What comes to mind when you hear the word “servant” or “slave”? Most of us imagine a person who is not free to do what he pleases, one who lacks the power or freedom or resources to direct his own life, one who must work to fulfill the desires of another. We think of a servant or slave as powerless in relation to his superior. His station in life demands that he constantly set aside his own desires to fulfill the desire of his master. For most of us, it is not an enviable position. How many of us would willingly sacrifice our independence and autonomy to become the slave of another person?
And yet, the willingness to serve others is the hallmark of greatness in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…”
In his letter to the Christians at Corinth Paul asks them to “think of us in this way, as servants of Christ.” He says this with pride, not shame. He is not embarrassed that he has been reduced to the role of a servant; he does not regret that he is no longer free to do his own will and is compelled to do the bidding of another. Nor is there any suggestion that he has been forced to become a servant – in fact, the opposite is true: Paul has voluntarily chosen to take up this role. He sees it as a glorious privilege to be considered a servant of Christ. He sees it as a blessing to live no longer for himself, but for Christ. He is honored to have been entrusted with divine mysteries, and feels both an obligation and a desire to be found trustworthy in this responsibility.
There is a great difference between one who has been forced into a position of servitude and one who has freely chosen to serve. It is LOVE that inspires in us the desire to serve. Only love can make such a choice. How different it is to serve another for love’s sake than it is to serve out of obligation or duty!
Jesus comes into the world not to be served, but to serve. He comes not to do his own will, but the will of the One who sent him. He “empties himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.” He does this for love.
Similarly, Paul sets aside his place of privilege in society, his reputation, his accomplishments and the honors he has earned – everything he has – to be counted as Christ’s servant. He does this for love. When we love we want to serve. We long to be given some task that will contribute to the good purposes of the one we love. A mother longs to serve her children – out of love. A husband longs to please his wife – out of love. We willingly set aside our own desires and preferences, we lay down our lives, for the sake of those whom we love. The greatest hope of those who have chosen to serve as the expression of love is that they may be found trustworthy; they can imagine no greater joy than to do what pleases the other.
Are you a servant of Christ? Have you freely, willingly, and with great generosity relinquished your own desires and purposes to align yourself with his? Do you long to be given some task to please and help him? Do you want nothing more than to be found trustworthy in his service, to be one who can be counted on to be faithful, honest, and good? Do you count it an honor and privilege to be a servant of Christ?
Only love can make this choice.
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