How do we respond when we’re served? Do we treat the service as a nice benefit that deserves a tip if it’s done well? Or is it something we expect—a benefit appropriate to our status? Or do we receive service as a kindness that delights us?
Answers may vary, of course, depending on the context. A meal at a restaurant, for one, is a service ceremony needed to get food to the customers. Some servers may offer more polish and glow than others but it’s all prescribed. Even the tip is an expected feature of the system.
A non-prescribed service, on the other hand, often reveals special kindness. Recently a dear couple picked me up from the airport as I returned from a long trip. It was an unexpected and deeply appreciated service! Or think of someone who offers help to a lost stranger or assists with a flat tire. Such kindnesses are exceptional and always draw heartfelt thanks and appreciation.
So what about the “benefit appropriate to our status” kind of service?
Years ago I visited Senator Mark Hatfield in his Washington DC office with a friend. The Senator was called away from our visit for a major vote and was kind enough to let us escort him from his office to the Senate Chamber. The special services provided during our brief transit were eye opening—most of which our host dismissed—such as unseating all other passengers on the shuttle for his sake. These were prescribed services, of course, but only Senators had the status to qualify them for such special attention. The message was clear: these are VIPs, unlike the rest of us, and they deserve unique care.
So here’s a related question. Given this range of services and responses how do we receive the services of a spouse, or a colleague at work? Does a nicely prepared meal, an hour of overdue garage cleaning, or a special effort in a tedious work project draw a pleased “thank you”? Or is the kindness seen as a prescribed activity—an expected effort—to be received with quiet indifference or a “thanks” that equates to a small restaurant tip?
In cases of close relationships our responses are a signal of our self-perceived standing with others. Friends and spouses, for instance, can sniff out self-importance if it’s present. And a perpetual “senator-at-heart” can expect the bonds of love to be stretched if not completely torn. Honest delight, on the other hand, reveals a reciprocity of love.
Now let’s shift to another category: to our relationship with Christ. Do we who are Christians see his service of dying in our place on the cross as a prescribed measure? Or is it personal to us and deeply appreciated? Does it touch us and change us?
Our answer is certain to be linked to our view of why he died for us. We may appreciate it if we see the cross as a grand “ceremony of service” that fulfills God’s appetite for epic altruism and also saves us, but we’re not likely to be excited. If, on the other hand, we see the Father and Son as the God who knows us intimately—having created us with unique and loving devotion—and has given us new life as a personal service then we’re certain to be delighted!
Jesus, in fact, does treat his love for his followers as a service of absolute love. In John 15 he expressed his deep ambition: “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (verses 12-13). And that’s what he did at the cross for us.
I’m still growing in all this means—to have the ultimate Servant lay down his life for me—and it’s making a difference. I love him. And by that love I’m growing in my love for others.
This, by the way, is the best of all services!