The word servant often carries a negative connotation in Western culture, but for Christians, it’s an admirable quality that displays Christlike love for others. However, there’s a difference between serving and having a servant spirit. Believers can serve God for a variety of reasons—duty, self-satisfaction, financial gain, or recognition. But a servant spirit goes beyond outward actions to internal motivations. It flows from a heart yielded to the Lord for His purposes and willingly reaches out or stoops down to give of oneself to meet another’s need. Let’s read John 13:5-8:
Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”—John 13:5-8
The best way to understand humble service is by example, and that’s exactly what Jesus provided in this passage. Because people wore sandals and walked on dusty, manure-strewn roads, it was customary for the lowest slave in the household to wash everyone’s feet. Although the disciples had prepared everything for the meal (including the basin, water, and towel), none of them had volunteered to take on this lowly task. Luke’s account of this event adds further insight into the condition of their hearts (Luke 22:23-24). During the meal, the disciples began discussing which of them was the greatest, and the conversation erupted into a dispute.
Christ’s Demonstration of a Servant Spirit
Jesus saw two needs that night. The disciples needed to have their dirty feet washed, and they also needed to learn what true greatness looks like. Therefore, as the preeminent one among them, Jesus humbled Himself and washed His disciples’ feet—even those of Judas Iscariot. Peter was the only person to object, but Jesus told the disciple refusal meant he’d have no part in God’s work. This was a needed lesson: If Peter would not submit to his Lord’s service, he would not be able serve with humility.
The Development of a Servant Spirit in the Christian
Christ wasn’t establishing a foot washing ordinance for the church but, rather, was demonstrating a servant spirit, setting an example in both attitude and action. (See Phil. 2:1-11.) Believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus, who was a servant (Rom. 8:29). A servant spirit isn’t gained instantly by a decision; it takes a process of submission and obedience. We must be willing to:
• Put to death pride and self-will and look beyond our own interests to see the needs of others—even those who mistreat us.
• Let God break our hearts over the things that break His.
• Yield our rights and possessions to the Lord so He can work through us.
• Recognize our service to others as unto God, expecting nothing in return.
• What motivates your service to God and others?
• Does anything hinder you from humbly serving other people? If so, what?
• What changes do you need to make in order to develop a servant spirit?
• Do you know someone who has a true servant spirit? What can you learn from him or her?