All of us are dedicated to service. If there's one thing we never tire of, it's serving. We just love to serve — ourselves, that is! We like others to serve us too. We are born with this tremendous desire for service. From the day we enter the world, we want to be waited upon and served. If allowed to do so, children would reduce their parents to servile slaves. The world evaluates greatness by the degree of service a person receives. The more important one is, the greater the number of servants, butlers, maids and secretaries. Human nature aspires to be great. It wants to be served.
What Is "Greatness"?
People look upon service as the way to become great. Then, once you are great, you can then be served. Human beings will often do just about anything in the process of working their way up the ladder to greatness. But once great, look out! The greatest human being who ever lived — Jesus Christ, to whom belongs "all power... in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18) — brought an entirely new concept of greatness to this earth. The disciples wanted to become great. "And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Luke 22:24). Their concept of greatness was that of the world's great, and Christ began to explain that this isn't a true criterion of greatness. He told them: "I am among you as he that serveth" (verse 27). When He returns to this earth, Christ will serve those who are born into His Kingdom at the wedding feast. "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them" (Luke 12:37). Christ is the greatest because He is the greatest servant of all. True greatness is measured by the amount of serving that you do, and that serving never stops. Christ served when He came as a human being, and He will still be serving after He returns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Service is not merely a way to become great, it is being great.
Do you realize that human beings sometimes serve so that they can get? Yes, even when we serve, we sometimes serve selfishly. Generally, our service is motivated by one of three desires. Some people just enjoy serving. It brings them pleasure, so they do it. They probably had the good fortune of having been brought up in a family where the parents have set the right example and properly trained them in this aspect. It's not wrong to enjoy serving, but we should realize that it could be motivated by selfish pleasure. Then there are those who serve as an exercise in self-righteousness. They involve themselves in charities, or other forms of service, because it makes them feel good. They're made to feel they are "pleasing God." Another big reason that people serve is simply to get a position of prestige — to impress others. Too many of us have the attitude of Baruch — we are seeking great things for ourselves (Jer. 45:5). What is the right motive for serving? Simply stated, it is outgoing concern for others. Paul wrote of Timothy: "For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (Phil. 2:20-21). Here was a man who served genuinely. He served not because it was his job, but because he cared deeply for people. Paul himself had this same attitude of selfless service. If it would have done any good, he would rather have sacrificed his own salvation than have others fail to enter God's Kingdom (Rom. 9:1-3). He had a love of people that was beyond the natural human capacity for love. An entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to showing that we can go to any lengths of service, yet if it isn't from a right motivation — if it is not based on a deep love and a real outgoing selfless concern — it is all worthless (I Cor. 13). Do you realize that a person can sacrifice, serve with all his being, and even lay down his life in martyrdom — being burned at the stake (verse 3) — and still profit nothing if he or she is not doing it from a right motivation? Ask yourself: Are you really serving to help the other person, or just to impress yourself and others?
What Service Is
In the account of the life of Jesus Christ, we have a graphic example of what real service is. As the disciples gathered on that last evening before His death, we are told that "Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13:1). Christ knew what was going to happen to him only hours later. He understood it in vivid, minute detail. He knew the disciples were going to deny Him, that they would forsake Him and turn coward under pressure. He could almost feel the grisly, gruesome, grueling torture that lay immediately ahead of Him — a terrifying nightmare which He would face alone. But where was His concern? Was His mind on self-pity? Christ and the disciples were together for the Passover in an upper room. It was customary to have feet washed by a servant at the door before entering into a home. All of the disciples had probably recognized the fact that there had been no one at the door to wash their feet when they came in. Someone had slipped up. But only Christ thought to do something about it! He saw a need, and He rose from the table and began washing a lot of dirty feet. What He did wasn't to fulfill any prophecy. It wasn't a "put-on." It was a genuine act of service as an example for us. So great was His love, even at such a time, that He was aware of even the physical comforts of His disciples. Christ was God. Yet He was utterly selfless, ready to give His all in the most horrifying execution rabid human minds, inspired by the fiendish mind of Satan himself, could devise. He had known for thousands of years what a wild mob of hate-filled human beings — people He Himself had made — would do to Him. Yet He chose to let them do it because of His total selflessness and concern for others. What is true service? It's love. An outgoing concern, without any selfish overtones or motives, for other people. And it moves you to give yourself in serving your fellowman, not for what you can get but for what you can do to give happiness to people. But humans don't have that kind of love. When the chips are down, humanly we are all like those who were with Paul in Rome when his trial took place. "At my first answer no man stood with me," he recounted, "but all men forsook me..." (II Tim. 4:16). Today, even the carnal willingness of humans to serve — for whatever selfish motives — is fast disappearing. People are out to get while the getting is good. Prophecy said of our time that "the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:12). In this increasingly selfish age, we need to go to God in fervent prayer seeking His love. This selfless love comes through His Spirit active in our minds (Rom. 5:5). This Spirit, likened to water (John 7:37-39), must flow into us from God and out from us in giving and serving. The icier the world we live in, the more active we must be in serving — for only running water will not freeze. There are seven vital qualities of effective service. Let's begin to use them in our everyday lives.
1) Service Begins Small
Humans usually want to start off with a big splash to impress themselves and others. But God's Word reveals the principle of the grain of mustard seed. It has small beginnings, developing into something big (Matt. 13:31-32). Service is no exception to this biblical principle. We often despise the little opportunities we have to serve, yet God says: "For who hath despised the day of small things?" (Zech. 4:10.) What begins small can become great if it is rightly rooted and well formed in its development. Christ magnified this principle when He said that the person who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10). If we prove faithful in small openings for service, God will give us larger areas of responsibility. But if we are careless in the small things, we will probably also be careless in the large things. If our attitude is wrong in small tasks of service, it will also be wrong in the big ones. God starts a man off at the bottom. It isn't just a matter of can a man do the job, but what will the job do to the man? God shows us this principle with those He uses directly in His Work. A man ordained as a minister must not be "a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil" (I Tim. 3:6). Even the greatest servants of God were proved first. Moses, who was called to serve in a really great way, was tempered and humbled for forty years in Midian before God used him. But how can you learn to serve in little ways? Begin at home and in the place where you work. Do you wipe out sinks so that they are left clean? Turn out unneeded lights? Pick up pieces of paper that are left littering the floor? Perhaps such "minor details" are too unimportant for you. But they involve the kind of character that will carry over into the big things in life. Anyone can serve in little ways. Begin to seek out such opportunities for service.
2) Where Service Begins
Throughout the Bible we find that God gives opportunities to serve in physical capacities before He gives spiritual responsibilities. Service begins with physical duties. Christ Himself showed that physical service is important: "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward" (Mark 9:41). Small physical services are rewarded by God, and most anyone can render them. We have many dozens of opportunities to serve in this way daily. Epaphroditus, commended for his tremendous service in God's Work, helped Paul in physical ways. Paul called him his "brother, and companion in labour... and he that ministered to my wants" (Phil. 2:25). Because others had not provided the financial support for God's Work, Epaphroditus had done all he could to make up the difference. Paul told the Philippians that "for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me". (verse 30). Many write asking how they can help in this worldwide Work. God has not called most to serve in a spiritual capacity right now, but the example of Epaphroditus shows how many can serve in a physical way if they so desire by giving of their own earnings to support the Work. In the future, we shall serve directly in the spiritual phase of God's Work if we have first learned to serve in the physical (Rev. 2:26; 5:10). Even some of the greatest servants of God began serving first in physical ways. Elisha is an outstanding example of a man God used mightily. Yet he became a servant to Elijah before God used him directly (I Kings 19:21). Unless we too are willing to help people physically first, we will never be able to help them spiritually.
3) Behind the Scenes
Humanly, we want to be out in the limelight so that others can see how much we serve. That's why Christ said: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them..." (Matt. 6:1). It's so easy, so typical of us as humans to just mention in passing the things we have done in serving. When you serve, don't let others know. Do it undercover and behind the scenes if it can be done that way. Be eager and willing to do the type of job that no one notices when it is done, but everyone notices when it is not done. After all, the fewer the people who know what you are doing to serve, the easier it is for you to keep your human vanity in check. An outstanding example of behind-the-scenes service is that of Epaphras, who labored fervently in prayer for God's people (Col. 4:12). Prayer is one of the most vital ways we can serve in God's Work. Yet how many of us are spending so much as a half hour on our knees for this Work of God each day? If you really want to serve, here's a behind-the-scenes place to begin.
4) Don't Respect Persons
We enjoy serving people we like to serve. Important people. People to whom we are close. People we know will return the service. Real service is helping those who cannot do anything for us. James 1:27 tells us that the real test of our genuineness is our willingness to "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction." Humanly we want to avoid unpleasant situations. If there is a death or a tragedy in a family, we tend to stay away. It's awkward — we don't know what to say. So we just don't make the effort to comfort and help in any way that might be needed. Christ taught this same principle when He said: "... When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee..." (Luke 14:13-14). Will most of us be able to stand before Him and say that we really lived by this verse? Service is people oriented. It is what one human being renders to another. And unless we are serving the ordinary people we come into contact with every day, we are kidding ourselves that we are serving. It is the services we render jn the normal course of daily life that count. How often do we invite the poor, the widows, or the fatherless in for dinner? All of us are delighted to entertain someone who can promote us on the job — but what about the new junior in the company who needs an awful lot of help in getting on his feet? What about the elderly person who lives nearby and has no one who cares about her? It's easier to show concern for nice-looking, clean, neat people than it is for ugly, dirty, maimed or poor people. But Jesus said: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25':40). We will score far more points with God if we serve without respect of persons — if we keep our eyes open for ways to serve those who especially need our help, love and concern (James 2:1-9).
Opportunities to serve seem to come at the most inconvenient times. When opportunity knocks, we are usually either not at home or else halfway out the door! We are "too busy" or "unable" to help the person in need right then. But aren't there many times when we could alter our plans? Couldn't we often sacrifice our own pleasures and give that time to someone else? It is when we are able to help someone now — right when help is needed — that God is most pleased. Jesus Christ set the supreme example of sacrifice. Even though He was God, He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7). He gave up everything, literally emptying Himself of His own desires in order to serve! It was with this example in mind that the apostle Paul commanded: "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" (Phil. 2:3-4, RSV). We could give someone a lift by simply going a little out of our way, but we just don't want to take the trouble. We could stand and let an older person, or a lady, take a seat. We could help others in so many ways if only we would just sacrifice a little. But so often we don't. Why? Because we simply don't rate others as important as ourselves. Serving involves sacrificing time. Begin to consider the other person's needs more important than your own. Be willing to give up what you had planned to do with your time. Sacrifice is a major key to effective serving.
6) Above and Beyond
There are three kinds of people in our world today. There are those who don't serve at all, those who serve only when they have to — when they feel it is their duty — and those who go above and beyond duty in serving. Paul talked about a group of people who "gave according to their means... and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (II Cor. 8:3-4, RSV). Christ expressed this principle of going above and beyond what is required when He said: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). If we do only what is required, where is the room for God to reward us for service? On the job, do we work by the clock? Do we arrive right on starting time, and quit when the buzzer sounds? Or do we put in a little extra work for good measure? Do you have a "that'll be all right" standard on the job, or are you striving to excel? Do you try to produce the very best product you can? If you're a housewife, do you endeavor to prepare the most appetizing and appealing meals for your family? Or has the "TV dinner" become the norm in your home? How much are you really concerned for your family's health? All of us need to do more than is required. We need to follow the ancient proverb: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccl. 9:10).
7) Service Doesn't Stop
When someone doesn't respond to service, it is a natural human tendency to write him off. We quickly give up. But God's Word instructs: "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). "Be not overcome of evil," Paul wrote, "but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). Love persists. It keeps coming back. It keeps working to gain a brother. Even when it is rebuffed, it keeps trying. It is the ultimate weapon that will break down all barriers. Our reward in God's Kingdom is going to be based on how we have served. Right now, your good works might not be getting very far. But if you keep them up — if you serve more and more as this age grows colder — they "cannot escape notice for ever" (I Tim. 5:25, Moffatt). A day of reckoning is coming. Those who are looking out for their own selves first, instead of for the interests of God's Work and of others, will lose what they have clung on to so dearly (Matt. 10:39). But those who are sacrificing to serve wherever they can are storing up a great reward in God's family. Use these seven keys to serve more effectively now, and God will give you eternal life and a position of greatness so that you can continue serving throughout all eternity.