One of the most important aspects of striving toward righteousness in our attempt to have the same mind as Christ involves the humility of servanthood. We are to “esteem others better than [ourselves]” and “look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Jesus Christ was the ultimate Servant who told us, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). Therefore cultivating a servant’s heart within ourselves as parents and passing this concept on to our children is a vital component of our Christian lives. We can aid our children in seeing the why, when, and who of serving, with the goal of developing a lifelong proclivity to serve based in love.
Service is an outward focus rather than inward—the way of give versus the way of get.
What does it mean to serve?
This godly attribute has at least three facets. The first involves why serving is important: it is how we show love to God and others. As Galatians 5:13-14 states, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
So our children need to learn from the start that serving is not something they do for themselves. Service is an outward focus rather than inward—the way of give versus the way of get. In addition, teach your children that, although you as a parent may encourage them, they should not serve out of desire for praise from people. Remind them that their reward is ultimately from God (Matthew 6:4).
Children of all ages should feel that they have something worthwhile to contribute, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
The second aspect of service—the when—will help your children understand that though sometimes they may be asked to serve in a particular way, they should also cultivate an attitude and habit of looking and noticing where help may be needed or appreciated. Children of all ages should feel that they have something worthwhile to contribute, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Making this a habit is important. God knows our needs before we even speak it in prayer (Matthew 6:8). We can further grow and emulate Him by detecting needs in the lives of others.
Developing the initiative to serve is a habit that can stay with your child for a lifetime. A large part of cultivating this attitude will be enjoyment in the process of finding and thinking of ways to serve and then following through. Psalm 100:2 tells us to “serve the LORD with gladness.” Serving with a loving attitude will bring joy to our children.
Service can impact our physical family, our church family, our neighborhood or community, and more.
The last part of the definition of service focuses on whom to serve. Galatians 6:10 gives us our scope: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” While our service is first to our brethren, it extends to everyone, including our enemies (Matthew 5:44)! (For more on this topic, see the study in this section on “Kindness.”)
Your child may have a natural inclination to only think about helping family or friends, but you can use the Scriptures to clarify that God’s desire is even more far-reaching. Service can impact our physical family, our church family, our neighborhood or community, and more. One person can make a difference.
The timely help of Barzillai
Numerous examples exist in the Scriptures of people committing acts of service, such as Dorcas (Acts 9:36-39), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), and the boy who shared his barley loaves and fish (John 6:9-11). Discuss these examples with your child.
One less well-known example of service is of a Gileadite man named Barzillai. (Read his full story in 2 Samuel 17 and 19.) He was an old man who lived in Rogelim, east of the Jordan River. This was near Mahanaim, the place David fled to escape from his rebelling son, Absalom. Barzillai had great riches, but he was not selfish. He and two others readily shared what they had with David and his men: “beds and basins, earthen vessels and wheat, barley and flour, parched grain and beans, lentils and parched seeds, honey and curds, sheep and cheese of the herd.… For they said, ‘The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness’” (2 Samuel 17:28-29).
Not only did Barzillai help David and his men without being asked, he had a right motive.
Though popular opinion in the nation of Israel had shifted to Absalom, Barzillai still saw David as God’s anointed one and gave him nourishment and rest at a stressful time. Barzillai did this without David’s request; he noticed a need and willingly supplied. Barzillai could have had the attitude that he was going to save all his wealth for his own family and pass it on to them as inheritance upon his death, but he instead saw a greater purpose for his God-given abundance. Interestingly, in Hebrew Barzillai means “iron-hearted.”
When the King invited the old man to live in Jerusalem with him, Barzillai declined. He did not want recompense for his kindness.
Not only did Barzillai help David and his men without being asked, he had a right motive. He did not want any reward or special treatment from the King for his generosity. While he could have been severely punished by the rebel leader had David not prevailed, he served regardless. Once God gave David the victory, he made his way back home. Barzillai accompanied David and his men across the Jordan River. When the King invited the old man to live in Jerusalem with him, Barzillai declined. He did not want recompense for his kindness (2 Samuel 19:34-35). Instead, he offered David his son Chimham’s service.
David blessed Barzillai and promised kind treatment of his son and anything else the old man would ask of him. It appears Chimham continued the tradition of service exemplified by his father, because he founded an inn for travelers and strangers (Jeremiah 41:17).
When you are making a meal for a shut-in, buying groceries for a food bank, washing dishes after a potluck . . . fully share your earnest desire to serve God and others.
Service: a family habit
As you set an example of service, be cognizant of talking to your child about what you are doing and why. When you are making a meal for a shut-in, buying groceries for a food bank, washing dishes after a potluck, sending cards for prayer requests, donating clothing to charity, shoveling snow for a neighbor, or any of a myriad of service-oriented acts, fully share your earnest desire to serve God and others. Your child will naturally model your behavior. Shepherd his or her thinking toward godly service.
Additionally, as your children think of kind things to do for others, provide positive reinforcement and aid their completion of the task as much as you are able. Your child will benefit from the time spent together with you in a noble task. Also display zeal and wisdom yourself in accepting and responding to requests for help.
Conversely, when someone else does an act of service for your family, make note of it to your child. This will cause him or her to realize that acts of service are exhibited all around us and can create unity among God’s people.
Actively shepherding a service culture
After you have discussed what service means through God’s eyes, it is time to allow your child to be instrumental in seeking ways to put service into action. This can begin at very young ages and grow incrementally as the years progress. One of the earliest actions of service a child can do is pray for others, even enemies (Matthew 5:44). Prompt your children to consider ideas for the family, like setting the table, taking out the trash, or putting laundry away or sorting it.
Seek out ways with your child to honor others, such as coloring pictures for a new member or widow.
Acts of service at home are perhaps the easiest to establish. The next arena could encompass the church family. Seek out ways with your child to honor others, such as making thank-you cards for the ministry, coloring pictures for a new member or widow, collecting hymnals after services, allowing others to go first at potlucks, helping with snack set-up or clean-up, volunteering for special music (or children’s choir or sound crew), sending notes to shut-ins, or making food for elderly or ill members. The list will grow as your children age, and their choices should become more self-initiated.
Commend your children for a generous spirit, and focus praise on the godly character traits they are developing more than on achievements in academics, sports or other extracurricular activities.
The focus then can expand to your community. Even a young child can sort through books to donate to the library or pack up outgrown clothes to take to a shelter or other charity. Older children could volunteer at summer reading programs, pick up trash at local parks or save money to send to charity. Commend your children for a generous spirit, and focus praise on the godly character traits they are developing more than on achievements in academics, sports or other extracurricular activities.
Finally, point out to your child that cooperating with others instead of arguing, interacting with good manners, and encouraging others verbally are all acts of edification and love and are deeper expressions of service.
Greatness requires service
Shepherding your child’s attitude toward placing others first is contrary to our human nature and the world around us. “Greatness requires service” beautifully expresses Christ’s life and love. Consistently teaching your child from the earliest years that true greatness requires serving is essential in cultivating godliness. When your children desire to find and respond to the needs of others with no benefit to themselves, besides the joy God will grant them, they will begin to emulate the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:3-5).
Promote in your child the willingness to accept a responsibility when asked, whenever possible and wise.
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
The following are suggestions for fostering a service-centered atmosphere within your home:
- Write out a clear, workable definition of service and display it prominently.
- Write out a few key scriptures to guide your family’s attitudes about service and memorize them as a family or refer to them often.
- Study and discuss various examples of people in the Bible who exemplified a servant’s heart.
- Develop service goals with your child that will make helping others a mainstay in the culture of your family.
- Promote in your child the willingness to accept a responsibility when asked, whenever possible and wise.
- Be committed yourself to setting an ever-maturing example of a selfless life. Be the role model your child needs.
GUARD AND GUIDE SCRIPTURES
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? —1 John 3:17
This scripture will help your child become aware that the blessings and privileges God has bestowed upon us are not to be selfishly hoarded. Showing kindness to a neighbor allows God’s love to shine through us for the world to see, even if the world does not yet recognize it. Service must come from a heart of love.
This verse also emphasizes the quiet nature of humble, godly servanthood. Additionally discuss Matthew 6:2-4 with your child to reinforce that we shouldn’t seek applause from people for our good deeds, because it is God who gives us our reward.
And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. —Matthew 20:27-28
This scripture places all of our service into the proper perspective: God’s. We are to emulate Christ. With this verse guiding his or her thoughts, your child can develop the right motive when meeting the needs of others and fulfilling God’s command to love as Jesus Christ loved (John 13:34).
God sees every act of service we do as a type of “spiritual sacrifice” (1 Peter 2:5). Our Heavenly Father wants us to have hearts that do not desire recompense for good works, but rather hearts that place others first and strive to serve out of love for Him and others. Doing so will lead to adding brotherly kindness to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8). Pray for God’s guidance in this area for yourself and your child. He will show you where you can improve and lead you with His Holy Spirit to discover new areas of need.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
We also recommend these additional (but certainly not exhaustive) scriptural passages that are relevant to the topic of serving:
- Who we ultimately serve (Colossians 3:23-24)
- Serving but with the wrong focus (Luke 10:38-42)
- The example of the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)
- Using spiritual gifts to serve (Romans 12:6-8)
Further Your Study
How do we reach our children’s hearts and guide them in developing righteous, godly character? Learn how to be a good leader and shepherd to your children, emulating Jesus Christ’s own example as the Good Shepherd. Read More >
The first annual festival, Passover, lays the foundation for all the following festivals. Teach your children about this solemn memorial of Jesus Christ’s death and what His sacrifice means for us today. Several pages of discussion points are Read More >
Kindness is a topic that goes much deeper than just being outwardly polite. It springs from a deep desire to love our neighbor and extend godly compassion to others. Help your children learn and develop sincere thoughtfulness in action through Read More >
Just who were Aquila and Priscilla and who did they impact by their examples? Learn more about this dedicated couple who befriended the apostle Paul and served the early Church so diligently. Read More >
Is the parable of the Good Samaritan just a nice story about helping someone in need? What does being neighborly and loving our neighbor actually entail? Find answers to these questions and more to ponder in our lesson. Read More >
Two sisters, two perspectives. When the Son of God visits their household, Mary sits at His feet to listen to His teachings, but Martha becomes so distracted with serving that she misses a valuable opportunity. Learn about priorities with this Read More >