20 January 2013
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)
We are coming to the close of our studies in the Outward Disciplines. We have looked at Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and now will consider the discipline of Service. All of these are disciplines that we must practice in our daily lives. Simplicity is making room for God in your life. Solitude is actively seeking the presence and voice of God in your life. In submission we put God in authority over us, and Jesus becomes our example; so wives were told to submit to their husbands as though he was Jesus, and husbands were told to love and sacrifice for their wives a Christ did for the church. And we are both told to submit to each other in the fear of God, suggesting that God will judge us for our lack of submission. In submission, pride is our enemy and humility is our friend, and so it is this week in the discipline of service.
Our passage this morning is in the context of an argument among the disciples. James and John's mother came to Jesus and asked a bold request; "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom" (Mat 20:21). This mother was looking out for the well-being of her children, but in the process asked a question that she did not know she was asking. The response to this question is our text. Jesus is telling us that we are not to strive for position and power in this world, that is what the Gentiles do. What we are to do is to seek to be servants. This is not because Jesus is trying to keep us down, rather it is because Jesus is trying to tell us that he anticipates us acting like him. Remember the goal of discipline and discipleship is unity with God, or Christ-likeness. Look at the passage "even as the Son of Man" this is talking about Jesus. He came to serve, so should we. It is that plain and simple, yet it is a very difficult discipline to enact.
As an introduction, take time to discuss with your class their own desire for greatness. Encourage your class to be open and honest and let them know that it is not wrong to have these desires, we just need to understand (as the disciples did) that we "may not know what we are asking."
In this passage we see that the way to true greatness is on the pavement of service. We will take the remaining part of the morning seeing what true service looks like.
Service is not Self-Righteous
When one is presented with the discipline of service I believe there are two innate responses from within ourselves, which may even occur simultaneously. One is the inner response of no. When presented with service, which is to work for others, we have within ourselves the selfish desire to reject the opportunity. Second, we may accept the opportunity with the understanding that this will in some way benefit ourselves. This latter impulse is what we might call Self-Righteous Service, and it must be avoided if we are to practice the discipline of true service. If we think of Jesus we must remember that he did not think of himself first, though his disciples did. At the Last Supper Jesus "rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5). Not one of the disciples wanted to do this menial task, but Jesus, the master was not above it. These men said no, or at best realized one of them should have done it once they saw Jesus, but even then it would be self-righteous. Jesus did not practice self-righteous service, nor should we.
Self-Righteous service has many components to it, but lets discuss eight. First, Self-Righteous Service is human. This is a simple declaration that when we practice service for the sake of ourselves it originates only from ourselves. As Christians we should be people who are motivated by the will of God in our life and, as such, we should not be striving for anything outside of that will. The proper type of service we should seek, then, is to have service that is divine, that is, that is, directed by God. We must ever be listening to His will for our lives and be able to do it when he says so.
Second, Self-Righteous Service is interested in impressiveness. This means that those who self-righteously serve are interested in having others be impressed by their level of service. No one should say, "Look at me! I am a servant!" Though we may not say this aloud, how many of us say this in our heart? Self-righteous service is interested in how others perceive its service. True service is interested in serving alone, regardless of who notices or comments. Service is to be done for God alone, not for others.
Third, Self-Righteous Service wants rewards. This is an easy one for us to understand, but a hard one for us to practice. We have heard it many times that we should serve without expecting anything in return, but in our hearts we know we would like to receive some reward from it. A thank you, a nod of approval, an act of service in return, all of these we look for from time to time when we serve, but they are actually borne from a self-righteous desire to serve. True service must be seen in the reward of accomplishing God's will. He is pleased when we serve, and that is enough.
Fourth, Self-Righteous Service wants results. This aspect may seem a bit counterproductive. Should not any work that we do produce results? Should we not expect a benefit from the work we do, even if it is unrewarded and unnoticed? The answer is yes, if we understand that we are not the ones to determine that work or the results. Service becomes self-righteous when we work for our own means and the end of the service. We may evaluate a particular service as unworthy because we do not see results; this is self-righteous. True service works when we free ourselves from seeing any results at all. We should serve for the sake of serving.
Fifth, Self-Righteous Service is selective. When we pick and choose where we will serve we are doing it from a self-righteous motive. For instance, if we know we should serve but then decide we will serve in this area of town but not that area of town then we are serving self-righteously. True service is that which is indiscriminate. We do not get to choose when we serve. If God has called us to help a homeless person who is smelly and dirty, then we must do so, we cannot wait until he has a bath. Selective service is self-righteous because it is not obedient to the will of God.
Sixth, Self-Righteous Service is not based on feelings. Service that says, I feel like serving or I do not feel like serving today is self-righteous. Once again, we are placing the ability to serve God in our own hands and are driven by our desires and whims. Our schedules are full, our ability to entertain ourselves is high, so if an opportunity to serve presents itself often we evaluate the choice based upon if we "want" to do it. This is feeling based, this is self-righteous. What we must do for true service is to have it based upon faith. We say, "I know I am busy, but I believe God wants me to do this." God must be the one to direct our service.
Seventh, Self-Righteous Service is temporary. The one who decides to serve this month and not next, this week and not next, this day and not tomorrow, is the one who serves temporarily. They believe they have the choice of when they can serve or not. This is related to service that is human, and not divine. True service is such that is a lifestyle. We are not practicing service to just serve, but to become servants. The servant sees a need of service and does it automatically because it is a part of his or her life, not just an addition to the life.
Eighth, Self-Righteous Service destroys communities. When service is rendered based upon humans, rewards, accolades, etc. we as humans see through it and are often cynical to the reasons why someone serves. Though we may say aloud, "we cannot judge their hearts" we know in our hearts we have already condemned the other. When we practice self-righteous service we are doing so at the expense of the community that service is supposed to guild up. True service, devoid of all human intentions, on the contrary builds community. It allows others to see that someone saw them as worth-while and a joy that can only come from God is given and a bond formed that otherwise would not form is created. True service builds community; it builds the church.
Discuss with your class areas they have fallen into self-righteous service.
Service is Humble
1 John 2:16 says, "For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world." In this passage we see three aspects of the world that keep us from being humble servants. Desires and pride are worldly ideas that not only are not from the Father but are devices that keep us from truly serving. If we are to be servants we are to be humble. These two things are sometimes elusive for us to find, this is true because to be a servant or to be humble, is something that you cannot seek. It is something that you become by being in accordance to the will of God. We should be seeking the love of the Father and not that which is in the world. For this passage teaches us that those things are passing away and His is the only one that will remain.
Richard Foster clearly states the way in which we are to understand humility and service,
"Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance."
For us to be able to gain humility in service we must be willing to die to this world. Remember Mark 8:34 from last week, "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me", Jesus said this is the only way to be His follower. In fact, there is not other prescription for accomplishing the will of God in this world apart from the plan that is laid out by Jesus. In our passage today we see that Jesus serves by giving up His life, we too must serve by doing the same. When we deny our desires, in order to become servants, then we gain humility.
When we practice service in humility it becomes all the things it needs to be as discussed above, but it also allows us to see things we never would have seen before. This is because we become like many of those we may not have seen before. We should become, in some way, like what Paul says of himself, "To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the filth of the world, the refuse of all things." (1 Cor 4:11-13)
Discuss with your class ways in which God has humbled them by acts of service.
Service is a Lifestyle
In conclusion, we must see that to practice the discipline of service is to truly practice it. We must serve. Jesus has given us this mandate to serve the world. James says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Jas 1:27). If we are to serve we must act, we cannot just hold it in theory. We cannot just say we should serve and never do serve.
This active service must be one that is subservient. It is ever in service to others, but in response to God. There are times when our service is not appreciated, but we do it because God has called us to and we are submissive to His will for our lives. This type of service must also be, at times, hidden. It must not be practiced for others to see. It is something done for the sake of the Father and the benefit of others, never for our sake or our benefit.
In application, this morning we are having a ministry fair where you can sign up to serve. Here are some ways for you to serve at Hallmark Baptist Church:
- Life Groups
- Handy Man Ministry
- Men's Ministry
- Women's Ministry
- Children Worker Volunteer
- Nursery Worker
- Financial Peace
- Vacation Bible School
- Outreach to Missionaries
- Fort Worth Pregnancy Center
- What else?