When I was in college, one of the Christian on-campus groups that I spent time with took a trip to a Jewish synagogue. This was an interesting and educational experience, and I encourage all followers of Jesus to learn more about this faith (as well as others that our friends may follow). I remember something specific about that visit, though: It was late in the year, and one of the speakers was talking about how the members of that synagogue could serve their Christian friends by working during the Christmas holiday. They really seemed excited that they could reach out and serve others, allowing those that they served to spend time with their own families and their own faith.
In my mind, this is a great example for all of us, no matter our faith. To be generous and serve others – even those unlike ourselves – is something that I think most inhabitants of this earth could agree on.
At my church, it’s no secret that many more people attend church on holidays like Easter and Christmas Eve, compared to an average Sunday the rest of the year. Over time, I have developed the point of view that, as a member of the congregation, my role during those services is largely to serve visitors and those who attend church mainly on these special days.
Of course I celebrate the birth and resurrection of Jesus, and these are great times of the year to focus on those history-altering events. I have the privilege of being able to celebrate Jesus’ life and death with other believers on a regular basis, though. On the other hand, visitors on certain days may not have had that opportunity throughout the rest of the year. I’d love for them to join me in the future, but when I meet them for the first time, I can try to be as welcoming as Jesus was.
In one of the letters from the apostle Peter, he wrote this:
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:11 NIV
I find this especially appropriate in light of the fact that Peter personally witnessed Jesus demonstrating how to serve others (in examples like John 13:3-5, but that’s certainly not the only case).
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. 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.”
Mark 10:43-45 NIV
If Jesus made a point of serving, and expected us to follow His example, what does that mean for us?
- It’s humbling. Years ago, at a summer event where I worked at the time, the upper-level managers served food to the other employees. That takes a little humility, but so does washing feet like Jesus did (see the reference to John 13:3-5, above).
- It’s meant for those who may not be like us. While Jesus did primarily minister to other Jewish people, He did serve others whose paths crossed His (not coincidentally). In addition, the unfolding of His kingdom through the early church made it clear that the Good News about Jesus is for all people (see Acts 1:8).
- It’s meant for those who may not be able to pay us back. Jesus didn’t come to earth so that He could get something from us. Those who accept His gift of salvation and choose to follow Him aren’t somehow paying Him back. There’s no bartering or purchase going on here, except for Jesus paying the price for our sins (and redeeming us for Himself). In the same way, our service to others is not just so that we can extract benefits in return (see Luke 14:12-14).
- It’s expected. The verses above don’t paint service to others as a “nice idea”. While the first passage might refer to those with a specific gift to serve – over and above others with different gifts – the second passage makes it clear that following Jesus means that service is part of how emulate His example.
So, look for ways that you can step up and do good for other people. Not every need that you see today will necessarily be your calling to fix, but some of them almost certainly will be. Keep an eye and an ear open for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and then serve humbly and generously as Jesus did. What better way to live according to His example?