[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Parenting is one of the most treasured spiritual gifts God has given to me. And by “spiritual gifts” I do not mean the gift of parenting well. What I mean is that I learn so much about Christ by loving, serving and disciplining my children. We tend to have blind spots while navigating our own spiritual walks, but children have a way of shoving the Gospel right into our faces. What do I mean by that? Well, the parent and child relationship reflects the relationship between God and believers. We get a glimpse into the grace and love of God as our children disobey us, break commands, or show disrespect. The anger, frustration and hurt we feel as parents are only shadows of what God must feel when we do the same to Him but are enough to make us fall to our knees before God and thank Him for His service, sacrifice, love, grace and mercy. They are enough to lead us to Paul’s moment, where he exclaimed: “What a wretched man I am!” Romans 7:24.
As frustrated as we may get with our children, just imagine how God feels about mankind and its constant rebellion against and rejection of Him. Consider how angry He must get when believers reject His authority and pursue their own agendas. Yet He still loves us, shows us mercy, and will never abandon us.
Now, to the topic of this post, something God has revealed to me lately through my children is the importance of teaching our children a servant heart. Scripture says that we are to love one another as Christ loves us, and Christ loves us to the point of His death on the Cross. 1 John 4:7-21. He became flesh to serve sinful man, not to be served by man. Mark 10:45. He washed the feet of ordinary humans. He built relationships with tax collectors, adulterers, and other sinners. He healed the sick, lame and crippled. And He died for those who were not worthy of His blood. Wow! And that is our model of a servant heart!
There are many grand ways of teaching children a servant heart, such as giving them mission opportunities, organizing family help days where the family helps those in need without compensation, serving at soup kitchens, and visiting the elderly in nursing homes. These are all fantastic ideas. But we must also teach our children about serving others in the little things, in the ordinary moments of life. In some respects it is easier to serve soup to a homeless person than it is for a child to serve his own brother. We take Christ with us everywhere we go, and everything we do, word and deed, must be done as working for the Lord. Colossians 3. So, without marginalizing the grand deeds, this article focuses on the ordinary moments of life.
My most recent experience with this was when my wife asked our oldest child to clean off the table after a family dinner. All of his brothers and parents had taken their plates and other items to the kitchen. His brothers were assigned various tasks. One was put in charge of unloading the dishwasher. Another was put in charge of loading the dishwasher. Another was responsible for sweeping the floor and taking out the trash. Now back to my eldest. When asked to clean off the table, he was frustrated. Then he became almost paralyzed by the fact that his brothers had left a few items on the table–a couple of knives, a glass, a napkin. He insisted that they come and retrieve their items before he cleaned the table. “That’s their job,” he protested. “I don’t want to clean up after them when they were supposed to have done it.” I explained to him that they were doing other jobs, and that it would take almost no effort for him to just pick up the few remaining items. He protested loudly, and it turned into a scene. At first I was angry and did not initially reach for scripture as I should have. I was upset with his laziness, his arguing, his loathing of his brothers. First lesson for me–go to scripture first.
As the moment subsided, my son and I engaged in a long conversation about the love of Christ. I explained to him how Christ showed love for us–how He served us and ultimately died for us. I explained that we are instructed to love everyone, including our enemies, like Christ loves us. I then asked him how that love might look like in his table-cleaning moment. What would Christ have done? Would he have scolded his brothers for not completing their tasks? Or would He have lovingly cleaned up the mess with a happy heart, happy to be serving His parents and His brothers? I asked my son, “If Christ served man to the point of death, and we are to love others as He loves us, why can you not at the very least pick up your brother’s fork?” I could see his wheels spinning. It was an uncomfortable moment for him, and he could see the truth, but he could not immediately surrender his feeling of being in the right and that I was failing as a parent by not making his brothers do what they were supposed to do. I’m sure you can find yourself in these moments as well. I have them all the time with God.
I shared a few Biblical stories with my son, including Christ dining with sinners [Matthew 9:9-13], washing the feet of his disciples [John 13:1-17], showing compassion to the adulterous woman [John 8:2-11], and the parable of the good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37]. In these stories, Christ did not condemn the people He was serving and confront them with everything they had done wrong. Nor did He expect them to correct all of their wrongs before He served them. To the contrary, Christ served and died for them while they were still dead in their sins [Colossians 2:13]. On this model, Christians must not expect the people they serve to “have it all together,” to have done everything they should have done, to accept service graciously, or to have turned away from their sins. As Christ said, He came to serve the sick, not the healthy. Mark 2:17.
When instructing the believer on salvific faith, scripture warns that it is not good enough to recognize a person’s needs if the believer does nothing to satisfy those needs:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
The critical message here is that faith in Christ without action on that faith is dead. We are called, not just to believe what Christ says is true, but to put His commands into practice. This is the love of Christ. And this includes spotting moments of service and acting on them, not resisting them. There would be no reason to resist the moment of service except for laziness, inconvenience or hostility toward the potential service recipient. If one loves others as Christ loves us, then he would WANT to serve them, no matter the cost.
My son did not want to serve his brothers in that table-cleaning moment because he was angry with them for not doing what they were supposed to do. He was angry that he would have to do more work than the minimum asked of him. At that moment, he neither wanted to serve his parents by doing what they asked of him and in recognition that a large family needs everyone to pitch in, nor wanted to serve his brothers by doing something for them that he technically was not required to do.
In conclusion, there are a million ways to teach our children a servant heart but don’t neglect the everyday moments. Service is not just meeting the needs of the poor. We are called to serve EVERYONE. If we teach our children how to serve the poor but not how to serve their brothers, sisters, parents, friends, and neighbors, then we leave a HUGE hole in the Gospel.