First Things First: Serve!

Good people do for themselves but great people do for others.

Here is a true story from Brennan Manning, author of numerous books including "The Ragamuffin Gospel".

Once when Manning was waiting to catch a plane in Atlanta, he sat down in one of the many places where usually black men shine white men’s shoes. An elderly black man began to shine his shoes. And Manning had the feeling that, after the man was done, he should pay him and tip him, and then reverse the roles.

When he was finished, Manning stood up, looked at the man and said, "Now, sir, I would like to shine your shoes."

The black man stepped back and said, "You’re going to do what?"

Manning said, "I’d like to shine your shoes. Come on. You sit down here. How would you like them done?"

The black man began to cry and said, "No white man ever talked to me like this before."

And the story ends with the white Christian man with his arms around a black man, and they’ve only just met but tears are flowing and reconciliation is taking place.

What a great story! Serving can make a profound impact!

Have you heard or said any of these statements?

I wish someone would think of me, at least once!

It seems like I’m always the one who gets asked to do everything!

Why didn’t I get the credit? I did all the work!

Look at what I did or what I gave! How come no one notices what I did or what I gave?

What’s my reward?

2000 years ago, 12 men (the disciples of Jesus) had the same feelings and desires. They were definitely ready for the reward. They were looking forward to the payoff.

But Jesus had some very surprising truths to teach them. His definition of Spiritual Greatness turned out to be very different than theirs. We can find the account in Mark 10:35-45.

Note: To truly understand this passage, we must note that this event is preceded by the request of the rich young ruler (v17-31) and Jesus' third prediction of His death (v32-34).

After the rich young man went away because he could not let go of his possessions (v22), Jesus said to his disciples (v23), "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

Peter says, "We have left everything to follow you!"

Jesus replies (v29-30), "No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life." (In the parallel passage (Matthew 19:28), Jesus promises that the disciples will sit on 12 thrones.)

All the disciples are excited and I'm sure they're all thinking, "Here's the reward I've been waiting for. That’s what I’m talking about!"

James and John take it even further. They come to the conclusion: We don't want thrones far from Jesus; that’s for the other guys. We want thrones right next to Jesus, on His right and His left (v35-37). After all, we’re James and John. We’re the Sons of Thunder! We might as well get a jump on the competition; they won’t know what happened. We must sit on Jesus’ right and left when He comes into His Kingdom.

What is the reaction of the other ten disciples (v41)? They are indignant! Why are they indignant? Because James and John are consumed with spiritual immaturity and shallow ambition? No! They are indignant because James and John beat them to the punch! They are upset because James and John asked for the very thing everyone else wanted. James and John just happened to ask first, before anyone else!

Imagine the conversation that is going on "behind the scene" after James and John’s request. I wonder if it might have gone something like this:

Philip to Nathaniel: "Listen, I told you we should have asked Him earlier."

Nathaniel: "You have lips and a tongue. Why didn’t you ask Him yourself?"

James overhears their conversation: "Ha! Imagine you two sitting on His right and left. What a joke!"

Nathaniel reacts in anger: "O yeah! I have more spirituality in my little finger than you have in your your entire body."

John joins in: "That’s what you think! Come over here and we’ll find out who’s more spiritual. We can settle this thing right now, man! Let’s go outside!"

The disciples have a heated argument over who’s spiritually the greatest! It would be absolutely hilarious if it were not so tragic.

And why is it tragic? Because Jesus just finished sharing about His soon coming death (v32-34) and no one heard a word He said because their minds were filled with the promise of 100 times blessing and 12 thrones.

Jesus called a huddle for the 12 and said (v42), "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them".

What is He saying? That's the Way of the World! Climb up the ladder of success, no matter who you step on or hurt along the way because the goal is to Win! Do it better and faster and bigger. Compete, intimidate, step on others because that's the Way of the World and the goal is to Win!

What is Jesus' assessment of the Way of the World (v43)? Not so with you!

The Kingdom of God is not characterized by lording it over others because there is One Lord and He is Jesus (not you or me). There is not a multitude of classes in the Kingdom of God (lower, middle, upper) but one class only: Servants (v44). Everyone is to serve one another - serve those in need, the down and out, the up and out, the in-between and out.

Jesus pulls the plug on James and John's shallow desires and ours. He pops the balloon of our spiritual ambition and deflates the blimp of our selfish pride. Or, as well known pastor and author Gordon MacDonald puts it, "You can tell whether you are becoming a servant by how you act when people treat you like one."

But Jesus is not finished. He climaxes His teaching with this incredible statement (v45): "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."

Wow! If anyone deserved to be served, it is Jesus. Yet He released that right and humbled Himself - not only to become a servant but to give His life in exchange for ours. He came to give His life as a Ransom for many. That's the ultimate act of serving.

A ransom is the price paid for the redemption of captives. In ancient times, it was to ransom those taken captive in war. Today we think of the price paid to release a hostage victim.

We were prisoners of Satan and his kingdom of darkness; we were hostages to sin. But Christ died on behalf of sinners. He died the death we deserved to die. He took your place. He took my place.

Since Jesus was willing to humble Himself to become a servant, how much more should we!

The Way of the World is to move Up: Get more power, more money, more influence, etc.

But the Kingdom of God is the opposite: To go Higher, you must go Lower. If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God, learn to be the servant of all.

Are you ready to be a Servant?