A popular hymn capsulizes the essence of Mark 10:44 by exhorting, If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.” It’s a lovely song and the words are so true. So why don’t we take them more seriously?

Servanthood is such a wonderful word. It conjures up images of fruitful labor undertaken with an attitude of humility and contentedness. I remember once attending services at a congregation where, posted above the entrance, I read the words, “Servants’ Entrance.” I liked that very much. Perfect servitude to God is a lofty ideal. The problem is, that with all this talk about servanthood, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions: Whose servants have we become? Whose needs do we endeavor to meet? Whose spiritual interests do we strive to serve?

Could it be our own?

A quick perusal of many contemporary Christian book shelves reveals a rise in the ratio of “self-help” titles to other devotional and educational material. I find books on how to improve my prayer life; how to determine God’s will for my life; how to develop a better self-image in him; how to make my business prosper with his blessing; and how to curb those improper attitudes and appetites that hinder me from being all I can be in him. Not so discernable are the titles that address our corporate responsibility toward one another and to the Body of the Messiah at large.

If book titles reflect trends, then it seems that the focus of our spiritual concerns could easily be centered more on ourselves and less on the growth of the saints and the salvation of the lost. Granted, we do have a serious responsibility to be faithful stewards of the treasure God has placed in our own “earthen vessels.” On the other hand, will the temple of God thrive best when all our time is spent at the local “home-improvement center”?

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let nothing be done through strife and vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

“Learn to be the servant of all.” That’s a nice song. So what shall we choose? Preening for self-interest? Or pruning for active service?