Summary: The model that is frequently brought into the church is provided by this world. That model drives the disciple to step on others in order to advance himself. The model Jesus provides, though often neglected, is quite different; it teaches us to serve.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

“‘You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom.’” [1]

We have each heard the complaint: “You can’t get service anymore.” Or perhaps it was some variant of this complaint, but the thrust of the complaint was that the culture has changed and people just don’t care about giving “good” service. In fairness, the complaint is coloured by our own bias. What does happen is that those individuals who build a good reputation as trades people, or those companies which excel in the competitive world, recognise that they must provide quality service if they wish to be truly competitive. New businesses must provide both excellence in the service provided and a quality product at a reasonable cost if they will survive.

As time passes, trades and businesses we once depended on are sold or the owner retires and the business is sold or the firm goes out of business. We were comfortable with those we had come to know and trust, and the new trades and businesses that replace the familiar firms we once knew must earn our trust. We don’t stop to consider that we have changed; thus, we are suspicious of the new owners or the new business we now must consult, so we are uncertain that they can be as good as what we once knew. Some of those new firms, just as some of the old firms, will not survive—they will be unable to compete by providing value for cost, or they will lack the drive to provide service. It is an example of the spirit of capitalism at work.

Something similar happens within the Christian Faith. There was a time when an individual could hang out a shingle inviting people to a church service and the venue would be full. That time is somewhere so far in the past that it is at best a dim memory. Churches are forced to compete by providing “service.” Tragically, the concept of “service” is usually defined by a worldview that is cultural rather than Christian. So, we focus on how people feel, whether they are comfortable, whether we pander to their expectations and so forth.

There is nothing wrong with seeking to make people feel comfortable when they share a service, just as we should be sensitive not to needlessly offend. However, when worshippers’ feelings take precedence over truth and the love of God, the congregation is in danger of dishonouring the Master. Let me suggest that a better way of serving begins with the individual and is naturally expressed in an attitude that reflects the Person of Christ the Lord. In order to explain this more accurately, I invite you to consider an exchange that took place during the days immediately preceding the Master’s crucifixion.

WE BRING OUR CULTURE INTO THE FAITH — “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.’” Jesus had just led the disciples through the familiar ritual of the Pascal Meal. Judas had already exited the room, taking the money bag with him before Jesus introduced a new rite.

I’ve often commented on how surprised the disciples must have been when Jesus introduced a new rite. Perhaps “surprised” isn’t accurate; they were stunned. Much like us, they thought of the bread, the wine, the bitter herbs as holy items set apart for one purpose. There they were, reclining around the table, talking quietly among themselves, when Jesus interrupted their several conversations. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” [LUKE 22:15, 16].

I can only speculate, but I’m guessing that when Jesus spoke, He had the attention of each of those present. They turned their heads focusing their eyes on Him, wondering what He was about to say. He had repeatedly spoken of being crucified, but somehow, they didn’t really believe that was going to happen. On one occasion when Jesus was teaching about His coming death, the reaction of the disciples, and especially Peter, elicited a stern rebuke from the Master. Peter had spoken forcefully against the thought that Jesus would be crucified; his speech was so strong that he was influencing the other disciples to reject the idea of Jesus dying. Jesus rebuked Peter in front of the whole group: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” [MATTHEW 16:23]. Here Jesus was, speaking yet again about suffering.

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