Jesus said that the main reason he came was “to serve, not to be served.” This was unheard of in his day and in his place in the Greco-Roman world. All gods were known to demand service from their human peons. Jesus’ mission was different though. God sent his son to serve, show love, enact compassion, teach, suffer, and sacrifice himself for sin. This divine-servant idea was indeed revolutionary and the history of the world was left a different place because of Jesus.
The famous hymn in Philippians 2 teaches that Jesus, who was himself divine, did not use this fact for his own advantage, but instead used his status to serve the world. He took on the very nature of a servant.
Jesus made sure that the priorities in his life were about loving God and loving others. And you show your love for others by serving them. What is service other than thinking and doing things for others before, or instead of, thinking and doing things for yourself. So it shouldn’t surprise us that we have a lot of stories in the Gospels of Jesus healing people, showing compassion to the unfortunate, and loving the unlovely. He taught them, spent time with them, and ate with them. All this loving and serving was leading to the cross where he showed all mankind that he was their ultimate servant. He is the Savior and Servant of the world.
Jesus came not only to serve but also to raise up disciples who would serve others as well. Paul, the famous disciple, wrote that Christians are indeed created to serve.
8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Jesus’ ultimate act of service was the gift he gave us, through his grace, on the cross. We don’t deserve it. We don’t earn it. It is a gift, plain and simple. A gift is to be accepted. We accept the gift of Jesus’ salvation through faith.
Through Jesus’ grace we are then called to live a life serving others as Jesus has served us. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Paul knew that Jesus intended his disciples to imitate his servant posture. We do good works because, through faith in Christ, we have been created to do so. You can say that saved children of God do good works. It’s what we do.
I heard a father speaking recently about how he has made a change in how he disciplines his children. He started using identity language in his conversation with his kids. Instead of threating them with, “If you don’t respect your mother I’m going to…insert punishment here;” he began saying things like, “Son, in this family we respect one another. That is what we do and who we are.” I like that. Our behavior, our good works, should be more about identity than about avoiding punishment or gaining rewards. This doesn’t mean that there are not consequences or punishment sometimes for unruly behavior, but maybe it should not be the primary way to try to shape hearts.
Paul is saying that as Christians we carry the name of Jesus and what we do in his family is serve. That just what we do. We don’t boast about that, but it’s what we have been created in Jesus to do.
Not only are we created to serve but when we become a child of God through Jesus we become a part of Jesus’ body, his church. This body has the head of Jesus and we are the active parts. We all make up this organism called the church. All body parts have different functions, unless you’re tonsils or wisdom teeth (I don’t know what they are for). We all have a part to play in the body. We all have different spiritual gifts we can use in service to our Lord and others.
In his life and death, Jesus communicated clearly that his disciple are to serve as he served, but he made it even clearer in John 13. In this passage we learn about the Jesus Towel:
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
This passage speaks for itself. Jesus served us so we are to serve one another. Our lives, if we want them to be like Jesus, are to be about giving ourselves to meet the needs of others. We use the towels Jesus has given us through his grace to wash the feet of those Jesus has placed in our lives. He has prepared us in advance to do this. Let’s pick up your towel and serve as Jesus served.