On a recent trip to Bogota, Colombia, I was struck by a new insight on the comprehensive nature of servanthood.
The first day, I taught a concept we call the “Monday Church.” That’s our term to depict the need for the church to be outwardly focused, serving as the cultural conscience of the nation and ministering to the brokenness of society. This theme is amply established in Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and in his high priestly prayer (John 17: 15-19).
Today the church is largely inwardly focused and program oriented. But previous generations more clearly understood the need for the church to be outwardly focused.
It was the German Christian Confessing Church martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said it best. Shortly before his execution at the hands of the Nazis in Flossenburg concentration camp in 1945, Bonhoeffer said, “The Church is only the Church when it exists for others.” Similarly, William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury declared that “The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of its non-members.”
In other words, the church is to serve the community and nation, not itself!
But that’s not all …
A day later, I was teaching on the nature of a Godly husband from the material in Nurturing the Nations. The archetype of the husband is God’s faithful love for Israel and Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church.
In Ephesians 5:22-23 the Apostle Paul describes the nature of the husband’s headship of his wife. A husband is to lovingly serve his wife as Christ is the loving, servant-head of the church. The writer exhorts husbands to exercise this headship “as Christ is” (vs.23), “just as Christ” (vs. 25), “in the same way” (vs. 28), and “just as Christ does” (vs. 29).
The husband’s headship is a loving, self-sacrificing leadership. The word love appears six times in these verses, twice in vs. 25, three times in vs. 28, and once in vs. 33. All six times Paul uses the term agape, not eros (intimate sexual love) nor phileo (the love of friends). Agape is used to describe God’s self-sacrificing, serving love.
In his classic book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes the husband’s love of his wife as most like a crucifixion. Lewis writes:
This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is – in her own mere nature – least loveable. For the church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.
In other words, the husband is to sacrificially serve his wife, not himself!
But that’s not all …
That evening I began to reflect that serving others is critical in the two fundamental institutions: church and family. In the former, the church is to serve the society; in the latter, the husband is to serve his wife. That’s when the new insight hit me, related to the third primary institution God has established: civil government. Yes, the government is to serve the people, not the other way around!
Too often, the model for government is tyrannical leadership. A majority of the world’s people live in countries where the government rules with an iron fist. Power crushes the aspirations of citizens, corruption steals the fruit of their labor, cruelty oppresses the most marginalized. A tyrannical government wants the governed to serve the interest of the political class. They see tax revenues as belonging to the bureaucracy rather than to the people who earned and paid them. A virtuous government exists to serve her people. This is the message of Christ in Mark 10: 42-45:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The British have this concept instilled in their language. Their government officials are public servants, their leader is called the Prime Minister … the First Servant!
In other words, the government is to serve the people!
Serving is fundamental to godly living. When we serve, we are most like God. This applies to institutions as well as individuals.
My good friend Bob Moffitt, states the case powerfully in If Jesus Were Mayor:
What did we see, when we saw Jesus? We saw a servant. But not just only a servant, but we saw a sacrificial servant. We saw someone who was willing to give Himself even to death. What does it mean? It means that our God is a servant God.
Jesus came to serve sacrificially. Jesus showed us what kind of life we are to live when we are restored from our sin. What should we look like?
The most important part of the image of God inside of you is servanthood. We say the gospel is summarized in one word and that word is love. Go out and love. And how do you love? By demonstrating that love. By being a servant. What kind of servant? A sacrificial servant. We don’t serve when we feel like it. We serve because it’s the model that Jesus gave us.
To be like Christ, to be most perfectly human, is to serve. Service is the virtue to be practiced in each of the three fundamental institutions of society: the family, the church and civil government.