What is Servanthood?
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Written by Toni Anderson
Recently my husband and I have been in a time of transition and change in our lives. We left jobs in ministry that we had served in for over four years, we bought a house and moved, and God led us to a new church home at Waypoint. In this time of transition I’ve often felt unsure of the next step. It’s been a challenging time of feeling directionless in regards to my job and oftentimes in my personal life too. In the midst of these feelings, I’m reflecting on what it means to be a servant. Every believer is called to serve, both God and others. As I feel directionless, it’s been helpful to recall how I am called to be a servant everyday.
In John 12:1-8, we read of a woman’s encounter with Jesus. This account is in all 4 gospels, although only two accounts mention her name is Mary. As Mary pours this oil to honor Jesus, Judas chastises her, explaining that this oil should have been sold and given to the poor. However, Jesus defends her servant-like actions, reminding the onlookers cryptically that the poor they will always have, but they will not always have Jesus. Mary’s sacrifice shows a deep love of God, a willingness to degrade herself for her Lord. During this time, the act of washing someone’s feet was the ultimate act of showing the recipient’s elevated status. Mary approaches Jesus as a servant, willing to put Jesus above her own needs.
From Mary’s sacrifice, we can see that servanthood is costly. The passage says she took a pound of expensive ointment or perfume made from pure nard. Judas says this ointment was probably worth 300 denarii, which was roughly a year’s worth of wages. Even more, such an expensive ointment could have been used for a woman’s dowry at this time. Mary is surrendering even her future prospects to Jesus. She took the most expensive thing she possessed and gave it freely to Jesus. Jesus is worthy of giving extravagantly of our very selves. Even as I write this, I’m tempted to think the sacrifices I make are not costly enough. I’m tempted to believe that I need to do crazy, groundbreaking things for God. While some are called to do such things, Mary reminds me that often costly servanthood is simple. It’s the daily obedience of giving yourself to those around you, remembering that these actions are worshipping the Lord. Costly servanthood can look like thinking of those in your home before yourself or bringing up a difficult spiritual topic with a friend. This is an encouragement to me when I try to make it so complicated.
Mary’s servanthood also reminds me that these actions are joyful! Mary served Jesus with joy. Not begrudgingly, not resisting the sacrifice. Psalm 100:1-2 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness!” Yet it’s so easy to forget this. It’s easy to look at our circumstances or the people around us and forget that serving others is a gift. What is stealing your joy in serving God and others? Is it the love of comfort? Is it the frustration of a difficult situation? Is it the pain of God’s discipline? How can you pause and remember joy as you serve others?
This passage is helpful to reflect on because of how often I overcomplicate what it means to serve God and others. Mary simply gave Jesus something that was valuable to her and served him by doing so. I’m learning that serving others can look like the joyful giving of something that is valuable to me in service of God and others. Sometimes it’s groundbreaking and sometimes it’s daily obedience. I’m reminded of 1 Peter 4:10-11 which says “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. Whoever speaks as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves as one who serves by the strength that God supplies-in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” The ultimate point of serving is that God would be made much of, that he would be glorified. May we be eager to serve joyfully!