The life of a Christian must, by nature, be the life of a servant. Just as "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mark 10:45) so we also are to live not expecting to be served but seeking to serve those around us. In our effort to be servants and encourage servanthood we sometimes end up praising that which ought to be a matter of course for those who claim the name of Jesus. The trouble with true servanthood is that is is often not commended, requires a great deal of humility, and usually has great personal cost. It is not so glamourous or comfortable as simply doing something kind for a friend or clearing tables after a church potluck, though these are great places to start.
Jesus said it is no great feat to love your friends, true selfless love means loving those who hate you and, by inclusion, those who simply do not know you or do not care about you. It is humbling, even embarrassing, to love and serve a stranger. I find it easier to be anonymous when I demonstrate love to others, often hiding behind a claim that I do not want praise for my deeds. The truth is that it is more difficult to love someone face to face with my own hands. This kind of love requires a personal connection and these connections can be uncomfortable. But it is more impacting for someone to know that I personally care for them than that a faceless stranger does.
One example, relevant to most, is the call to love and serve people in the workplace. This does not only mean being polite or abstaining from water cooler gossip, though, again, these are great starting points. Rather it means treating others as we would beloved friends. It is in this place, outside the loving environment of our church building, that we have to reconcile our identity as a Christian with our identity as an employee, an American, and a human. As an employee, American, and human we are told we have certain rights and are encouraged, in what is sometimes a dog-eat-dog environment, to look out for our personal rights. However as a Christian we are told to be a servant to those even who 'spitefully use us.' This may mean picking up the slack for a slower coworker or making sure you give each task your best effort, menial as it may be, or you continue to respect a supervisor who does not respect or appreciate you.
There is a "but what if," that hangs in the air at this point. Generally it is something like, "but what if my coworker is not doing his/her job? Am I not obligated to report that behavior for the benefit of the company? Isn't 'picking up the slack' simply enabling bad behavior?" This argument can be translated into many other situations but, with the exception of a parent-child relationship, it simply does not hold water. Essentially this argument claims that my responsibilities to protect and serve myself, my company, my country, society, etc., trump or negate my responsibility to be obedient to what Jesus says. This is just not the case.
The voice of the Devil's Advocate (what a terrible term!) in my head quotes, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Proverbs 27:6). This is a faithful bit of wisdom advocating loving honesty over empty flattery, but I would charge myself and any other to make sure that I am meeting the biblical standard of a friend before I start dealing wounds. If we're looking at the example that Jesus set, this means actually laying down your life for that person. This should definitely give us more than a few seconds pause before we start dishing out our 'tough' love.
In another effort to find and manifest "extraordinary things in ordinary places," it is my proposition that we take one of the most ordinary parts of our lives, our work, and love people in a selfless servant-like manner. Practically, this means doing more than expected and more than required (Mt 5:41), responding in love and encouragement to the complaints of others (Hbr 10:24), gently refusing to participate in slander and gossip (Pro 10:18), and giving extra to those who take from us (Mt 5:40). Because we know that we have been redeemed by love, let us also live redemptively, spreading the kind of love that heals and rebuilds those around us.
In His Grace,