If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)
Who is your master?
Modern society in most places crave independence and self-seeking autonomy. Many like to think that they can chart their own individual course and be the master of their own destiny, free to do whatever they please and go wherever they choose. What rules us, however, reveals the true master and driving force in our lives. We can be mastered by many things – power, fame, wealth, drugs, alcohol, sexual addictions, fantasies, and gambling – to name but a few. What’s the driving force (or forces) in your personal life?
Bob Dylan wrote a gospel song in 1979 entitled, You Gotta Serve Somebody. It made a simple point – no matter who you are or what your status is – you have to serve somebody.
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…
You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…
You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…
Only one master can offer us total freedom from slavery to sin, Satan, and our unruly appetites. That master is the Lord Jesus Christ who defeated sin and Satan through his victory on the cross. Is the Lord Jesus the master and ruler of your life – your heart, home, family, friends, work, and possessions?
Serving Christ in all things
Our destiny is to share in God’s glory and to serve him for ever before his throne in heaven (Revelations 7:15). Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century church father, said, “The glory of God is man fully alive” (Against Heresies, IV:20). We are truly alive when we give our lives to the Lord Jesus and allow him to reign in our hearts and minds. The life he gives us is abundant and everlasting (John 10:10). Our joy and privilege is to offer our lives to him in thanksgiving and live for him as his servants, laying down our lives for him just as he has laid down his life for us.
The Lord Jesus invites each one of us to follow him wherever he may lead us (John 12:26). As his servants we aim to serve him in everything we do. Paul the Apostle says: Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men (Colossians 3:23).Whether at home or on the job we are servants of Jesus Christ. We serve him fulltime, all the time.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.(Colossians 3:17)
A person who is empowered to act in someone’s name acts with that person’s authority. When we act as servants of Jesus Christ we reign with him. Christ wants to restore his rightful dominion over the earth. He wants the Father’s will in heaven to be done on earth as well. When we speak and act in the Father’s name as servants of Christ, we bring God’s rule to bear on the earth. The more we act as God’s servants the more we share in God’s reign and authority.
Freedom to be the servant of all
Paul the Apostle identified his life so closely with the Lord Jesus that he exclaimed, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). He called himself the bondservant or slave of Christ (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1). And for the sake of Christ he made himself a slave to all. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more (1 Corinthians 9:19).
Paul used the freedom he gained in Christ in order to serve the gospel of Christ and to make it accessible to as many people as possible. He literally gave his life away so that Christ could use him as Christ saw fit for the spread of the gospel to all the nations.
Paul encourages each one of us to do the same – to imitate him in the way he united himself to Christ and placed himself at the service of others.
Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.(Galatians 5:13)
Christian servanthood is the flipside of Christian freedom. If the Lord Jesus has truly set us free from bondage to Satan, the flesh, and the world, then we are indeed set free to give ourselves without reserve to the one we owe the greatest debt of gratitude – the Lord Jesus Christ, our true Master and Liberator.
Christ has set us free to love and serve unconditionally for the good and welfare of others. If we seek to serve for any other motive, then we are still a slave to our fleshly appetites and to the world – a slave to pride, fear, guilt, or some reward that will serve our own interests and personal ambitions. Only a heart that has surrendered to the greatest lover of all can be a servant of all. To lose all for Christ is to gain all in Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). The servant of Christ is the freest of all because nothing can separate that person from the love of Christ:
..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord .(Romans 8:37-39)
Christian servanthood makes no claims or limitations
Christian servanthood cannot be limited to a set of tasks, duties, or responsibilities. It is more than something one does with his or her free time and personal resources. It is more than just helping other people or doing favors for them. It is more than having a set of responsibilities and fulfilling them. It is more than just caring for other people and serving them.
Christian servanthood is a way of life – a life marked by kindness, mercy, compassion, zeal, and fervor for God, and unconditional love for others. It is akin to sonship. One is born or adopted into sonship. Sonship lasts: once a son, always a son. Servanthood is a life-long relationship of love, honor, respect, and caring service for others. It does not change with circumstances. Christian servanthood involves following Jesus Christ and serving him wherever, whenever, and however it may please him.
If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.(John 12:26)
Christian servanthood is for all Christians. It’s not reserved for those in special ministry or full-time Christian service. In fact one doesn’t really volunteer for it. It is simply an essential part of what it means to be called by the Lord as his follower.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.(John 15:16)
When the Lord calls us he invites us to abandon all for him and for his service. Is the cost too great or the sacrifice too hard? Only love can demand all and give all in return.
Personal servants of the Lord
Our calling and privilege is to be the Lord’s servants now and forever in his kingdom.
We are personal servants of the Lord. We listen to his word and fix our eyes upon him (Psalm 123:2) as we seek his presence daily and offer him praise and worship (Psalm 27:4; 100:2; 105:4). The Lord, in turn, speaks his mind with us, relates to us personally, shares his work with us, honors us and draws us into his presence and intimate fellowship with him. Our commitment is total and for life. We owe God our absolute loyalty and unswerving faithfulness. We will serve no other Master above him. We are at his service with every moment of our lives.
Servanthood is a corporate calling as well. We serve God together as a people and not just individually. We need to corporately follow the Lord, obey him and serve him with our gifts, talents and resources.
Training in servanthood
If we want to be effective servants of Christ we need training. An athlete who wants to excel first submits to a coach who can instruct and drill him or her into the right kinds of habits, mindset, and skills. Training often involves unlearning bad attitudes and practices so we can take on a new mindset and discipline that will lead to growth and maturity. The Lord wants us to unlearn the world’s way of serving for personal gain so we can take on his heart and concern for the welfare of others.
Paul the Apostle tells us, “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:5).Jesus took on the heart, attitude, and mind of a servant for the sake of his Father and for our sake as well. We are called to imitate Jesus precisely in the way he embraced the Father’s will as his own and willingly took on a servant’s mantle.
For I have come…not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.(John 6: 38)
The Lord wants to teach us how to serve others with his mind and heart. If we ask him to give us a servant’s heart, he will use the daily circumstances of our lives and the various opportunities we have to serve others as means to train and equip us as his servants.
If we are serious about growing in Christian servanthood, then we need to let the Lord transform our minds and hearts and remove the obstacles that stand in the way of our growth. Like clay in the potter’s hand, we can abandon our lives to the Lord knowing that he will fashion us into strong, noble vessels fit for his use. Paul the Apostle reminds us that the choice is ours – be noble vessels, consecrated and useful for any good work the Master chooses.
In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.(2 Timothy 2:20,21)
To be a servant like Christ takes character, faith, and perseverance. If we are ready to say yes, the Lord will change us and help us to grow in the servant-like qualities which he desires for us. As we walk in the Holy Spirit and take on the Lord’s mind and heart, our lives will take on the servant-like qualities of our master and we will experience greater fruitfulness in our ability to love and serve others.
What are the servant-like qualities which the Lord wants us to grow in? By looking to Jesus we can see what God’s character is like and what our character as his sons and daughters should also be like.
The scriptures describe the following characteristics of a godly servant:
- Love, generosity, and kindness towards those we are serving; not meager, begrudging, or half-hearted
- Faithfulness, loyalty, and trustworthiness in our relations with others; they can count on us and depend on us serving their best interests
- Meekness, lowliness, and patience in waiting on those we are called to serve; not seeking to promote ourselves but seeking to promote the welfare of others
- The readiness to do any good work the Lord may call us to do; not putting limits on our service
- Obedience, reliability, and zeal in doing whatever is required of us; not trying to get things to go our own way;
- Diligence and a will to work hard for the Lord; not a comfort seeker or lazy worker.
Obstacles to servanthood
Being a servant of the Lord Jesus requires death to self. If we want to follow the Lord and imitate him in his servanthood, then we must root out, with God’s help, all obstacles which may hinder us. These obstacles include:
- Pride, glory-seeking, and self-conceit: Pride keeps us from accepting the grace of God. Pride does not like to be at anybody’s mercy, to receive anything unearned, or to be obligated to anyone. Pride wants to say: “I am nobody’s servant; let others serve me and do my bidding.” How different was the character of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.
- Fear, insecurity, and poor self-image: These hinder us from loving and serving others with confidence and assurance. Insecurity is often due to a wrong or false notion of humility, self-esteem and self-respect. Jesus could humble himself in lowly service for us because he was full of confidence in his relationship with his Father. Rejection, dishonor and ill-treatment from others did not stop Jesus from serving them. He loved us even while we were his enemies.
- Selfish ambition, lust for power and status, greed for gain: These keep us in bondage to sin and self-centeredness. Jesus emptied himself and made himself poor and nothing in the eyes of the world so that by serving us we could regain our status as sons of God and inherit the kingdom of heaven.
- Self-importance, empire-building, or careerism: These are rooted in being too attached to one’s own personal vision and ambitions at the expenses of serving someone or something greater. Jesus lost himself in doing the Father’s will. He was willing to lay down his life so we could find a new life in God’s eternal kingdom.
- Spiritual smugness or “doing favors for God”: This is rooted in placing too much importance and investment in one’s achievements and position, rather than humbly accepting the place or service that God assigns. Jesus told his disciples to say to themselves after they had carried out everything, which the Master commanded of them: We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. (Luke 17:10)
The end goal for all true lovers of God is to be noble vessels of his love who bring him glory and honor in everything we do. As disciples who want to follow the Lord Jesus. Our goal is to be selfless servants who give their all for the love of Christ. We want to be servants who are free from the tyranny of being ruled by fear, pride or selfish ambition.
In response to Christ’s lavish love for us, we want to be servants who have one ambition in life – to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself. We want to be servants who seek their reward in God.
We want to be called the faithful and true followers of the Lamb of God – the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us. We want to join in the assembly of the other faithful servants of the Lamb of God in the New Jerusalem. We want to serve our God forever and enjoy his blessed company.
There shall… be nothing accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads.(Revelation 22:3-4)
This article is excerpted from Servants of Jesus Christ: What can the New Testament Teach us about the transforming power of Christ’s love and way of servanthood?, Chapter 4, By Don Schwager, © The Sword of the Spirit, 2010, 2021
Photo credit: collage of family images from Bigstock.com.