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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 10:45am Service, 2014-06-08

Text: Matthew 20:20-28

In our sermons for this quarter we have been focusing on the theme, “God’s Goodness in Salvation, Sanctification and Service.” Within the last two months, we have already considered the first two topics: Salvation and Sanctification. I am sure that most if not all of us are interested in these two topics and would love to learn more about them, since we benefit immensely from being saved and sanctified. God’s goodness is so easily seen both in Salvation and in Sanctification. 

But I wonder how many of us are just as interested in Service as in the first two topics. My guess is that few are genuinely enthusiastic to learn more about Service, and a typical response would be,“Why should I be a servant? What is so good about serving? I don’t have time for it, and it’s not really my cup of tea. Let those who enjoy serving and who have the time for it get involved in it.”Well, this response does not come from following Christ. It comes from following the world. 

We live in a world where people strive diligently for high positions of power and leadership, and for fame and recognition. We live in a world where few people want to be servants. And if there are people who do serve, they serve only because of the prospect of personal gain – in terms of money, honour, power or recognition. That is the way things are done in the world. It is considered demeaning to serve others, and it is considered foolish to serve for nothing. But Christ requires us to take a very different view of service, and this can be seen in Matthew 20:20-28. 

The passage begins with a personal request made by the mother of James and John, who were two of the twelve disciples of Jesus. She came to ask Jesus to let her sons have the best positions in His kingdom – second only to Jesus Himself: One son to be His ‘right hand man,’ and the other son to be His ‘left hand man.’ I think we can all understand why she made such a bold request from Jesus: Doesn’t every loving mother want only the best for her precious sons? However the parallel passage in Mark 10:35-37 reveals that it was her sons who had engineered this request! James and John were the ones vying to get the top positions for themselves. 

Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples a little earlier had stirred up their ambitions –“Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) Their minds were so captivated with this coming glory that they hardly paid any attention to what Jesus said in the two verses just before our passage: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him….” 

All this talk about humiliation somehow did not register at all in their minds, as they were so preoccupied with the glory they wished for. So what James and John did was to get their mother to help them so that it might look more like her request than theirs. She gladly followed their script closely, bowing down to Jesus and saying, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” (v.21) I want you to note the important phrase, ‘in Thy kingdom’ at the end of this verse. Whose kingdom is this? Christ’s kingdom. These disciples mistakenly thought that the mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom was to be in the highest positions of honour. If that were true, then Christ’s kingdom would be no different from the world’s kingdoms where prestige and power matter most. 

This provides the background for what Christ said in vv.25-27,  “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Jesus shows the disciples how radically different it is to be great in His kingdom. It is to be a servant. This gives us the first reason why we ought to be servants: 

1. Being a Servant Is the Distinguishing Mark of Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom (vv.25-27) 

Since we who are saved are now in Christ’s kingdom, our thinking about greatness has to change radically. We are not to be conformed to the world in our thinking anymore, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). What the world esteems most like riches, fame and power are of no value to us. They do not make us great at all. What would make us great in Christ’s kingdom are the things that the world despises most, like humility, weakness, giving, submission and selfless service: These are the things that matter most of all in Christ’s kingdom. The world rewards those who put themselves at the top. But the kingdom of Christ rewards those who put themselves at the bottom. 

In the ancient world, kings and princes were at the top-most rung of society while slaveswere at the very bottom-most rung of society. Christ tells us where we should be in v.27,  “…whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” The word ‘servant’ that Christ used here is translated from the Greek word doulos which literally means ‘slave.’ Now, I don’t think anyone here would like to be called a slave, because of its negative connotations of forced servitude and loss of personal rights. But that is how Christ wants us to see ourselves – we are no better than others, because we are nothing more than lowly slaves! We have to get used to thinking of ourselves this way, and make it a point to begin each day reminding ourselves that we are not kings but slaves! 

Having this mind-set will change the way we relate to others. It will make us more approachable and accommodating. We will be more willing to see things from their point of view and not insist that everything must be done our way. We will want to serve rather than to be served. We will even go the extra mile to serve others. When we see ourselves as nothing more than servants or slaves it becomes a lot easier for us to submit to others willingly. 

Whenever we write formal letters, we use certain conventional endings before signing off, e.g. ‘yours sincerely,’ and ‘yours truly.’ But do you know that these endings actually originated from much longer ones? In letters that were written way back in the 1800s, the standard ending that was used was:  “I beg to remain your most humble and truly obedient servant.” Over time this has become shortened to: “yours truly.” And so the next time you write ‘yours truly,’ please remember how Christ wants you to regard yourself. 

One reason why nobody wants to be a slave is that slaves do not own anything. They and everything they have belong to their master. In the same way, the servant mind-set requires us to regard ourselves and everything we have as God’s property, which are to be used in His service. In Luke 12:48 God’s Word says,  “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” God has every right to expect much from us, because He has invested so much in our lives. What has God invested in us? He has invested Time, Talents, Treasures, and Opportunities in our lives. God has entrusted these to us to be used for His glory. 

In the parable of the Talents in Matt 25:14-30 the Lord spoke about three servants who were entrusted with their master’s assets. The first two servants doubled their talents by working hard, and so they were commended when the master returned. But the third servant received a stern condemnation because he merely buried his talent and returned it intact to the master. 

This parable teaches us to be good stewards of all that Christ has entrusted to us. One day we will have to give an account to Him of how we used them. Will you be like the servant who buried his talent in the ground? Do you spend a lot of your time and money in your own leisure and activities, and things that are unnecessary? How should you spend your time, talents and treasures now, if you know that you will have to give an account for them? Will you put them to good use so that Jesus will say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”? 

One passage that reveals what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ is 1 Corinthians 3:12-14 – “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” 

Dearly beloved, do you look forward to receiving a blessed reward from the Lord Jesus Christ? You must. All your efforts in serving Him now will be amply compensated when you receive your reward from Christ. With this reward in view, let us be faithful in serving Him well. We have just seen that being a servant is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom. Let us return now to our passage to see another reason why we ought to be servants. This is found in verses 27,28 which says, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister…” Please take note of the words ‘even as.’ They tell us why we must be servants. And it is plainly this – Our Lord Jesus Himself was a servant. Thus, the second reason why we ought to be servants is: 

2. It Is the Disciples’ Means to Follow Christ’s Example (v.27-28a) 

Christ became a servant in His ministry on earth. Philippians 2:6,7 tells us that Jesus, “…being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” 

One passage that displays Christ as a servant is John 13:1-13. This happened when the disciples had the Last Supper with Christ the day before His crucifixion. In those days it was customary for the host to assign his lowest slave to wash the feet of his guests when they came into his house for a meal. After walking in sandals on the streets their feet would be caked with mud and manure and would need a good washing. But no one had done this. The basin, water and towel were all there, but none of the disciples was willing to get up and use them. 

Then something quite unexpected happened. Jesus rose up, laid aside His garments; took a towel and girded Himself and then proceeded to wash their feet. This must have taken them all by surprise. Perhaps they thought that Jesus would appoint one of them to do the work. But now they were stunned as they saw Him doing it! How can their Master be washing their filthy feet? They should be the ones washing His feet! But now with His outer garments laid aside, His body stooping down and His hands washing and wiping their feet, Jesus practically became their servant. 

Then He said to them in vv.14,15 –  “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Since Christ has given us such an example, how can we follow Him without being a servant? Dearly beloved, being a servant is our means to follow Christ’s example. It makes us more like Him. 

Here is a story about two wash basins. One was a plain copper basin that Jesus used to wash His disciples’ feet, while the other was a beautiful gold basin that Pontius Pilate used to wash his own hands. Christ used one basin to carry out a responsibility that not His. Pilate used the other basin to deny a responsibility that was his. One basin shows us that Christ sought to serve, while the other basin revealed that Pilate ought to serve, but refused. Whose wash-basin will you choose? Christ’s or Pilate’s? If you want to follow Christ, then choose His wash basin and be a servant. This is a very compelling reason why we ought to be servants. But there is an even more compelling reason. It is found at the end of v.28 – “…and to give His life a ransom for many.” This teaches us that being a servant… 

3. It Is the Divine Mode for Edifying Christ’s People (v.28b) 

Christ gave His life on the cross as a ransom for many, and the many here refers to us, the people He has saved from sin and eternal death. But His ministry to us did not stop there. Christ is still giving Himself for us through His unceasing intercession in Heaven, and through the work of the Holy Spirit on earth. And the Holy Spirit bestows spiritual gifts on us so that we can build up the body of Christ by using them well. Our service to God’s people is the mode by which He accomplishes this work. Every one of us has a role to play in this work of building the Body of Christ. But how well have we been fulfilling our role? 

During the time of the prophets Zechariah and Haggai the Israelites were spending too much time and effort building their own houses while the house of God was laid waste. Some problems had come up during the Temple building project and the work was stopped for 15 years. But people conveniently used this as an excuse to leave God’s work undone. So God sent His prophets to rebuke them, and also withheld many blessings from them. 

In our present time, the situation is still the same. Many Christians spend much time and effort pursuing their own ambitions, while God’s work is left undone, or is left in the hands of a few who are struggling to do it all alone. Out of a thousand in our church membership, there are only about 200-300 who are actively serving. Why is it that the rest of us are not serving in Life Church? Maybe it’s because we always think that Somebody Else will do it. Here is a poem that I found about this: 

“There’s a clever young fellow named Somebody Else. There is nothing this fellow can’t do. He’s busy from morning till very late, just substituting for you. You’re asked to do this, or asked to do that. And what is your ready reply? “Get Somebody Else. He’ll do it much better than I.” So much to do in this weary old world; so much and the workers are few. And Somebody Else is weary and worn just substituting for you. Next time you’re asked to do something worthwhile, just give this ready reply; If Somebody Else can give time and support, well then, so can I.” 

Perhaps too many of us have been content to let Somebody Else do the work. The problem with this is that there aren’t that many Somebody Elses out there. And those there are, have grown weary and tired, and may even suffer from burnout soon. Putting more money into the offering bags will not help. The way to resolve this is for every Lifer to assume his or her role of service and be used by Christ to edify His people. (I thank God for last week’s VBS – Many took time to serve on the 3 mornings, but there are many more areas of service besides this one.) 

In today’s church weekly there is an article entitled, “Where Can You Serve?” Read it and you will see that there are many great needs that can only be met if we are willing to give priority to serving the Lord and His people. The article provides a list of ministries in Life Church, their needs and the person to contact to find out more about them. Please ask the Lord to lead you to an area of service. 

If you feel any reluctance, please remember the 3 reasons why you should be a servant according to our passage of Scripture: Being a Servant (1) Is the distinguishing mark of greatness in Christ’s kingdom; (2) It is the disciples’ means to follow Christ’s example, and (3) It is the divine mode for edifying Christ’s people. 

And after you decide to start serving, there are some guidelines you need on how to serve:  Firstly, check your motives for serving. Our passage shows how easy it is to have the wrong motives. James and John were interested in glory, position and rank. They wanted to be higher than anyone else. And though their mother came to Jesus in worship, her real motive was to seek out the best places for her two sons. 

Love for Christ should always be our sole motivation for everything we do for Him. Some serve the Lord to win the praises of men. They like to be at the forefront where others can see how busy they are for the Lord. When asked to pray, they will pray the longest and most impressive prayers. Like Jehu in the Old Testament, they would say, “Come with me, and see my zeal for God.” (2 Kings 10:16) And they love to talk about what they have done for the Lord. But once they no longer feel appreciated, they may go elsewhere to have their egos uplifted again. Dearly beloved, let us be careful not to be like that. Every time we serve the Lord, we should ask ourselves, “Who am I doing this for? For the Lord or for myself?” 

There are many in Life church who work quietly behind-the-scenes. They are unsung heroes – serving the Lord faithfully and diligently in their own areas of service. I think of the ladies who prepare the elements for Lord’s Supper. I think of our PA crew who come very early every Sunday to set up the PA system. I think of our church pianists and organists who avail themselves not only for our worship services but even for prayer meeting, weddings, vigil and funeral services. 

You know, for the amount of time, effort, expertise and service that they put in, they would probably be paid quite well if they were doing it in the secular world. But here they do it for nothing, in fact oftentimes, they would put in their own funds for any expenses incurred in their service and would not make any claims from the church. I thank God for all the sacrifices they have made, and trust that they will be encouraged to continue to serve the Lord well. So let us serve because we want to please no one else but God. Let us serve because we love Him. 

The second guideline you need to observe about serving is to put others before self. Serving the Lord is always done together with others. The biblical pattern for service is teamwork. In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul describes believers as being parts of a body, and each of us has a different role to play. God has graciously bestowed specific gifts on each of us. But none of us can function without the rest, and we need one another’s gifts to serve the Lord together. 

But there are potential problems in working closely together with others, especially when self gets in the way. Some feel offended when their ideas are not used or when things are not done in their preferred way. In our passage we notice that when the other ten disciples of Jesus saw what James and John were trying to do, they reacted, as v.24 says, “…they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.” The spiritual attitude of these ten disciples was not any better than that of James and John. In order to preserve good working relationships we must always be humble, considerate, forbearing and forgiving towards our co-labourers. We will find much greater joy in our service to God if we learn to put others before self in our service. 

Another guideline that you need to observe is to be ready to serve whenever and wherever you can. If it is something that you have never done before, be willing to learn how to do it. If you are approached to serve in some area do not be so quick to say, ‘No thanks, but I can’t commit myself to it.’ If you count it a great honour to serve Christ, rearrange your other commitments to make way for it. Servants must be available whenever the master calls for them. Please make sure that you are available. Remember this: Availability is the greatest ability! A good servant is also alert to the needs of others. In Psalm 123:2, the psalmist said, “Behold as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us.” When the master moves his finger in command, the servant simply obeys. A good servant is one who has learned to subdue the defiant autonomy of self and to subject his will to the wishes of another. Whatever God says goes. When God says, “Jump,” we should say, “How high, Lord?” 

However, there is a vast difference between doing what God wants you to do, and doing all that you or others want you to do. Don’t try to do everything, or else you will end up being too busy, doing things that God never intended you to do. Sometimes you have to say ‘No,’ and encourage others who are doing nothing to help share the load. 

And now we come to the last guideline for service: Be willing to do whatever it takes to do what is needed. Serving the Lord will not always be easy. There will be times when you may have to endure hardship and suffering. Some of the tasks that need to be done are tasks that nobody wants to do at all because they are unpleasant, tedious or boring. You may have to direct traffic outside under the hot sun, or clean the toilets after VBS or camp, or spend hours typing lyrics and music scores for a new song book. 

Our Lord Jesus has set the example. He had to give His own life to be a ransom for many. He had to die a cruel death on the cross. Are you willing to do the same? Perhaps our Lord would ask you the same question that He asked James and John in v.22 – “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Well both of them did suffer for their service as Christ’s apostles. James became the first apostle to be martyred, and John had to endure the longest time of persecution because he lived until the time of the cruel Emperor Domitian. Only God knows what you will have to endure in your service to Him. Please make it a point therefore to seek God’s grace to endure any difficulties, so that you may be able to glorify Him through your service. 

May the Lord speak to all of us and help us to be faithful servants.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11