When I handed the seven-year-old boy a book, he said, “Really? I get to keep this? You mean forever? This is the best!” I have the privilege of volunteering with an organization called Books for Keeps, which allows children to pick out 12 free books. When you hand a child a book and hear that child say, “This is my first book!” or “Really? I can keep it? I’ve never kept a book!” you experience a joyous high. They call us volunteers, but we should have to pay for the experience!
My parents have always encouraged giving to others, which taught me to love serving. My enjoyment from volunteering has caused me to feel guilty though. Jesus talks about how I’m called to give up my life, and yet, when I give free books to children or serve dinner to the homeless, I feel good.
Is this servanthood? Does volunteering my time make me a servant? Does my joy negate my giving? When I show up to a sick friend’s house with a cup of chicken soup, is that servanthood? What if that friend posts a picture to Instagram with the caption #bestfriend? Does the recognition negate my servant heart?
Made in God’s Image
We were made in God’s image, so we were made to serve. It’s not a bad thing that we enjoy servanthood; in fact, it is human nature to love to serve: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). When we serve others we are fulfilling what we are made for.
Commanded to Be a Servant
Jesus invites us to fully realize our identity as image bearers of God by calling us into servanthood. In Mark 10, he responds to the disciples’ argument about position by saying, “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.”
Jesus challenges those who wish to be great to be slaves to all. He continues by saying, “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.” Jesus not only calls those who want to be great to serve, but he also models servanthood for us.
It seems easy to give books away to kids or help a friend move. Serving is easy when it doesn’t cost you your comfort or when the immediate benefits outweigh that cost. But when serving encroaches on our own desires, it is easy to ignore Jesus’ invitation to love our neighbor.
Jesus gave his life so that we could inherit the kingdom of God. And yet, we don’t want to give up a latte to help those in need. In the early church, the community gave to anyone in need, sacrificing money for the community. However, many churches today have a tough time getting members to tithe, and volunteer organizations must entice volunteers with gifts and college credit. We only want to give when it is comfortable for us, yet a servant’s heart gives sacrificially.
My toddler has a board book in every room of the house. There are even books in the bathroom! She has more than she can possibly read and yet we live just a few hours from kids who have nothing. To address this discrepancy, my husband and I gave up our monthly allowance for new books and used the money to buy books for children in low-income housing. Sacrificing our monthly book allowance allowed me to spend more time at the library, where I found a new community of moms and toddlers.
As Jesus said, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” When we give sacrificially the Lord blesses us with more—in my case, with new friends.
Moving into the Neighborhood
Jesus’ call to give sacrificially often requires us to live incarnationally. In being called to serve, we are called to follow Jesus into the world. As a Greek Ministry staff member, I once led a breakout seminar at a conference on planting Greek InterVarsity chapters on new campuses. Some of the students, who were members of Christian fraternities and sororities, argued that they could serve the Greek students without being around the sin of Greek culture. I explained that in order to serve Greek students they had to see that their friends’ world was more than just the sin that is often so public. Serving a person and loving a person require loving the whole person. You can’t stand at a pulpit and claim righteousness and expect people to turn from their decisions. Instead you must show them how to follow God by living in their world, being engaged in their life.
Our sorority president my freshman year of college exemplified this type of service. She would regularly have freshmen over to cook fondue and let us do our laundry. She would listen to our problems, hang out with us at parties, and genuinely love us. She lived a life that was above reproach, but she lived that life with us. Her willingness to love me sacrificially showed me that I was worth being loved. Her love opened the door for me to understand that God could love me.
We must be willing to engage in the lives of the people we are serving. One of my fraternity student leaders got to know several homeless men through a program called Peanut Butter and Jelly where he and friends would serve PB&J sandwiches to the transient community in our city. When one of his new friends passed away, no one in the transient community could afford a funeral, so this fraternity man paid for one. The transient community felt love from the funeral and other fraternity men were inspired to serve the transient community in Athens.
When we sacrifice for others, we feel more complete. When we give up our lives, we find a richer life. As we serve, our heart is becoming more like Christ’s heart.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.