“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
In the popular BBC Masterpiece Classic Downton Abbey, a great gulf stands between the members of the upper class Crawley family and their lower-class servants. The family members live life freely and fully, pursuing the activities and employment they desire. The household servants, however, have only relative freedom, spending most of their time attending to the needs of the family. When viewers like us watch this popular show, it is fair to say that we imagine ourselves living the life of the aristocracy, not the servant class. If given a choice, we’d rather be a member of a great family than a lowly servant. We’d rather be served than serve others.
Jesus’ disciples were also concerned about this. They argued over which disciple was the greatest and which was the least (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46, 22:24). On several occasions, Jesus rebuked their human way of thinking, teaching them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). But they just weren’t getting it.
On the last day of Jesus’ life, He acted out this message. His dinner with the disciples had just come to an end and Jesus was soberly thinking about His impending death. “He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4–5).
This was shocking behavior. Of all people at the dinner table that night, Jesus was the last person expected to serve, especially in such a menial way. The disciples were perplexed and probably embarrassed. After completing His service, Jesus gave a powerful concluding lesson: “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. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:14–17).
What a subversive message! Jesus, the greatest person to ever live, equated His greatness with a call to service. Though He could have demanded service from anyone, he chose to serve others. Jesus knew that service frees us from the need to prove our greatness. Serving others reminds us that our value lies not in our human status but in our relationship to God. We are His, and serving teaches us that that is enough.
Serving can take so many forms, but it always begins in the heart. Service that is half-hearted, self-righteous, or proud is not beneficial to anyone and certainly does not direct glory to God. Service in the name of Jesus is compassionate, kind, vulnerable, and submissive. And it brings incredible joy to the person who serves.
When we follow Jesus, we become servants. The question is no longer, “Will we serve?” but “How will we serve?” Ask God to give you the boldness and wisdom to utter this prayer: “Lord Jesus, as it would please You, bring me someone today whom I can serve.”