January 2012 - Vol. 56
Servants of Jesus Christ Series

A Servant's Heart – Loving and Serving 
Others for their Sake
By Don Schwager

The nature of Christ’s love for others 
The Lord Jesus stated quite emphatically that he came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The mission he was sent to do required that he lay down his life for others rather than lord it over them (Matthew 20:25-28). Scripture proclaims that love is stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6; 1 John 8:14) and the only sure way for overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:14, 17-21). Jesus’ obedience to the Father and his atoning death on the cross won great victory over Satan, sin, death.

Jesus not only demonstrated his great love for us, he made it a new commandment as well – “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). 

Jesus’ love was first and foremost very direct and personal. He never treated people impersonally or at a distance. Jesus often made it a point to stop what he was doing and to ask people what he could do for them. When a blind man, named Bartimaeus, shouted for Jesus’ attention, Jesus immediately stopped what he was doing and asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Then Jesus immediately granted his request and restored his sight (Mark 10:46-52). When Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, asked Jesus to heal his dying daughter, Jesus immediately went to the ruler’s home and asked to see the child on her sick bed. “Taking her by the hand, he said to her, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (Mark 5:41). When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, the tax collector, watching him from a distance in a tree, Jesus stopped what he was doing and began to speak with Zacchaeus alone. “Make haste and come down. I must stay at your house today!” (Luke 19:5-6. Jesus’ gracious invitation was not only an act of special favor and friendship, but a remarkable reversal of the scorn and distance usually shown to tax collectors at the time. 

Jesus and the Children, by Michael O'Brien

When the apostles tried to keep children away from Jesus, Jesus rebuked them and said, “Do not hinder the children from coming to me… then he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them” (Mark 10:13-16). When Jesus went to Peter’s home, he discovered that Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever. So Jesus “came and took her by the land and lifted her up, and the fever left her” (Mark 1:31). 

Jesus’ compassion was more than a verbal expression of heartfelt sympathy. With his tender physical touch he personally identified with the misfortunes of others and then went on to alleviate their suffering as well. When he met a man who could not speak or hear, he put his fingers into the man’s ears and he touched the man’s tongue with his own spittle – both to physically identify with his ailments and to bring his healing touch (Mark 7:32-35). When lepers approached Jesus he did not keep his distance to avoid contamination. Jesus physically touched them, embracing them with his personal care, and he made them whole and well, both physically and spiritually (Mark 1:40-42). 

Jesus identified so closely with people’s concerns and burdens, that these became his as well. He wept with those who lost loved ones and he mourned over the city of Jerusalem because many of its inhabitants were unprepared to receive him as their savior. Jesus shared in the joys of people as well – he even changed water into wine for a newly-wed couple when their wedding reception supply ran dry (John 2;1-10). The gospels state over and over again that when Jesus saw the crowds who came to see him “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14 and 15:32; Mark 6:34). 

Jesus loved with a servant’s heart – a heart that was always oriented to the needs and interests of others and always ready to do good for them. 

A holy self-disinterestedness
When we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ wonderful deeds and miracles, we might be tempted to say, “Jesus could do that because he had divine power – he was God’s anointed Son. I’m a mere mortal human being, after all!”

How can we possibly attain such love – love that is pure, unselfish, wholly directed to the good of others? Paul the Apostle tells us that we already possess it in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5). 
We already have a divine power at work within us – through the gift and working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ. He re-creates us and gives us a new heart, a heart like the heart of Jesus himself. We can now love others as Jesus has loved them because God’s Spirit dwells in us and gives us the strength to lay down our lives in humble service of others. 

The choice is ours to make each and every day – either to yield to what my flesh wants or to yield to the Holy Spirit who gives me the strength to love as Jesus loves. 

Peter denies Christ, by Michael O'Brien

Put on Jesus Christ 
Paul in his letter to the Philippians tells us to put on the mind and heart of the Lord Jesus who became a servant for our sake: 

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in for form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).
What might hinder us from loving and serving others for their own sake, rather than for some benefit it might bring to ourselves? We are born with an innate and intense desire to please ourselves and to get others to do our bidding. Selfishness comes quite naturally. It’s part of our fallen sinful nature. Unless this fallen nature is put to death, the new nature which Christ has won for us cannot take root and grow in us. Death to self – especially the self that wants “my will done” in place of God’s will – is the necessary first step for allowing God’s love and truth to take deep root in our hearts. 

Jesus called his disciples to “deny themselves” – that is to let go of running their lives apart from him (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34). The Lord Jesus must now reign as the true Master of our lives. If we trust in him and submit to his word, then we can truly know and experience the freedom he has won for us. Jesus promised those who believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). We are most free when we surrender our lives to the Lord Jesus and allow him to transform our hearts and minds with his love and truth. 

Letting go of self-serving interests and selfish ambition
There are many obstacles to growth in servanthood. [See chart below.] For many of us, fear is a key road block: Fear of being taken-advantage of, fear of being asked to do unpleasant tasks, or to serve disagreeable and irksome people. Pride also gets in the way. “I deserve to be first.” “I deserve better treatment.” “I’ve earned the right to insist on what I want or what I prefer.” 

For others, selfish ambition is the driving force that blinds them from serving others with attentive care. Selfish ambition can make us view and treat people as obstacles, interruptions, and problems that stand in the way of getting what we want. Self-centered people are concerned chiefly with themselves and with advancing their own interests to the exclusion of others. They seek to manipulate and use others to get what they want. 

Preoccupation with self is perhaps the biggest obstacle of all. Our materialist culture caters to putting self first. “You deserve the best! Afterall, you’re first.” We can easily become absorbed in our creaturely comforts and not notice how we might be neglecting others or missing the opportunity to give a helping hand. 

We’re wired to seek our own pleasure and comfort and to care for ourselves first. And even when we do consciously agree to serve others, we might qualify it with an ulterior motive or reward. “What’s in it for me?” “How will it benefit me or advance my interests?” “I will do a favor for you, but I also expect that you will return the favor as well.” “I will help you out this one time, but don’t expect me to help you when it interferes with my preferences and priorities.” “I will do what is necessary or what is required, but don’t expect me to do more.”

It takes effort, discipline, and a healthy dose of self-renunciation to place ourselves last rather than first. Humility, the willingness to change, and the courage to ask God to widen our hearts with generous love, are key steps for growth in Christlike servanthood. 

Through love be servants of one another
Paul in his letter to the Galatians reminds us that Christ has set us free to live in his way of love and servanthood. 

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another (Galatians 5:13).
With this gift of freedom comes the choice – to serve and advance myself first or to put the interests of others first and to serve them with love. The gift of a servant’s heart – loving and serving others selflessly – involves more than simply giving some of my time and resources to help and care for others. Being a servant of Christ involves taking on the heart of Jesus – a heart that loves to give generously and serve with everything I have. Afterall, everything I possess – my life, gifts, talents, and material goods – come from God. I can use them simply to please myself or share them in serving and caring for others. 

The Scriptures are full of examples of men and women who loved and served with generous hearts, and who willingly put the interests of others ahead of themselves. 

One notable example comes from the Old Testament in the Second Book of Samuel, Chapter 23. King Saul, out of envy, was pursuing David as he fled into the wilderness. Saul was determined to put him to death. At one point when Saul’s men were closing in on David, David, along with a band of his loyal companions, hid in a cave at Adulum. In his weariness and thirst, David spoke of his longing for a taste of the cool refreshing waters from the well at Bethlehem. Before David could realize the impact of his words on his men, three of his companions chose to break through the enemy’s line of defense so they could fetch for David some cool refreshing water. They risked their lives to serve David in this small act of kindness. David wept when they returned with water from the well at Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:13-17).

Another example, this one from the New Testament, shows how Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, looked upon herself as a “maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38,48). When the angel Gabriel greeted her and told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she did not hesitate to give her unqualified “yes.” When she heard the news that her cousin Elizabeth was expecting a child, she went in haste to give personal support and practical help (Luke 1:39). Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months – no short time of personal, probably often menial service (Luke 1:56). 

To serve is to reign with Christ
Perhaps the person who most prefigured Christ in his servant-like qualities is the Old Testament Patriarch Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob who was rejected by his brothers and sold into slavery. He served in the land of Egypt, first in the house of Potiphar, then in prison, and finally in the house of Pharoah who appointed him as chief steward over the land of Egypt. Joseph was a suffering servant who did not resent those who treated him badly, but he willing served them and blessed them in everything he did for them. The Book of Genesis records the remarkable blessings which Joseph brought to the whole land of Egypt. Look especially at the verses in bold:

Serving Potiphar: Genesis 39:1-6
Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Pot'i-phar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the  Ish'maelites who had brought him down there.  The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian, and his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the  blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge; and having him he had no concern for anything but the food which he ate.

Serving in prison: Genesis 39:20-23
And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison; and whatever was done there, he was  the doer of it; the keeper of the prison paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made  it prosper.

Serving the ruler of Egypt: Genesis 41:38-41
And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God?" So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discreet and wise as you are; you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

Joseph reunited with his brothers in Egypt

We do not hear of Joseph wallowing in self-pity, nor evading unpleasant duties. In fact he gave more than what was required or expected of him. He won the admiration and trust of his task masters because he put their interests above himself. He blessed others in the way he served them and cared for their needs, concerns, and interests. 

Who does that remind you of? The Lord Jesus Christ who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. 

An early church father once said, “To serve Christ is to reign with him” (see Revelations 5:10). When we submit our lives to the Lord and Master of the universe and allow him to work in and through us, we, too become a blessing to many others. Our joy and privilege is to be servants of Jesus Christ – not just when we offer our prayers or when we perform some act of service. Our privilege is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in each and every circumstance of our daily lives. 

Let us do as Paul exhorted his fellow Christians at Colossae:

Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23). 

Distinguishing True Servanthood from Its Two Extremes: 
Self-serving Interests and Selfish Ambition
Serves Others Selflessly
Selfish Ambition
Serves out of self-interest; preoccupied with self-concerns, avoids unpleasant tasks. Serves the interests of others, other-focused, attentive to their concerns, puts the welfare and good of others first. Wants to be served and be first; 
acts like a dictator – overbearing, controlling, outspoken/opinionated.
The self-oriented individual expresses interest and motivation for things of their own liking, and express disinterest or dislike for things they don’t care about. 

“What’s in it for me?” “How will it benefit me or help me advance?”


Other-focused, motivated to serve, build up, and strengthen others; takes on the concerns and interests of others as if they were his/her own.

Not preoccupied with oneself – a healthy disinterest in self that frees a person to focus attention and service on the needs of others. 


Self-centered and selfish, concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage, to the exclusion of others.

Disinterested in others. Views and treats other people as obstacles, interruptions, problems, and as inferiors. Lacks interest in and concern for the welfare of others.

Self-minded individuals are preoccupied with their own interests, opinions, and personal concerns. 

They don’t recognize, listen, or pay attention to what others think and are concerned about.


Listens first; seeks to understand others before being understood. 

Cooperative, and good team builder.


Arrogant, know-it-all attitude, “I’m always right, they are wrong.” “I can do it better by myself.”

Distrust of others; can’t listen to others; prefers imposing his/her own views rather than building consensus and motivating team spirit and cooperation.

Self-interested people try to shuffle unpleasant tasks and problems to others so they can focus on their own preferences and interests. Enjoys serving others anonymously – doesn’t look for credit, reward, or payback. Coerces others to do his/her bidding and to advance their  own interests.
Reactive rather than proactive –driven by feelings/moods, and  by the changing circumstances and problems which interrupt the status quo – cripples objective thinking, problem-solving, response, and decision-making.

Timid/fearful of other people’s reactions, opinions, and demands.


Proactive and responsible (response-able) rather than reactive (being driven by feelings, circumstances, or the social environment). 

Proactive people make love a verb (reactive people make love a feeling).  Love is something you do – the giving of self, making sacrifices, serving others freely.


Motivates others through fear, intimidation, and punishment.


For previous articles in the series, Servants of Jesus Christ, see:
Part 1: You Gotta Serve Somebody: Who Is the Freest of All?
Part 2: What Is the Greatest Title of All? Whoever would be great among you ..scriptural reflection
Part 3: Attaining True Greatness - Humility versus Pride
Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website. 

His book, Servants of Jesus Christ: What can the New Testament teach us about the transforming power of Christ's love and the way servanthood? is available from Tabor House Books.

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