To love others well means to serve them. But oftentimes, our own agendas and skewed priorities can get in the way of our putting others first and serving them with a happy and humble heart. What will it take for us to serve others like Jesus did?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Message Audio from Gateway in South Austin:
Message Notes from Justin McCarty:
Throughout this series, we’ve been taking a closer look at what love actually is, what it does, how it operates. In fact, we’ve been trying to operate as students of love in hope that we could learn how to bring a revolutionary kind of love to our city, one life at a time. Our teacher in real love has been Jesus. Jesus has a long track record of trying to teach people — his first students were called disciples or followers of Jesus.
Now, sometimes Jesus had days like that with his disciples, and I want to share one of them with you, because it turned out to be a really important lesson, especially when it comes to love. To set the scene, two of Jesus’ twelve disciples have just had a private meeting with Jesus, including their mom. Mom has just made an impassioned plea for her boys, that they would get top billing in Jesus’ new empire, over all the other disciples. The 10 other guys are not happy…
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called to them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:24-28 NRSV
Jesus catches his disciples in their anger and indignation over these brothers’ power play, and flips their whole reason for getting offended on its head. In most kingdoms, people are valued based on much they have power over.
Are we really any different? We are taught early on that power accumulation is the path to greatness (i.e. when no one can tell you what to do anymore — that’s when you’ve “arrived”).
But the way of God’s Kingdom is completely different — it’s not the amount of power you have, it’s the depth of servanthood in your heart that forges greatness.
It’s a tough lesson — and the disciples were slow learners. So Jesus continues to offer lessons — go read the following verses in Matthew 20:29-34 — he spends the moments immediately after this putting his own words into action by letting two blind beggars shout him down from the side of the road. After they finally get his attention, he asks:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Like a restaurant server, he asks: “how can I help you? How can I serve?” The Son of God is servant to a few blind beggars! Jesus reveals in these verses what His life reinforces again and again:
Love is both an attitude and an action.
Seems simple right? If you’re like me, it’s the one that’s probably least appealing in this whole series. Love cares, love listens, love engages — love serves?
Why is that? What gets in our way? We love the idea of love, but we don’t always love the idea of serving other people.
PERSPECTIVE ALTERS ATTITUDE
Servanthood is an unnatural posture if you operate with your agenda as the most important thing.
Have you ever had a restaurant server that was annoyed because you were there? As if you were inconveniencing them?
Contrast that with the experience of a great server who treats you like you’re the only table in the restaurant. When a server subjugates their agenda to the needs of their table, it begins to make them great at serving.
Likewise, if you and I show up to our own lives each day like our agenda is the most important thing, serving others in love will never come naturally. But what if you awoke every morning with the awareness that you are actually in someone else’s universe? You are using borrowed breath, blood, and time.
Dallas Willard, reminds us: “There is no particular reason why things should go my way, because I am not in charge of the universe.”
Most of us begin with the assumption that what I need (or want) is the most important thing, and the irate feeling we get when it doesn’t happen is actually called “entitlement.”
- If you can see that “my way” isn’t king, and that there’s really no reason why things should go your way, then you can begin to truly see the needs around you.
- You begin to discover bandwidth and ability to serve others if you aren’t constantly serving yourself…
- “Man, they might really need…”
Which brings you to one of the great tests of faith in God’s kingdom:
- Will God take care of my needs?
- Can I quit being preoccupied with myself if God is “on it”?
- Will God really serve me in love so I can be free to serve others?
Serving others in love is an attitude that flows from your perspective as someone being served by God in His universe.
WHO IS “EVERYONE”?
Since we’re learning about love from Jesus, let’s flip over to one of his masterclasses on how love and serving go together. It’s one of Jesus’ most famous stories, in fact, John Burke referenced it in Week 1, and it’s found in Luke 10. There’s so much packed into these verses, but I just want to point out two of the primary barriers that keep us from living out that simple phrase: Love Serves.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 NRSV
The lawyer responds to Jesus: Love everyone, God included, life by life. And Jesus responds: correct! Go do it.
But the lawyer wants specifics because that sounds a little too broad and sweeping — “who is my neighbor?” Or in our language: “who is everyone”? Surely you don’t mean everyone… Have you felt that during this series?
- “Love is awesome, but where do I draw the line?”
- “How do I prioritize?”
- “How are we going to define this?”
- “Because you can’t seriously mean everyone.”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” Luke 10:30-33 NRSV
BARRIER 1: CALLOUSNESS
I would argue that Jesus is telling this story and insinuating that while 3 people witnessed the wounded man, only 1 really saw him.
The priest and the Levite (the ones that would have been recognized as “good, religious people”) saw him only enough to move to the other side of the road. They were able to tune out his obvious need because their hearts were calloused — perhaps for a variety of reasons: they were busy, they were Jews & he was a Samaritan, it was uncomfortable to get involved. It was easier not to respond than serve.
The risk we run when we don’t respond to the needs of others around us is that we develop a calloused heart. Barrier #1: Callousness.
- A calloused heart doesn’t just tune out the people you want to tune out, it begins creating a callous to everyone, life by life.
- When you numb out to others needs, you can’t just pick and choose.
- You start automatically treating those close to you more brusquely, indifferently as well.
Just as love will train our hearts to serve the need in front of us;
indifference will train our hearts to ignore the needs all around us.
This is why it usually takes an extreme need to arouse our compassion these days — horrific circumstance, disaster, etc. It’s more difficult to be moved by the needs of the people closest to us because we have learned to tune them out — callous. When we see a need on the other side of the world — people starving, young girls being sold as prostitutes, etc. — we are more inclined to help them and ignore the people groaning on the side of the road next to us.
Every week a portion of what we give together is used to help people in the midst of crisis – a family in crisis in South Austin, people affected by the floods along the Llano River, those affected by Hurricane Michael.
I love that! I want to continue to do that! At the same time, let’s not stop with giving towards these crisis through our church. Let’s be willing to be inconvenienced to serve, to sweat, and to help those in need.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but love often interrupts.
- It doesn’t call ahead or book an appointment.
- If we are truly going to be people that love, then we have to anticipate inconvenience, a reshuffling of our priorities and plans to serve the need in front of us.
- Sometimes that’s precisely what it means to love.
How do you train your heart away from the callousness?
How can you develop a reflex of serving others in love?
You’re not going to like it. Begin experimenting with inconvenience! If want to respond to an unexpected need with serving, then practice like you play. Deliberately inconvenience yourself in an intentional way to learn how to create space, to perceive the need, to take action by serving.
Is there an intentional practice that God might have you cultivate in order to create muscle memory that serve when it comes to being interrupted by a need?
BARRIER 2: MESSINESS
The Samaritan in Jesus had mastered this habit of stepping toward the interruption…
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:34-37 NRSV
While we love this story, we also fear this story. Because if this is how loves serves, it leads us to Barrier #2: Messiness
Serving usually takes you into the personal space of the person you’re serving — you’re meeting them at a place of need. Not sure how it’s going to go, how you’re going to get out of it, how it will be received.
- The Samaritan saw one need (bandage wounds),
- then another (get shelter & ongoing care),
- then another (payment for those services)
- and another (follow up visit and ongoing treatment).
THAT is messy!
This is where we are trusting God — if we follow you by love into the mess, you’ll be there to help me find my way through, right? God would love to help more people through the messes caused by their love for people… right now, His primary concern is just getting people to even stick their toe in the mess.
Jesus is giving us a story — an example — of what loving a neighbor actually might look like. He uses an extreme example to capture our attention and make a point — love meets a need when it sees one.
For all the Hollywood romances and cultural images of we have of love, in actuality, love is intensely practical. It moves toward the one it cares about… it meets a need when it sees one.
But Jesus is pretty loose on the details — for you A types and planners, this is going to be frustrating:
“Okay, how can I check the serving box?”
This is one of the reasons I didn’t write a message that gives you quick easy suggestions about how to serve — like
- “Go offer to wash your neighbors car” (because they might not need that, and they might get really angry at your for touching their car) or
- “Go ask your co-workers how you could best serve them (because they probably don’t have a clue how to respond to that, and that’s just a weird question).
The needs around us are as diverse as the people, but we have to pay attention to what is really needed. I don’t think “loving our neighbor” typically requires the extravagant service Jesus talks about in the parable, but love scales to meet the need.
There’s no hard and fast manual for precisely how to serve the people in your life.
“Love Serves” isn’t about rules — it’s an attitude and an action.
It’s an attitude that flows from the awareness that this story is also a parable for what God has done for us. Each of us in our own way have been broken and beaten down by life; wounded on the side of the road. He has no obligation to move toward us, yet He refuses to remain callous & indifferent. He steps into our mess. The King of Creation, serves you and me, in love — life by life.
If God has done this for me, how could I be indifferent to your need? How can I help?
In fact, next week, we are going to conclude this series looking closer at what God has done for us in love — and how sharing the good news of Jesus with others is actually one of the most powerful ways to express love to anyone. We’re also going to be celebrating baptism at the end of service — I would encourage you to be here! If you haven’t been baptized, you’ll have a chance next week!
Invite someone with you; don’t miss the conclusion of this series — but the movement of love in Austin is still just getting going.