Becoming a Servant

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Improving Your Serve

Read at beginning of service:

John 13:1-17 (NIV)

1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. 2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” 10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


Q. What do you call a chicken crossing the road?

A. Poultry in Motion

Q. What do you call a boomerang that doesn?t work?

A. A stick.

Q. What do you call four bullfighters in quicksand?

A. Quatro sinko.

Q. Where do you find a dog with no legs?

A. Right where you left him.

Q. What do you call cheese that isn?t yours?

A. Nacho cheese.

Q. What do you call a man who falls into an upholstery machine?

A. Fully recovered.

Q. What do you call a Christian who isn?t serving?

A. A contradiction.

This morning I?m beginning a new series called, “Improving Your Serve”. We?ve seen this morning that our church is saturated with servants, however, I?m making the assumption that each of us can ratchet up our servanthood quotient a notch. AS we?ll discover in the text for this message, our default setting is selfishness, not other-centeredness. In order to improve our serve we must seek the Savior and follow the model of the Master.

You and I have been redeemed for a reason. We?ve been converted to the cause of the Great Commission. Another way to say it is that we?ve been saved to serve. We are ordinary people who are part of an extraordinary plan ? a plan crafted by God ? and a plan that involves serving. One of the five purposes for why we exist as a church comes directly from Acts 2:45;

Acts 2:45 (NIV)

45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Let me just briefly summarize the five reasons for HPC. If someone asks you to describe the values and mission of HPC you can tell them that we are seeking to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission by:

Celebrating God?s Presence (Worship)

Demonstrating God?s Love (Ministry)

Communicate God?s Word (Mission)

Belong to God?s Family (Fellowship)

Educate God?s People (Discipleship)

4 Ways to Become a Servant

Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 20. We?re going to walk though this passage in order to learn four ways to become better servants. Let?s set the context. In the first part of chapter 20, Jesus told a parable about some laborers who were hired to work in a vineyard. The landowner decided to pay everyone the same wage, regardless of how long they worked in the fields. Those who were hired first started to complain because they didn?t think it was fair. Jesus concluded his teaching by saying in verse 16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Verse 19 tells us that as Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face suffering and death, He took the disciples aside and told them that He would be “mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day He will be raised to life.”

As we come to our text today, we?ll see that we?re really a lot like those first followers.

Check your motives (v 20-21)

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

In contrast to this announcement from the suffering servant we read that the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, “and kneeling down, asked a favor of Him.” This mother?s name was Salome, who was likely the aunt of Jesus. When we compare this account with Mark?s version, James and John are eager to have their mom go to bat for them. Maybe they thought that they?d have a better chance with Jesus if she made the request for them.

The phrase of “kneeling down” is an act of homage or reverence. Some translations use the word “worship.” Salome is following a very common protocol. First, she respects and honors Jesus and then asks a favor of Him. She begins with a general request and then is ready with her answer when Jesus asks, “What is it you want?” She responds by saying, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Now, before we get too tough on Salome, Jesus did say in Matthew 19:28 that “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” She got that part right but her methods were clouded because her motives were mixed up. While it?s perfectly understandable that a mother would want the best for her boys, she passed right over Matthew 19:30, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” and Matthew 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last”. Warren Wiersbe comments, “Jesus spoke about a cross, but they were interested in a crown.”

It?s really easy for our motives to get out of whack. James and John were interested in glory, position and rank. They wanted to be the closest to Jesus and they wanted to be higher than anyone else. And their mother desired the best for them. She came in worship but she also secretly wanted something. She bowed but also begged. She knelt down and asked a favor. All three of them wanted their will done in their way.

If we want to improve our serve or even get in the game, we must first learn to check our motives. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to have pure motivation? My motives are often misaligned, even when I try to keep them straight. In various things I have helped out with from time to time I have sincerely wanted to lend a hand but I also wanted people to know I was helping. My telling you this morning probably has an element of mixed motives in it. Even though I?m confessing my duplicity, my motive in telling you is probably to make you think better of me than I really am! It?s hard sorting out right motives!

As best as we can, we really need to get our reason for serving straightened out. It is the Lord God we serve. Don?t serve to impress others or to try to gain favor with God. Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this and told us about it in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5,

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 (NIV)

4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

When faced with this mother?s mixed up motives, Jesus asks a question to reveal what she was thinking: “What is it you want?” A truthful answer to this same question can help you and I in our serving as well. “What is it you want?” “Why are you doing this?” “Who are you serving?” “Who do you want to impress?”

Expect Difficulty

After Salome boldly makes her request, Jesus responds rather bluntly:

Matthew 20:22 (NIV)

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said, “You don?t have a clue what you?re asking!” The word “cup” was a symbol of suffering or affliction. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed,

Matthew 26:39 (NIV)

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In John 18:11, Jesus said to Peter,

John 18:11 (NIV)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Interestingly, both James and John answer this pointed question with complete confidence by saying, “We can.” I think they were a little to eager in their response. Jesus reinforces this when he says in verse 23,

Matthew 20:23 (NIV)

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup?

They wanted glory but Jesus tells them to get ready for some grief.

While we don?t always know in advance how much we?re going to suffer, we do know that if we?re serious about following Christ and serving Him wholeheartedly, we will face difficulty.

Philippians 1:29 (NIV)

29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,

James didn?t suffer long but he lost his life as the first of the twelve to be martyred (Acts 12:2). John lived to be about 95 but his life was filled with difficulty, culminating with his banishment to the island of Patmos.

Revelation 1:9 (NIV)

9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Friend, if you?re serious about serving, then get ready to suffer. To “drink of the cup” has reference not only to suffering, but refers to remaining faithful to the end. This phrase was understood to mean to drain the entire cup until it was emptied. While you can?t beat kingdom service for it?s value?it will not always be easy. If you?re serving in a ministry right now, chances are that you?ve already experienced some difficulty. If you haven?t yet, you will. Many people have done a disservice by promising that the Christian life will be trouble-free and by promoting ministry as simple and a piece of cake. It will cost you to serve Christ! Are you willing to pay the price?

Ministry is often a struggle but it is worth it! If you sense yourself wanting to pull back or find yourself wondering if your ministry matters, allow the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 encourage you:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

(next important way of becoming a servant?)

Put others first.

After checking our motives and expecting difficulty, the third route to becoming a servant is to put others first before yourself. In case you?re wondering how the other ten felt when they saw that James and John were trying to grab the power positions, look at verse 24:

Matthew 20:24 (NIV)

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

The word “indignant” means, “to be greatly afflicted.” They were really mad that these two were using a relative of Jesus to get special treatment and they weren?t going to give up the top spots without a fight. They weren?t appalled by the brothers? lack of understanding of true servanthood; they were mad that these two got to Jesus first. The spiritual attitude of the ten was not any better than that of the two. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be angry at the sin we see in others, while we indulge in the same ones ourselves? Why is it that we condemn in others what we excuse in our own lives?

Here we see that selfishness always results in dissension. When we think only of ourselves, community breaks down and unity is replaced with division and backbiting. That?s why one of the best things we can do as a church is to serve together. A church that serves together stays together.

I love what Jesus does next in the first part of verse 25:

Matthew 20:25 (NIV)

25 Jesus called them together?

That?s exactly what needs to happen when there is tension and strife. We need to come together. When Jesus calls them to Himself He does so with tenderness and familiarity. I picture Jesus calling a huddle and saying something like this, “Guys, please come here. Let?s get a circle going here together. Get a little closer so you can hear what I?m about to say.”

He knows their default nature is set on selfishness and so he calls them together. He doesn?t take the two brothers aside and blast away, nor does he slam the ten for being indignant. He brings them back to community and then gives them a lesson in how differently things are to run in His kingdom. There is a sharp contrast between the servanthood philosophy of the Savior and the world system in which they lived:

Matthew 20:25 (NIV)

? “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

The world?s way teaches that we should spend all our energy to get to the top and then when we get there we can boss others around.

Verse 26 begins with a rebuke as Jesus reframes their understanding:

Matthew 20:26 (NIV)

26 Not so with you?

A Christ-follower must not operate this way. The meaning here is: “It shall not be,” or “It must not be.” In the family of God there is only one category of people: servants. Notice the rest of this verse and verse 27:

Matthew 20:26-27 (NIV)

26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–

This was a counter-cultural and radical teaching for Jesus to define greatness in terms of servanthood because slaves were considered to be socially inferior. Even the few masters who believed that slaves were theoretical equals would not go as far as Jesus did when He inverted the role of the master and servant.

If the disciples wanted to be leaders in His kingdom, they first had to become servants. What is a servant? It?s someone who?s heart is intent upon, and whose will is bound to, the will and wishes of another. If I am your servant, then what you say goes. You have the last word.

One of the best biblical images of this single-minded resolve to put others first is found in Psalm 123:2,

Psalm 123:2 (NIV)

2 As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he shows us his mercy.

When the master moves his finger in command, the servant simply obeys. A true servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self and to subject the will to the wishes of another. What God says goes. When God says, “Jump,” we should say, “How high?”

Here?s the principle: If we want to become truly great then we must give up personal rights and serve others. WE need to be repeatedly reminded that our central ambition should be to minister to people, not to be admired by them.

Follow the example of Jesus

Jesus does not just shake up our self-centered motives and tell us to expect difficulties. He also challenges us to put others first. And, in case we?re wondering how to do this, He offers Himself as the perfect role model. Look at verse 28,

Matthew 20:28 (NIV)

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This verse has been rightly regarded as one of the most precious of Christ?s sayings. Jesus is both our example and our motivation.

He wasn?t focused on keeping His position and getting more. In fact, according to Philippians 2:3-7, Jesus left His throne in order to serve us:

Philippians 2:3-7 (NIV)

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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.

He served the needs of others and then demonstrated the ultimate act of servanthood when He gave His life as payment for our sins, so that we can be set free. The true standard of greatness is the Savior?s pattern of self-sacrifice.

Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy?s, who died in the last few years, once appeared on the cover of their annual report dressed in a knee-length work apron holding a mop and a plastic bucket. Here?s how he described that picture:

“I got my M.B.A. long before my G.E.D. At Wendy?s M.B.A. does not mean Master of Business Administration. It means Mop Bucket Attitude.”

Dave got his M.B.A. from following the model of the Master.


Bucket Theology

Friend, DO YOU HAVE A BUCKET THEOLOGY? Do you remember what Pilate did when he had a chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a bucket and washed his hands of the whole thing.

Matthew 27:24 (NIV)

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

But Jesus, the night before His death, called for a bucket and proceeded to wash the dirty and dusty feet of His disciples. It all comes down to bucket theology. Which one will you use?

Pilate?s paradigm is alive and well today. He knew what he should have done but he took the easy way out. He passed on to others the responsibility that should have been his. Many people today pass the buck and wash their hands clean of everything they can.

Maybe it?s because we think Somebody Else will do it.

There?s a clever young guy named Somebody Else,

There?s nothing this guy can?t do.

He is busy from morning till way late at night,

Just substituting for you.

You?re asked to do this or you?re asked to do that,

And what is your reply?

Get Somebody Else to do that job,

He?ll do it much better than I.

So much to do in this weary old world,

So much and workers so few,

And Somebody Else, all weary and worn,

Is still substituting for you.

(quoted in “Becoming a Servant” by Brian Bill)

Far too many have been content to let Somebody Else do the work. The problem with this is that there aren?t that many Somebody Elses out there. And those there are have grown weary and tired. Pilate?s bucket is the wrong choice. It leads to death and destruction. But there is another choice.

In John 13:4-5 we see that Jesus and His disciples are sharing the Passover meal together when Jesus,

John 13:4-5 (NIV)

4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 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.

Peter didn?t like that Jesus, as the guest of honor, was doing this. Have you ever stopped and wondered why Peter was so upset that Jesus was washing their smelly feet? It was because Peter knew it wasn?t Jesus? responsibility. Washing feet was the job of the lowest of all slaves. This was unheard of! Jesus was their teacher. If anything, they should be washing His feet!

Roads in Jerusalem were covered with a thick layer of dust. When it rained, they turned to liquid slush. It was the custom for the host to provide a slave at the door of his home to wash the feet of dinner guests as they arrived. The servant would kneel with a bucket of water and a towel and scrub off the manure and mud from foul feet. If a home could not afford a slave, one of the early arriving guests was to take upon himself the role of the house servant and wash feet. It’? interesting that none of the disciples had volunteered for the job! Chuck Swindoll writes,

“The room was filled with proud hearts and dirty feet. The disciples were willing to fight for a throne, but not a towel.” (Improving your Serve, Page 164)

Listen. Jesus is revealing that servanthood is in fact the responsibility of those who follow Him.

John 13:14-15 (NIV)

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Does this mean that foot washing is supposed to be a church ordinance today? I don?t have time to go into this now but I do want to say that this is a reenactment of heaven emptying itself for the sake of earth. At the very minimum Jesus is showing us that if the Son of God could humble Himself and serve, then we must do the same.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. And we must do likewise. Like the disciples, we are often filled with a worldly spirit of criticism and competition as we try to position ourselves in the best light and maneuver things for our own gain. We desperately need this lesson in humility.

Obedience means personal involvement. We can?t serve from a distance but must get close enough to get our hands dirty. If we?re going to serve like Christ served, then we must learn to see others as He sees them. In John 13:17, Jesus tells us that if we do these things, we will be blessed. In the final analysis, happiness comes from doing the things that a servant does, managing our motives, getting ready for difficulties, putting others first, and following the example of Christ.

Peter never forgot this image of Jesus taking off His outer garments and replacing them with a towel to do the work of a slave. These outer garments represented His position as the great I AM, the King of King and Lord of Lords, but He willingly laid them aside in order to serve. This greatly impacted as you can learn when Peter wrote,

1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)

5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

D.L. Moody once said,

We may easily be too big for God to use, but never too small.

Proud Peter had learned his lesson.

Pilate uses his bucket to avoid his rightful responsibility. Jesus used His bucket to take on responsibility which most would say was not His in the first place. If we call ourselves Christ followers then we shouldn?t be looking for ways to wash our hands but instead we should be getting them dirty.

What are you waiting for?

After lightning struck an old shed, a farmer was relieved because now he didn?t have to tear it down. The rain cleaned off his car and that saved him from having to wash it. When asked what he was doing now, he replied, “I?m waiting for an earthquake to shake the potatoes out of the ground.” (quoted in “Becoming a Servant” by Brian Bill)

If we want to become servants, we can?t just wait for something to happen. Jesus said we?re blessed when we do something. Let me give you four action steps.

Serve whenever you can.

Serve wherever you can.

Serve whoever is in need.

Be willing to do whatever it takes.

Next week we?ll focus on how God has uniquely gifted each one of us so that we can serve in ways that are a perfect match for who we are.

I want to close with some helpful words from Richard Foster in his book called, “The Celebration of Discipline.”

Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from the whispered promptings of Christ.

Self-righteous service is impressed with the big deal. True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large.

Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests in hiddenness.

Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.

Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle.

Self-righteous service fractures community. True service builds community.

Letters from the close of the 18th Century often ended with this standard description of service: “I am, with due respect, your obedient, humble servant.” But over time this closing shriveled into a mere formality: “Sincerely Yours.”

Friends, let?s leave this service and live our lives as obedient and humble servants. Don?t be a contradiction.

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