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Becoming a Servant

(Matthew 20:17-28)

Lesson 4 -- fourth quarter 2008
September 28, 2008

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 2008

Four foundational concepts

A focus on worldly greatness dulls spiritual sensitivity. As they all walked to Jerusalem, Jesus told His disciples yet again what awaited Him in the city. His words fell on deaf ears. His impending physical agony and His present turmoil of soul did not register on their consciousness. Whatever He had to say meant less to them than their interest in their own place and prestige in His kingdom.

Worldly greatness specializes in exalting self. Worldly greatness is about me. If my life reveals a focus on me, then it reveals a distraction from Jesus. I should listen for echoes from my own heart in the words of some of the disciples and in the reactions of others. "We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire...Grant unto us that we...And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John" (Mark 10:35,37,41).

Christian greatness comes from being Christlike. The Christian's focus, purpose, and power must be (and must constantly return to) Jesus. He came to serve others. He came to live and give His life for others. When our lives demonstrate His life, they also take on a measure of His greatness.

No other calling supersedes Christian service. "Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto..." (Mark 10:43-45).

How could the disciples change the subject so quickly and drastically?

Before you marvel too much at their insensitivity and short attention span, review your own conversational focus after most church services. You and I, like the disciples, will miss the point and power of the teaching we "hear" if we fail to personalize it. They didn't have ears to hear what Jesus was talking about because they were so occupied with their own (more important?) thoughts and concerns. So their apparent change in subject was no change at all -- they had been on that subject all along!

How should we respond to those who lord it over us?

The ten were no better than the two. The request of the two revealed their self-absorption. So did the response of the ten!

How would Jesus answer the question? What response would He want from us? "Be servant of all" (Mark 10:44).

"But can't we at least relate to each other as equals?" Hmm. Why?

So if I want to be the greatest, I should serve?

No, not if you're still measuring greatness as the world does. They measure greatness on a comparative basis, which means it is almost always at the expense of someone else.

God measures greatness by the expense exacted from self, not others. God measures greatness by the standard established by the Lord Jesus. God measures greatness by the exaltation He derives.

By all means, serve! But do so for the blessing and benefit of God and your fellowman.

Jesus didn't serve because He wanted to be great. That's backward! Because He is great, He wanted to serve. His greatness caused Him to serve.

True greatness

Who is the greatest in your congregation? I don't want a philosophical answer, because in the context of today's lesson, we know what the right answers are. No, I'm after a the-way-it-really-is-around-here answer. Sadly, our answers often tend toward position (chairman of the board), accomplishment (successful businessman), prestige (successful parent), and such like.

OK, so we want to be the greatest, but in a good sort of way, right? So as we strive to be the greatest in our congregation, we strive to be humble servants of all, right? We know we shouldn't struggle to become the greatest via conventional human processes, so we'll take the less obvious route, right? Such figurings-out make you want to sigh. No wonder the Lord said "Except ye be converted"! We need a complete change of heart and value systems. We need to serve for love's sake. We need to serve others with the sole intent of blessing them and God, not for the ulterior motive of somehow achieving "The Greatest" status. Otherwise we only serve ourselves under the pretense of serving others.

Perhaps we also need a refresher course in the meaning and outworking of Christian humility. Humility is you instead of me. Just like service is "do for" instead of "get from." Quite refreshing, isn't it.

Now, did you ever wonder why the ten were so indignant against the two? I can imagine why I might have been indignant. "How childish, unspiritual and misfocused to be asking such a question!" Yeah, well, that kind of response reeks of self-satisfaction, at least. "Hey. They are trying to get the position and recognition I've been trying to line up for myself!" We don't always indulge in the most noble thoughts and values, do we? "Who do they think they are, wanting to lord it over me?!" We sometimes so seem to fear authority, at least the authority of others over us. Especially if they are familiar to us; especially if they are our peers. Yes, I can easily identify with the ten.

Just like I can identify with the two. Now that makes for another interesting question: Why do you suppose James and John wanted those positions? Why would you want them?

Teacher, prepare your own heart!

Are you fond of position and power?

Do you aspire to serve others for their sakes?

You will be talking with your class about service and servanthood. That will take less than an hour of your time. That will be the easy part. The bigger, more difficult challenge lies in demonstrating to them service and servanthood. You cannot escape the reality that your class will measure your teaching against what they have observed in your life up to that point. And after that point, they will measure your life against the teaching you have given. So a huge part of preparing to teach this lesson must be (as always) preparing and adjusting your own heart first. Or rather, opening and yielding your heart to the Lord's adjusting.

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