In the last post, we began looking at some characteristics of a person who displays the heart of a servant. We left off looking at instructions that Jesus gave to those who would follow Him, contained in Matthew 16:24.
Probably the most misunderstood portion of that passage is, “take up your cross.” I admit it can be difficult to know exactly what that expression might mean to us. In order to discern what any passage of scripture means to us, we first have to know the context and what it meant to those to whom it was originally addressed.
In this particular case, Jesus was speaking to his twelve disciples. Peter had just received a revelation from God about who Jesus really was. Jesus had first asked them, “Who do men say that I am?” Then he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the son of the Living God!” Jesus then explains that Peter’s answer came from his Heavenly Father.
Only a few moments later, as Jesus was telling the men how he must suffer, die and then be raised from the dead, Peter began to rebuke Jesus, saying, “ Never Lord.” Think about that for a second. First you acknowledge that Jesus is God, and then you rebuke Him? Well, Peter often had “foot in mouth” disease. I guess that is why many of us relate to him so well, right?
The point is, that this is the context of Jesus’ statement concerning picking up your cross. In Peter’s case, he literally did take up his cross. It is believed that Peter was crucified for his obedience to Christ.
In the Roman culture, those who were going to be crucified were made to carry their own cross. It was a form of suffering. At that time, a Christian could be crucified for calling Christ their king rather than Caesar, so the believers suffered great persecution for the cause of Christ
When we follow Jesus and truly become His servant, we are willing to deny our desire for safety and comfort, and are willing to suffer for a time, knowing that we await an eternal reward. That is how we can “pick up” our cross.
The Desire to Serve
The third characteristic I see in one who truly has the heart of a servant, is closely related to the first two. Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, we find a recurring theme. It is summed up well by Paul in Phil 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” You see, when we have surrendered our hearts to the Lord Jesus, we will have the desire to serve others. Why? Because that is exactly what Jesus did while He was here on earth. He is still doing that today.
Romans 8:34 says that He is at the right hand of God (the Father) interceding for us. He is still healing, still teaching and still ministering to our needs through the Holy Spirit. He puts that same desire in our hearts. I am sure that many of you have felt that desire. Why is it though that we often have the desire to put others first, but then don’t do it? It’s because we still have a sin nature, at war with our spirit, telling us “Take care of ME, ME, ME!” It is not an easy thing to put others’ needs above our own, but that is what having a servant’s heart is all about.
I spent thirty five years of my life as a football coach, sixteen of them as a Head Coach at the high school level. I must admit, that for many of those years, even though I was a born again Christian; I did not always have the heart of a servant.
The first part of that verse in Philippians says, “Do nothing of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Although I cared deeply for my players and wanted to see all of them come into a relationship with the Lord, my desire to win games and championships was just as important to me. Don’t get me wrong, it is not sinful to want to win, but if that becomes more important than being a servant to those God has put in your path, then it becomes selfish ambition and vain conceit.
All this is easier said than done. It is hard not to want to receive accolades for being a winning coach. It means you are good at your profession and we should all strive to be the best we can at what God has called us to do.
You know it’s interesting, that as a Head Coach, my greatest success came after I finally figured out that it was about serving my players, not my ego. When I began to really focus in on truly putting their needs above my own, I found much more joy and satisfaction in coaching. The bonus was that we won lots of games and some championships as well!
So, to all of you that are reading this that are believers in Christ, I would like you to ask yourself these questions.
1. Do I have humility or do I exalt myself?
2. Am I willing to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow Jesus?
3. Do I desire to put the needs of others above my own?
In essence, you are asking, “Do I have a “Servant’s Heart?”
It’s not really an option for a true Christian. Jesus said to his disciples after washing their feet, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 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 13:13-15)
When our Lord tells us we should do something, we should do it! But look at how He follows that up in verse 17. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Amen and Amen! There is no greater blessing in this life than following Jesus and being His servant! I pray that you will commit yourself to that end and receive the blessings God has in store for you!
God bless and keep you,