God began softly tapping at my heart early this past year about His call to follow His example and be a servant. So I’ve been praying and watching for opportunities to serve. I’ve even acted on many of them and thanked God for using me. However, God has used my preparation for this post to correct my thinking even more.
There is a difference between doing acts of service and being a servant. The first is accomplished on a case by case basis out of a sense of duty. The second is a life attitude; a change of nature resulting from devotion to Christ.
True discipleship – a life of following Christ – is not simply a set of actions or behavior. True disciples adopt His mindset, His attitudes, His very nature, and then live it out. Jesus was a servant; He did not merely do acts of service. As disciples, we too should be servants by nature, not simply Christians who serve others.
Acts of service are often motivated by a sense of duty. A true servant is motivated by love for Christ. We become servants because Jesus was a servant and calls us to be like Him. We obediently serve because of our love for our Savior and our desire to be like Him.
Jesus clearly defined His role as a servant. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Matthew 20:26-28. Reflecting on Matthew 20:28 in his classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote:
If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and broken-hearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people. But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another.
The practice of the spiritual discipline of service – literally becoming a servant – positions us to experience tremendous spiritual growth. In her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) wrote: “There is, perhaps, no part of Christian experience where a greater change occurs, upon entering into this life hid with Christ in God, than in the matter of service.”
Why is that? How does becoming a servant promote such great spiritual growth? Dying to ourselves in order to become slaves of Christ requires that we push aside our pride. And our pride is the source of so much of our sin and disobedience. When we slay our pride in order to become a slave of Christ we defeat one of Satan’s most powerful tactics. Now we are free to live for Christ and others, not for ourselves.
Simply doing acts of service out of human effort can even feed our pride. This kind of service seeks external rewards and grateful acknowledgement. Richard Foster elaborates in his book Celebration of Discipline:
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… the divine nod of approval is completely sufficient.
When we become a slave to Christ then we become a servant to all. We won’t pick and choose who and when to serve. Our devotion to Christ will guide our service. Our emotions and calendars will not dictate our service. Instead our love for Christ will naturally express itself in service to others. And in that there is freedom. Freedom to love. Freedom to serve.
Am I looking for ways to serve or am I seeking to be a servant? Is my service motivated by duty or devotion?