Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Spiritual Disciplines - Part 5: Service


Spiritual Disciplines V






“It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).  “For you were called for freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13); “For through I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19). 



The God with the Towel


When Jesus gathered His disciples on the night of His betrayal they were having trouble deciding who was the greatest among them (Luke 22:24).  This was not a new issue for them (Luke 9:46).  “Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware the someone needed to wash the other’s feet.  The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least.  So there they sat, feet caked with dirt.  No one wanted to be considered the least.  Then Jesus took a towel and a basin and redefined greatness” (Foster p. 126), the text reads that Jesus  “Arose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:4-5).  Jesus then said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:13-15).


Ordinary Service


“In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, house and land for the sake of the gospel than His word to wash feet.  Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure.  If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom.  But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves.  Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial” (Foster pp. 126-127).   Washing feet was a very menial task, usually the task of a lowly slave. Yet here we begin to see the difference between a self-righteous service and true service. 


Self-righteous Service Verses True Service



“Self-righteous service is impressed with the ‘big deal’.  It enjoys serving, especially when the service is titanic.  True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service” (Foster p. 128).  The true servant welcomes indiscriminately all opportunities to serve and realizes that such little things as “a cup of cold water” is valuable to God (Matthew 10:42).  Consider what God said about Dorcas in (Acts 9:39). 


“Self-righteous service requires external rewards.  It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort.  It seeks human applause—with proper religious modesty of course.  True service rests contented in hiddenness.  It does not fear the lights and glare of attention, but it does not seek them either.  Since it is living out of a new Center of reference, the divine nod of approval is completely sufficient” (Foster p. 128).  The like the idea of “hiddenness”, that is, the attitude of serving without any thought of what people may say or think.  True service does not need recognition from one’s fellow man, Jesus noted that the Pharisees were in the habit of only doing things to be “seen of men” (Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them”; 23:5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men”).  In contrast, He stressed, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4).  This is an interesting statement.  “But how could my left hand be ignorant of the deeds of my right, since neither have minds of their own, and both are but instruments of my mind?  But that is just the point:  both hands represent the giver and he must so learn to do good to others that it becomes an unconscious life habit with him.  If we would free ourselves from being overly conscious of men’s praise”(Fowler p. 330).  “The question is not so much what the hand is doing (passing over cash or a check), but what the heart is thinking while the hand it doing it.  There are three possibilities.  Either we are seeking the praise of men, or we preserve our anonymity but are quietly congratulating ourselves, or we are desirous of the approval of our divine Father alone” (Stott p. 128).


“Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results.  It eagerly waits to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind.  It becomes bitter when the results fall below expectations.  True service is free of the need to calculate results.  It can serve enemies as freely as friends” (Foster p. 129).  I believe that sometimes we stop serving or limit our service because of a bad experience in the past.  Sometimes people will complain, “I got burned, I am not doing that again”.  If we serve someone and they do not respond in serving God themselves, we cannot allow this to hinder us from serving someone else.  Jesus was washing the disciples feet, even though one of them would betray Him (John 13:2).  Jesus died for all men, even though He knew that many would not serve Him or even appreciate His sacrifice.  Paul served the Corinthians fully and sacrificially, even though many of them did not seem to appreciate or welcome his efforts (2 Corinthians 12:15 “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.  If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?”). 


Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve, but true service is indiscriminate, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Romans 1:14).  “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  “Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims.  It can serve only when there is a ‘feeling’ to serve.  True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.  It knows that the ‘feeling to serve’ can often be a hindrance to true service.  The service disciplines the feelings rather than allowing the feeling to control the service.  Self-righteous service is temporary.  It functions only while the specific acts of service are being performed.  Having served, it can rest easy.  True service is a life style” (Foster p. 129). 


The Concern About Being Burned


“A natural and understandable hesitancy accompanies any serious discussion of service. The hesitancy is prudent since it is wise to count the cost before plunging headlong into any Discipline.  We experience a fear the comes out something like this:  ‘If I do that, people will take advantage of me; they will walk all over me’” (Foster p. 132).  The disciples seem to have had the same concern, that is, if they did not strive and struggle for prominence, they might end up last.  Tenney notes, “According to custom in the oriental household, a slave washed the feet of guests who had come through the dust and filth of the street.  Since the last supper was held in a private home, and probably as a secret meeting, it is understandable why no slave was present to fulfill this task.  Furthermore, the disciple’s minds were preoccupied with dreams of elevation to office in the coming kingdom.  They were jealous lest one of their fellows should claim the best place.  Consequently, not one of them was likely to abase himself by volunteering to wash the feet of the others.  They were ready to fight for a throne, but not for a towel!” (pp. 198-199).   Yet consider what Paul said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave of all, that I might win the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19).   There is a big difference between voluntary and involuntary service.  When I choose to be a servant, yes people will take advantage of our kindness and help and we will end up getting burned by some, but that should not shock us, because we understood the cost up front.  The fear of being taken advantage of and stepped on is justified, because that will probably happen!  Yet, there will be people who will truly profit from our service.  Notice the word “might” in the above passage.  In serving people, the Christian knows that there are no guarantees that such a person will come to Christ or remain saved, yet we serve because we understand the value of simply being given the chance to be saved, because long ago someone gave us the same opportunity. 


The True Benefactor


Foster notes, “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness” (p. 130).  John spoke of the “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16).  The lust of the eyes includes the tendency to be captivated by outward show and the boastful pride of life includes pretentious egoism and infatuation with natural human powers and abilities without any dependence upon God.  It also includes taking ourselves too seriously.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, “Nobody is too good for the meanest service.  One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly”(Life Together p. 97).  The person who truly benefits from true service is the person doing the serving.  Serving others, without any thought of earthly reward or praise, is a great lesson in humility, the worth of other people, the importance of little acts of kindness, it is a rebuke to the flesh that is so concerned about recognition and our own self-importance, or the attitude, “What is in this for me?”  “People whom we once only envied we now view with compassion, for we see not only their position but their pain. People whom we would have passed over before we now ‘see’ and find to be delightful individuals” (Foster p. 131).


Practical Acts of Service Include:


·        The service of protecting another’s reputation.  That is, refusing to gossip or listen to gossip.

·        Allowing others to serve us (John 13:8).

·        The service of hospitality (1 Peter 4:9).

·        The service of listening and bearing burdens (Galatians 6:2).

·        The service of sharing the gospel.

·        The service of common courtesy, “showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:2).  Some people might complain that acts of courtesy are meaningless or hypocritical.  Yet that is a myth.  Such simple things as asking, “How are you?”, is our cultural way of acknowledging the presence and importance of another human being.  Words of “thank you” and “yes, please”, letters of appreciation, thank you cards and cards of comfort are all responses that are services of courtesy. 


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017