The Image of the Servant King

In chapter 6 of Spiritual Parenting, Michelle Anthony talks about creating an environment of service where our children begin to learn to look at the world around them and see the things that need to be done and then to step up and take some action to help make the world a better place.  As a parent, I find much of what she says helpful.  I also find it very challenging to consistently teach my children without the help of the Lord to give me deep patience.  I sure it will take a full 18 years of living of living in our house working on this for our daughter to have any impulse to look at her messy spaces and ask “What needs to be done?”  So I will work, keep on asking, and pray for deep wells of patience and grace.  Sometimes we must call on a higher power!

With my general agreement as a parent in mind, I do want to offer a critique of one of Anthony’s starting points and offer what will hopefully be a helpful re-framing.  As a pastor and trained theologian I found myself tripped up when Anthony says, “Training a child’s heart toward service is counterintuitive to who they are as human beings.” (p.100)  “Disagree!” is what I wrote in the margin, so here’s a little Theology 101.

Human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1-2).  This does not mean that we physically look like God, it means that the shape of our heart and soul mirrors God.  So if we want to know what it is to be human, we need to look at the revealed character of God.  We know that God is relational (Father, Son, and Spirit), God is love, God is gracious and merciful, and  God is just.  Most important for this post is our belief that the image of God is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ – “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation…in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. (Colossians 1:15, 19)” When we look how Jesus lived it is hard to escape the truth that Jesus was a servant.  Again and again in the Gospel’s, Jesus reaches out to those who are hurting and broken, he sees the person who is an outcast and he does something about it.  Jesus came to serve.  And when he sees the human condition, the image of God marred and broken by sin and asks “What needs to be done?” , his response is a starling one – he takes on the penalty of sin and dies on a cross.  In Matthew 20:28, Jesus is teaching the disciples about greatness and he tells them  that if they wish to be great, they must become servants and then he tells them why he came, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Christians follow the one who is the Servant King – the one created in God’s image who lived without sin, showing us the true image of God that is stamped on ever human heart but is distorted and broken by sin’s power.  We are redeemed by this same Servant God who breaks the power of sin in our lives and helps us to live into the restored image.  Surely we will stumble along the way, but God forgives and helps us to respond to the needs we see around us with the heart of a servant beating within us.  The restoring of the image of God in us is the powerful sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Servanthood is not counterintuitive to who we are as human beings, it is precisely who we are as human beings created in the beautiful image of the one who came to serve and give His life as a ransom.  As parents we come alongside the Holy Spirit in our children’s lives and help remove those distorting layers of sin that have caused us to forget who we are.  We teach them to love, to forgive, and to serve –  not from scratch, as though those things weren’t there to begin with, but by gently awakening the image that is there and teaching them to look to Jesus and call on the Spirit to forgive and restore what has been marred by sin.  It is a subtle difference but an important one.   You and I don’t train and create a servant heart in our children from nothing, God already created their servant heart and all we do is help shake off the dust, glue the broken pieces back together, turn on the lights in a darkened room and then get to bear witness to the wonderful “I see!” when they come to know God’s power, grace, and image alive in their own hearts.  “What needs to be done?”  – a lot of praying, a lot of seeking Jesus’ power for our own restoration so that we can model a servant’s heart in the way we live and in the way we parent, and a lot of work for the Kingdom to bear witness that God really does transform hearts, care for creation, reach out in love to the least, the last and the lost.

In the trenches with you,

Pastor Toni Ruth


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