THE HEART OF A SERVANT
Jason Hsu — Baldwin Park, California, USA
For a day in
Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Ps 84:10)
This message holds true for those
who love to serve the Lord. A day in the Lord’s courts is better than a
thousand days elsewhere, and to be a doorkeeper in God’s house is better than
living comfortably in the home of the wicked.
The heart of the Lord’s servant is
always set upon God’s dwelling place, for that is where God’s kingdom and
people are found (Rev 1:6; 5:10). Prophet Daniel loved God’s people (Dan 9:19),
and he made it his practice from an early age to kneel down three times a day
in prayer with his windows open towards Jerusalem (Dan 6:10).
Like Daniel, the Lord Jesus loved Jerusalem because it was the city of God’s people, and He spent much time teaching
in the temple (Lk 19:41-48; Jn 2:13-22).
John 2:13-22 records how Jesus
once cleansed the temple as the Passover of the Jews was at hand (Jn 2:13).
Some probably viewed Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as an extreme and
dishonorable act. If we view the act in human terms, we also might interpret
Jesus’ anger in the temple as a sign of over-zealousness on His part, but it
was Jesus’ zealous heart that was the key to the renewal of God’s temple. Today,
those concerned with the business of God’s kingdom often wonder how to revive
Actually, Jesus’ actions are an
example for us, teaching us what it means to possess the heart of a servant
(cf. Mt 20:28). If, as servants of the Lord, we can comprehend the Lord’s heart
of servitude, we too can discover the keys to reviving God’s kingdom.
A HEART FULL OF ZEAL
When Jesus entered the temple, He
saw many merchants selling animals and moneychangers seated for business and
changing currency for the use of the temple (Jn 2:14; cf. Mt 17:24-27). But as
the Lord saw all these activities going on in God’s house, He became angry,
made a scourge of cords, and drove all those doing business out of the temple.
Jesus took this seemingly extreme
approach because of His zeal for God’s house, which was born out of love for
God. As His servants, we likewise should be full of zeal for God’s house out of
love for Him (Jn 2:17; Ps 69:9).
Zeal born out of love is like a
fire, and its strength like a death from which there is no escape. Such zeal
can consume a person because it is a most vehement flame (Song 8:6-7; cf. Rom
In our service for the Lord’s
house, we must have this type of zeal born out of love. If our love remains set
upon the things of this world, we will go the way of Balaam, the son of Beor,
who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet 2:15).
The apostle Paul is a good example
of one who possessed great zeal for God. But before he came to know Christ, his
zeal for God was misguided (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:6). After apostle Paul came to
know Christ, however, he counted as rubbish those things he could have profited
from before. No longer considering his own selfish gain as a servant of God, he
was zealous for the treasures he possessed as a servant of Christ (Phil
3:7-14). His example teaches us that a true servant of the Lord will never
focus his heart on material gain (1 Cor 9:7-12; 1 Thess 2:4-9, 2 Thess 3:8).
Jesus taught us saying, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will
hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and
despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). If the
zeal of our heart is set upon material gain, our heart will always be divided
between two masters.
Although this teaching seems extreme, like Jesus’ cleansing of the
temple, it is meant to compel us to rethink our priorities. The Lord’s
teachings about zeal are worth pondering as we, His servants, continue in our service
A HEART THAT ISN’T SELF-SEEKING
The Lord’s servant will never
simply seek his own self-interests but His matters and the concerns of His
church (Phil 2:19-22; 2 Cor 4:5; Eph 2:21-22, 1 Pet 2:5ff). That is why God’s
servants are found in God’s temple (; Lk -49),
and that is why the concept of a “servant” naturally implies serving something
outside of “self.”
Modern society today is very
self-centered. So much of the media is geared towards individual development
and self-fulfillment. Even in Christendom there is a tendency to focus on the
personal relationship with Christ and downplay the shared relationship between
Christ and the church.
Yet, we do not just exist as
community; we also exist as individuals. Therefore, the concept of “self” plays
an important role in our relationships, and this includes our relationship with
the Lord (Jude 20; 2 Thess 3:8-10; cf. Phil 2:12).
There is a fine line that
distinguishes self-interests from selfish interests. The Bible never denies
individual needs or the needs of particular groups. In fact, personal needs
often provide an opportunity to serve and manifest love (cf. 1 Jn 3:17; Acts
6:1-3; Rom 16:1-2).
However, Philippians 2:4
encourages us to look beyond our self-interests, saying, “Let each of you look out not only for his own
interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is an important
principle to be applied in the church and in our service of God’s people. John
2:13-22 teaches a similar principle—in the church, self-interests and
self-motivations should not overtake the interests of God’s kingdom and the
people that dwell therein.
Self-interests can often turn into
selfish interests if we do not guard our heart. If the heart of the Lord’s
servant is not aware of his own self-interests while doing the Lord’s work, it
is very easy to be led astray and anger the Lord in our service. Therefore, to
serve God to His favor, we must be ever watchful of our own spiritual
development and place a priority on our own temple (2 Tim 2:!5; 1 Cor 6:15-20).
For example, in Numbers 16:1-40,
Korah and others rose up in a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. They charged
Moses and Aaron with taking too much authority upon themselves as God’s
appointed leaders over the people. They argued that all the congregation of Israel was holy
and no one was over and above another.
It was true that the whole
congregation of Israel
was holy (cf. Ex 19:6). But the rebellion of Korah was motivated by
self-interests by those who desired to undermine the priesthood of Aaron (Num
Many self-interested motives stem
from greed and a desire for personal glory and power. These can seep into the
church and blemish our service for the Lord. It seems like we are doing good
things by serving the Lord and the interests of God’s people. In truth,
however, we are simply serving our own selfish interests.
God detests selfish motivations
and will cleanse them from His temple (cf. Acts 5:1-10). Therefore, even if it
appears we are doing good works for the Lord, if our faith or works spring from
an impure or wicked foundation, we will still not receive God’s approval (cf.
Mt 7:15, 22-23).
Shift towards God’s Glory and Presence
A servant of the Lord is always concerned
about where God is (Jn ;
cf. Lk , 45-46). True
servants of the Lord will not focus so much on their own presence and place in
life as they would on God’s presence and placement of them.
The selfish interests expressed in
John 2:13-22 reveals a shift away from God’s glory and presence. The Jewish
temple authorities were unaware of this shift because they only saw the glory
and grandeur of the physical temple (Jn 2:18, 20).
From the time of King Solomon, who
finished the temple his father, King David, intended to build for the Lord (2
Sam 7:1ff), the glory of God’s presence was known to reside at the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:11).
By Jesus’ time, however, the
temple’s glory had faded as selfish interests tarnished the temple worship (cf.
Mk 12:38-44; Jn 11:47-48). The temple merchants selling animal sacrifices and
the moneychangers exchanging foreign currency made it convenient to worship in
the temple, and these services appeared to serve the interests of the people.
But in reality these services placed self-interests above God’s glory.
If we put ourselves above God, His
glory and presence will quickly leave us (Phil 3:19). So in John’s gospel we
discover that God’s glory finds fulfillment not in the physical temple in Jerusalem but in the Lord
Jesus Christ (Jn 17:1, 4-5).
Though many thought God’s glory
rested in the temple in Jerusalem,
God’s glory had, in reality, already shifted (Jn 4:20-24). But, as we shall
see, through the Lord Jesus’ zealous heart for God’s house, He would restore
God’s glory to the temple (cf. Hag 2:3, 9; Eph 2:21-22).
A HEART OF SELF-SACRIFICE
The heart of the Lord’s servant
must be willing to sacrifice itself for God’s people.
Earlier we studied how God’s glory
was known to reside in God’s temple. When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he
earnestly prayed that the Lord would heed the prayer of those who prayed
towards God’s temple, for it meant that their hearts had returned to God (1 Kgs
8:29-53; Jon 2:4).
Yet, Solomon, in all his wisdom,
knew that the physical temple could not truly contain God’s glory. Therefore,
he asked rhetorically, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” (1 Kgs 8:27).
The answer was obviously, “No.”
But God did indeed dwell on the
earth in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14). The Lord Jesus Christ, therefore,
showed us what it means to live the life of a servant.
Solomon said: “The heavens and the
heaven of heavens cannot contain the Lord’s glory” (1 Kgs 8:27). Yet, God took
the form of a servant and came to us in the likeness of men (Phil 2:5-8). From
Jesus’ example, we can understand that the highest expression of being a
servant of the Lord means a life of sacrifice.
So it is fitting that as the
Passover drew near, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), came to
God’s temple to awaken it from its slumbering state (Jn 2:19). This awakening
of the glory of God’s temple is the daily concern in the heart of the Lord’s
servants (cf. 2 Cor 11:2, 28).
Like a mother hen who gathers her
chicks under her wings (Mt 23:37), the Lord understood that in order to gather
God’s children, who were scattered abroad, a sacrifice of His own life would be
required. This was a price the Lord was willing to pay to restore and re-gather
God’s people to Himself (Jn 11:49-52; 12:24, 32).
When Jesus said to the Jews,
“Destroy this temple…” He did not mean the physical temple but “the temple of
His body” (Jn 2:19, 21). By releasing His own temple for the higher uses of
God, being obedient to death, Jesus was able to raise God’s temple anew and
establish it in Himself.
In this light, we can understand
what Jesus said in John 12:24-26:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of
wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it
produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his
life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let
him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves
Me, him My Father will honor.
With His own example, Jesus taught
us to lay down our life as a sacrifice for God’s people (Phil 2:17). This is
the essence of love (1 Jn ;
4:9). But how do we sacrifice our life today?
JESUS HAS SET THE EXAMPLE OF LOVE
Before Jesus ascended to heaven,
He gave us a new commandment: “[L]ove one another as I have loved you” (Jn ).
John says that whoever has this
world’s goods, sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart, he does not
have God’s love abiding in him (1 Jn 3:17). “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also
ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). “Laying
down our lives for our brothers” encompasses all the ways we show love to
others (e.g., giving to another in their time of need).
Service to the Lord does not
require memorization of a complex set of rules or the following of a detailed
formula for behavior; it really boils down to something very basic: how do you
show love to others?
The type of love and zeal
possessed by the Lord Jesus for God’s people is an example for us to follow, so
that we might know what is required of each of the Lord’s true and faithful
Even though each of us may have a
zeal for God’s house, it is hard for us to make the sacrifices the Lord made.
So Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It
is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his
master” (Mt 10:24-25).
When the disciples saw Jesus’ act
of cleansing the temple, they remembered what was written in Psalm 69:9: “[Z]eal for Your house has eaten me up.” Now John 2:17
also repeats, “Zeal for Your house will eat me up.” But why did the New
Testament account shift to the future tense?
Jesus’ zeal for the Lord’s house
would indeed end up consuming the Lord, that is, it would lead to His death.
But the death of His body released the old temple and reawakened God’s temple
anew. Therefore, the Lord’s cleansing of the temple was an act of prophetic
symbolism that the disciples were blessed to behold. For in this way they could
understand how the Lord would renew God’s temple and once again draw in and
gather God’s people to Himself.
To always have a zealous heart that
is concerned with God’s temple and willing to sacrifice is not easy, but an
easy sacrifice is no sacrifice at all, really.
If we do not love God’s house or
possess a zeal or concern for God’s house, it will be hard for us to follow the
Lord as His servant. The sacrifices required would cost too much and we might
then lay God’s work aside.
But the Lord has given us Himself
as an example of the heart of a servant, so that we could both witness and know
what it means to possess the heart of a servant.
“If you know these things, blessed are you if
you do them” (Jn 13:17).