Once again, I invite you to our continuing discussion on the ‘One Another’ sayings of the New Testament. This week we will look at the sixteenth of the ‘One Another’ sayings and that is to “Serve One Another” (Galatians 5:13).
I will begin by telling a story about a man who had married for ten years who visited a counselor and told him, “When I was first married, I was very happy. I’d come home from a hard day down at the shop, and little dog would run around barking, and my wife would bring my slippers.” “Now,” he continued, “everything has changed.” “How is that?” the counselor inquired. He answered, “Now when I come home, my dog brings my slippers, and my wife comes barking.” “I don’t know what you’re complaining about,” said the counselor. “You’re still getting the same service.”
In a day where there is a definite shortage of service, I guess we ought to be glad for any we can get. The real problem is that we think in terms of being served rather than in serving. But is this unique to our society and to this day and age? Not at all.
Mark tells us about a couple of the disciples who were filled with ambition and hunger for position and power (Mark 10:35-37). Jesus challenged them by asking whether they were able to share in His suffering. They responded in the affirmative. Even so, Jesus told them that such a decision was left in the hands of God the Father.
They didn’t get anywhere. So probably at their urging, or because of their mother’s pride in her boys, or both, Mrs. Zebedee also went to Jesus to make such a request. Here we see a mother and her two sons more interested in being served and honoured than in serving (Matt. 20:20, 21). Here we have the mother of James and John making the request of Jesus to look after her sons. Wouldn’t any normal mother want the best for her children? What loving mother would not look out for opportunities for promotion for her sons? After all, Mrs Zebedee’s sons were special. If anyone deserved to share the throne with Jesus it was her sons. They had given up their fishing to follow Jesus. They belonged to the twelve. What better candidates?
The context for this request was Jesus’ announcement that He would be going to Jerusalem to be betrayed by the chief priests and the teachers of the law. He told them that He would be condemned to death, which would be preceded by being mocked and flogged. He even told them the kind of death He was to experience: crucifixion, the most cruel and gruesome death designed by man. And He also assured them that He would be raised to life on the third day.
Mrs. Zebedee’s request for promotion and honour came at such an untimely occasion. At the moment when Jesus was sharing with His followers the excruciating days that were before Him, James and John’s mother talked about personal gain for her two sons. A very representative picture of human nature!
But we also see human nature stripped of its masks in the case of the other disciples. For they reacted vehemently to such a selfish request. Matthew admits, “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers” (Matt. 20:24). Why were they so upset? Was it because they saw the selfish nature of the request as an offense to Jesus? No! They were indignant because of their own envy and greed. They wanted those positions. They were not going to sit by and see James and John’s mother grab positions of glory for her sons.
What was Jesus’ reaction to such a request? He challenged her: “You don’t know what you are asking…” Jesus responded by telling her that His kingdom was of a different kind. Jesus told the woman to share in His Kingdom meant suffering (Matt. 20:22, 23). How this must have disappointed Mrs. Zebedee! When she wanted to talk about power, authority and glory, Jesus talked about suffering.
Jesus continued to explain the radical nature of His new movement to His disciples (Matt. 20:25-27). The specific levels of authority found in society, then and now, do not apply to the kingdom of God. In secular society there are leaders and authorities who are served and followers and workers who serve. In the kingdom of God all serve (Matt. 20:26b-27).
In a day and age of celebrities and leaders with an overdose of charisma; servanthood does not seem very popular. Promotion, entertainment, slick advertisements, the latest business methods have taken center stage. Men and women of authority who wielded their power and reap impressive success find it hard to consider, must less practice, servanthood. Rulership, not servanthood, is what most of us are interested in. Just like the disciples!
While leadership is essential to any cause, and certainly to God’s cause, it must be the kind of leadership that recognises servanthood. God’s leader is one who leads by example, by serving. The apostle Paul was such a leader. His favourite description of himself was not “apostle,” “saints” or “leader,” It was “bond- slave” or “servant.” Paul was first and foremost a servant of Jesus Christ.
The disciples were slow learners when it came to servanthood. On one occasion on the way to Capernaum they were arguing among themselves. So Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” (Mark 9:33). Mark points out that “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34). Jesus called the twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
But Jesus was not finished yet. He continued His lesson on greatness by calling a little child to stand in their midst. Then He shocked their proud “piety” by stating, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3, 4).
Humility, not power and authority, is what matters in the kingdom of God. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus is our example! While the human measure of greatness is the exercise of authority and rule over others, in the fellowship of the kingdom, the measure of greatness is found in lowly service. Jesus, the Son of God, did not come seeking a position of power and influence over people, but to sacrifice His life as a ransom for many. The truly great person is the one who is willing to be a servant, setting aside questions of rank and position.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea (SWIM)