How would you respond asked to fill in this blank: “Jesus is ______.” Would you say, “the Son of God”? “the bread of life”? “the light of the world”? “the true vine”? “the Alpha and the Omega”? I’d be inclined to say, “a servant” (see Mark 10:45). Jesus did not come to be served or to grab the spotlight. The world is full of people pursuing prestige and power; authority figures are everywhere. In Jesus’ day there were Caesars and Herods imposing their political will and the Pharisees and Saduccees using religion as a lever to control others. But true servants, who gave of themselves without concern for who gets the glory, always are hard to find.
Serving doesn’t come naturally. Living an unselfish life is a whole lot easier to talk than it is to accomplish. Jesus was a servant, and he calls us to be servants as well. There is the only recorded instance of Jesus announcing that he had provided an “example” for his disciples to follow—and it was an example of servanthood (John 13:14–17).
Jesus defined his purpose in terms of servanthood. Paul said the same thing about himself (Galatians 5:13). If we are going to live out our God-given purposes in the world, then we need to understand our identity. We are created being who are fully dependent upon God and morally accountable to him, believers are “in Christ”, justified, adopted into God’s family, saints, and called to be servants. Servanthood demands that I look outside of myself at the needs of others. Jesus knew that it doesn’t come naturally to sinners (Matthew 20:20–24). What does come naturally is looking out for ourselves—but it is Jesus’ requirement for having a true impact in his kingdom.
Enamored with a world of soldiers with medals and emperors with jeweled crowns and governors with their servants, it seemed only fitting to Jesus’ disciples to have thrones. Hey, if they were charter members of God’s coming Kingdom! But Jesus came to bring a kingdom which is not at all like the kingdoms of this world. So Jesus contrasted his view of leadership and authority with that of the prevailing world system (Matthew 20:22–28). In the secular world system there are distinct levels of authority: everyone has a boss to whom they are accountable. As Jesus put it, “their great men exercise authority over them, but it’s not so among you.” In fact, the way we advance in God’s kingdom is through servanthood (v. 27).
Too often our churches also operate like secular corporations, with our superstar pastors and ministry executives. But in the body of Christ there is one head, and that is Jesus Christ. He calls the shots. The rest of us are just servants, after his model. Now the New Testament does acknowledge the need for a leadership structure in the church. They are called elders. And yes, church members are commanded to submit to the authority of their leaders (Hebrews 13:17). But the church leaders we are called to submit to themselves are to be humble servant leaders whose job description is to serve their congregation.
So, what does a true servant look like? Jesus, of course, is our best example, but next to him is the Apostle Paul. Perhaps we can relate to Paul a little bit better because he was a sinful human, whereas Jesus was both human and divine. In fact, Paul began all of his correspondences with words such as: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus…” As an apostle, Paul could have could have imposed his authority upon others, but he didn’t. Paul exemplified the life of a servant leader.
Paul demonstrated honest transparency (1 Corinthians 2:1–3; 2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul admitted that he wasn’t a great orator; often he was nervous and fearful. I think being in touch with our own struggles makes us more empathetic servants. We know what it is like to hurt and to be in need. Paul modeled genuine humility (1 Corinthians 2:4–5). When people follow ego-driven leaders, the leader is exalted, but when people follow true servant leaders, God is exalted. Servant leaders speak of God’s power, and God’s work and God’s Word, and they are concerned above all else about God’s glory. Genuine humility is always a mark of a person with a servant’s heart.
So, how can you know if you have a servant’s heart? A truly humble person displays a non-defensive spirit when confronted. Genuine humility has nothing to prove, nothing to lose! Servants don’t assume that they are perfect, so they are not surprised when that fact is pointed out to them. A humble person has an authentic desire to help others. Because humble people are aware of their own frailties, they tend to be more sensitive to the frailties of others. When they see a need they ask “Is this a need I can help meet?” and “Who do I know that might be able to help?”
True servants also have a commitment to integrity (2 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4). God’s servants should have no ulterior motives, no hypocrisy, no duplicity, no dishonesty. Our goal is not to please ourselves, but God. As honesty and real integrity begin to characterize our lives, we won’t be tempted to manipulate others to get them to serve us. We will consider others to be more important than ourselves.
How are you doing in your role as a servant? Is anything keeping you from being open and transparent? Are you more interesting in impressing people than serving them? Would other people say that your life is characterized by genuine humility? Do you get defensive when others confront you? Are you sensitive to the needs of those around? Are you quick to offer help? Do you live with a constant awareness of your own need for God’s grace and help? Are you a person of integrity? Is your word your bond? Do you do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it? Can you be trusted with a confidence? Are you honest with yourself and with others? Honest transparency, genuine humility and a commitment to integrity are all about being real and authentic.