Summary: What does it mean to serve as Christ did?
If I were to ask you to describe yourself in one word; if I were to ask what one adjective best sums up your identity, what would you say? If you met someone for the first time, and they asked, "What are you?" how would you answer? What single term would you give in response to that question? You might respond in terms of your vocation. Many of us derive our identify from our work. So you could say, "I’m an engineer;" "I’m a homemaker;" "I’m a lawyer;" "I’m a pastor." You could answer according to your family status. "I’m a father," or "I’m the mother of three children." There are literally dozens of possibilities: religious affiliation: "I’m Catholic," or "I’m Baptist." Nationality: "I’m an American." Political party: "I’m a Democrat," or "I’m a Republican." Family or clan, "I’m a Perkins." Ethnic background: "I’m Hungarian," "I’m African-American," "I’m Irish". Gender: "I’m a man." "I’m a woman."
The way you answer that question is significant because it reveals what personal attributes you consider as central to your identity. What’s at the core of your view of yourself. Would it interest you to know that when the authors of the New Testament began their letters, they all used the same adjective to identify themselves? What do you think that adjective was? Not "Christian." Not "disciple". Not "teacher." But "servant".
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle " – Romans 1:1
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" – James 1:1
"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ" – 2 Peter 1:1
"Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James" – Jude 1:1
What does this tell us? That they all considered their status as servants to be the most significant aspect of their identity as followers of Christ. That in the years following the death and resurrection of Christ, as the church was being formed and the followers of Christ were developing a sense of who they were, and what it meant to be a disciple, this idea of "servanthood" was at the center of their thinking. What does it mean to be a Christian? It means being a servant. A servant of God. A servant of Jesus Christ. A servant of the gospel – the message of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ. And a servant of the church, of other believers.
Does that surprise you? How do you like that designation – "servant". Does it seem like a good thing? Is it an energizing idea, something that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? "Time to get up and be a servant!" Our natural reaction to be called a servant – or worse, being treated like a servant – isn’t usually a positive one. I read a story a while ago about a training program for employees at one of New York’s finest hotels. At this hotel, they emphasized the outstanding service provided to the guests by every member of the staff – the front desk, the maids, the bellboys. But I’ll never forget the one line they used to begin every training session. They told them, "You are not servants. You are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." In their minds, to be a "servant" meant having no dignity, no sense of self-worth. A servant was someone to be looked down on, someone not to be respected. And so, even though they were being trained to do the work of servants, they rejected that title.