Loving Neighbors (3)
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” John 13.14, 15
Seeking leads to serving
Jesus did not come to earth, rent a building in Jerusalem, and hang out a sign that said, “Religion at 11.” That is, He did not expect the lost and needy of His world to find their way to Him.
He went looking for them, seeking them throughout the land, among the downcast and unlovely as well as among the well-off, high-placed, and powerful. Jesus sought people, walking throughout Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and beyond, reaching out to others as the embodiment of a new Kingdom of love that had come near by His words and works.
And, more often than not, as Jesus went about seeking others, He ended up serving them according to the needs they presented before Him. If we seek others faithfully, soon enough the Lord will open doors of opportunity for us to serve them with His love.
Serving others – beginning in the household of faith and extending to all our neighbors – is key to knowing true greatness in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Mk. 10.42-45).
The nature of service
Jesus carried out His earthly ministry as a seeker of the lost and a servant to sinners. In these roles, He shows us how we can love our neighbors as He loved us, and as we would like others to love us as well.
He embodied the life of service throughout the course of His earthly ministry. He had come to earth as a servant, to give Himself for our salvation and for the reconciliation of the world (Phil. 2.5-11; 2 Cor 5.17-21). His entire life is a study in working one’s Personal Mission Field with the eyes of a servant. The text above gives us an example of true service, as we see Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in that upper room. By analyzing that situation, we can discover key aspects of a life of service, and begin practicing those disciplines in our own Personal Mission Fields.
So let’s note the following: First, serving others begins in setting your own interests and needs aside (Jn. 13.1-4). Jesus was about to be treacherously betrayed, falsely tried, and brutally crucified. Yet He did not allow His own concerns to dominate in that upper room. More important than what was on His mind was the opportunity to love His disciples and to teach them what it means to love one another.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2.4). Then he pointed to the example of Jesus, Who came among us as a Servant. Serving others begins in self-denial, setting our own interests aside in order to be available to others. This will mean that serving others is not always convenient. It will take time that you might otherwise like to spend on yourself, and coming alongside people in ways that may require you to learn new skills or undertake new efforts.
Second, Jesus identified the opportunity for serving. He was alert to the need that presented before Him, and He quickly diagnosed what must take place for that need to be met. If we’re paying attention to people, praying for them and engaging them regularly and sincerely, God will begin to show us ways we might serve them to meet some need in their lives, whether small or large. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the priest and Levite saw the need of the beaten man; they did not, however, see this as an opportunity for serving him. Thus they failed to apply their own Law, which consistently teaches that we must bear the burdens of our neighbors. Whenever we observe needs, we must assume that God has brought these to our attention so that we might, if only in small ways, lend a hand to addressing those needs.
Third, Jesus prepared Himself to serve His disciples. He gathered the necessary equipment, dressed Himself accordingly, organized the room, and got started with His work.
As we begin to discern the needs of people around us, even if it’s just for more consistent encouragement or affirmation, or assistance with some routine task, we can prepare each day in our times of prayer and planning to step up to the opportunity and lend a kind word or a helping hand. Part of that preparation will involve careful study of God’s Word, beginning with His Law, to understand and submit to the teaching of Scripture concerning how we may serve others with the love of God.
Finally, Jesus took up an unfamiliar task, and saw it through to completion. He humbled Himself to do this. He had to deal with Peter’s objection. He had to get dirty, touch others’ feet, bend His back, and stay the course through the washing of twenty-four filthy feet – including those of Judas Iscariot.
Serving others is one of the good works for which we have been redeemed. As Jesus served the disciples, He gave them a dramatic example and experience of what it means to be cared for by someone you esteem. Then He told them to do for one another as He done for them.
This is not to suggest that we can meet everybody’s needs, or even that we’ll always be able to serve every person or need that presents before us. But by becoming more servant-minded and practicing the disciplines of self-denial, discernment, and preparation, we’ll be in a better position to serve others as we can, and thus to touch them with the love of Jesus.
Serving by words and deeds
Our contemporary approach to Christian life and ministry is so skewed and distorted as to cause many, if not most of us, to miss the significance of Jesus’ example of service. We tend to think of service in terms of programs or church-sponsored activities. We participate in drives or campaigns to help the poor, give up a Saturday morning to work at the rescue mission, or help prepare meals for the elderly once a week. All these examples of love concentrated are important, and we must not fail to do them as we are able.
But the larger New Testament teaching is not of love merely concentrated, but of love diffused – like light, salt, or leaven, penetrating into the nooks and crannies of society, dispelling the darkness, preserving all that is good, and bringing wholesomeness to light amid the stale loaves of a narcissistic social order. Believers become agents of diffused love by their daily words and deeds – words that edify, encourage, comfort, and please, and works that assist, support, or complement the works of others.
Every believer is called to love after the example of Jesus by making the most of the opportunities for serving others that present each day in their Personal Mission Field (Eph. 5.15-17). The more we can become consistent in the everyday opportunities to serve, the more convincing and powerful will be those concentrated labors of love that we take on as congregations.
Jesus gave us an example of how to love others, and that example is one of serving. Today is the day of salvation, and so today is the day we must serve others with the Kingdom love of Jesus Christ.
1. We say that seeking leads to serving. Why is this so?
2. Meditate on Mark 10.42-45. How important is serving others in the Kingdom?
3. What’s the difference between love concentrated and love diffused? Why is each of them essential in advancing the Kingdom?
Next steps- Transformation: Today, what are some things others might do in order to serve you – to encourage or assist you in your normal daily responsibilities? Following the Golden Rule, how might you do such things as these for the people around you?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.