Serving and being served are two principles that separate life from death. This world allows two behaviours to lead in opposite directions. Either a person serves or is beings served by others. Being served appeals to humanity as giving comfort. Serving others is identified with slavery and is abhorred. Most people aim at being served, rather than serving others.
The champion of our salvation emphasized the principle of serving others, rather than being served. Ordinary humanity, disliking challenges, desires comfort, possible when being served. When Jesus stated having come to grant freedom to prisoners, most people assumed being freed from serving others.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the 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 your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV).
The toiling masses of this world aim at greatness. School children aim at sterling results, for the purpose of achieving greatness. However, in a bamboozled society, greatness is assumed as achievable when being served, rather than serving others. Jesus said whoever desires greatness must adopt the idea of serving others.
Celebrities, attracting the admiration of other people, reveal another example of achieving greatness in service. In sports, celebrities are considered achievers, due to hard-working in their professions. The same applies to other areas, where greatness is achieved as a result of hard work.
The meaningfulness of hard work is dependent upon bringing joy to others. A hard-working farmer, who reaps bountifully, for self, is not necessarily in the category of greatness. This is different from a farmer whose bountiful harvests cater for the needy, in his community.
And he told them this parable. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”(Matthew 12:16-20 NIV).
Common people do not consider the idea of serving other people, admirably. Being served is what leads to misery among poor nations and poor families. However, those selflessly serving others are the ones who commonly reach the status of being idolized, as opposed to those enslaving others.
Jesus performed great wonders on earth. Wherever He was, He served other people. There is no record, showing that Jesus turned down any person who sought service from Him. Humanity is instructed to do likewise.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death of a cross (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).
Bodyguards are commonly regarded as serving to protect their masters. Nothing appears amiss with that arrangement. Serving in that manner is considered normal when risking one’s life to protect an important person. The tradition is that juniors are expected to give maximum protection to their masters, rather than their masters protecting juniors.
The bodyguards are trained effectively and feel good when protecting their masters. However, the master ought to be the one protecting His juniors. The Scriptural advice is that His followers should have a similar mind.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others”(Philippians 2:3-4).
The master, who exposes his bodyguards to death for the sake of his protection, would not be considering others as better than himself. He would be violating the above Scripture and therefore being evil. The trappings of humanity can only be limited to a failure to understand this principle.
Jesus had tight schedules on earth, but without anyone catering for His personal needs. He did not have a servant doing laundry or cooking for Him. At least those details are not shown in the Scriptures. But His teachings insist that the greatest among humans ought to be the one serving others.
The activities of Jesus included handling complicated problems of humanity. Ordinary people loved Him, as capable of handling their physical challenges. To emphasize service, Jesus performed what most denominations have adopted as a religious artefact. However, Jesus was highlighting the significance of service.
“The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2-5 NIV).
Jesus ensured that the lesson of service was demonstrated to His disciples, before His departure to heaven. Everything else, coming afterwards could not have been as important as the lesson on service. What is of relevance is that He did not instruct His disciples to wash His feet. He washed their feet, rather than them washing His feet, to demonstrate service.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (John 13:6-9 NIV).
The behaviour of Simon Peter was simply following the adopted custom where the least important were the ones supposed to wash the feet of their seniors. Peter had, all along, not understood Jesus’ teaching. contrary to what he understood, the greatest was a servant, washing other people’s feet.
By desiring to wash Jesus’ feet, Peter would be greater than Jesus. To him, that was a sign of reverence towards Jesus, whom he highly respected. But the opposite was true. In his propitiatory condition, Peter requested Jesus to wash his entire body. Peter’s character projected humanity’s common behaviour.
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean”(John 13:10-11).
Jesus intended to drive a lesson to His disciples. His time of departure was at hand. Jesus needed to demonstrate the meaning of service to His disciples. The Holy Spirit would guide them to other aspects of the work. But the lesson of service was of utmost importance, as needing demonstration.
Jesus was not selective, on whose feet He would wash but washed the feet of the entire twelve disciples. This was notwithstanding that He already knew the intentions of Judas Iscariot, who would betray Him. The aspect of loving one’s enemies was displayed at that point.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17 NIV).
No other important aspect of Jesus’ teachings can be considered to be more important than service. The great teacher had demonstrated the meaning of service, lest those disciples had not got it. After Jesus had left, the disciples are not recorded as having washed each other’s feet, as Jesus commanded them?
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-17 NIV).
It is not one’s duty to evaluate the behaviour of the disciples, whether they taught others according to Jesus’ instructions, or not (Matthew 28:19-20). But we are grateful that His teachings were recorded, for us to learn from. Jesus’ words should never be taken lightly, by those sincerely desiring to be His followers. Those words are a matter of life and death.
Jesus was a Great Teacher. It is common knowledge that no other important personality could be regarded as greater than a teacher. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.” In His teaching endeavour, Jesus demonstrated the art of service to His disciples. Christian believers, regarded as Jesus’ disciples, today, are expected to apply this principle.
The above Scripture reveals that no other aspect of Jesus’ teaching can be more important than service. The meaning of service was demonstrated, leaving no guesswork among His disciples. Foot-washing must have been the most tedious of all aspects of service.
Another important lesson from Jesus’ teachings involved Peter’s handling when Peter sought to wash Jesus’ feet. Jesus stated that without Him washing Simon Peter’s feet, Peter would not have any part with Jesus. What was of utmost importance was not the zeal of Simon Peter, desiring to remain loyal to Jesus, but obedience.
This is why even the intellectual capacity of an individual is not regarded as valuable. What produces results is simply following instructions, as commanded by the Master. The rest flows, without hard work, necessarily.
At one stage, Jesus assigned His disciples on a mission to preach the gospel. He specifically sent them to go to the lost children of Israel. They were not supposed to behave in any other way. But they were expected to apply exactly what was instructed, lest they would not produce results.
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker, is worth his keep.Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town”(Matthew 10:9-15 NIV).
On coming back they were excited, as the results were evident: The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). The only reason why those disciples produced results was that they obeyed instructions, during their expedition.
The work of Jesus does not require anyone’s effort but obeying Jesus’ instructions without fail. The aspect of service is the only instruction that Jesus declared to them that they would be blessed if they applied it. The results would only manifest at the time of His second coming.
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from the current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing relief to those having witnessed the strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. Most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long-awaited providential oasis of hope, in a simple conversational tone.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99