Why should I be a Servant anyways? Because our Loving our God Means Submitting to God. Matthew 20:20-28

In a sermon I once asked an older congregation,

“What is the best way to teach children?”

And the congregation answered enthusiastically, “By example!”

In that sermon, I had quoted Albert Schweitzer, saying, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

Rabbi Jesus taught by example what he expects from us. Facing the cross, he illustrated submission and leadership at the last supper with his disciples when he washed their feet and said they should now serve one another (John 13:3-17).

The concept of submission is often misunderstood.

It isn’t a matter of allowing others to walk all over us.

As Paul applies it to marriage in Ephesians 5, submitting means that both the husband and wife seek their partner’s well-being. It’s 100% not a hierarchy!

It’s not about authority but about being subject to one another, serving one another—doing so “out of reverence for Christ,” who gave his very life for us.

When Salome the mother of James and John asked for places of authority for her sons in Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus explained that lording it over others is not the way of the kingdom. He urged them to follow his example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Whom can you serve and build up, for Jesus’ sake, today?

Matthew 20:20-28 Amplified Bible

Preferred Treatment Asked

20 Then [Salome] the [a]mother of Zebedee’s children [James and John] came up to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down [in respect], asked a favor of Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit [in positions of honor and authority] one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22 But Jesus replied, “You do not realize what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup [of suffering] that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink My cup [of suffering]; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”

24 And when the [other] ten heard this, they were resentful and angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles have absolute power and lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them [tyrannizing them]. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your [willing and humble] slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [paying the price to set them free from the penalty of sin].”

The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.

Let’s just go ahead and ask the question no one asks: Why Be a Servant at all?

I wonder how many of us are just as interested in Service.

My guess is that few are genuinely enthusiastic to learn more about Service, and a typical response would be,

“Why should I be a servant?

“What is so good about serving?”

“I don’t have time for it, and it’s not really my cup of tea.”

“Let those who enjoy serving and who have the time for it get involved in it.”

Well, do these responses come from someone more devoted to following Christ their Savior or do they come from one more devoted to following the world?

Perhaps it is not a “fair question” to ask in these divided times and seasons when churches are struggling as much as they are just to stay open and viable.

“Why be the church, anyway?” is a question I have seen asked so many times and in so many different ways – each way expressing more and more angrily.

I ask because we also live in a secular world where more people strive diligently for high positions of power and leadership, and for more fame and recognition.

We live in a world where few people want to be servants – after all where is the glory and the honor and the nice paycheck for the server in serving someone.

And if there are people who do serve, they serve only because of the prospect of personal gain – in terms of money, honor, power, prestige or recognition.

That is the way things are done in the world.

It is considered demeaning to serve others, and it is considered foolish to serve for nothing. But in our Gospel narrative, Christ requires us to take a very radical and vastly different view of service, and this can be seen in Matthew 20:20-28.

The passage begins with a personal request made by the mother of James and John, who were two of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

She came to ask Jesus to let her sons have the best positions in His kingdom – second only to Jesus Himself: One son to be His ‘right hand man,’ and the other son to be His ‘left hand man.’

I think we can all understand why she had made such a bold request from Jesus:

Does not every loving mother want only the absolute best for her precious sons?

However, the parallel passage in Mark 10:35-37 reveals that it was her sons who had engineered this request!

James and John were the ones vying to get the top positions for themselves. 

Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples a little earlier had stirred up their ambitions – “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Their minds were so captivated with this coming glory that they hardly paid any attention to what Jesus said in the two verses just before our passage: 

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him ….” 

All this talk about humiliation somehow did not register at all in their minds, as they were so preoccupied with the glory they wished for.

So, perhaps what James and John did was to get their mother to help them so that it might look more like her request than theirs.

She gladly followed their script closely, bowing down to Jesus and saying,

“Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” (v.21)

I want you to note the important phrase, ‘in Thy kingdom’ at the end of this verse. Whose kingdom is this? Christ’s kingdom.

These disciples mistakenly thought that the mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom was to be in the highest positions of honor.

If that were true, then Christ’s kingdom would be no different from the world’s kingdoms where authority and prestige and power matter most. 

This provides the background for what Christ said in vv.25-27,  

“Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” 

Jesus shows the disciples how radically different it is to be great in His kingdom.

It is to be a servant.

This gives us the first reason why we ought to be servants: 

1. Being a Servant Is the Distinguishing Mark of Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom (vv.25-27) 

Since we who are saved are now in Christ’s kingdom, our thinking about greatness has to change radically.

We are not to be conformed to the world in our thinking anymore but be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).

What the world esteems most like riches, fame and power are of no value to us.

They do not make us great at all.

What would make us great in Christ’s kingdom are the things that the world despises most, like humility, weakness, giving, submission and selfless service:

These are the things that matter most of all in Christ’s kingdom.

The world rewards those who put themselves at the top.

But the kingdom of Christ rewards those who put themselves at the bottom. 

In the ancient world, kings and princes were at the top-most rung of society while slaves were at the very bottom-most rung of society.

Christ tells us where we should be in v.27, “…whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” 

The word ‘servant’ that Christ used here is translated from the Greek word “doulos” which literally means ‘slave.’ 

https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/mat/20/27/t_conc_949027

https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1401/kjv/tr/0-1/

Now, I don’t think anyone here would like to be called a slave, because of its negative connotations of forced servitude and loss of personal rights.

But that is how Christ wants us to see ourselves – we are no better than others, because we are nothing more than lowly slaves!

We have to get used to thinking of ourselves this way and make it a point to begin each day reminding ourselves that we are not kings but slaves! 

Having this mind-set will change the way we relate to others.

It will make us more approachable and accommodating.

We will be more willing to see things from their point of view and not insist that everything must be done our way.

We will want to serve rather than to be served.

We will even go the extra mile to serve others.

When we see ourselves as nothing more than servants or slaves it becomes a lot easier for us to submit to others willingly. 

Whenever we write formal letters, we use certain conventional endings before signing off, e.g. ‘yours sincerely,’ and ‘yours truly.’

But do you know that these endings actually originated from much longer ones?

In letters that were written way back in the 1800s, the standard ending that was used was: “I beg to remain your most humble and truly obedient servant.” 

Over time this has become shortened to: “yours truly.” 

And so, the next time you write ‘yours truly,’ please remember how Christ wants you to regard yourself. 

One reason why nobody wants to be a slave is that slaves do not own anything.

They and everything they have belong to their master.

In the same way, the servant mind-set requires us to regard ourselves and everything we have as God’s property, which are to be used in His service.

In Luke 12:48 God’s Word says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” 

God has every right to expect much from us, because He has invested ever so much into our lives.

What has God invested in us?

He has invested Time, Talents, Treasures, and Opportunities in our lives.

God has entrusted these to us to be used for His glory. 

In the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 the Lord spoke about three servants who were entrusted with their master’s assets.

The first two servants doubled their talents by working hard, and so they were commended when the master returned.

But the third servant received a stern condemnation because he merely buried his talent and returned it intact to the master. 

This parable teaches us to be good stewards of all Christ has entrusted to us.

One day we will have to give an account to Him of how we used them.

Will you be like the servant who buried his talent in the ground?

Do you spend a lot of your time and money in your own leisure and activities, and things that are unnecessary?

How should you spend your time, talents and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an account for them?

How would you spend your time, talents and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an accounting of them?

How could you spend your time, talents, and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an account of them?

Will you put them to good use so that Jesus will say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”? 

One passage that reveals what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ is 

1 Corinthians 3:12-14 – “Now if any man builds upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abides which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 

Brothers and Sisters, do you genuinely, sincerely, absolutely look forward to receiving a blessed reward from our Savior Lord Jesus Christ?

You must. 

All your efforts in serving Him now will be amply compensated when you receive your reward from Christ.

With this reward in view, let us be faithful in serving Him well.

We have just seen that being a servant is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.

Let us return now to our passage to see another reason why we ought to be servants.

This is found in verses 27,28 which says, 

“And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister…” 

Please take note of the words ‘even as.’

They tell us why we must be servants.

And it is plainly this – Our Lord Jesus Himself was a servant.

Thus, the second reason why we ought to be servants is: 

2. It Is the Disciples’ Means to Follow Christ’s Example (v.27-28a) 

Christ became a servant in His ministry on earth. 

Philippians 2:6-7 tells us that Jesus, 

“…being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” 

One passage that displays Christ as a servant is John 13:1-13.

This happened when the disciples had the Last Supper with Christ the day before His crucifixion.

In those days it was customary for the host to assign his lowest slave to wash the feet of his guests when they came into his house for a meal.

After walking in sandals on the streets their feet would be caked with mud and manure and would need a good washing.

But no one had done this.

The basin, water and towel were all there, but none of the disciples was willing to get up and use them. 

Then something quite unexpected happened. Jesus rose up, laid aside His garments; took a towel, girded Himself, then proceeded to wash their feet. 

This must have taken them all by surprise.

Perhaps they thought that Jesus would appoint one of them to do the work.

But now they were stunned as they saw Him doing it!

How can their Master be washing their filthy feet?

They should be the ones washing His feet!

But now with His outer garments laid aside, His body stooping down and His hands washing and wiping their feet, Jesus practically became their servant. 

Then He said to them in vv.14,15

– “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” 

Since Christ has given us such an example, how can we follow Him without being a servant?

Brothers and Sisters, being a servant is our means to follow Christ’s example.

It makes us more like Him. 

Here is a story about two wash basins.

One was a plain copper basin that Jesus used to wash His disciples’ feet, while the other was a beautiful gold basin Pontius Pilate used to wash his own hands.

Christ used one basin to carry out a responsibility that not His.

Pilate used the other basin to deny a responsibility that was his.

One basin shows us that Christ sought to serve, while the other basin revealed that Pilate ought to serve but refused.

Whose washbasin will you choose?

Christs or Pilate’s? 

If you want to follow Christ, then choose His wash basin and be a servant.

This is a very compelling reason why we ought to be servants.

But there is an even more compelling reason.

It is found at the end of v.28 – “…and to give His life a ransom for many.” 

This teaches us that being a servant… 

3. It Is the Divine Mode for Edifying Christ’s People (v.28b) 

Christ gave His life on the cross as a ransom for many, and the many here refers to us, the people He has saved from sin and eternal death.

But His ministry to us did not stop there.

Christ is still giving Himself for us through His unceasing intercession in Heaven, and through the work of the Holy Spirit on earth.

And the Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on us so that we can build up the body of Christ by using them well.

Our service to God’s people is the mode by which He accomplishes this work.

Brothers and Sisters, every one of us has a role to play in this work of building the Body of Christ. But exactly how well have we all been fulfilling our role? 

During the time of the prophets Zechariah and Haggai the Israelites were spending too much time and effort building their own houses while the house of God was laid waste.

Some problems had come up during the Temple building project and the work was stopped for 15 years.

But people conveniently used this as an excuse to leave God’s work undone.

So, God sent His prophets to rebuke them, and also withheld many blessings from them. 

In our present time, the situation is still the same.

Many Christians spend much time and effort pursuing their own ambitions, while God’s work is left undone, or is left in the hands and hearts of a few who are struggling to do it all alone.

I have heard it said that 20% of the people do 90% of the work. 

Why is it that the rest of us are not serving in Life Church?

Maybe it’s because we always think that somebody else will do it.

Here is a clever poem that I found about this: 

“There’s a clever young fellow named Somebody Else. There is nothing this fellow can’t do. He’s busy from morning till very late, just substituting for you. You’re asked to do this or asked to do that. And what is your ready reply? “Get Somebody Else. He’ll do it much better than I.” So much to do in this weary old world; so much and the workers are few. And Somebody Else is weary and worn just substituting for you. Next time you’re asked to do something worthwhile, just give this ready reply; If Somebody Else can give time and support, well then, so can I.” 

Perhaps too many of us have been content to let Somebody Else do the work.

The problem with this is that there aren’t that many Somebody Elses out there.

And those there are, have grown weary and tired, and may even suffer from burnout soon.

Putting more money into the offering bags will not help.

The way to resolve this is that for every Lifer who wants what James and John wanted from Jesus, to remember their roles in Christ’s Kingdom, assume his or her role of service, however small it is, and be used by Christ to edify His people.

Is there in your church’s newspaper a subject heading “Where Can You Serve?”

Read it and I bet you will see there are many great and wonderful needs that can only be met if we are willing to give priority to serving the Lord and His people.

I predict that the article provides a list of ministries in the life of the Church, their needs and the person to contact to find out more about them.

Please ask the Lord to lead you to an area of service. 

If you feel any reluctance, please remember the 3 reasons why you should be a servant according to our passage of Scripture:

Being a Servant

(1) Is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom;

(2) It is the disciples’ means to follow Christ’s example, and

(3) It is the divine mode for edifying Christ’s people. 

And after you decide to start serving, there are some guidelines you need on how to serve: 

Firstly, check your motives for serving.

Our passage shows how easy it is to have the wrong motives.

James and John were interested in glory, position and rank.

They wanted to be higher than anyone else.

And though their mother came to Jesus in worship, her real motive was to seek out the best places for her two sons. 

Our Love for Christ should always be our sole motivation for everything we do for Him.

Some serve the Lord to win the praises of men.

They like to be at the forefront where others can see how busy they are for the Lord.

When asked to pray, they will pray the longest and most impressive prayers.

Like Jehu in the Old Testament, they would say, 

“Come with me and see my zeal for God.” (2 Kings 10:16)

And they love to talk about what they have done for the Lord.

But once they no longer feel appreciated, they may just as likely go elsewhere to have their deflated egos uplifted again.

Brothers and Sisters, let us be careful not to be like that.

Every time we serve the Lord, we should ask ourselves, “Who am I doing this for? For the praises of the Lord or for the praises of me, myself and I?” 

There are many in churches who work quietly behind-the-scenes.

They are unsung heroes – serving the Lord faithfully and diligently in their own areas of service.

Those who prepare the elements for Lord’s Supper.

Those church secretaries who keep the pastor informed and the clerical work and the church organizational work in order and incoming and outgoing.

There are the Boards of Trustees responsible for the upkeep of the church.

I think of our church pianists and organists and choir directors, the sound folks who avail themselves not only for their church’s worship services but even for prayer meeting, baptism’s, consecrations, weddings, vigil and funeral services. 

You know, for the amount of time, effort, expertise and service that they put in, they would probably be paid quite well if they were doing it in the secular world.

But here they do it for nothing, or next to nothing. In fact, oftentimes, they would put in their own funds for any expenses incurred in their service and would not make any extra claims from the church.

I thank God for all the sacrifices they have made, and trust that they will be encouraged to continue to serve the Lord well. So let us serve because we want to please no one else but God. Let us serve because we love Him. 

The second guideline you need to observe about serving is to put others before self. Serving the Lord is always done together with others. 

The biblical pattern for service is teamwork.

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul describes believers as being parts of a body, and each of us has a different role to play.

God has graciously bestowed specific gifts on each of us.

But none of us can function without the rest, and we need one another’s gifts to serve the Lord together. 

But there are potential problems in working closely together with others, especially when self gets in the way.

Some feel offended when their ideas are not used or when things are not done in their preferred way.

In our passage we notice that when the other ten disciples of Jesus saw what James and John were trying to do, they reacted, as v.24 says, “…they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” 

The spiritual attitude of these ten disciples was not any better than that of James and John.

In order to preserve good working relationships, we must always be humble, considerate, forbearing and forgiving towards our co-labourers with Christ.

We will find much greater joy in our service to God if we learn a little bit more about spiritual growth and maturity, to put others before self in our service. 

Another guideline that you need to observe is to be ready to serve whenever and wherever you can.

If it is something that you have never done before, be willing to learn how to do it. If you are approached to serve in some areas do not be so quick to say, ‘No thanks, but I can’t commit myself to it.’ 

If you count it a great honor to serve Christ, rearrange your other commitments to make way for it.

Servants must be both accountable, available whenever the master calls for them. 

Please make sure that you are available. Remember this: Availability is the greatest ability! 

A good servant is also alert to the needs of others.

In Psalm 123:2, the psalmist said, 

“Behold as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so, our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us.” 

When the master moves his finger in command, the servant simply obeys.

A good servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self, to subject his ego and his will to the wishes of another. Whatever God says goes.

When God says, “Jump,” we and our wills should say, “How high, Lord?” 

However, there is a vast difference between doing what God wants you to do and doing all that you or others want you to do.

Don’t try to do everything, or else you will end up being too busy, doing things that God never intended you to do.

Sometimes you have to say ‘No,’ and encourage others who are doing nothing to help share the load. 

And now we come to the last guideline for service: 

Be willing to do whatever it takes to do whatever is needed.

Serving the Lord will not always be easy.

There will be times when you may have to endure hardship and suffering.

Some of the tasks that need to be done are tasks that nobody wants to do at all because they are unpleasant, tedious or boring.

You may have to beautify the church grounds outside under the hot sun, or clean and sweep and mop the floors and the toilets after VBS or camp or spend hours organizing and putting together bulletins and music slides for worship. 

Our Lord Jesus has set the example.

He had to give His own life to be a ransom for many.

Are you and I ready, willing, able, to submit our lives fully unto the Lord?

Perhaps our Lord would ask you the exact same question that He asked both James and John in v.22 – “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 

Well, both of them did suffer for their service as Christ’s apostles.

Recall, James became the first apostle to be martyred, and John had to endure the longest recorded time of persecution because he lived until deep into the first century time of the cruel Emperor Domitian.

Only God knows what you and I will have to endure in your service to Him.

When we ask ourselves for the same things James, John and their Mom did,

When we try to bargain with our God and our Savior Jesus for all the best,

Ask, “Why should I want to be a servant in these divided times and seasons?”

Please, Pray! let us always make it a point therefore to seek out God’s grace to endure any difficulties, so we may be able to glorify Him through your service. 

May the Lord speak to all of us and help us to be ever faithful servants.

In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,

Let us Pray,

The Wesley Covenant Prayer

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

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