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Forming (in) Community – The Practice of Servant Gifts (1)

Listen to the audio teaching of these notes:

Recap Forming (in) community: its Four Practices. The second core value in following Jesus daily, both individually and corporately as church, is forming – and being formed in – Jesus’ local community. This value becomes real and is lived out to the extent we practice four priorities, what we call spiritual skills and disciplines:

  • Relationship: church is God’s family, not a social club for paying members
  • Healing: church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints
  • Servant Gifts: church is the organic Body of Christ, not a franchising organisation
  • Equipping: church is a school of life, of spiritual formation to live God’s kind of life, not a place of entertainment or spectator sport.

Servant Gifts

Over the next weeks I will teach on the what? and how? of servant gifts. The essential message is: we must see Jesus’ family, the local church, as the organic Body of Christ, as Paul discovered (in Acts 9:4-18) and taught (e.g. 1Cor 12:12-31). That simply means – the first key point – church operates organically via God’s enabling gifts functioning in and through each member of Christ’s (local) Body. Church is not an organisation or business operating by appointments, titles, position, power, hire and fire. This does not mean we don’t need certain kinds or levels of organisation and structure to facilitate organic life: the skeleton enables the body-life; the wineskin enables the wine-flow (Mark 4:22). But even these are gifts… of “leadership” (Rom 8:8), “helps and administrations” (1 Cor 11:28). Paul’s Greek word for gift is charisma, God’s enabling grace”. Grace (charis) is pure gift, not merited, nor deserved. The grace-gifts (charismata) are not for ourselves, but for each other. They flow through us to each other as we make ourselves available to serve… graciously!

The second key point, of church as the organic Body of Christ, is that the source and spirit of every function of grace-gifts is SERVANTHOOD. Any gift-based operation is SERVICE translated “ministry” in our English bibles. From start to finish followers of Jesus are servants (ministers) of God, nothing more and nothing less, just like their master. If the heart and mode of gift-ministry is not humble servanthood, then subtle entitlement, pride of place, seeking of affirmation, expectation of reward, quickly sets in. Identity gets tied into ministry, recognition, position, etc, and we loose the joy and privilege of being like our master: a simple servant of all. That blurs the waters of the gift-flow, undermining the integrity of the God-gift-encounter, ultimately destroying the gifting person and damaging the gifted recipient. That’s the devil’s plan: to use God’s good graces and spiritual power – if not exercised in the protection of godly servanthood – to hook our unresolved identity, self-image issues, need for affirmation and power, etc, to wreak havoc in Christ’s Body.

This is precisely why I speak of “servant gifts”, and not just “gifts”. Servanthood is the right biblical context for understanding and operating the grace-gifts. To the extent we are true servants God’s gifts flow through us with pure power. To the extent we are not, the flow is coloured with our “stuff” to a lesser or greater degree, for better or for worse!

Jesus is our Model of Servanthood (Meditation in John 13:1-17)

The story of the young man Jesus of Nazareth, is the story of God’s Servant who lays down his life in love, suffering our sin and brokenness, to save and make us whole. Take the time to meditate on this story of Jesus washing of the diciples’ feet. Relive this in your prayer-full imagination as one of the participants in the drama of that night. Let the astonishing humble servanthood of Jesus be the centre around which all else finds it’s meaning.

Jesus had instructed his disciples to go and prepare the place for the meal. Why had they forgotten to arrange for the household servant-slave to be there to do the common welcoming curtesy of washing their feet when they arrived?

It begins with “Jesus knew…” (v.1, repeated in v.5) What did he know? His times, identity, life-purpose, the power God had given him, where he came from, where he was going to. His deep inner security in God was the basis of his servanthood – it enabled him to stand up to kneel down to wash feet. What do you know, or don’t know, about who you are in God?

The next key to the nature of Jesus’ servanthood is love, “having loved… he now showed the full extent of his love” (v1) Jesus’ life attitude and lifestyle action was to love everyone by serving their best interests – pouring out his life sacrificially in love of them, to cleanse from sin, heal their brokenness, enfolding them into his life and love as family. What motivates your ministry, leadership, life itself? Is it to love… as God/Jesus loves?

The third key is when Jesus got up to serve, during the meal, when Satan had prompted Judas (vv.2-4). Compare this with Luke’s version (read Lk 22:22-27), when a dispute arose as to who is the greatest among them, who is the prime minister, the leader? Read Jesus’ answer in Luke. John’s answer to the question is not words but actions (v.4f): the shocking humility of the rabbi-prophet Jesus taking off his outer clothes to wash his disciples’ feet. In those days disciples served their rabbis in many ways, but were never required to humiliate themselves by undoing the thongs of the master’s sandals (John 1:27) – let alone wash their feet – that was exclusively for the household servant-slave. So imagine the shock and horror, the stunned silent embarrassment, when their Jesus did this!

Here is the Eternal Son, the Word who created the universe, the prophet who hopefully is the Messiah, our rabbi-leader, stripping himself of all power and privilege (divine clothing and status, see Phil 2:6-11), coming to us naked and vulnerable as a slave, with no hidden agenda, bending down from eternity in the dust of our death, to wash our dirty feet! This defines leadership, ministry, spiritual gifts… humble transparent servanthood.

Imagine the scene… Jesus washing John’s feet? Then Judas’ feet? Peter couldn’t take it, he exploded with embarrassment and pride-full shame (vv.6-9). Imagine Jesus washing your feet… how does it make you feel? Is he gazing up at you, or at your feet? Is he saying anything to you? What are you saying? Let him wash your feet with his tears of sacrificial love, that you too can wash his and others’ feet with tears of love (Lk 8:37-38, Acts 20:31).

When Jesus finished washing their feet he asked: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (v12) Do you understand the profound significance and meaning of this for your following of Jesus, for your life-calling, leadership and ministry? Jesus’ answer is: “You call me ‘Rabbi’ and ‘Master’… if your rabbi and master has washed your feet, how much more should you not wash one another’s feet? I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Now that you know this, blessed are you if you do it!” (vv.12-17).

For Home Group sharing and praying:

Do a group Lectio Divina: become silent, someone read John 13:1-17 out loud clearly and slowly, and all listen to God speaking in your heart. Then each one share what strikes you, or draws your attention, what God is saying to you… end up focussing on servanthood and pray together for the Heart and Spirit of God’s Servant Jesus.

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