Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 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."
(Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
Playing tennis is one of the healthy activities my wife, Debbie, and I enjoy. This is a good thing since one of the unhealthy activities I enjoy is eating sleeves of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. Tennis was one of the first things Debbie and I realized we had in common almost 40 years ago when we began dating. We’re both pretty competitive (sometimes too competitive in my case), and play together, and separately, in various leagues, tournaments and tennis socials. Often times my/our success is
predicated on the effectiveness of my service game. If it’s working, I have what’s called a ‘kick-serve.’ This means when I serve the ball to start the point, I stroke it in a manner that causes the ball to bounce up and ‘kick’ away from my opponent. I’m also left-handed, which makes my serve even weirder since it spins and kicks in the opposite direction most players are used to, since most players are right handed.
In the game of life, or what the Apostle Paul paralleled as a race, where the competition is more intense, stakes much higher and prize eternal, an effective service game can make all the difference. Throughout His ministry, in both words and actions, Jesus emphasized serving others. Once, the mother of two of His disciples tried to put a bug in Jesus’ ear and asked Him to show her baby boys a little favoritism when He established His kingdom (and I suppose, picked out His leadership team). The Bible tells us it caused quite a squabble when the other disciples found out. Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (emphasis mine), and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28 NIV).”
Jesus also told His followers that those who did not serve the marginalized people He called “the least of these my brothers,” i.e. the hungry, thirsty, unclothed, hurting and in need of care, would be separated from, and cast out of favor with God. Finally, in a last ditch effort to get through to His disciples, on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus exemplified the concept of servant leader when he stripped off his outer clothing (something only done by the lower servant class) and began to wash the dirt and dung stained feet of His disciples. The Bible tells us, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place."Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.
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 13:12-15 NIV).”
It wasn’t until that first Easter that His followers (ironically beginning with the women who were often bound by the customs of the day to a life of servitude) began to understand fully the parallel between service and sacrifice, and the charge of Jesus to engage selflessly, as He had, in both. The Bible tells us that when the angels at the tomb of Jesus, reminded the women that Christ had previously told His followers that He had to be crucified, but would be resurrected, “they remembered His words” (although His disciples didn’t fully understand at the time Jesus first told them). In the same breath, Jesus spoke of service (“…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”), and He spoke of sacrifice for our sins (“…and to give his life as a ransom for many”). It’s understandable how a group of followers who first saw Jesus as a man would misunderstand the foretelling of His resurrection and Kingdom yet to come, yet we know that once they did understand, their service and sacrifice changed the course of history. For those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior today, we have little excuse. In many ways Jesus tells us every day that He has equipped us, and in many ways He asks us every day, “How’s your service game?” One thing’s for sure, the Christian faith is not a spectator sport. God bless.