Jesus as a role model for serving

Anyone who has been involved in a circumstance that has resulted in a serious accident will probably have received assistance from a range of emergency services. This may have included Red Cross, State Emergency Service, Tasmanian Fire Service and Ambulance Tasmania.  These responders are well trained and endeavour to help to improve the circumstances of the people who are in need of their assistance. 

Having worked as a volunteer Ambulance Officer with Ambulance Tasmania, for the last three and a half years, it is interesting to note the surprise often expressed by our patients when they eventually notice the badge on the front of my uniform that identifies me as a volunteer. The conversation that often follows this discovery usually contains the question – Why do this? The answer that I and my fellow volunteers provide usually has a reference to giving something back to the community through serving in a volunteer capacity in an area that ‘floats my boat’.

So why do people volunteer to serve? Ask anyone who serves within a community and you will probably hear responses that include:

  • Helping people

  • Gaining new skills

  • Being a part of a community

  • Meeting a need

These are all valid reasons and, according to the 2011 census data, result in something like 19.4% of people 18 years of age or older serving in the community through volunteering in Australia.

The Kenosis of Christ (Emptying)

National Volunteer week was celebrated in the week of 21-27 May 2018. This event was a celebration organised by Volunteering Australia to acknowledge the generous contribution of our Nation’s volunteers. This year’s theme was: ‘give a little, change a lot’. Although this theme is a brief statement, it communicates a lot about the value of our time to others.

While this theme fits most people who choose to serve, it can in no way describe the servant heart of Jesus Christ during His incarnation two millennia ago. Jesus did not give a little. 

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 2:5-8

We cannot begin to imagine what Jesus chose to forego in order to become fully man.Hugh Ross, writing in his book Beyond the Cosmos, likens the incarnation to moving from a three dimensional world to the two dimensional world of a computer screen. Living in a two dimensional world is normal for these imaginary computer screen beings. They don’t have any awareness of an additional dimension and so don’t miss it. However, a three dimensional being choosing to live with the two dimensional beings in this two dimensional world will be aware of the constraints of the two dimensional world. 

During His incarnation, Jesus was fully man and fully God. This was an act of God the Son whereby He took to Himself a human nature while maintaining His deity. To achieve this, Jesus separated Himself from the glory of heaven and the intimate triune relationship that has always existed with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.
Second Corinthians 8:9

Given that Jesus was both fully man and fully God, this kenosis refers to Jesus’ change of role and status so that He was on the earth in human flesh having humbled Himself in becoming a servant. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Jesus’ service was far more than giving a little.

A point that cannot be refuted is that Jesus changed a lot. Jesus’ servant heart has provided the means for eternal reconciliation with God the Father. Jesus’ teaching has been fundamental in the development of a society that cares for others and as a basis for justice. Jesus’ servant heart has also provided a model for not only what Christian serving looks like, but also reasons for why we serve. 

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:30-31

Writing in Romans, Paul describes what this love should look like.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12:9-16a

Christian service is very similar to serving in the wider community in that it also involves:

  • Helping people
  • Gaining new skills
  • Being a part of a community
  • Meeting a need

We all have different skills and abilities which Paul likens to the different parts that combine to make up a functioning body. If we are prepared and able to serve in an area in which we are gifted in, others will benefit much from the time and effort we volunteer. However, it is also important that we do not conflate attending a church with mandatory serving.

Did Jesus’ ministry consist of serving the poor, the lame and the leprous each and every day? Scripture clearly shows that was not the case. Jesus frequently withdrew from the clamouring crowds. This provide the opportunity for refreshing. This is often the case for us as Christians. Sometimes we need to be refreshed by being in God’s presence and be served by our Christian brothers and sisters as we seek to be made whole. This is what church community is about.  As people become healed and refreshed they may become equipped for Christian service in the future.

Serving within the Christian community has clear benefits. Serving in itself will not bring us redemption. It is however, an outward expression of our faith. 

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
James 2:18

Jesus the Ultimate Servant

The incarnation of Christ paints a beautiful picture of humility and sacrifice in serving people who are undeserving of this act. This is God’s grace. As we grow in our understanding of Jesus Christ, the preeminent servant, our desire to serve others will also grow. This outward expression is something that shows God’s grace in action and may help those who don’t know Jesus to see Him in us, so that when we give a little, Jesus can change a lot.