To Serve Learn to Be Served

When it comes to serving, it’s easy to put too much weight on it or too little.

The Christian faith strongly advocates doing a lot of good works, but it has a very specific way in which these works are to be done. They are not to be done as if our relationship with God depended on them, and they are not to be done in our own power and strength.

One day, Jesus went to a village and stayed with his friends Mary and Martha. Mary was listening to Jesus talk. Martha was doing housework in service of the guests.

Eventually, Martha got tired of doing all the work and spoke to Jesus, “Tell Mary to come help me with this work.” Can you imagine sisters doing something like that?

Jesus did not tell Mary to help Martha. Instead, he said: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

In Jesus’ view, fellowship with Him was more important than the service Martha was doing. It was not that what Martha was doing was wrong or unimportant. It was that what Jesus could do for Martha was far more important than what Martha could do for Him.

This is a crucial teaching of our biblical faith. Our service to Jesus always needs to flow out of Jesus’ service to us. To serve properly, learn to be served by Jesus.

One way of thinking about this in our modern world is balance.. The wisest thinkers of our day recognize that working well for the long haul requires balance between work and the other aspects of our lives. Jesus tells us that fellowship with God is the most important source of human refreshment and strengthening.

Yet I, like you, often forget, and I can hear Jesus coming to me and saying, “Wes, Wes, you are worried and upset about many things . . .”

Another time Jesus taught about service was at the Last Supper. Everyone was sitting around the table, and no one had taken the initiative to provide the common courtesy of foot washing for the people who were present. So, Jesus did it Himself.

To put this in modern terms, think of Jesus coming to your house. Then, He goes to your bathrooms and starts cleaning your toilets. It would almost be weird, scandalous even. That’s probably the reaction the disciples had when they saw Jesus washing their feet. This was servants’ work!

When He was through, He told His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12–15).

It could hardly be clearer. We should take up service, whether it means washing feet or cleaning toilets or helping those in need. This is the Master’s example, and we are to follow it.

We must not think we can serve Christ until we have been served by Christ, but we should not think Christ’s power is unavailable for service. If we see what needs to be done, we should go in Christ’s power. That’s what He said: “If you know these things, blessed are you, if you do them” (John 13:17).

To sum up, we think too much of works when they become a greater priority than our relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus. This not only neglects what is most important, it also deprives us of the refreshment and strengthening we need in order to serve.

We value them too little, when, having Christ’s presence and power, we just sit around the table when feet need to be washed.


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