“Life is so unnerving for a servant who’s not serving–
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon…”
(Be Our Guest from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)
Philippians 2:3-8 King James Version (KJV)
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
1 Peter 2:13-19 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
[a](or, every institution ordained for men)
The English word serve has at least seven different definitions, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary see here, and that’s just the intransitive verb form! The concept of service and serving is often misunderstood and denigrated. Our culture (especially American culture) in general has a low opinion of servants. Value is placed on independence– neither needing service nor being required to give it to others. But service is much broader then “servitude”, and good service requires that we place our value on interdependence, rather than independence.
Good service requires a lot, but I think there are three key ingredients–obedience, humility, and love.
I don’t normally recommend Disney as a source of moral instruction, but just in the short two lines of lyrics above there is a great example of a servant’s heart. A good servant isn’t reluctantly or resentfully dragged into service. (Oh, there are days or circumstances that are trying and tiring, but that’s the exception, not the norm.) S/he is eager to serve, and even restless when unable to be of service. A good servant is also personal. Their service is not given by rote, but with attention to the individual “soul” they are serving. It’s hyperbole, of course, but the verve and giddiness found in the singing and dancing dishes of a Disney movie should be reflective of the kind of service we provide at work, at home, and at church– “Be our Guest!”
As followers of Jesus, we should also look to His example. Paul reminds us that Jesus did not seek fame or attention or demand respect or recognition during His time on Earth. Instead, He gave up all the glory of Heaven to become a man– and not just a man, but a helpless baby born in obscurity and growing up without entitlements and comforts; the child of a working-class family in a small town under foreign occupation. He lived as a homeless itinerant teacher, and died as a common criminal under shameful circumstances– naked and bloody, displayed in public, to be mocked and used as a warning for others. But Jesus wasn’t a doormat–he was humble, he was meek–he CHOSE to submit to the pain and humiliation and even the injustice of a rigged trial and a death sentence by mob rule. He had opportunities to grab the glory, to turn the tide, to escape his unfair fate, and/or to become a great political or military leader. He didn’t take those opportunities– instead, he was obedient to the Father. He showed love and compassion even to those who mocked him, betrayed him, and murdered him.
It’s frightening to serve with that kind of abandon. It’s not humanly possible to let go of one’s life with joy for the sake of those who have taken it from you. My human desire is to grab hold of life and get as much out of it as I can. Even when my intention is not to hurt anyone else, it is not in my nature to put someone else’s needs and comforts ahead of my own. But it needs to become part of my nature.
I want to serve like Serena Williams–slamming my passion at the speed of a bullet train and earning trophies. (And this is not meant to be disrespectful– I am a great admirer of Serena’s talent and drive, and I think there is much to learn from her perseverance and excellence.) But tennis, while fun to watch and good for exercise, does not teach good “service”.
I’d like to serve like a CEO– guiding a company to greater success and huge profits. I might even help hundreds of people by creating more jobs and increasing their wealth. But in the end, this is not the kind of service that has everlasting consequences, or “soul” benefits.
I honor those who have served in the military; those who work in service industries, or provide emergency services. And those who have served in government, whether local, state, national, regional, provincial, or other. Many have served selflessly and given their lives, willingly, in combat or rescue missions. For every story of someone who has abused their office, or fled in the face of personal danger, there are many more stories of courage, compassion, and sacrifice. Such service should also “serve” as an example to all of us.
I enjoy serving customers at work– helping them find something they want or need, or answering questions. But that’s my job. I get a certain gratification, and a paycheck, that help motivate such service.
God wants me to learn to serve from the pure joy of service– pouring myself out with abandon to help others succeed– rejoicing with them when they reach their goals; grieving with them in their loss. And, like Jesus, God wants me to do it, not in my own limited strength and wisdom, but in obedience to His will– not becoming a dupe or a doormat to anyone who wants to step on me, but discerning what is best for others and cheerfully doing what I can to bring it about.
That’s a tall order, and it requires that I take time to ask God and trusted friends– How’s my Serve?