The Church: A Serving Community

A Serving Community sermon notes

The Church: A Called-Out Serving Community

Passage: Various

Sunday August 13, 2017

Pastor Paul L. Davis

Key Goals: (Know) Understand the power of servanthood. (Feel) Develop a desire to serve God. (Do) Serve.

Introduction: There are only a few times in my life when I have been utterly amazed, but this was one of them. When I was a youth pastor, I decided that a fun way to begin group one night would be to do a limbo stick. Now I chose the game on purpose because generally the smallest youngest girl wins. We had several young jr. high girls, so I thought it would be a morale booster for them to win a game—they usually lost at dodgeball. As the game progressed, all the guys got out except one senior named Danny. It was just he and 5 girls. When we finally got to the lowest point, only Danny made it, and he could have gone lower! Let me come back to this story in a minute.

Over the last several weeks we have been studying the church. What you may not be aware of is that I have been taking you on a journey. We have been doing what Bible scholars call a “biblical theology.” The idea of a biblical theology is to come to an understanding about a subject by looking at the whole Bible. I cannot think of a subject with more misconceptions today than the church.

Common misconceptions of the church:

  • We think of church as a building, not a body of people.
  • We think of church as an event that happens once a week.
  • We think of church as a “TED talk” to better our lives.
  • We think of church as optional.
  • We think of church as a networking tool—a place to further our interests.
  • We think of church as entertainment, meant to please our senses.

This morning we are going to jump into a passage that you are probably familiar with, but it has huge implications on understanding what church is. Turn to Matthew 20:20–28. Jesus and his disciples have traveled to Judea just outside of Jerusalem where Jesus is teaching larger and larger crowds of people.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.

Context: Let me give you some background. The apostles James and John were the sons of Zebedee. Zebedee was a wealthy fisherman who came from a well-connected family and was married to Salome. Salome shows up several times in the Gospels. She was the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary, which means she was Jesus' aunt (Jn. 19:25). She was one of the women who watched the crucifixion with Mary (Mark 15:40). She was also one of the three women who found Jesus’ tomb empty on resurrection morning (Matt 27:56). She was very close to Jesus. James and John, Salome and Zebedee’s sons, were, along with Peter, the disciples closest to Jesus. They followed him faithfully and were two of the very first men called to be disciples. Being sons of Salome, they were Jesus’ first cousins and they would have known Jesus from the time they were small children. As we read this, what we are seeing is Jesus’ aunt and his two closest disciples—all very intimate relatives—coming to Jesus with a request.

 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

“Cup” was a common Old Testament metaphor for suffering, especially suffering caused by God’s wrath (Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17). Jesus is asking if John and James are prepared to experience rejection and persecution for their faith.[1] In essence, he is asking, “Are you willing to die for me?” And without hesitation they say, “Yes.” To their credit, there is no lack of faith here. They are willing to follow Jesus to the end, and they will. James will be the very first disciple killed for following Jesus (by Herod Agrippa, Acts 12:2). John lives a long life but spends several years exiled to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9). These men have a strong faith, but it is faith mixed with a little self-promotion.

 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

The Greek word translated as indignant is ἀγανακτέω. It means to be angry, resentful, annoyed, or offended regarding unfair treatment. I guarantee you that every one of those ten disciples thought to themselves, "John and James are using their family connections to get ahead." What Jesus does in verse 25 is beautiful, because relationally things have broken down amongst the 12 disciples. But Jesus called them to him. Once again, just like we saw last week, Jesus calls his disciples close and he tells them a little something about being his disciple.

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  

Do we want to be first? We must be last. Do we want to be the leader? Serve others. Do we want to be great? Be a servant. Do we want to be number one? Become a slave. If you have been in church for any time at all, you have probably heard these verses, but have you ever considered how truly radical Jesus’ words are? Jesus’ interaction here radically reassigned for his disciples what was important and what wasn’t. He revealed that what his church would value would be very different from what the world values.

Think of how this passage contradicts our American culture of self. We love our rights, we love options from which to choose, we hate to wait in lines or be stuck in traffic, we hate being told what to do, and we resent people who have what we don’t. This passage, on the other hand, gives us three key truths about ourselves and the church that we cannot miss!


1. Personal privilege, status and power are antithetical to Christ’s church.

The Roman world of Jesus’ time was very binary, much more so than our world today. Then you were either a slave or a free man, either a ruler or being ruled. It was a very “top down” society. Kingdoms like Rome and Greece ruled the people through power and dominance. “To lord it over” is a strong term that means to “rule down on someone.” Since the world functioned this way, James and John thought that this was an appropriate way for the church to operate.

Jesus is very clear that power and dominance will not be the leadership model of the church. Peter picked up on this. In the section of his book where he is speaking to pastors and church leaders, Peter tells them to shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2–3). Domination has no place in the church. Instead leaders lead through serving, helping, giving, and being examples. 

James picked up on this when he talked about quarrels within the church in James 4:1–2. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. When we are in a fight or a quarrel with someone within the church, that should be a warning sign that we may be overlooking a key aspect of being the church.


2. Greatness in the church is derived from service.

Look at verse 26. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. The word servant here is the Greek word from which we get our word deacon. The word represents humble tasks done quietly and faithfully, for example a waitress carefully and quietly serving tables. It is the opposite of the flashy “Hey, look what I can do!” kind of service. There is a strong “me second” mindset that Jesus is teaching here.

Men—as husbands, fathers, employees or employers, we must remember that our ‘greatness’ must not be derived from our maleness, strength, skills, organizational abilities, or position. Our greatness is derived from how we serve our family, church, and community.

Ladies—as wives, mothers, community leaders or employees, greatness should not be derived from physical beauty, managerial skills, intelligence or social status. Being active, engaged and willing servants is how we build Christ’s church and attain greatness. And, by the way, it’s also how you will win the hearts of your husband and children. Proverbs 31 describes a truly great woman:

She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night. Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.  She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes. She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. 27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness. Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises he and says: There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!

Jesus turns our sense of importance on its head and says greatness in the church flows from sacrificing—first and most. Greatness means serving longer than those around us, working harder than expected. Jesus used examples like “going the extra mile” and “turning the other cheek” for us to see that the church is an inverted pyramid: instead of us all trying to fight to get to the top, it is a race to the bottom. The third point is particularly important and particularly convicting.


3. The very greatest in the church will be the slaves.

Look at verse 27…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. The word slave here is very different than the word “servant” that we were just talking about. While a servant is someone who does humble tasks quietly and faithfully, he is still his own person; he can go and do what he wants. A slave's life is not his own; he is the personal property of his master. A slave’s life is his master’s. Jesus uses himself as the example of perfect slavery (although the disciples would not have picked up on it at the time). Jesus could have come to earth and accumulated power to himself but instead he gave his life.

With this sentence in verse 27, Jesus singlehandedly changed the way the world viewed slavery. Up until that point in history, the humility of slavery was viewed as bad, even sinful. If someone was a slave, clearly they deserved it. We have heard the words of this verse far too many times for them to stun us like they would have the disciples. Slaves were chattel—property to be beaten, used, and discarded. Their food was the trash that fell under their masters' tables; their foreheads were branded with the marks of their owners; their backs were filled with scars from beatings and whippings. Some Roman slave owners' wives would have their male slaves beaten daily just so they would fear them.[2] When Jesus says he wants his church to be salt and light to the community, this is what he means. The church at its very greatest seeks the lowest of the low.

The goal of that limbo game that Danny won is the same goal our church is to have every time we gather: we are to constantly seek to find how low we can go.


11 practical ways to “get low” and start serving today:

  • Volunteer to rock babies in the nursery. They are the perfect group to serve—helpless and never say thank you. It takes pure servant-heartedness.
  • Pick a missionary and pray for them, write them, encourage them and if you can, send them a check or support them.
  • Adopt a grandma or grandpa here at church or at a nursing home. Love on them regularly. If you are a grandparent, adopt a kid!
  • Teach children’s Sunday School and give it your all. This was the first real ministry given to me. I grew like crazy teaching sixth graders!
  • Arrive early to church. There is much to do every Sunday; offer to help with anything.
  • Be an Equipping U “Shepherd.” The job is simple, really: build community within an Equipping U class. Simple but takes servant-heartedness.
  • Sit close to the front. This creates a greater sense of community and ministers to those who come in late.
  • Be an “unofficial greeter.” There are official ones who “have” to greet. Be an unofficial one. Look around, meet and encourage people you do not know.
  • Send a care package to a college student. We have kids all over the country.
  • Come to the pre-service prayer meeting at 8:30am on Sundays. Pray for people. Sounds simple, but if you do it seriously, it is powerful
  • Take pictures at church events and post them online.

Danny won limbo that night because he got lower than anyone else could. As we seek to serve our Lord, we all win the lower we go.


© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.


[1] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 307.

[2] Hubbard, Moyer Christianity in the Greco-Roman World, Baker Academic 2010. Pgs. 190-195.