Rule 6 - Serving

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We commit to serving others

I find this, one of the most helpful of the habits we are studying, as it describes the healthy outlook of a genuine Christian. We are called to serve in the same way as the servants we read about in past history. They were to be devoted to their master or employer; and we are called to have the same commitment to one another as Christians.

This attitude can best be described as having a ‘servant heart’. Effective Christianity revolves around being servant-hearted to one another. There are many biblical references such as this one from Jesus:
the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) 

And this from Paul:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4) 
Valuing others above  yourself can only effectively happen when you have a positive view of your own value. Jesus had no doubts about His person and importance, yet He demonstrated it by serving others. Serving should not be a way of trying to bolster personal confidence by getting people to think highly of your selfless commitment. 

There is an old story of the monk who was given a bunch of grapes as a present. After looking at them for a time, he passed them on to another monk whom he thought needed them more. After a week there was a knock at his cell door. A different monk handed him the bunch of grapes, saying he thought he needed them more than he did. They had gone round the whole monastery. Each one was valuing others above themselves!


Jesus also contrasted the servant heart of the Christian with the proud attitude of the world in regard to leadership:
Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as 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 slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44)

I ought to mention here that there are two different words referring to servant, 'servant' and 'slave'. The use of the word ‘slave’ has now become a very sensitive matter. Some bible translations have ‘bondservant’ instead of slave. This does distinguish the type of slavery found in Israel in bible times. Jewish slaves were to be released after 6 years’ service and there were laws governing good treatment for them. Furthermore, bondservant implies that it was a voluntary action; they were not captured and forced into it. This type of life choice was nothing like the awful slavery in most of history, in which people were viewed as property, and treated like animals. We shall have to get used to the word in the New Testament as it gave rise to many examples of what it means to be servant-hearted.

I want to highlight three ways in which we can be the servant of others:

Giving hospitality
This can include inviting people into your own home if that is safe, as well as meeting people outside the home in a social context. As you read through the bible, hospitality is shown everywhere, and is commended by God. It is a basic expression of Christian faith:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  (James 2:14-16)

So I check myself: do I avoid certain types of people when God Himself in fact loves them? The first step to loving as a servant is to find something in each person that you can respect. What did Jesus see in Zacchaeus the tax collector? Did He preach at him, lecture him, deride him? No, He invited Himself to stay at his house. What did Jesus see in the adulterous woman? I am convinced that what struck both of these people about Jesus, was the way he looked through their outer façade of sins, to the inner person open to divine love. When we meet people, we can easily get bogged down with externals – their appearance, speech, annoying mannerisms, smells, and so on, failing to look deeper into the real person within.

Serving the poor
We have already covered this in Rule 3 on financial giving. Even if we cannot easily open our home to others, we can still serve the poor through our financial giving or meeting them socially to support them. In principle too, we can extend our hospitality to those in need around the world. If we give financially to organisations that support the poor, then they become representatives of our hospitality.

Sharing the gospel
We can all be involved in saving souls by telling others about Jesus. In this we are being servants. We do not have to condemn or denounce people with our message, but we should learn to relate to them: 
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
In this advice, Paul was of course only following the example of Jesus. One of the things that marked Jesus out as different, was the social complexity of his relationships. As he interacted at a face-to-face level, his list of friends became socially awesome: Pharisees, tax-collectors, prostitutes, tradesmen, rich men, poor people, lepers, the blind, even the dead!

It means that being servant-hearted is learning how to relate to every different kind of person without making them feel uncomfortable. It doesn’t mean engaging in their sins; but it does mean speaking their language, and accepting their lifestyle choices without rejecting them. I try to learn how to relate to middle-class people, working-class people, as well as those of a different sexuality or culture. 

winning others

In the past, missionaries to other countries adopted not only the language, but also the dress codes of the culture in which they were working. This contrasts with the common mentality in churches, that people who attend should dress and behave in an expected way, or they will be looked-down-on. The servant heart welcomes all in order to present the claims of Jesus to them.

Here is a summary of the correct attitudes of the Christian who wants to be a servant to all as Jesus was:
a mind which counts others as better than yourself
a focus on the needs of others and not just your own needs
a sensitivity to others which does no harm to them seeking Jesus
a willingness to be rejected without retaliating
a determination to keep demonstrating and sharing the gospel, whatever the setbacks

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