Matthew 23:11-12: “The Power of Service – An MLK Day Devotional”

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” -Matthew 23:11-12 (ESV)

Do you ever feel small in comparison to the world’s problems? If so, you’re not alone. In a world filled with so many daunting and overwhelming heartaches, difficulties, and challenges, its tempting to think that there is absolutely nothing we can do to truly make it a better place and ease the burdens of other people struggling in the midst of it. While we recognize there are small opportunities to help in the course of everyday life, we frequently view those actions and opportunities as a drop in the comparatively enormous bucket of the world’s problems and suffering. In trying to help, we far too often feel crushed and defeated before we even begin.

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 However, Scripture declares that this is not the case. We accomplish great things by serving others in ways that seem both big and small. What might seem a small, or even insignificant, thing to you may, in fact, mean the world to someone else. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed, “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”  

As we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States of America, I am reminded of the importance and value of service in the Christian faith. As with so many other elements of Christian faith, doctrine, and teaching, the concept of “greatness” in the Kingdom of God seems paradoxical to what is expected when thinking from a worldly perspective. Jesus called his followers to be servants of others and reminded them that greatness in the Kingdom of God is not determined by our wealth, power, social standing, or professional position. Rather, greatness in the Kingdom is determined by service of those in the Kingdom to others. As Jesus stated in Matthew 20:16, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (CSB). As a follower of Jesus, Dr. King echoed this conviction on countless occasions. As Dr. King once observed, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘what are you doing for others?’”

Great exertions in service to others receive all the press, but it is often the so-called “small” moments of service to others that make the greatest impact on individual lives. Seeing something great in service to the community in the local news encourages and uplifts our hearts and reminds us of the goodness of God that manifests in the world through the obedience of His people. However, it is the small act of everyday kindness that arrests our attention in the middle of a hectic and stressful day, takes our breath, brings tears to our eyes, and reminds us of the incredible, captivating, and eternity-altering love of God. That love of God is not only expressed through others on a macro-level, but also on a micro-level – that is, toward each of us as individuals. God sees each and every one of us as human beings created in His image – a concept theologians call the “Imago Dei” in reference to God’s creation of humanity in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Serving others in obedience to Him is our personal recognition of that truth through our actions, as well as our words, and one of the most powerful ways that God uses to express His love towards us as individuals. Service isn’t just about making the world a better place. It is about expressing, simply but profoundly, the astounding love of God.

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Life-changing service can be something as simple as a kind word of encouragement spoken or written to someone going through a difficult and challenging time. Life-changing service can be something as simple a meal cooked or purchased for someone sick, tired, or struggling. Life-changing service can be something as simple as stopping to say a prayer for – or with – someone facing a hard decision or a tough situation. Life-changing service can be something as simple as being present for a few minutes – in-person, by video, by phone, or even by text message – with someone gripped by the pain of loneliness and isolation.

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None of these things will ever get “the press” – the headlines, attention, and accolades of the world. And yet, all of these things – done in obedience to Christ and in faithfulness to Him – receive the applause of heaven.

Life-changing service may not seem like much to you at the time. On the flip side, life-changing service – even in its simple, everyday forms – may prove so challenging in some contexts that you wonder if its even worth the effort. And yet, life-changing everyday service to others is exactly that – life changing. What may not seem like much to you may be the difference of eternity for the one or ones you serve. And even more importantly, it brings glory and honor to the God who loves, serves, and cares for all of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist pastor whose Christian convictions informed and shaped his life’s work and ministry. A rather obvious, but lesser-known, fact is that even King’s name was a consequence of the ministry and legacy of one of the most influential Christian pastors, theologians, and leaders the world has ever known: the great reformer, Martin Luther. In his biography of Martin Luther, Eric Metaxas observed the following:

“In 1934, an African American pastor from Georgia made the trip of a lifetime, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, through the gates of Gibraltar, and across the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land. After this pilgrimage, he traveled to Berlin, attending an international conference of Baptist pastors. While in Germany, this man – who was named Michael King – became so impressed with what he learned about the reformer Martin Luther that he decided to do something dramatic. He offered the ultimate tribute to the man’s memory by changing his own name to Martin Luther King. His five-year-old son was also named Michael – and to the son’s dying day his closest relatives would still call him Mike – but not long after the boy’s father changed his own name, he decided to change his son’s name, too, and Michael King, Jr. became known to the world as Martin Luther King, Jr.”[i]

And it was Martin Luther – the man in honor of which Martin Luther King Sr. changed his and his son’s names – who observed the power in serving others even through a function as simple as writing for the purpose of communicating truth:

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

[i] Metaxas, Eric, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (New York, NY: Viking, 2017), I.

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