The Kingdom of Service
By Greg Albrecht—
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father
conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Who are you? What one adjective or phrase best describes who you are? The first answer given by most people who are still in the work force would be their occupation: “I’m a plumber—a school teacher—an accountant—a salesperson—a bus driver.”
It is true that much of our identity in our 21st century western world comes from our work, but there are other ways of thinking of yourself. Who are you?
Let’s presume you aren’t allowed to answer the question “Who are you?” with a word or term that indicates your occupation, career or vocation. What other answers might be volunteered? Some might say that they are a husband, a wife, a father or a mother. Still others might respond by saying that they are Irish, Italian or Chinese. Some might say that they are a stamp collector or a bird watcher or a fisherman.
This is not a trick question. I’m not trying to embarrass you, but rather to focus your thoughts. For those who are in Christ, for those of us in whom he lives, there’s another designation I’m looking for.
When the New Testament writers started their letters (the old word is epistles) they said:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus
Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ
How do you feel about being called a servant? How do you feel about being a “go-fer” —someone who does the little things, the difficult things? How do you feel about putting the needs of others ahead of your own?
What does it mean to be a Christian? Being a Christian doesn’t have to do with stuff we do that turns us into a Christian, but being a Christian has to do with Jesus being in us and us being in him.
Being a Christian means that since Jesus is in us and we are in him, therefore there are behaviors that he will produce in and through our lives. Paul calls such behaviors “fruit” in the book of Galatians.
Jesus told the twelve,
“But I am among you as one who serves.”—Luke 22:27
One of the amazing things about the life of Jesus is that while no one else deserved to be served by others more than he did, he came not to be served, but to serve. Amazing!
The time setting of our keynote passage in Luke 22 is the eve of the crucifixion. Here, on the eve of Jesus’ greatest passion, his greatest sacrifice, his greatest act of love, indeed, his greatest act of service, we would like to think that all of the disciples were sobered, prayerful, supportive of and encouraging Jesus.
None of that. They were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They, in spite of all of Jesus’ teachings about the primary emphasis of his kingdom, as being a spiritual kingdom, a Kingdom of Service, they were still thinking about physical kingdoms with land, property, possessions and status. They were focused on their glorious future as big-shot leaders and about who would be “in charge.”
So on the eve of the crucifixion they were fighting about who would be the biggest muckedy-muck in the kingdom.
Jesus must have rolled his eyes at all of this, uttered a deep sigh, and said “Hey guys, listen up.”
It was at this point in the evening when he got up from the table, as they were in the middle of demonstrating their vain, self-seeking personal ambitions. He stood up and put a towel around his waist and started to wash their feet.
The description of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is found in John 13. After he humbled himself before them he told them
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”—John 13:14-15
Does that mean, as a minority of Christians over the centuries have believed, that every Christian, at some time in the year, usually just before Good Friday, should literally wash someone’s feet?
That’s not the point Jesus was making. We’re not required to literally wash other’s feet or to allow our own feet to be washed. Jesus was saying, in effect, “If you understand what this is all about, then go and be the servants I have called you to be. I have lived with you and not expected to be waited on hand and foot. You have been my friends. I have served you. I have not demanded or expected your service. But if you are one of my followers, if you continue as my disciples, then service will characterize your life.”
If we are Jesus’ disciples, we will live in his Kingdom of Service. My kingdom,” Jesus said, “is not of this world” (John 18:36)—it’s not all about self-seeking, it’s not all about who dies with the most toys, or who can amass the biggest fortune, or who can build the biggest house, or who can drive the nicest car, or who can wear the nicest clothes. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, it’s of another world.
Jesus’ kingdom is The Kingdom of Service. What does it mean to be a servant?
One of the things it means is to be equally inclined to think about the needs of others as we are our own needs.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.—Philippians 2:1-5
The gospel says that we are only able to have the mind of Christ in us if he lives his risen life in us. We can be a servant in his kingdom only if we have trusted in Jesus, if we have accepted him without reservation. We can be his servant only if we surrender to him, if we give up the idea that we produce all of the virtuous good deeds that God requires. If and when we accept the fact that Christ alone can do for us what we can never do for ourselves, then Jesus becomes Lord. Then he will move in, taking up residency in our soul/spirit.
How do you know if Christ lives in you? Once you can admit that your primary identity is as a servant, then there’s a good chance Jesus is living in you and producing works of service in your life. Here’s one way to determine whether Jesus lives in you. If you claim to be a servant of Christ, but he doesn’t live in you, then you will probably be offended when people treat you like the servant you claim to be. The act of serving another human being is Christ-like.
We also need to consider our motivation for being a servant in his kingdom. Why do we serve? To earn brownie points with Jesus? To impress God? To earn a spiritual merit badge that will help us get into heaven?
As Christians, God’s love imparts our desire for service and God’s love empowers us to be able to serve. There is no human motivation for being a servant of Jesus Christ. Christ-centered serving is foreign to our minds, it’s an un-natural vocation. We are humanly repelled by the very idea.
There is another side of Christian service. Sometimes we are being served—our feet are being washed, our diaper is being changed. Sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be the object of someone else’s service in the kingdom, as Jesus lives out his life in them.
As we consider what it means to be a part of The Kingdom of Service we should ponder our lives. If, for example, we are involved in any kind of work or career that uses people as objects, that grinds them down, then the Holy Spirit will start working on us and in us. If we are part of The Kingdom of Service and we have employees who work for us who feel as if they are our slaves, then God the Holy Spirit will begin to prod us about that obvious inconsistency in our lives. If we, by God’s grace, are part of The Kingdom of Service, but as a husband or father we see ourselves the lord of the castle, the person before whom our wife, children and family pets should tremble, then the Holy Spirit will lead us to examine ourselves.
If we claim to be part of The Kingdom of Service, yet we find areas of our lives where we are taking advantage of someone, not giving them a fair shake and lording it over them, then we are living a lie, aren’t we?
If our idea of what it means to be part of The Kingdom of Service is that we deserve for others to serve us, and we demand that service in Jesus’ name, then Jesus will, sooner or later, lovingly make his presence known in our life.
Maybe he will clear his throat and say: “I think it’s time for a little object lesson.” He might rise from the table, get a towel and a basin of water and come over and kneel in front of us. He might start serving us like we expect others to do for us. Then he may begin to wash our feet. In serving us, Jesus is, in effect, saying, “You want service? Leave those other human beings alone. Let me serve you. Let me help you. Let me provide what you really need.”
He won’t serve us to shame us. Jesus serves us because he loves us. We may be running around feeding our own face, feathering our own little physical nest, taking care of all of our own business, and Jesus just looks at all of our business (busy-ness) and says, “Hey, can we talk? What’s all this all about? Who are you? No—no—don’t tell me about what you do with your time. That’s not who you are. Don’t tell me about your certificates and diplomas and degrees. I’m not impressed with stuff like that.”
“Who are you? Here, let me love you. Let me serve you. Let me change and transform your life. Let me give you another identity. Let me help you love others and I will do that because I love you. Let’s get off this me-me-me focus and let me help you to start being another way. Let me live my life in you. Let me share with you a new perspective. Let me welcome you into My Kingdom of Service.”
Jesus told us:
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13
He calls us friends—not his servants, not his underlings, not inferiors, not subordinates, not good-for-nothing-no-goods, not “you’re never going to amount to anything”—no, he calls us his friends.
Does he call us friends because he really doesn’t know us at all? No, he knows us all right. He knows all about you and all about me, and he still refers to us as his friends. That’s what The Kingdom of Service is all about.