped in (or, more accurately, dropped down) in the middle of one of Jesus’s sermons. Contradicting one of the most basic tenets of modern management, Jesus made Himself a servant to the “tyranny of the urgent,” placing the needs of others above His own His need to check off His “to do” list for the day.
God never asks us to separate the concepts of service and reward. Never does God require that we make sacrifices for the sheer pleasure or pain of surrendering something important to us. In fact, God has designed us in such a way that we will not consistently place His interests or the interests of others above our own without the assurance that one day we are going to profit by doing so (Hebrews 11:6).
Serving God and others may necessitate temporarily setting aside our need for recognition and reward. But God never asks us to permanently surrender our desire for either. Jesus never said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you is a self-serving jerk who doesn’t have a clue about true Christianity.” Instead, Jesus legitimized our basic need for greatness by providing the pathway for achieving genuine greatness as seen in Mark 10:43-44: “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.”
What are you sacrificing in your life right now that is worthy of a future reward? I’m thinking of those things which are beyond our normal responsibilities such a loving our mates, caring for our children, and obeying God’s commands. Jesus voluntarily surrendered His rights as God, not because He was obligated to do so, but because He was a servant at heart. Are you?
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” - Mark 10:45