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To Serve or Be Served

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received was to prepare for marriage by growing as a servant.

In November 2010, a wedding party in Glenelg, Australia, was interrupted right after the wedding ceremony. While posing for pictures on a scenic ledge, a woman hiking nearby fell into the ocean below and began drowning. Still dressed in his tuxedo, the best man jumped in and carried the woman back toward shore. Then the bride, a nurse, waded out into the water still in her wedding dress and started administering CPR. By the time emergency volunteers arrived, the woman had regained consciousness. One safety official said, “[The victim] was very lucky that the bridal party was there and they acted quickly and got her to the shallows.” After the daring rescue, the drenched best man and bride happily rejoined the wedding reception and continued with the festivities.

What a great story! Can you imagine what that groom was thinking as his new wife and best friend were saving this stranger’s life? There is something about setting aside one’s own priorities to help others that all agree is simply heroic. I don’t know much more about that newly married Aussie couple, but I bet they are doing well. If they continue to serve each other that way, how could they not?

One day, Jesus was approached by two of His disciples, James and John, along with their mother. With her boys beside her, she knelt before Jesus and made an interesting request, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21, ESV). Jesus explained it wasn’t something He could grant and then said something shocking. He called His disciples over and said,

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

OK, I can track with Jesus about the problem of over-bearing or over-lording leadership. No one likes that. It makes sense that Jesus taught His disciples to lead as servants. But when Jesus begins to explain His own mission, He loses me. Perhaps, one of the most shocking statements Jesus ever made is this one about coming to serve and give His life as a ransom. Jesus was, is and always will be fully God. He made all that is and has infinite power. He can literally do whatever He wants all the time. No one can stop Him from doing anything, ever, period. He is infinitely more valuable, important and worthy of service than anyone who ever lived.

And so when Jesus says He came to serve and die, it should blow our minds! It doesn’t make any sense. Jesus deserves to enjoy the eternal service of all creation. The Gospel stories would make a lot more sense if the disciples and followers were constantly falling all over themselves serving Jesus and not vice versa. Christ’s humility and service are mind-boggling.

Many of us are on the preparation side of marriage. We aren’t married yet, but we will be one day (perhaps sooner than we think). There are many ways we should prepare for that transition: vocationally, financially, emotionally and even spiritually. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was to prepare for marriage by growing as a servant.

It’s wise to use a portion of our time, energy and money to serve other people, looking especially to serve those who cannot repay us. It’s easy to give to someone who will give right back, but we should look to serve those who have nothing we need. That’s the Jesus way. Even while we were His enemies, He came; He served; He died.

There are several ways to grow as a servant. Start by looking for opportunities to serve at church. I once spent a couple years serving with the youth at my church. Yes, sometimes serving can be a lot of fun. Some of my friends also volunteer as greeters and as musicians. A second arena is on the job. At work, do you typically do the bare minimum, or do you regularly take on extra tasks and assignments? Are you known as someone who is always willing to serve? Our work gives us a great opportunity to learn to serve. Another sphere is with our friends and family. Servants look for areas of need and find ways to help. If you live with roommates, look for opportunities to serve them, too.

One thing to keep in mind as we grow in our service is to keep it secret as much as possible. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). There is a reward for serving others and keeping it your little secret with God. In heaven, won’t it be fun to hear, “Oh, that was you!”

As we prepare for marriage, we are wise to invest ourselves in serving others. I’ve been blessed by the great example of my father. As far back as I can remember, he has consistently served our family and particularly my mom. His example has set the bar real high for my brothers and me. Like my father before me, I want to one day live out the Christ-centered maxim: I did not get married to be served but to serve.

Copyright 2011 Andrew Hess. All rights reserved. 


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About the Author

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is a Sr. Communications Specialist at Compassion International. He formally served as the director of content at the White Horse Inn and editor of His writing has also been featured on the Gospel Coalition. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Jen and their young son. Andrew and Jen met at the very first Boundless Pursuit conference at Focus on the Family in 2014.

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