Humble Servants: November's Magazine Article

This coming month's article for the church magazine.

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“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” Mark 9:35 (NIV)

Humility is not a common characteristic of people in our media and in our culture.  We live in a culture obsessed with the importance of self, whether it's self-confidence, self-help, or self-esteem.  For the Christian, Jesus turns this attitude on it's head.  If you want to be great in his eyes then you need to be a servant of all.

In the past I've done school assemblies focussing on Jesus' attitude to children in Mark.  I wanted to show the children how much Jesus cared for them, but I was struck by the challenges for adults.  In this passage in Mark 9, where Jesus is teaching his disciples the principle of humble service, he brings a child in front of them as a kind of visual aid.  To be a servant of all, you need to be willing to serve even this child.  Perhaps that is not as radical today as it was then.  We are used to a much more child-centred world.  But, then, as now in some contexts, children were at the bottom of society – no authority or freedom and little significance.  Jesus' challenge to the disciples is that, if they want to be great, they need such radical humility, that they will serve the most unimportant people.

Perhaps the challenge here for most of us is whether, as we follow Christ, we find our lives marked by this kind of humble service.  As churches, we work hard to welcome and serve children with the different groups we run.  This is, hopefully, one area where we are trying to follow Jesus' command to be willing to serve all.  As other examples, the churches have sought to work with those in our communities and across the world in need, whether with the community café or supporting missionaries.  

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 (NIV)
In the assemblies, I turned on to Mark 10:13-16.  Here, the disciples' understanding of Jesus' teaching is tested.  People bring lots of children to Jesus, but the disciples, instead of welcoming them as Jesus commanded, rebuke them and thus incur Jesus' anger.  The way to serve children (and in fact all those we humbly serve) is, of course, not to prevent them from coming to Jesus, but to actively encourage and help them to find Jesus.  That's why we teach our children about Jesus both in the churches and as parents.  That's why we are committed to evangelism.

The surprise for adults, is that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these [children]” (10:14) and that we have to receive the kingdom “like a child” (10:15).  Sometimes this has been taken to mean some kind of childish, or naïve, faith.  However, if we understand the children in this section of Mark to indicate those of low importance and humility, then the challenge is to come to Jesus humbly, without self-importance.  As the hymn Rock of Ages has it:

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling

Humility may not be common these days, but it is how we must approach Christ to enter the kingdom of God and it is how we must serve him and thus others.

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