On Why We Should Stop Serving Others

“Jesus came to serve, not to be served.” – Matthew 20:28

I would argue that in our attempt to be like Jesus by serving others many of us in America have missed the point of what Jesus meant. In fact, we tend to do the exact opposite of one of the most fundamental messages of Jesus.

We even see it in the context of the passage above. Two of the disciples get their mommy (at least we assume this by the reaction of the other ten) to ask Jesus if they can be in power when Jesus becomes King. The point Jesus is making is that the Kingdom of God is a place where the great are those who give up their power. In his words “they must become slaves.”

As is typical of Jesus, his point is not about acts of service in themselves, as though giving a plate to a homeless dude makes you like Jesus, but about a heart that lowers itself and gives up its privileges for the sake of the other, just as Paul describes in Philippians 2.

Too often we use serving others as a power trip, a self-deceiving perversion of what Jesus was about. And as such, I would argue that to learn to give up power in the way Jesus meant in Matthew 20, we actually need to do the opposite of what Jesus says.

What’s that you say? Don’t do what Jesus says so that we can do what Jesus meant? Yes, exactly.

If we are truly going to experience what it means to give up our power as middle-class Americans, we need to stop dying on the cross as “I always give to others” martyr and start learning to be served by the “least of these.” It is in this balance of serving and being served that we will begin to understand what Jesus was about.

What do I mean? I simply mean this: we often serve others as a way to make sure we don’t have to admit our weakness to others or ourselves. In our attempt to be like Jesus, we start to replace Jesus, developing a Messiah Complex. We do everything we can to avoid being served by others. Why? Because as long as I am on the “right” side of the soup kitchen line, I am still in power over those I am serving. As long as I am comforting you in your distress, I am not faced with the social humiliation of having to ask for help.

And if there is one thing Americans have a problem with, stereotypically, it’s asking for help.

So if we want to find a way to be like the Jesus who, although had cosmic social status, gave it up to be a servant, we would do better to find our example in the Jesus who allows the prostitute to wipe his feet with her hair in the middle of a social gathering. Maybe we sometimes we need to be served in order to serve.

So may we stop using endless “serving those less fortunate” experiences as a back-handed way of reminding ourselves that “at least we’re not like them” and instead start admitting our weaknesses, our need for help, and our vulnerability to those around us.

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12 responses to “On Why We Should Stop Serving Others

  1. Reminds me of a Tedx Talk I had the privilege of experiencing by Reverend Brian Combs from Haywood Congregation here in Asheville. His challenge to the audience? That the middle and upper classes are the ones in need of salvation from ourselves. That simply standing behind the counter at the soup kitchen with a safe barrier between ourselves and the impoverished, addiction oppressed, physically ill, chemically imbalanced is charitable, but does nothing to change the parts of us that need changed. It is not until we are able to come down off our attitudes, beliefs and lives of superiority and enter into the stories, become broken, humble, and human alongside of the people in line and get in line ourselves, that we can find the salvation that we seek. Well written Jared… I hope to learn how to step out from behind the counter, put down the serving spoon, and get into line.

  2. Love this Jared. The ability to serve is a reminder of power, “I have what you need and I can give it to you.” The ability to love is a reflection of how someone has been loved. This is why kids who can love well as adults have been loved in some way (by parents, mentors, etc…). They love because they have been deemed worthy to love. It’s like the perichoresis. God’s love happens by giving the space of God to the other member of the trinity. We can serve well insofar as we ourselves have been served. Guilty and shameful people make awful servants.

  3. I think your criticism is a tad misplaced. It seems that what you are really talking about is the need for those who do the ‘serving’ to be people of vulnerability and transparency. You are suggesting a renewal of the practice of confession nothing more and, yet, something so supremely important to the Christian ethos. As is always the case, and has been through history, the significant issue resides in one’s willingness toward honesty–to recognize and accept that they are in need of assistance, grace, and mercy every moment of everyday. This is the entire struggle for the Christian. This has little to do with serving the poor or power and everything to do with being people continually touched and formed by those loving hands of God. I say: continue in obedience in being in contact with all the poor (economically, personally, relationally, etc.) and, better, learn true confession. This will make being in contact with the ‘poor’ not a supposed show of power, but just a genuine reflection and action of one’s faith.

    • Well stated… “the significant issue resides in one’s willingness toward honesty–to recognize and accept that they are in need of assistance, grace, and mercy every moment of everyday.” In seeing ourselves honestly, we usually need help in doing so. The ego of man causes us to turn to our peers or superiors (mentors) for help, but rarely seek or see an offer of help from those we consider somehow lesser than us in life measurements (in terms of age, education, money, career accomplishments etc).

  4. On the other hand, I’m basically addicted to help. I ask for help TOO often, and my addiction need for help has pushed people away. I ask for help much too quickly, even when i don’t need it.

    • Yes, thank you for this Leo. I always want to make sure and emphasize the balance, which I think comes out of a healthy sense of self and identity. Thanks again for your willingness to share the other side Leo.

  5. It’s actually been scientifically shown that one of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to help others. In a sense, when someone helps us, we both benefit. Allowing others to help us in some way is partly doing them a favor as well. Ultimately, a system of mutual charity is what is best for everyone, both individually and collectively.

    In regards to this topic, excessive pride is the enemy, as it is with so much of humanities problems. We should share with others because they are one of us and because we care about them; not because we’re better than them and they need our help.

  6. I understand but am troubled by what Jesus told the young rich ruler who came to him and asked what he needed to to for salvation. Must I abandon my family, let my home go to foreclosure, quit my executive job and become, say, a security guard, or live in the slums like Mother Teresa in order to follow Jesus? Human nature is pretty much the same through history, but there are substantive social differences (like opportunity, education and upward mobility) in modern American society that did not exist in the Roman Empire when Jesus lived. Jared, would you speculate that Jesus might choose different words today to suit American society, or would his message be the same? This to me is the greatest challenge and question about Christian faith. I want to be “Christian” without walking away from the life I built. I believe it’s not just the existence of one’s sin of pride in accomplishment, materialism, and want for control over others (elitism) but a matter of the degree and importance of those sins in one’s life that counts in God’s judgment. I welcome your thoughts.

    • You have to remember this was the response to the rich young ruler. Since the Lord knows the thoughts and intent of our heart it was a for him word. Most if not all of the Lords recorded miracles were all achieved differently, even the ones in the old testament. We often lack something or think we do so its better to spend time with him and he will show you what is the needful thing in your life instead of trying to apply someone else s solution to your life. While we would all be members of his body not all are feet or hands or eyes.

  7. It is often serving others that brings people to the place of being able to be last instead of first. It is the association with those less fortunate that helps turn our hearts away from self-involvement. If I am only giving for the sake of looking better than others or better to others, then I am doing it for the wrong reasons. I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    • Agreed. That’s why I say in the post, “It is in this balance of serving and being served that we will begin to understand what Jesus was about.” It’s a balance. I apologize if I was unclear and implied “throwing babies out with bathwater.”

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