Bible Study: The High Calling of Servanthood

As long-time readers know, I have the privilege of serving as a visiting professor at the In His Image Family Medicine Residency in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have recently identified their core values as: Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Excellence, and Servanthood and asked me to speak to the faculty and staff on the topic of servanthood. I thought you might be interested in seeing my remarks. I’m grateful to Dr. Charles Stanley on his teaching on the topic and my talk is adapted from a 2010 sermon he gave on the topic.

Introduction: There are many names the New Testament uses to address followers of Jesus: Christians, brothers and sisters, the Church, children, friends of Jesus, believers, soldiers, ambassadors, disciples, the elect, sons and daughters, and saints. But one of the primary words is servant or bondservant. The books of Romans, Philippians, James, and Second Peter all begin with references to the writers being servants or bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ. These early church leaders were simply following the teaching and the example of Jesus.

Unfortunately, many Christians aren’t interested in being servants. Many Christians, like those in the world, are most interested in beauty or brawn, brains, and bucks. Or, power, prestige, and position. Our thoughts, actions, and even our prayers center around fulfilling our desires. Instead of serving others, we fight for the highest position or the most impressive title.

But Jesus taught and modeled something completely

Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11 – Paul’s description of incarnation.

5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In spite of His popularity, Christ never sought earthly power or position or prestige. Our Lord came into this world as a servant and Jesus remained committed first and foremost to offer Himself as a servant.

Dr. Charles Stanley says, “If you and I are to make the impact in life upon others that we should; if we are to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for our life; and if we’re to reap the maximum blessings that God has prepared for us; we, too, must develop the spirit of a servant, and our actions must be the actions of a servant. A servant who realizes that Jesus is not only our Savior, but He is the Master of our life. Any unwillingness or resistance to serve others in His name is an act of rebellion.”

As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus, who was equal with God but humbled Himself and became a man.

There’s an interesting lesson for us in Matthew 20:25-28. It occurs after the mother of Zebedee’s sons asked Jesus for the favor that one of her sons could sit at His right hand and the other at His left in His kingdom. Of course, when the other disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two. Jesus called them all together and said this,

25You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Christ links true greatness to wanting to be a servant.

The Bible clearly teaches that the way to true greatness is through serving Christ. Jesus said, in John 12:25-26, “25Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The Message version makes this “hates their life” thing a bit clearer: “Anyone who holds on to life, just as it is, destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”

Jesus goes on, “26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

The Father honors those who serve Him. And we serve Him by serving and loving others. We do this by genuinely and lovingly providing care and caring for other people.

Biblical servanthood can be defined as loving acts performed in the power of the Holy Spirit to meet the temporal and spiritual needs of those around us—and leaving the results to God.

Most people are concerned about three persons: me, myself, and I. It’s all about self. It’s selfish and it doesn’t bring joy, rather it robs us of true joy. Servanthood actually can result in true joy. Let me explain:

My definition of “the virtues” or “the core values” by which I live is this: the virtues or values by which I can demonstrate the love of Christ in action in my life.

Jesus was asked in Matthew 22:36, “36Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

And in Matthew 22:37-40:

37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

You see, if the fundamental obligations of the Christian life are love for God and love for others, how then does this love manifest itself?

My “virtues” or “core values” are simply forms or expressions of love, for love is clearly the comprehensive virtue of the Christian life.

Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

“Love” is mentioned first in the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

22The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patients, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law.

Paul teaches that “love” is more than simply one fruit among the many. Rather, “love” is the first, the primary, the principle fruit of which all the others are various manifestations.

I think the verse could be punctuated this way: The fruit of the Spirit is love: joy, peace, patients, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 2gentleness, and self-control.

For

  • joy is love singing;
  • peace is love resting;
  • patience is love enduring;
  • kindness is love’s self-forgetfulness;
  • goodness is love’s character;
  • faithfulness is love’s habit;
  • gentleness is love’s true touch;
  • self-control is love holding the reins.

After the primary fruit of love, is the second fruit of joy. I heard one person say, “JOY is an acrostic for the Spirit-filled life; a life that focuses first upon Jesus, secondly upon others, and then finally upon, yourself.”

To be a servant, each of us must stop focusing on ourselves and generously meet the needs of others. If we do this without expecting recognition from people, Scripture promises that the Father will honor us.

My question for you: As a follower of Jesus, do you see yourself first and foremost as a person who loves others via your servanthood? Are you, first and foremost, a servant … or one who prefers to be served?

Let me quickly share with you four characteristics of servanthood that I think are critical to understand.

What is God’s design for servanthood?

1. Servanthood is … God’s work for every believer.

All our actions should reflect the fact that Jesus is not only our Savior, but also, the master of our lives. We are to be His servant.

In the Old Testament many were referred to as servants. God spoke of Abraham as His servant (Genesis 26:24; Numbers 12:7). Joshua is called the servant of the Lord (Joshua 24:29), as are David (2 Samuel 7:5) and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3).

In all of these instances, the term servant carries the idea of humble nobility. Being God’s servant is an honorable position.

Throughout the New Testament, the word bondservant or servant is applied to someone absolutely devoted to Jesus.

Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude all describe themselves as “bondservants of Christ” (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1).

The bondservant was the slave with the lowest position in the house, whose tasks included washing the feet of any visitors to the home.

These were great saints, each of whom weren’t concerned with titles but with serving their Savior.

Salvation means more than forgiveness and the assurance of heaven; it signifies that we are now servants of the living God.

The author of Hebrews writes that one of the reasons God saves us is that we may be His servants. In Hebrews 9:14, he writes, “14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

By actively serving Him here on earth, we are preparing for eternity with the Lord. As it says in Revelation 22:3, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.” We are predestined as followers of Jesus to spend eternity serving the Lord God.

When the body of Christ loves and serves those in and outside of the church, God can make an impact through us on the world that is absolutely irresistible.

For example, when our patients walk in here, we should not ask, “Can I help you?” Well, duh, they wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t help them.

Instead, consider asking, “How can I help you?” or, can you imagine the impact you might have when you ask, “How may I serve you today?”

There is no more penetrating or influential question we can ask than, “How may I serve you?”

2. Servanthood is … how God carries out His work.

In John 14:11-14, Jesus told His disciples that they would do even greater works than He did. Jesus said:

11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

While our actions cannot compare to the work Christ accomplished on the cross, none of us know our maximum potential as followers of Jesus. As we surrender our lives to the service of the most-high God, He will honor us with true greatness.

As we serve Him and as we serve others, He then is freed up to do, and will do, His great works in and through us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Have you heard the story of the cracked pot?

A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you. I have been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.

The bearer smiled said to the pot, “Have you not noticed that there are flowers on your side of the path but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I only planted flower seeds on your side of the path. Every day while we walk back, you’ve watered them. For two years, I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace His house.”

Oswald Chambers wrote:

If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain but what He pours through us that really counts. God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us. Our spiritual life cannot be measured by success as the world measures it, but only by what God pours through us— and we cannot measure that at all.

3. Servanthood is … essential to spiritual growth.

If you are not serving God in some fashion, you simply are not maturing spiritually—nor can you mature spiritually. In every church and in every Christian organization, there are people who have talents, skills, or gifts but never use them for the work of the Lord—and each one of these is a spiritual babe—a baby in Christ.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

We are not saved merely to be freed from guilt and sin but so that we will serve the Lord and others.

We should humbly seek to serve people with the attitude Christ had. Even when our giving is overlooked or taken for granted by everyone, our heavenly Father notices.

Hebrews 6:10 teaches us, “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.”

4. Servanthood is … the purpose for spiritual gifts.

Every believer has one or more spiritual gifts, which we are to use in serving the body of Christ. Let’s take a moment to look at the 12th chapter of Romans:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love is Action

9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Servanthood is love in action. We each have a different spiritual gift, and we are to use that gift serve others.

Look at what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:10: “10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

And, as the body of Christ here at IHI, we use our gifts together, as the living, breathing Body of Christ to serve Him and serve others … Not for our glory, but for His glory.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16, “14You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

III. Conclusion:

To review:

  1. Servanthood is God’s work for every believer.
  2. Servanthood is how God carries out His work.
  3. Servanthood is essential to spiritual growth.
  4. Servanthood is the purpose for spiritual gifts.

Greatness is not found in a title, a salary, or a worldly position of influence. True and eternal greatness—spiritual influence, the only influence that is eternal—can only be found in servanthood—intentionally and willingly meeting the needs of others in the power of the Holy Spirit, without looking for recognition from people, and leaving the results to God.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, wrote:

The institutional church’s idea of a servant of God is not at all like Jesus Christ’s idea. His idea is that we serve Him by being the servants of others.

Jesus Christ actually “out-socialized” the socialists. He said that in His kingdom the greatest one would be the servant of all.

The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet—that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God.

It was Paul’s delight to spend his life for God’s interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. But before we will serve, we stop to ponder our personal and financial concerns—“What if God wants me to go over there? And what about my salary? What is the climate like there? Who will take care of me? A person must consider all these things.” All that is an indication that we have reservations about serving God.

Jesus Christ’s idea of a New Testament saint (is this):not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others.

God’s Word promises that He will honor your service and humility. Remember what Jesus said, in John 12:26, “26Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

Chambers writes:

When Mary of Bethany “broke the flask . . . of very costly oil . . . and poured it on [Jesus’] head,” it was an act for which no one else saw any special occasion; in fact, “. . . there were some who . . . said, ’Why was this fragrant oil wasted?’ ” (Mark 14:3-4).

But Jesus commended Mary for her extravagant act of devotion, and said, “. . . wherever this gospel is preached . . . what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Mark 14:9).

Our Lord is filled with overflowing joy whenever He sees any of us doing what Mary did … being totally surrendered to Him. God poured out the life of His Son “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Are we prepared to pour out our lives for Him?

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me . . . out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” And hundreds of other lives will be continually refreshed.

Now is the time for us to break “the flask” of our lives, to stop seeking our own satisfaction, and to pour out our lives before Him.

Our Lord is asking who of us will do it for Him?

What is Biblical servanthood all about? It’s an act of loving service performed in the power of the Holy Spirit to meet the temporal and spiritual needs of those around us—not looking for recognition, but rather, leaving the results to God.

When we, as followers of Jesus, finally realize that our calling is to serve—not merely to seek our own interests—then we will have an irresistible impact on our clients, our colleagues, and our community.

2 thoughts on “Bible Study: The High Calling of Servanthood

  1. Bonnie

    Walt, I really like this. Do you mind if I print a few copies and share it with some women who are coming to a group that I’m going to meet with?. I think knowing the true meaning of servant hood will be important to all of us. Bonnie

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