“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” Mark 9:35 (NIV)
Startled by an unexpected noise, my party-decorating in the church gym abruptly came to a halt.
Thinking I was alone, I cautiously tiptoed toward the doors of the gym. Peering through the window, I saw the familiar face of our retired, former pastor. What is he doing here so early in the morning? Is that a paintbrush? Is he painting the doorframes? Why is he spending his time on something people probably wouldn’t even notice?
The image of my pastor painting that day made an indelible impression on me. Not only was he doing a job most would deem unworthy of their time, but he purposely tried to avoid anyone seeing him do it.
In contrast, I am guilty of taking on more “noteworthy” tasks that bring praise from others; I pass off the less “important” ones to people who are not as “capable.” We like recognition and want our work to count. If we are really honest, we secretly believe our role in the Kingdom is more important than that of everyone else.
The Gospels reveal numerous accounts of the disciples arguing about who was the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. They were God’s few, specially selected. Out of all the people in the world at that time, Jesus chose these 12 to follow Him. One would think this alone would make them feel extraordinarily special, but these were ordinary men who, even in their close proximity to Jesus, still lived in the flesh.
Jesus clearly told them, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
Well, that settles it.
Except, it didn’t.
In the very next chapter of Mark, brothers James and John made a bold request of Jesus — to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in His glory (or in His Kingdom). In response, Jesus echoed the same words from before, reminding them that “… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43b-44, NIV).
So desirous to make sure this point resonated with His spiritually obtuse disciples, during His last supper with them, Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and began to wash their feet. (John 13:4-5) The significance of this act in the upper room is profound.
First, feet-washing was reserved for servants. Dust-saturated roads, open sandals and general inaccessibility to regular bathing meant feet were smelly, filthy and gross. Second, Jesus was their teacher and master, and yet He bowed before them in an act of humble service. And third, He performed this act of service in private, out of view of onlookers.
Jesus wanted the disciples to realize it is not the boasting of our capabilities that makes us great in God’s eyes. Grandiose gestures of service or generous monetary donations do not place us on the Forbes 500 list of “Most Successful Jesus Followers.”
Jesus was the perfect model of servanthood. As the Son of God, He had every right to demand praise, honor and glory. Yet, He set aside His own reputation and considered others, thus putting the Kingdom of God first. This was the message portrayed by Jesus before His disciples in that upper room — esteeming others above ourselves not just in word but also in deed. The act of foot-washing was a precursor to the ultimate act of service, humility and obedience. Just hours later, He would lay down His life on the cross for the sins of the world.
When I saw the familiar face of my pastor that morning, paintbrush in hand and apologizing for disturbing me, I felt convicted.
How many times had I walked past an overfilled wastebasket, left a blank line on a volunteer list, or grumbled about putting chairs away after a social because I thought those tasks were beneath me? Before me stood a man with numerous degrees who spent his personal free time painting a doorframe in a dark hallway in a church that few, if any, would ever thank him for or even notice.
Like my pastor, let us emulate Christ’s example of quiet, humble service by surrendering a self-serving spirit in exchange for a God-honoring heart.
Lord, replace my prideful spirit with a heart of genuine love for others. Thank You for Your example of humble service, and help me to be more like You today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.