Our heart for service is rooted in our relationship with God,and an understanding of all that He has done for us. It is empowered by His Holy Spirit within us. We serve out of thankfulness for our salvation and the presence of God in our life.This is the final section of the Four Core Christian Disciplines – Serving Others.
Let’s start by reading Matthew 20:17-28:
“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”
You have to love moms, right? This mother’s name was Salome and she wanted the best for her sons, and so she went straight to the top and asked for it. She knew Jesus quite well because she was probably Jesus’ aunt, which made James and John His cousins. And she wanted from Jesus what all moms want for their kids… a good future.
Drinking The Cup
“Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, ‘We are able.’”
Jesus looks right at James and John and asks them to think about this. They have just heard, in no uncertain terms, what Jesus was going to go through when He got to Jerusalem –but I don’t still don’t think they knew what they were asking for. The disciples never did really understand how Jesus was going to inaugurate His new Kingdom. It didn’t compute that Jesus would suffer and die… even though He had already told them three times.
In the same way, many of us don’t really understand what we are getting into when we come to Jesus for salvation. Certainly we understand our sin and our need for salvation, but many of us can’t grasp the scope of the journey we are embarking on when we decide to make Jesus our Lord and Saviour. And so, in the same way as James and John, we look at Jesus and say, “Yes! Be our Lord and we will follow you.”
Look at their response:
“’We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’”
In scripture the “cup” represents a person’s divinely appointed destiny—God’s plan for their life. Every person that hears the words of Jesus and truly understands and accepts the gospel message is asked the same question by Jesus: “Are you able to drink the cup?”
In other words, “Are you ready to submit your life to your divinely appointed destiny, and let God run His plan for your life… or do you still want control of it?” He said it this way in Matthew 16:24,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In Matthew 10:34-39 He says,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This is the first and most critical point when it comes to the Discipline of Serving Others. Giving our lives to Jesus is almost never what we expect. Jesus often takes our lives in a very different direction than we would have chosen.
James and John did indeed drink the cup of the Lord. James gave up His whole life in service to Jesus. When he was called to follow, he left behind the security and comfort of his father’s fishing business and spent the rest of his days living an unsettled life wandering from city to city. As far as we know he never married, had no place he could call home, only owned the clothes on his back, and was the first apostolic martyr (Acts 12:12). He had an amazing ministry and was mightily used by God, and grew very close to Jesus, but this was certainly not the life that he ever would have chosen for himself before Jesus called him.
John became a church planter, a pastor of pastors, seminary teacher, traveling preacher, and wrote four books of the Bible: the Gospel of John, three letters, and the Book of Revelation. His life was as fruitful as it was difficult. While the 11 apostles died violent deaths because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, John suffered through persecution and exile. But there is no one in the bible that talks more about the love of Jesus than John.
These two men had very different cups. Both knew joy, love, effective ministry, and God’s blessing… but also much suffering and sorrow.
The first question that we need to ask, before we ever talk about Serving Others is simply:
“Will you drink the cup of God’s divinely appointed future for you?”
“Will you trust that His way is better, His ways are higher, and make Him the true Lord of your life, putting yourself behind His will, no matter what the call may be?”
If not, there’s no point in listening further because you are still Lord of your own life and master of your own destiny. There’s a reason that we speak of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour – those two titles are indelibly tied. He is our Saviour – the only one who could (or would) pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us to God. But accepting that gift also makes Him our Lord. If we believe He is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the World, then we must accept that He is our creator and the master of our lives. If He is the Saviour of our souls, then He is also the Master of them.
So before we talk about Serving Others we have to talk about Lordship. Is Jesus your Lord, your Master, your Boss, your King, the One to whom you go to for direction, wisdom and strength? In the words of Proverbs 3:6, Do you “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him…”? Are you directing your paths, or is He?
If He is your Lord,
then you can and will serve others.
If He is not,
then no matter what you are doing,
you are ultimately only serving yourself.
Saved to Serve
The second thing we must know about Serving Others is that the call to Salvation is a call to Service. Let’s continue reading from verse 24:
“And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
First, notice something important here: Jesus didn’t rebuke James and John for asking to be men of power and influence. He never said, “You shouldn’t want to be great! You should be humble and lowly and small and poor and obscure! People who follow me aren’t allowed to be powerful and influential!” No, instead, He said, “You want to be great? I want you to be great too, and greatness is worth seeking! But, the path to greatness doesn’t look the way you think it does. True greatness comes as a result of serving others.”
Being saved and Serving Others is inseparable, intertwined, hand in glove, two sides of the same coin. Listen to Matthew 25:31-46 and hear how Jesus talks about His people, His Kingdom and His disciples in terms of Service:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This is a picture of final judgement, the final separation of the saved from the unsaved to their eternal destinations. This is the pronouncement by King Jesus to the sheep who are believers, and the Goats who are non-believers. A huge difference between those who are saved and those who are not is a heart for Serving Others – it is a defining characteristic of believers.
Now, it’s important to remember that Christians do not serve others to get saved, they do it because they are saved. Service flows out of the love that God is pouring into their hearts. When a person is connected to Jesus, and is having their cup filled by Him, they cannot help but serve. They are like a balloon that is being filled up with water… it can only take so much and then it has to either give some away, or they’ll burst. Maybe you’ve felt this.
You spend some time in prayer, or bible study, or worship and God gets a hold of your heart and calls you to into service. You feel the desire to do something with what you just learned, experienced, or felt. That’s a normal Christian response.
It’s often followed by a demonic attack reminding you how busy you are and that you don’t have time for that. Or the reminder of how unskilled you are or how that’s not really your job. Or how you’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, or being overwhelmed by details and thinking “I don’t know where to start, so I guess I won’t”, and you just hold your breath until that impulse to serve goes away. Have you felt that?
God says “Go and do: Encourage that person, start that ministry, feed that family, correct that person, help that child, get to know that man or woman, wash those dishes, join that committee, give up something so someone else can be blessed.” I know it’s happened to you because Serving Others is the proper outflow of our relationship to God. It is the practical outworking of a heart that is in line with Jesus.
Listen to how James 2:14-19 ties together our faith in Jesus Christ and the good works of service we do:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
A lot of people say they believe in God. James says, so what? Even the demons believe that. If you believe in God, then you must come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ – He is the only Way (John 14:6). And if you have faith in Jesus Christ, then you will work out that faith through service. It’s that simple.
Christian Service is NOT a Commodity Exchange
If you have no connection to Jesus, or are not being consistently filled by Him, then you will not serve – you will want to be served. You will come to be served by others (some people call it “to be fed”), but you will not serve. If you are not regularly connecting to God in prayer, study and worship, then He is not regularly filling you up and you will feel spiritually dry. You will spend your time and energy on worldly things. If you’re not connected to God then you won’t feel divine care for others or the confidence to get out of your comfort zone to do anything for anyone else… unless you get something out of it in return. That’s not Serving Others, that’s an exchange of commodities.
“I’ll take care of your kids if you take care of my kids” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange. “I’ll have you over to my house if you have me over to your house” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll serve on this committee if I can have my way in certain areas of the church” is a commodity exchange. “I’ll donate this to the church, but only if I can put a plaque on it” is not serving others, it’s a commodity exchange.
We do not exist on this world merely to exchange commodities… Christians are different. Christian service is NOT about Give and Take. We give without expecting in return. We serve sacrificially, because Jesus loves us and served us sacrificially. It’s not about being fair, or just or getting what we deserve. It’s not about tit-for-tat or “if you, then I’ll.”
Jesus says in Matthew 10:8:
“You received without paying; give without pay.”
In the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:32-36 he says:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
The Source of Christian Service is Jesus
When Paul was speaking to the church in Philippi about how they were to act like Christians, he talked about the importance of sacrificial service. He based it all on the love, connection, salvation and model we have in Jesus. He says in Philippians 2:1-4:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You can almost hear him pleading from his prison cell in Rome, “If you are at all Christians… if you know anything about Jesus… if you have even the faintest clue about what He has done for you… if you have been impacted in any way because of the amazing grace of the salvation of your souls through Jesus Christ… then stop being selfish and start taking care of each other!”
Ultimately we serve other because Jesus served us. And when we serve others, we are serving Jesus!
Paul wasn’t dumb. And even 2000 years ago people were busy with families, money concerns, time management problems, and the worries of life. Everyone has cars to gas up, is tired on the weekend, and problems we need to look after. We’re all in the same boat. No one is different! There is not one person in this church or any other, from the inception of the Christian faith, that cannot come up with 10 good excuses for why they can’t serve right now.
Paul’s answer to our excuses starts in verse 5:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
No one can out serve Jesus. We think we have a lot on our minds? Read the gospels and see how busy, stretched and emotionally and physically draining Jesus’ ministry. We think that we are too good to be around those kind of people? Jesus was perfect in every way, and yet humbled Himself to come to be around sinful, wretched, rebellious humanity. We think we’re too important to do that job? Jesus had the power and glory of God, and yet He washed feet, served food, stayed up till the wee hours of the night teaching the same people the same lessons over and over, and ultimately died on a cross that He didn’t deserve. We think we’re too tired to do that job? Jesus would often work all day, pray all night, and then do it all again. Jesus was arrested during the night, got no sleep, was beaten severely, and still marched towards the cross to die for our sins.
All our excuses evaporate when we look at the life of Jesus Christ – and then realize that the same Spirit that was in Christ dwells also in us, giving us access to the same spiritual resources Christ had (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:14). That is a gift… a service… that Jesus provides for us every day.
We are going to cover questions like “How does this work out practically within the church?”, “What must I do?” “Where am I to serve?” next time as we look at 1 Corinthians 12. Your homework right now is to simply get quiet with God and ask Him to examine your heart of service.
“Lord, do I have a servants heart?
Show me what areas I’m not obeying you in the area of Service,
and help me be encouraged by seeing how you have already been using me to serve others.
you say in your word that ‘whatever we have done to the least,
we have done for You’
so help me to see you in the eyes of those around me.
Help me to cultivate a soft heart of service to show you love
and spread your love around.”