Published February 12, 2004
Matthew 20:20-28; Romans 12:9-13
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, Feb. 29
Philippians 2:5-7 says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” Jesus said it in a somewhat different way in Matthew 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Those words are not only the theme of Christ’s life, but they depict the heart of genuine discipleship.
We learn two things here. One, Jesus was a servant. Two, God expects those who follow Jesus to be servants. Serving and giving – inseparable qualities that constitute the essence of servanthood – characterized the life of Christ, and it is this kind of servant’s heart that God wants to develop in us.
Our purpose/mission statement at Calvary Baptist Temple challenges us with five actions, including worship, prayer, evangelism, obedience, and ministry. If we are to be successful, we must succeed at those five actions. However, that will not happen if we aren’t careful to practice the capstone of our purpose/mission statement, which is “Calvary Baptist Temple a gathering of servants.”
Sounds easy, but this servant thing is a pretty tough sell. Why? Because we have been so affected by our “me-oriented society.” The idea of being a servant is about as popular as a category 5 hurricane coming right up the throat of the Savannah River. Someone has said that when you think of a servant, what usually comes to mind is a person who is ignorant, mistreated, crushed in spirit, lacking in self-esteem, without will, bent over, soiled, wrinkled, and weary. A servant is often viewed as a kind of human mule.
Even Jesus was surrounded by men who followed Him, not for the purpose of becoming a servant, but for the purpose of being served. James and John weren’t the only ones who dreamed of occupying the seats to the right and left of Christ’s throne. All twelve wanted to be “great men.” Jesus used that term twice in verses 25-26. They all wanted to be “first,” as Jesus noted in verse 27. They all wanted to be chiefs, rulers, and lords. They all wanted to hold positions of authority (see verse 25). They all cherished places of privilege and dominance. The indignant attitude (“indignant” refers to emotional pain) of the ten in verse 24 is not evidence of pious devotion but of envious, self-seeking men who failed to be the first to ask.
The disciples lived in a world heavily influenced by a culture that repudiated and scorned anything that resembled a servant or slave. The Greeks viewed servants and slaves as antitypical of Greek life, as a perversion of the way things ought to be. Rank and authority were highly prized, even by the Jews. Having a Hebrew background didn’t eliminate the inner drive to be at the top of the food chain (see John 11:48). Of course, we dare not be too hard on these first century power-grabbers. We are no different. How many church squabbles and church splits have resulted because someone either wanted or was denied the opportunity to be ruler and lord of the manor? Isn’t the same thing true in our personal lives and relationships?
Jesus offered these men some much-need instruction. Verses 25-27 contain two pictures of great men, but the basis of that greatness is radically different in each picture. The idea of greatness in one picture, as someone has suggested, is that of a fully loaded battleship pounding and blasting toward its objective, a kind of super hero with John Wayne, Bruce Willis, and Stone Cold Steve Austin rolled into one. The other picture is that of a person who is unashamed to acknowledge a sense of inadequacy.
The idea of greatness in one picture is that of flawless perfection. The other picture is that of a person who recognizes his deep need. One picture calls for bragging rights and demands recognition for being the best. The other picture calls for a person to give his or her best, but being a life-changing force for the better is far more important than accolades.
The idea of greatness in one picture is that of personal independence and power. The other picture is that of utter dependence on God. The one picture shows concern for someone to be impressed with them; the other cares only that someone be impressed with the Lord.
Bottom-line, being a servant is about being real and being reachable. So, let’s take an “Are You Real and Reachable?” test – a test with three sets of questions. Here’s the first set: Does it bother me when others see weakness in me? Does it give me pain to reveal that I am not perfect? Am I agitated when forced to admit that I am wrong? Does the idea of failure paralyze me?
Here’s the second set: Do I resist advice from others? Am I angry when I don’t get appropriate credit for something I’ve done? Does it irritate me when someone else is said to be the best in a particular field, when it’s my field as well? Considering where I’m going, do I genuinely sense that I need God’s involvement in order to get there?
Here’s the third set: Do I take it personally when others don’t see my point of view? Do I become resentful when questioned about my actions? Is money my greatest concern? Do I need applause to the degree that I would lie in order to obtain it? Does popularity mean more to me than truth? Do I give my best when doing so promises no personal advantage? Do others view me as out for self, or out for the Savior?
How did you do? Truly great men are real and reachable. They are servants and slaves of the Lord.
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