Commentary by Walter Albritton


January 30, 2005


True Greatness Comes from Serving Others in Love


Mark 10:13-45


Key Verse: Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. – Mark 10:43b-44


Years ago I heard Elton Trueblood say that Mark 10:45 is the most revolutionary verse in the New Testament. Look at it again with that comment in mind:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

These are the words Jesus used to define his own ministry. He did not come into the world to have people serve him. He came to serve and to give his life away so that all who believe may be saved. Jesus set the example. He made it clear that he expected his disciples to follow in his footsteps.

In the first century kings and rulers had slaves who served them. The more powerful the king, the more people he had serving him. This remains true in the world today. The top dogs in our business world command the service of hundreds. We do not call these servants “slaves” anymore even though their livelihood depends upon obedience to their “masters.”

Jesus demonstrated with his life, and his teaching, a different standard for those who live under the reign of God. In his Kingdom, true greatness comes from serving others, not out of fear but out of love. As John said, “We love because He first loved us.” And we serve willingly because He first served us.

As disciples we first surrender to Jesus, submitting to his gracious cleansing power. He helps us overcome our “bent to sinning” and proclivity for selfishness. The test then comes in the attitude with which we serve.

Oswald Chambers reminds us to beware of surrender that is “motivated by personal benefits that may result.” We are not to surrender to Jesus for what we can get out of it, for example so that we can be made holy. Such surrender is not at the heart of true Christianity.

These words of Chambers, found in his My Utmost for His Highest, embarrass me when I consider my own selfish reasons for surrender to God:

“Our motive for surrender should not be for any personal gain at all. We have become so self-centered that we go to God only for something from Him, and not for God Himself. It is like saying, ‘No, Lord, I don’t want you; I want myself. But I do want You to clean me and fill me with Your Holy Spirit. I want to be on display in Your showcase so I can say, “This is what God has done for me.”’

The bottom line for Chambers is this: “Beware of stopping anywhere short of total surrender to God.” He pleads for us to surrender to God because we want God more than anything else. Only this kind of surrender enables us to become right with God and ready for humble service.

James and John were willing to surrender to Jesus for what they could get out of it. They were so blinded by their own selfishness that they even dared ask Jesus to do for them “whatever we ask.” Their attitude is nowhere near true discipleship.

Chambers again helps us understand that genuine service is “the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion. . . . Service becomes a natural part of my life. God brings me into the proper relationship with Himself so that I can understand His call, and then I serve Him on my own out of a motivation of absolute love.”

The goal is to fall so in love with God that service becomes an expression of our nature, our love-gift to God for what He has done for us.

Little wonder the other disciples became angry with James and John for their brazen selfishness. If we search our hearts, we realize that we would have been just as angry as those disciples. Yet this anger exposes our need to be grounded in God, to the extent that we derive our joy from Him, from the privilege of serving Him, and not from our circumstances.

We are all prone to become angry when the words and deeds of other disciples disappoint us. This need not be. Indeed, it must not be. We should be willing to serve Christ out of love for Him, not because the behavior of others pleases us. At this point, Chambers jarred my soul when he said bluntly, “Nothing that other saints do or say can ever upset the one who is built on God.” Then I remembered too what Jesus said to Peter when Peter was bothered by the conduct of another disciple: “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21).

A story from the life of Albert Schweitzer offers us insight into the nature of genuine Christian service. Schweitzer, you recall, was a brilliant German with degrees in music and theology. He had a comfortable life as a college teacher. Then he heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus and was soundly converted.

He walked across the campus of the University of Strassbourg and enrolled in the School of Medicine. He received his medical degree in February of 1913. A month later he moved to Lamberene, in French Equatorial Africa, where he built a hospital to care for the poor natives who were suffering from leprosy, polio, and other diseases.

I will let Schweitzer tell in his own words why he gave up his comfortable life as a professor and began to serve others:

"I had read about the physical miseries of the natives in the virgin forests; I had heard about them from missionaries, and the more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed to me that we Europeans trouble ourselves so little about the humanitarian task which offers itself in far-off lands.           “The parable of (the rich man) and Lazarus seemed to me to have been directly spoken to us! We are (the rich man), for, through the advances of medical science, we now know a great deal about disease and pain, and have innumerable means of fighting them….Out there in the colonies, however, sits…Lazarus…who suffers from illness and pain just as much as we do, nay, much more, and has absolutely no means of fighting them. And just as (the rich man) sinned against the poor man at his gate because…he never put himself in his place and let his heart and conscience tell him what he ought to do, so do we sin against the poor man at our gate" (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest).

Asked by a visitor why he was serving the poor in Africa, Schweitzer replied, “Jesus sent me.” That was reason enough.

Schweitzer not only served the medical needs of the poor. He helped promising young Africans acquire an education. Some of them went on to obtain college degrees, some even medical degrees.

On one occasion Schweitzer was in the woods cutting down trees to use in building a larger medical clinic. He was struggling in vain to move a tree out of a ditch. Nearby several Africans stood watching. One young man, neatly dressed in his white suit, was urged to give Schweitzer a hand.

“No,” the young man replied, “I cannot; I am a doctor.” Evidently he did not want soil his “whites” because such manual labor was beneath him now. Yet it was Albert Schweitzer who had helped him work his way through medical school.

Ponder that scene as you consider your own willingness to get your hands dirty in the service of our Lord. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Must that not be our spirit as well?

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