On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural address as president of the United States. In it, he ends with these famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” What a great challenge to a nation, for each citizen to see his or her responsibility and place and to center on service rather than self-service.
What about the church? What should our disposition be? Should we take the tack of entitlement or encouragement? Could we not borrow a page from the late president’s playbook and reframe the question?
Ask not, “What is the church doing for me?” Ask, “What can I do for the church?”
Ask not, “Why aren’t you serving me?” Ask, “How can I serve you?”
Ask not, “What are you doing?” Ask, “What can I do?”
Ask not, “Why aren’t you better/more?” Ask, “Where can I improve?”
Ask not, “Why aren’t you?” Ask, “Why am I not?”
May we never fall into the trap of setting up a double standard, especially if we expect of others more than we can or are willing to produce ourselves. The old folks would call that “sweeping around your own front door.” Jesus said it this way, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mat. 7:1-5).
This is an oft-abused passage, but surely its application here is unmistakable. Let us recognize each other as fellow-strugglers, but also fellow-servants. None of us have been called to walk the red carpet, but rather to use the servant’s towel. We have been called to serve, not be served (cf. Mat. 20:28).