When I was in high school, I got a job at a summer camp. I went through the application process and an interview regarding the expectations of the summer staff.
We were the ones who did everything: cleaned the buildings in between camps, emptied trash on a daily basis, served the food in the cafeteria, washed the dishes, mopped the floors, lifeguarded for kids swimming in the pool. Everything.
Most everyone got along famously that summer. We did what needed to be done—for the most part.
There was one of our coworkers that apparently didn’t realize what was required before she signed up. She was under the impression that all she needed to do was to sit by the pool and work on her tan. Every day was an opportunity to see how much work she could get herself out of.
Every day was a challenge to the rest of us to allow only what was “helpful for building others up” to come out of our mouths. I was continually wondering why in the world this girl would have come to this particular place of employment with the mindset firmly entrenched about not working.
As I left the high school years behind, I began to encounter people that reminded me of that summer coworker. But the context was different. These were people who claimed the name of Jesus Christ.
Missing a servant's heart
They had all the outward markings that would make most casual observes draw the conclusion that they belonged. But for me, there was one thing lacking—a servant’s heart. I’m sure you’ve met them along the way: coming to church for what they can get out of it, befriending you as long as you have something to offer, sitting around constantly commenting on things that need to be done without actually doing anything. Unfortunately, I think that they have misunderstood the job description of a Christ follower. We are called to serve.
In the passage for this week’s lesson, we find Jesus’ disciples gaining a first-class “smack-upside-the-head” lesson in servanthood.
The setting is familiar. We are watching the disciples gather with the Lord for their last supper together. Bickering and arguing among the 12 about position and relevance seemed to be a continuing intrusion into what Jesus was trying to pour into their lives. So Jesus begins the lesson.
John beautifully fashions the juxtaposition of Jesus’ power (v. 3) and his heart of humility (v. 4). Try to comprehend the image of the logos of God taking the form of a servant in order to set the pattern for all who would follow after him.
"Do as I have done"
After performing the duties of a servant, Jesus completes the lesson. He brings the disciples face to face with what I call the “so what?” moment. Why is it important that Jesus washed feet? “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).
If Jesus is able and willing to take on a task that was absolutely beneath him, what is our excuse? While we may not be able to duplicate the exact ministry example (Peter and company have been dead for a long time), we can display the same attitude. As followers of Christ, we must develop the inward attitude (Philippians 2) that continually reminds us we must be humble.
I remember the words of one of my bosses while I was in seminary that helped me gain an understanding of the kind of attitude we’re seeking. If you’ve ever worked in any type of ministry, you know that regardless of what you have planned, things come up. Most of the time, the assignments that my boss, Chad, brought my way were not in any way connected to my job description. But together, we swept up broken glass, painted walls, disassembled toilets and mopped up puddles of water. Chad would always say the same thing: “Just another day in the ministry.”
He knew that we must do what needs to be done, irrespective of earthly title or position. He taught me to more fully understand the calling that is not limited to those who are ministers by vocation but extends to everyone who claims to be a disciple.
Serve others with a humble attitude without expecting anything in return. That is your calling.