Any look into a study of what a servant is should end and begin with Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus Christ is the best example in history of what it looks like to be a servant.
In scripture we realize quickly that the twelve disciples, who spent huge amounts of time with Jesus during his earthly ministry, were not perfect. Nowhere near it. Time and time again the disciples individually and collectively do foolish things. They say the wrong things, do things the wrong way, and constantly need of correction.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You
will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28 ESV
I’m not sure where the idea originally came from, but someone wanted to be sure of their own future. Whether James and John wanted a special place of honor or their mom made the decision, we don’t know. We do know that James, John and their mom approach Jesus with this question, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”
This is a very bold and very straightforward question from the mom. She’s basically asking, “Make my sons the vice-president and secretary of state.” After questioning back and forth, Jesus lets the mom and her two sons know that it’s ultimately not his place to assign who sits on his right or left. He submits to the Father and his preparations for the kingdom to come. This whole conversation between Jesus, the mother, James and John annoys the rest of the disciples. Jesus senses this tension and addresses them with the following from Matthew 20:24-28:
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way 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 20:24-28
Jesus teaches the disciples a wonderful lesson about how we should interact with others. We don’t get what we want through power, position, title or authority. The Kingdom of God is fueled by service and servanthood. We must serve each other with humility and kindness. We must put aside our position and say, “I am here for YOU”.
As Christians we should be symbiotically dependent on one other through our acts of service to one another. When we demand things through power and position we fail to follow the model of Jesus Christ and we fail to serve our brothers and sisters.
Jesus is serious about this, even throwing in the phrase, “whoever wished to be first among you shall be your slave”. The slavery that Jesus asks of the disciples is voluntary slavery unlike slavery we know from history. We are called to voluntarily consider ourselves slaves to those around us. This echoes Philippians 2:3-4.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Others first and us last… no matter our position, title, or where we sit in the authority structure of life.”
Jesus’ final line says, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Jesus above anyone else has the right to be served. Philippians says, “every knee will bow”. 1 Peter says Jesus “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth.” John says, “All things came into being though Him”. Revelation says Christ is the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. If anyone throughout all of creation from the beginning of time should be served, He is Jesus Christ. But to show the example of how we should interact for each other and more importantly our salvation from our captivity in sin, He willfully chose to serve us!
So how will you SERVE today? How will you embrace a position of a slave rather than a position of authority? What are some ways that you can embrace the life the Jesus modeled here on earth?