Summary: A very practical study on the necessity of servanthood, what servanthood is and is not, and the qualities of a Christian servant-leader.
And there was no other way. Servanthood was not optional for them. Servanthood is the only way to lead in God’s Kingdom.
II. Now, often, when we think about servanthood, we think about doing things.
What are some things you think about when you think of a servant? a butler, a cheaffeur, a maid. In our minds a servant is someone who does all of the necessary but unpleasant things in life.
I remember that earlier this year we wanted to have a practical experience with servanthood, so we had a party for the teenager group. We waited on them hand and foot all night. That night was a lot of fun, for both the teenagers and us. But were we really learning Biblical servanthood in that activity? I, remember very clearly that I followed all of the instructions of the teenagers. But I found any way I could to give them exactly the opposite of what they really wanted, while giving them exactly what they asked for. Someone demanded exactly 2 ice cubes and I put in one tiny ice cube and then one cube that overflowed their cup. Of course, we were just having fun then, but that wasn’t Biblical servanthood.
Now, we know that in John 13:3-17, Jesus washed his disciples feet. In Israel in 30 A.D. they didn’t have paved streets like we do here in Boston. They had dusty, dirty roads. And they didn’t use cars, they used donkeys and there were lots of animals around. That means there must have been a lot of animal droppings around. Add to those factors that they wore sandals, not shoes, and you can picture what their feet were like. It’s no wonder they had to wash their feet every time they came into the house. Because it was such a dirty, disgusting job, that task was always saved for a servant. It was just about the lowest job you could possibly have. So, when Jesus washed the disciples feet, he was demonstrating for them that he was their servant. He was humbling himself to his own students to do a job that was reserved for the lowest members of society.
When we consider that we need to be servants, we may conclude that that means we have to go around and wash everyone’s feet for them. In fact, I know of one denomination, who have three ceremonies in their church: water baptism; holy communion; and foot washing. While, I’m not saying that it’s not a good idea for them, I don’t want to judge them, I have to say that is not servanthood. It’s pretty easy to figure out that Jesus wasn’t trying to teach the disciples that they must wash everyone’s feet.
If we look at Peter’s reaction to Jesus washing his feet, we can see that obviously this was not a regular thing for Jesus. In fact, it becomes apparent that this was the very first time Jesus had ever done this, and it was at the end of his ministry. Jesus was using this as an illustration of the fact that he was a servant of a completely different variety. Not that he was a servant to cater to every whim of his disciples.
Some people think that servanthood, and servant-leadership means doing everything for everyone. It means that they have to do all of the menial tasks that nobody else wants to do. They have to become the lowest of the low. For example, I had a foolish freshman friend when I was at Bible College. Somehow, I’ve managed to forget his name, but I remember him very well. We were cleaning the bathrooms of the chapel one night to prepare for a big banquet and he was telling me all about what he was going to do in the future. He told me that he was going to start a youth center. He then went on to talk about what good experience it was for him to be scrubbing toilets that night, because when he had a youth center, he would have to scrub the toilets. I, in my great freshman wisdom, suggested to him that someone else could clean the toilets for him. But he had the great “servantly” idea that he couldn’t let his volunteers scrub the bathrooms. He had to let them do all of the more glorious things, while he did all of the manual, behind-the-scenes work. While I am happy about my friend’s attitude, I think that it is completely foolish. If that’s what he plans to do, what is he going to Bible College for? I think he already knew how to clean bathrooms. Let me give you an example of something similar that came up in Scripture.