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In the sweltering heat of 1843, slaves endured the brutal reality of life in the Mississippi cotton fields, providing a harrowing glimpse into the horrors of colonial American slavery. Born into bondage, their fate was sealed by their skin color, part of a lineage of enslaved ancestors.

Each dawn, they were awakened by the crack of whips and overseers’ commands, forced to labor in endless cotton rows. They picked cotton under the scorching sun with calloused hands, enduring pricks and blisters. Slowing down meant punishment, a brutal whipping that left them battered.

Overseers, devoid of empathy, viewed them as property, not humans. Communication, rest, or even raising their eyes from toil incurred harsh consequences. They were dehumanized and treated as mere tools.

Days were excruciatingly long, nights offered no respite, and their shelter was leaky cabins. Starvation and disease were their constant companions, claiming the lives of the weakest.

The horrors of slavery in colonial America are starkly illuminated—a life of relentless toil, suffering, and dehumanization. By 1850, approximately 3.2 million slaves labored in the United States, 1.8 million of whom worked in the cotton fields.

In modern times, the notion of serving others has evolved. The concept of fundamental liberty, democracy, and human rights have emerged as pillars in our society.

In public service, across the U.S., nearly 24 million people—a little over 15% of the workforce—are involved in military, public, and national service at the local, state, and federal levels. However, studies reveal a profound distrust in the U.S. federal government.

Pew Research reveals: “Public trust in the federal government, which has been low for decades, has returned to near record lows following a modest uptick in 2020 and 2021. Currently, fewer than two in ten Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right ‘just about always’ (1%) or ‘most of the time’ (15%).

This fact is among the lowest trust measures in nearly seven decades of polling. Last year, 20% said they trusted the government just about always or most of the time.”

But, essential servanthood is much more than serving other people.

Essential servanthood in modern times

Mother Teresa: An epitome of servanthood

Image of Mother Teresa. (Picture  from

Mother Teresa, initially named Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was a remarkable embodiment of a faithful servant of humanity. Born in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1910, she joined the Sisters of Loreto at 18 and arrived in impoverished Calcutta, India. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation dedicated to serving the “poorest of the poor.”

Mother Teresa’s service extended beyond basic needs, characterized by love and compassion. Her iconic humility and ever-present smile made her instantly recognizable as she tirelessly cared for the needy, abandoned, and dying. Under her guidance, the Missionaries of Charity expanded globally, touching lives worldwide.

Despite facing criticism and doubts, she remained steadfast, emphasizing that small acts of love had immense power. 1979, she received the Nobel Peace Prize, though recognition was never her motive.

Defining service to other people:

  • Slavery involves the forced ownership and labor of individuals without their consent.
  • Servitude typically involves a contractual obligation to provide work or services with varying degrees of personal freedom.
  • Servanthood is a voluntary commitment to serving others with humility and empathy, emphasizing the well-being of others above personal gain.

Qualities of a good servant: A Biblical perspective

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“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

In the dusty streets of ancient Jerusalem, a crowd gathered around Jesus of Nazareth. His words were like a balm for the weary souls who sought meaning and salvation in a world filled with struggles and hierarchies. On this particular day, he addressed his disciples with a message about servanthood.

Jesus taught them a profound truth about leadership and greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. He challenged the conventional notion of power and authority, emphasizing that true greatness lay in serving others. In a world that often valued dominance and self-interest, Jesus turned the concept of leadership upside down.

As His disciples pondered these words, they understood that their mission was not about lording over others but humbly serving them. Jesus, the ultimate example of servanthood, demonstrated this through His life and his sacrifice on the cross.

  • Faithfulness. A good servant should be faithful to God and His commandments. This notion involves unwavering trust and loyalty to God’s teachings and principles.
  • Humility. The Bible often emphasizes humility as a virtue. A good servant should be humble and not boastful, recognizing their dependence on God.
  • Obedience. A servant of God should obey His commandments and follow His will. Obedience to God’s word is seen as a sign of faithfulness.
  • Servant heart. A good servant should have a heart of service. He must be willing to help and serve others selflessly, as Jesus exemplified in the New Testament.
  • Love. Love is a central theme in the Bible, and a good servant should love God and their neighbors as themselves (Matthew 22:37-39).
  • Prayerfulness. The Bible encourages believers to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). A good servant should maintain a strong prayer life, seeking God’s guidance and strength.
  • Patience. Patience is a virtue often mentioned in the Bible. A good servant should be patient in waiting for God’s timing and dealing with others.
  • Honesty and integrity. A good servant should be honest and have integrity in their words and actions, as deceit is discouraged in the Bible.
  • Generosity. The Bible encourages generosity and giving to those in need. A good servant should be willing to share their blessings with others (2 Corinthians 9:7).
  • Forgiveness. A good servant should be willing to forgive others as God forgives us (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • Thankfulness. A grateful heart is often emphasized in the Bible. A good servant should be thankful for God’s blessings and provision (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • Steadfastness. A good servant should remain steadfast in their faith, even when facing challenges and adversity (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet – John 13:1-17

“So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:4-5

In the first century Palestine, walking in sandals on dusty roads made foot washing before a communal meal a necessity. During such meals, where diners reclined at low tables, feet were prominently visible. Following the Last Supper, Jesus astounded His disciples by humbly washing their feet, assuming the role of the lowest servant.

Despite their responsibility for foot washing, the disciples had yet to volunteer for the task. This humility demonstrated that Jesus came as a servant rather than a conquering king. It aligned with His mission to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Moreover, this meekness contrasted sharply with the disciples’ recent argument over who was the greatest among them. No servant was present, and they hadn’t considered washing each other’s feet. When Jesus undertook this task, they were left speechless. Peter, particularly uncomfortable with Jesus washing his feet, initially refused but eventually asked for complete cleansing. Jesus explained that they only needed their feet washed, symbolizing ongoing sanctification after the one-time act of salvation.

Jesus washing His disciples’ feet highlighted His humility, contrasting it with the disciples’ pride. It symbolized ongoing spiritual purification and called His followers to emulate His humble, loving, and forgiving nature. It emphasized that true greatness in His kingdom comes through a servant’s heart.

Jesus instructed us to serve others in every possible way wholeheartedly. As an illustration, He advised that if you’re asked to carry someone else’s burden for a mile, don’t limit yourself to that. Instead, go beyond the requirement and willingly shoulder the load for an additional mile. Essential servitude imposes an obligation of compliance upon us, leaving little room for choices or alternatives.

However, when we serve others in obedience to the Lord, we are actually serving Him. We engage in it because it’s our conscious choice, not an obligation. The act of serving others freely and genuinely brings about immense joy.

We need not be a country president, missionary, pastor, or another Mother Teresa to serve God and other people effectively. We are good servants when we sweep the streets in the neighborhood or help teach the children in Sunday school from a humble and willing heart.

We possess the power to adhere to Jesus’ teachings and serve others. He affirmed that this is the path to genuine prominence. While this recognition may not always come from the world, servants are granted the highest level of greatness in the Kingdom of God.

More from Crossmap: The Excellent Servant of Jesus Christ

Republished with permission from, featuring inspiring Bible verses about Essential servanthood: Redefining roles in contemporary society.

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