Being a servant is not glamorous. It’s not our first choice. It is not for the faint of heart. I remember as a young man, I left my hometown for the University of Missouri. It was the Fall of 1988 and I was encouraged to pledge a fraternity. I had friends and family members that made that choice and I assumed that it was the thing to do to meet friends and adapt to college life. Boy was I wrong! Fraternity life was an entirely different culture than what I was used to. Not just for the bad reasons that you can imagine. But it did nothing for my sense of responsibility and the need to study.
But something I did learn in those few months was the value of service. You see, on weekends when there was a home football game, my pledge brothers and I had to clean the house from top to bottom. Polishing furniture, vacuuming carpets, mopping floors and cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms were just a few of the things we were asked to do. I didn’t realize it then, but that semester, I learned that serving others was important.
It wasn’t until later that I stumbled across Jesus’ words in Mark 9:33. There, Jesus puts the value on being a servant. In Mark 9, Jesus has forecasted His suffering and death, in verses 9, 12 and 31. This occurs after the Transfiguration and describes the ultimate act of service, His death on the cross. Then the disciples discuss among themselves who is the greatest. Verse 34 states: “But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.”
That brings up a good question: What makes a great person? The world argues money, personal accomplishments, possessions, etc. But Jesus defines it entirely different. He states: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”’
The Apostle Paul learned this lesson. He had undergone this transformation from being served to serving. He was a Pharisee, a religious leader. He probably had a good and steady income. He was well known in the community. But then on the Road to Damascus, he meets the Lord Jesus Christ. And that turns his sense of worth and accomplishment completely on its ear! He would spend the rest of His life being a servant of Christ. The Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
In Philippians 2, Paul is writing from prison. What would make him happy? Their unity. And the key to that unity was the removal of self. This idea is summarized in Philippians 2: 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So the key to unity is humility, selflessness, etc. In verse five, we’re instructed to be like Jesus. 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”
Here, we are told several things about Christ. In verse six, we learn that Jesus did not walk around proudly, boasting of His divinity. It was realized subtly through His miracles. Jesus described Himself as gentle and lowly in heart in Matthew 11:28. Other translations use the word: “meek.” He did not seek to carry Himself as a king, but He was the King of Kings! No, Jesus came to this earth as a servant. He became one of us. Jesus said in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Not only did Jesus carry Himself as a servant, but notice the way in which He died. Paul said that Jesus: “…humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” Did you get that? Jesus humbled Himself and died as a criminal. Who died on Roman crosses in the first century? Only criminals. Yet Jesus did that to show His love for us, the true criminals, who’ve sinned against a holy God.
“How does this relate to church membership?” you might ask. Becoming a church member is about giving up your preferences. You go from operating alone, spiritually to becoming a part of a spiritual family. You are given a new identity and purpose, connected to others. Rainer states: “The strange thing about church membership is that you actually give up your preferences when you join. Don’t get me wrong; there may be much about your church that you like a lot. But you are there to meet the needs of others. You are there to serve others. You are there to give. You are there to sacrifice.” The word “servant,” or “serve,” is used again and again in Scripture, over 100 times combined and often describes the Christian.
Are we a servant Christian? Are we a servant church? Rainer points out ten dominant behavior patters of churches that are more self serving. I want to name just a few.
• Worship Wars: disagreements arise over the music and its style;
• Prolonged minutia meetings: business gatherings about things that don’t matter;
• Facility focus: taking care of the building at the cost of outreach;
• Program driven: maintaining certain activities without proper evaluating their effectiveness;
• Inwardly focused budget: spending more money on ourselves, than reaching out to the community;
• Attitudes of entitlement: wanting things done my way, at the risk of the best way;
• Greater concern about change than the gospel: The last seven words of the church: “We’ve never done it
that way before.”
• Anger and hostility: disregard for the feelings of others;
• Evangelistic apathy: not caring if others die without Christ and spend an eternity separated from God.
What is a common theme among all of these? Is it not self preservation, rather than serving God in the community? We can look at ourselves individually and know to be selfless rather than selfish. But do we look at ourselves as a church and ask: are we geared toward others, rather than geared towards ourselves? We can come away thinking that all we’re doing is good.
But as a church, we must be careful to be aware that we are here for more reasons than ourselves. We are not a club, nor are we a company. Our bottom line is not the most important thing, rather the changing of hearts and minds. We are called to spend and be spent for the spiritual welfare of others. When we lose sight of those things, we are track to death. Rainer states: “We will never find joy in church membership when we are constantly seeking things our way. But paradoxically, we will find the greatest joy when we choose to be last. That’s what Jesus meant when He said the last will be first. True joy means giving up our rights and preferences and serving everyone else.”
Our programs and activities cannot be that which drives us; rather the gospel, the good news of Jesus. That is what drives us. That is why God placed us in this community. That is the reason for our existence. The ministry, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
One person that saw his life as a response to Jesus’ great act of service was the early 20th century missionary to China, Eric Liddle. What made him such a good runner? What caused him to refuse to run on Sundays? What drove him to leave his comfortable surroundings to go to the Far Easter and minister in Christ’s name? Listen to the following story, as told by Dr. Peter Teague of Lancaster Bible College.
“When Eric entered the University of Edinburgh, he broke one record after another in sporting events. His sister wrote their parents in China saying: “Every week he brings home prizes. We’ve nowhere to put them all.” By the time he arrived at the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, Eric, dubbed “They Flying Scotsman,” was known worldwide as a powerful athlete and as an outspoken Christian who, despite refusing to race on Sundays, could win the gold.
But fame didn’t stop him from following his parents to China. He arrived there as a missionary in 1925. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he remained; and in 1943 he found himself interned in a camp outside of Beijing. Conditions were horrible. Eric ministered day-by-day, praying with the sick, coaching the children, witnessing to the lost. At times, though, his head throbbed. He began visibly weakening, and on February 21, 1945, he died. An autopsy revealed a massive brain tumor.
A camp survivor was asked the reason for Liddell’s influence at the camp. She replied that every morning at 6:00 he would rise and light the peanut-oil lantern o the little dormitory table just enough to illumine his Bible and notebook. There he would silently meet God at the start of each new day. It was the Flying Scotsman’s lifelong habit, she said, and the secret of his power.
Today, China is a land of 1.4 billion people. When the missionaries were expelled in 1948, it was estimated there were 850,000 Christians. An official survey in China has reported that the total number of Protestant Christians in the country now stands at 23 million.
Seventy-three percent of Christians have joined the church since 1993. This does not, however, include the vast number of Christians in unregistered house churches. The church in China has multiplied 24 times since 1949 and now the unofficial number is at least 103 million believers. It is estimated there are 9.1 million new Christians each year or 25,000 each day. Thirty-four million Chinese Christians still don not have their own copy of the Bible.”
When we read of Eric Liddle’s legacy and the amazing things that God is doing in China, we cannot help but to ask: “Lord, make my life count! Please use me to do great things for your gospel.” Amen.