I only remember one of the gifts I received at my ordination.
I was a bright-eyed, recently married seminary graduate weeks away from beginning my first ministry when I was ordained by the elders at my home church in Ohio. At the reception, in between hugs and kisses from my former Sunday school teachers and youth sponsors, handshakes from the older men I had always admired, and pats on the back from long-time friends, my youth minister handed me a gift. Most people gave thoughtful tokens, mementos, Bibles, and greeting cards, but he gave me a humble clay basin and two hand towels. On the bottom he wrote:
“‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (John 13:15). Jesus took the towel and the basin to set an example…IT’S YOUR TURN! Kevin & Kelly, I love you both.”
In a poignant way, my friend made it clear: ministry (and all of the Christian life, for that matter) is about serving. That humble gift has had a prominent place in my office for the last 16 years and it has continually reminded me that my job is to serve others.
I share this story because it answers the question we ask in this post’s title: Why do we serve? Simple. We serve because our Savior is a servant and He calls us to follow his example.
Mere hours before Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, arrested by the authorities, betrayed and abandoned by His friends, sentenced, beaten, and crucified, He shared one final meal with His disciples. During the meal, Jesus took a towel and basin and performed the most menial, degrading, humbling task that any servant could perform. He washed His disciples’ dusty, sweaty, smelly feet. After He gathered Himself and sat back down at the table, He said:
"You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:13-17)
We may never be asked to wash feet. But, because Jesus is our Lord, we should be willing to do whatever it takes to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ, our families, our neighbors, and our coworkers—whoever we meet—even if it means humbling ourselves beneath our comfort zone, simply because we’re following Jesus’ example. We serve because Jesus served.