Most Christians have a desire to serve God. No doubt many New Year’s resolutions include a desire to better serve God. Likewise, most church mission statements contain some kind of language about serving God. Our churches and parachurch organizations provide many wonderful opportunities to serve inside and outside. Serving God is something evangelicals do quite well.
But as with anything that has become commonplace within our religion, we must occasionally pause to evaluate and define our thoughts and practices. What does Jesus have to say about serving? Do our notions align with his? This short article explores the idea that serving God means first and foremost following Jesus in his suffering and death. Let me explain.
The first eleven chapters of John’s gospel trace the public ministry of Jesus as he performs seven major signs (miracles), from turning water into wine (2:1-11) to the raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:38-44). Although He had hinted at his Passion earlier in his ministry (2:4; 7:6), it isn’t until John 12 that Jesus really focuses in on his impending death (12:7-8, 23-24, 32, 35). It is in this context that Jesus gives this command to his disciples: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (12:26, ESV).
But where was Jesus going in the context of John 12? Where were his disciples to follow Him? Jesus was on his way to the Cross. The hour of his Passion had arrived (12:23).
As early as the next chapter he foretells that Peter, one of his closest disciples, will deny and abandon him (13:38). Peter did deny his Savior a little later in the narrative, but we learn from Scripture (21:19) and from other sources that many of Jesus’ earliest disciples (including Peter!) eventually suffered and died as martyrs. Many in the history of the church have also served their Lord in this way. We ourselves may one day tread this path.
Though it’s impossible to know for certain if we’re destined for martyrdom, even in our living, death to self is the mandate. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23, emphasis added). We may not die as martyrs, but Jesus still demands we lay down our lives and follow him. Setting aside all else in unqualified commitment to Him is our duty as believers. With Paul we should be able to say, “I die every day!” (1 Cor. 15:31).
Christ took the role of a servant during his time on earth, coming to serve, not to be served (Mk. 10:45). We’re to thus take our cues about servanthood from the ultimate Servant, the eternal Son of God, who humbled himself by taking on flesh and dying on a cross.
We fail in our attempts to serve God when it becomes simply a routine or because it makes us feel good. Service to God is following Jesus in a servant’s role. Service is a mindset. It’s an attitude. When we put others’ needs above our own, when we sacrificially give of our resources, time, etc., when we deny and put ourselves at risk for the sake of the gospel, then we will be faithful in our service to the One who is continually beckoning, “Follow me.”
Josh Gibb is an Academic advisor at Dallas Theological Seminary-Houston and can be reached at email@example.com.