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Jesus Teaches About Serving Sideways

That Christians are called to serve almost goes without saying. It was the way of our Master. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” But while we are quick to embrace the importance of service in the Christian life, we are less prepared to appreciate the scope and extent of this service. In particular, I think we often struggle serving sideways.

By “serving sideways” I am referring to that type of intentional service which is directed toward our peers. Service to the poor and helpless is an important emphasis in Scripture, and rightly so. And service to our superiors is expected if we appreciate God’s Providence in ordaining those who rule (Romans 13). But service to our peers, those of relatively equal rank, social standing, colleagues, friends, family, or strangers is often more of a struggle among us. Yet this is the commandment of Christ, and the emphasis of the famous foot-washing passage of John 13. There Jesus told them “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (vs. 14).”

Jesus told his disciples to look left, and look right. These are the ones you need to serve. Washing one another’s feet is what I mean by “serving sideways.” It is that humble, deliberate, willing, and even joyful engagement in service to our peers who are “side by side” with us at home, at church, or at work. And it is this direction of service that, frankly, I think we often find the most difficult.

J.C. Ryle makes a point of this in his commentary on this passage. He puts it this way: “This is a very important point. It is much easier and more self-satisfying to visit, help, and give alms to the poor than to play the part of a Christian with our equals.” In other words, it is harder to “serve sideways.”

Serving sideways may be the hardest type of service. It is easy to allow bitterness to grow in our heart toward our peers, or jealousies and envy, or frustrations with their apparent lack of effort. The disciples were prone to bicker with one another, and so are we. But Christ’s words are clear, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” That’s serving sideways. Who will you serve in this way this week?

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