Concerns to Consider
In seeking to develop a servant’s heart, Christians naturally face the opposing forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil, all of which are directed toward promoting selfish concerns and especially the pursuit of significance. Even when engaged in religious or humanitarian works, selfish pursuits can so easily come to the surface. While there are undoubtedly many reasons for this, two fundamental concerns come to mind that I would like to address.
(1) People too often serve others from their own neurotic need for approval or for significance. The Christian community generally understands they are to live as servants, but our preoccupation with our own significance robs us of the ability to serve. Part of the problem is that in our society today such a selfish pursuit is no longer seen as a neurosis or as a disorder. In fact, it is not only seen as natural, but it is presented as a legitimate need and something everyone should pursue. It is more important today that children feel good about themselves than learn their ABCs. But the problem is that the world is searching for significance in all the wrong places and by all the wrong means. A search for significance as it is promoted by the world naturally produces the opposite of servanthood. It produces extreme selfishness and aberrant behavior.
People today often wear themselves out, overtly demonstrating the Christian model while inwardly they are actually serving in order to feel better about themselves or to gain position, praise, acceptance, etc. Again, such behavior stems from the worldly model that operates by a different world viewpoint. As a result, many people serve in various capacities in the church from a host of false agendas. Significantly, after the exhortation of Romans 12:1-8, which include service to others, the apostle warns, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (12:9).
If we are not extremely careful and constantly check our motives, we can fool ourselves. We can be engaged in all kinds of service while actually serving our own neurotic needs—desires for acceptance or feelings of significance or for control or for praise, position, power, and prestige. We can serve to feel important rather than because we love people and the Lord and because we are resting in who we are in Christ, complete in Him.
(2) We need to identify and work toward serving the real needs of others and not their neurotic wants. We live in a self-centered society that wants comfort and happiness. It is also a society that wants to be served by others. We might compare the many who followed Christ. There were curious followers and even convinced followers, but some were following from the wrong motives: some followed for political reasons thinking Jesus would remove the yoke of Rome. Others followed for food (John 6:15). Regardless, the Lord regularly challenged these impure motives.
This false mentality manifests itself in the church in a number of ways. For instance, consider the reason many, if not most churches today, hire a pastor or a pastoral staff. The biblical reason, of course, should be to be equipped for ministry. As Ephesians 4:11 shows, the leadership of the church has been given the mandate to equip the saints for the work of ministry—servant living. But churches far too often hire pastors to be their ministers, not to equip them for ministry. They want leaders who will serve them and make their lives comfortable. But this is contrary to the servant principle of Scripture and the biblical goal of leaders which is to help their people develop into true mature Christ-like believers. Leaders and disciples alike must recognize that having the wrong goal (making the flock happy and comfortable) ultimately leads to misery, not true happiness.
“Many of us place top priority not on becoming Christ-like in the middle of our problems but on finding happiness. I want to be happy but the paradoxical truth is that I will never be happy if I am concerned primarily with becoming happy. My overriding goal must be in every circumstance to respond biblically, to put the Lord first, to seek to behave as he would want me to. The wonderful truth is that as we devote all our energies to the task of becoming what Christ wants us to be, He fills us with joy unspeakable and a peace far surpassing what the world offers…” etc.
Why is servanthood so important to the Christian life and to Christian ministry? Well, just consider the very negative consequences of selfish service as seen in woes pronounced on the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13. Further, a self-serving kind of lifestyle is not only contradictory to the life, death, and message of the Savior, but it engenders division in the body of Christ. Service that is at self-serving simply cannot hold up under the pressures of the ministry and the large doses of criticism that often go with the territory. Eventually this kind of self-seeking service will crumble under criticism because it is more concerned about self and one’s personal significance than with the needs of others. In fact, if we fail to find our significance in the Savior, we will become obsessed with gaining recognition. This obsession will often lead to burnout—to anger, bitterness, and a heart that is poisoned against ministry.
Conditions that Hinder Servanthood
What are some of the hindrances to developing a servanthood mentality. As you consider the following, think about your own life and natural tendencies.
(1) The desire for status or to feel important is a tremendous barrier to biblical servanthood. This is very evident in the reluctance of the disciples to take the towel and the position of a servant as seen in John 13. But we need to understand this aspiration for status actually stems from a failure to rest in one’s significance in the Savior. When Christians fail to rest in who they are in Christ, they will constantly be battling the need for importance or significance from within their own desires and felt needs. Further, this need will be constantly inflamed by the influences of a world system that operates on a totally different basis. We think that happiness will come when we are treated in a certain way, but that’s just not the case for there will always be those who do not treat us like we want to be treated.
(2) Human strategies to meet one’s own felt needs pose another hindrance to servant living. Everyone faces the problem of meeting their felt needs by their own solutions and defense and escape mechanisms (i.e., the things people do to protect their self image or how they want to people to feel about them). Rather, our need and responsibility is to trust the Lord for our acceptance, ability, production, and strength. Based on biblical values and truth, we must, by faith and an act of our will, firmly reject the goal of seeking to serve our own needs and adopt the goal of becoming servants of others like the Lord.
(3) A poor concept of one’s self-worth, along with a faulty source for developing our self-worth, forms another hindrance to effective servanthood. As mentioned, people often seek their self-worth from the opinions of people rather than by the value God places on their lives according to His Word.
(4) Self-centered living or seeking happiness from the world rather than in the Savior and His purpose and call on one’s life is another cause for failing to live as servants. This naturally results in a lack of commitment and in wrong priorities and pursuits which will leave little or no time for the Lord or ministry to others and the body of Christ.
Consequences in the Absence of Servanthood
What, then, are some of the consequences of a lack of servanthood in the body of Christ?
(1) The opposite of a servant’s heart is self-seeking, which leads to consequences like jealousy, envy, disunity and division. This is most evident in the actions of the disciples (see again Luke 22:24-30). Paul’s exhortation and teaching in Philippians 2 is centered around the call for harmony among the Philippians where there was evidently some disharmony (see 1:27; 2:2).
Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated orchestra conductor, was once asked, “What is the hardest instrument to play?” Without a moment’s hesitation he replied, “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists. But to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem! And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”
(2) Failure to get involved in ministry. As was evident in the disciples’ behavior in John 13, the absence of a servant’s heart causes people to simply sit back while expecting others to serve them. This is what can be called the “layman mentality,” a condition that occurs when congregations hire the minister to minister to them. The attitude is, we are here to beministered to rather than be equipped for ministry.
(3) Burnout in those who are ministering. This can be caused by exhaustion simple because a few people are attempting to do all the work. Or, as mentioned above, burnout can occur because of the pressure and hurt brought on to a large degree by self-serving motives for acceptance, etc.
(4) The church fails to accomplish what it has been called to do in evangelism and all the aspects of edification because of a lack of ministering people. One of the clear goals ofEphesians 4:12ff in the equipping of the saints for ministry is the involvement of the whole body in ministry according to the gifts and abilities of the saints. In fact, this is a mark of maturity. Speaking of the goal of equipping the saints into mature servants, the apostle Paul said,
4:14 The purpose of this is to no longer be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who with craftiness carry out their deceitful schemes. 4:15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 4:16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (emphasis mine)
(5) The absence of a servant’s heart leads to playing power games or spiritual king of the mountain. This naturally leads to bitterness, contention, and division in the body of Christ. Again, let it be stressed that Jesus’ style of ministry is the opposite of the world’s power-based mentality where certain kinds of accomplishment are viewed as a badge of importance and power. Christian love means putting the other person first, seeking the other person’s well being regardless of what it costs us, even if we are called on to play second fiddle.
(6) The absence of a servant’s heart is really the absence of humility or pride. As Scripture so plainly declares, the leads to the loss of the power of God on one’s ministry. “In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Pride or the absence of humility quenches the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:13-26).
(7) Inability to lead others in the things of Christ because of one’s own self-seeking hypocrisy (Matt. 23:13).
In view of these consequences, an important question that needs to be asked is simply, “Do I have the heart of a servant?” If I think I do, then, “In what ways is it demonstrated in my life?”
Thoughts on Developing the Heart of a Servant
So just how can I develop the heart of a servant that will lead to genuine growth in selfless, servant living? Though certainly not exhaustive, the following thoughts I trust will be helpful in this regard.
Learning to live as a servant naturally begins by following the Lord Jesus. As believers who are to follow in the steps of our Savior, it is important that we focus on Him because He was and is the epitome of humility, maturity, and leadership. That which most uniquely characterized Him was servanthood. Even now, though seated at the right hand of the Father as the glorified Lord, He continues to minister to us as our Advocate and Intercessor and Head of the body of Christ. This is tremendously significant especially in light of who He was and is. With this in mind, let’s review the following truth.
(1) Though being God of very God, He humbled Himself by becoming true humanity and was found in the form of a bond servant (Phil. 2:5-8) and God highly exalted Him (vs. 9).The road to successful leadership is paved with the solid concrete of humble service for others. Even in the Old Testament, which anticipates the glories of Messiah’s kingdom, Messiah is seen as a “suffering servant.”
(2) If we are really following the Lord, we will be seeking to serve men. If we are not seeking to serve others from pure motives, then we aren’t following the Lord, at least not closely. Christ told His disciples, whom He wanted to follow in His steps, “the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve,” and in another place He said, “…I am among you as one who serves” (Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).
(3) In the supreme act of service as our Great High Priest, Christ offered Himself on the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world and remains seated as our Advocate before God. Knowing and being confident of His identity (John 13:1f), knowing why He was on earth as the servant who must die for our sin, focusing of the rewards of the future, and acting out of a heart of infinite love, Christ washed the feet of the disciples. This was a symbol of the service He continues to perform for us in the daily cleansing of our sins even though He is the risen and exalted Lord.
His kind of service set an example.… Thus He showed His followers how to serve, and He demanded no less of those who would carry on His work on earth. Jesus teaches all leaders for all time that greatness is not found in rank or position but in service (italics his). He makes it clear that true leadership is grounded in love which must issue in service.”
(4) Another truth vital to developing a servant’s heart is facing the reality of our own weakness and need. No one in their own energy has the ability to give themselves sacrificially as a servant according to the example of the Savior. For this we need the transforming ministry and enablement of the Holy Spirit and the renewing direction, grace, and strength that comes from living and growing in the Word. Thus, a Word-filled (Col. 3:16), Spirit-filled (controlled) life (Eph. 5:18) is an absolute essential to the ability to give ourselves as servants.
(5) Two more companion elements to living as servants are surrender and sacrifice as are found in the exhortation of Romans 12:1-2. The self-serving spirit and mind-set of the world is opposed to the mind of sacrificial servant living. Thus, based on the mercies of God available to believers in Christ, the apostle appeals to Christians to surrender themselves to God as living sacrifices. Essential to that, and in keeping with living a Spirit-controlled and Word-filled life, is the need for daily renewing the mind in the truth of the Word.
Romans 12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service.12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
Such surrender and sacrifice naturally forms the foundation and well spring for servant living, which is clearly God’s will for all Christians. Paul immediately, therefore, points his readers to their responsibilities in Christian ministry (Rom. 12:3-8). The point is that one’s consecration to God and a lifestyle transformed by the renewing of the mind is to be demonstrated in giving of oneself through the exercise of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. Again, in the realm of surrender and sacrifice, the Lord Jesus is our perfect example. First, being willing to sacrifice His position and privileges, He surrendered Himself to the Father’s will. This also meant he was willing to serve and even suffer to fulfill the Father’s plan of salvation for us. Therefore, as He was willing to sacrifice and surrender that He might serve our needs (become our Redeemer and Advocate), so we are to be willing to serve, surrender, and sacrifice to meet the needs of others as a display of the mind of Christ (Phil 2:3-5). For the Christian, then, this means (a) knowing the Word which identifies the true needs of people and then (b) working in the power of the Spirit to meet those needs according to our gifts, opportunities, and abilities (see Acts 6:1-6; Col. 1:27-2:1). It also means caring about people and getting to know them personally so we can help meet their particular needs as we are given opportunity, as we have ability to do so, and as the Lord provides a way to do so.
(6) Another important element in developing the heart of a servant is learning to rest and find our significance in who we are in Christ. In Him we are complete (Col. 2:10) and blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3). What could be more significant than being called a child of God, a title that applies to all believers in Christ.
1 John 3:1-3 (See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. 3:2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But we know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3:3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure).
The Christian’s need, then, is to seek his sense of well being and happiness from his identity in Christ and not from people or from position. Otherwise, even if he does render service, it will often be from a self-serving motive like acceptance or praise (see John 13:1; Rom. 12:3; Eph. 1:6; Col. 3:3-4). Man’s obsessive pursuit of significance produces thinking and behavior that runs counter to the values and behavior that are consistent with Christ-like servant living. It invariably leads to defensive and protective behavior patterns that put self above others.
(7) Finally, another important element in living as servants is living according to the perspective of eternity, having eternal goals and values. If this was true with the Lord Jesus, and it was, then it must also be so with us (see again John 13:1f; and Heb. 12:1-3). This means learning to live as pilgrims, as those who are living in view of the Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ and His “well done, thou good and faithful servant” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:15-18; 10:10-18; with 1 Cor. 4:1-5).
Principle: Following the example of the Savior, believers are to function as servants who seek to minister to one another in loving and selfless service.
Issue: Am I, in submission to the Lord and to others, seeking to serve, or am I seeking to be served in the pursuit of my wants?