Do I have the heart of a servant?

There are certain aspects of the Christian faith that are quite different from some of the more common cultural expectations. One of the big differences is the attitude or the heart that we're encouraged in Scripture to convey. Some aspects of our culture seem to value dominance and control, but God's word encourages us to value cultivating the heart of a servant.

Servanthood is easier to value in theory than it is in practice. Many times I have heard it said that, "Servanthood sounds great, right up to the point when someone actually treats you like a servant." I know for me, this has been a lesson that the Lord has chosen to drive home to my heart quite a few times. When I was directing the Pocono Mountain Bible Conference, this was a lesson I had to re-learn every week when I took off my director's hat and helped wash dishes for retreats and mop cabins after they were used.

Is this a lesson you can sense the Lord trying to teach you as well? What has He been teaching you about the value of servanthood? Has Christ given you the heart of a servant? If so, how is a servant called to live, even in the midst of a world that doesn't always esteem servanthood?


I. Live as people who are free

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
— 1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV

My parents would confirm this if you asked them, but I'm confident that I wasn't an easy child to raise. From an early age, I wanted to experience as much independence as I possibly could. I wanted to earn my own money, go where I wanted to go, operate by my own set of rules, and listen to my own counsel above anyone else. I also will admit to wrestling with trust issues. Sometimes it was difficult for me to trust that adults were making decisions that were in my best interest, so I found it difficult at times to cooperate with certain authority figures in my life, until I came to a spot where I learned to trust and respect them.

This Scripture encourages followers of Christ to be people who are known for respecting authority, particularly the authority of those who have the responsibility to govern and keep order. That sounds good, in theory, but just consider for a moment what it must have been like for the original audience of Christians to hear this teaching as the Holy Spirit communicated it through Peter.

During that era, Christians were regularly persecuted by their government for no other reason than the fact that they worshiped Jesus and encouraged others to do so as well. Some were executed. Some were imprisoned. Some had their jobs and homes taken away. Yet they were still being encouraged to honor the authorities that had been placed over them as best as they could.

What the Lord was seeking to do through them was to silence those who spoke evil of believers. As Christians lived with a healthy reverence for God, honored those He brought into their lives, and displayed genuine love for one another, that would serve as a powerful testimony that pointed others to Jesus and visibly displayed the miraculous way He can change a heart.

Even though many of these early believers were being tossed in prison because of their faith, they were encouraged to live as people who were free. Not free to do whatever they felt like doing, regardless of the consequences. But free from the bondage of sin and an attitude of selfishness. Free from being consumed by hatred and a desire for revenge. Free to forgive those who hurt them and hurt their families.

This is the kind of freedom we find in Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
— John 8:34-36, ESV

In Christ we find freedom from sin. Our minds, hearts, and lives no longer need to operate under the control of the ignorance, selfishness, and rebellion that once dragged us down and hurt others.


II. Follow in the steps of Christ

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
— 1 Peter 2:18-21, ESV

I'm grateful for the people the Lord has placed in my life that I consider examples. Years ago, I used to engage in long conversations with a retired pastor who had planted quite a few churches during the course of his ministry. He had a unique and interesting calling from God and I loved to hear what he had to share. Not long after I entered full-time ministry, he passed away and I remember being overcome with emotion at his funeral and praying that if it was God's will that He would give me a "double portion" of that man's spirit, like Elisha requested before Elijah was taken up into Heaven (2 Kings 2:9). That man was at the end of his ministry and I was at the start of mine, but I wanted to follow in his steps.

If we call ourselves followers of Christ, we're called to follow in His steps. This is His calling on our lives. During His earthly ministry, Christ left us an example of what it looks like to live, love, and serve. During this era of history, He is living within us and empowering us to walk as He walked.

We're told some of the ways that applies to us now when we look at these verses. These verses speak of servants being subject to their masters. In that context, it may have referred to household servants who helped manage the property and affairs of their master. In our context, this could easily apply to us in our workplace. If you don't own a business, you very likely work for someone who does. Some of us may have the privilege of working with gifted leaders. Some of us may work for difficult bosses. Being mindful of the example of Christ, how should we serve in the context we've been called to serve in?

One of the things we're being prepared for when we look at this passage is the very real possibility of suffering. We may suffer in our personal lives. We may suffer in the context of our employment. We may suffer where we are called to serve. I think it's safe to say that suffering isn't something any of us naturally look forward to. When I'm suffering, I typically spend a decent portion of time asking the Lord to alleviate my suffering. When people I love are suffering, I try to ease their pain. When someone we care about passes away abruptly, one of the things we often say to console ourselves is, "Well, at least he didn't suffer."

But consider for a moment the redemptive aspects of suffering. When Jesus came to this earth, He did so with the intent to suffer on our behalf. When we endure suffering for His glory, we continue to operate with a mindset that reflects His. Interestingly, He will likely use our suffering to; teach us to pray with sincerity, make us stronger, show others an example of His power at work in our lives, and help us clarify what's really important in this world. Following in the steps of Christ can be a difficult path to walk, but it also produces the kind of fruit in our lives that the Lord desires to see present among His children.


III. Entrust yourself to the One who oversees your soul

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
— 1 Peter 2:22-25, ESV

Are you ready to think about something unpleasant for just a moment? For just a few seconds, let yourself think about someone who has hurt or upset you. I realize that can be unpleasant to do, but the truth is, you probably think about that person more often than you'd like to admit. And usually when we're thinking about the people who have hurt us, we're also thinking about the kind of unpleasant things that we probably wouldn't be too opposed to watching them experience. The desire for revenge can be a powerful impulse that is quite dangerous when left unchecked.

While there are people in this world who may have brought us hurt or discomfort, it isn't wise for us to become consumed with getting back at them. Yet again, our example in this particular scenario is Christ Himself. Though He never did a single thing wrong, never sinned, never deceived, never used His words improperly, he was arrested, interrogated, tortured, and crucified. The penalty for sin was death, so He who had no sin suffered death in our place at the cross so that we could be forgiven and healed.

When Jesus was being poorly treated, did He seek to harm those who were hurting Him? Did He threaten them? Did He tear them down with His words? No, He didn't. Instead, we're told that He entrusted Himself to God the Father, knowing that the Father's judgements are just. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are united as one. Jesus, by nature, is divine, yet during the course of His earthly ministry, He took the form of a servant.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
— Philippians 2:4-8, ESV

Jesus showed us what it looks like to trust the Father even in the midst of our greatest trials.

I don't know if you saw this story the other day, but according to CNN, "Clayton Cook had just gotten married and was getting some wedding photos taken with his wife, Brittany. The pair was on a bridge over a lake in Victoria Park in Kitchener, Canada. That's when Cook noticed something alarming. A child had fallen into the water and seemed to be drowning. The suited-up groom ran off the bridge and jumped in. He grabbed the boy by the forearm and pulled him to safety."  -CNN

Likewise, it's not a stretch to believe that God watches over our lives.  

I don't know what you're going through at this point of your life, but I do know this... You can entrust yourself to the One who oversees your soul. You don't have to have every last aspect of His plan figured out. You don't have to know the outcome of everything you're in the midst of experiencing. You can trust that His will is good, what He allows will ultimately be for His glory and your benefit, and if your faith is in Christ, you don't need to approach the future with a sense of dread or fear.

Christ offers to bless us with the heart of a servant. He empowers us to live in true freedom. He inspires us to walk in His steps. He encourages us to trust the will of God for our lives. Regardless of the difficulties or challenges we may face in the present, we can be confident that our Lord will transform our present suffering into future blessing.

© John Stange, 2017