In Philippians 2:5-11 are some of the most beautiful words ever penned. As beautiful as they are, they are not just stuck in there unrelated to the rest of the letter. They fit into the context beginning 1:27, going through chapters 2-3 up to 4:3. Paul spends the majority of his time in the rest of the letter expounding on what he means in 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and stand firm.” How? In one spirit, like-minded, united, serving one another. Jesus is given as the perfect example of a servant. Jesus’ example should encourage us to have servants’ hearts. Not just to serve one another, but the focus should be serving Jesus through serving one another. This is stated clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:5.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”
That would be joyful service. This naturally leads to 3 questions: 1) Who is Jesus, and why is He worthy to be served? 2) How is He the perfect example of a servant? And 3) what does it mean to serve Jesus through serving one another?
This, of course, is a very important question. A proper answer is essential to your faith and to mine. In our passage today, someone named Jesus is to receive worship that only belongs to God. One of the charges made against Christianity through the centuries is that we worship 3 Gods: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Do Christians believe in more than one God? No. Emphatically the Bible teaches that there is one God only. (See the diagram at right.)
· We believe in one God Who is Tri-Personal—in three persons.
· All three are one God; each is not the other. This is how God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.
Jesus Christ is God in His eternal divine nature. Our passage today equates Jesus with God. Jesus Christ is truly and fully human, but without sin. The second person of our triune God took on a human nature and body when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. So, what do Christians believe about Jesus Christ? (See diagram at right).
· We believe that Jesus Christ is One Person, who possesses two natures: divine and human. He is 100% God and 100% human.
In the first 200 years after Jesus’ death, several heresies cropped up that lessened Jesus’ deity or His humanity. Not unlike what’s going on today. So, the early church came to an agreement about all of this in 325 AD at the Council of Nicea, a town in modern-day Turkey. Thus, this agreement is called the Nicene Creed. This is how the Nicene Creed reads:
“I believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible; and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God from God, Light from Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.” (Nicene Creed-early 4th century)
Since then, it has stood as an accurate representation of the Bible’s teaching. At another council 125 years later, Jesus’ complete divinity and humanity were confirmed. Since then, all Christian denominations—Protestant and Roman Catholic—agree on these 2 issues. God is one in essence, three in person; Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man.
Who is Jesus, and why is He worthy to be served? He is God. Which leads us to the next big question.
He is our perfect example because He illustrates in Himself four characteristics of a true servant.
Although God, He did not consider that high position as something that He could not give up. So, He emptied Himself, or made Himself nothing. He poured Himself out and gave Himself away. The opposite of using His divine attributes for His own advantage. Did He cease being God? No. As God, He could not and did not give up His divine attributes or nature. But, He laid aside His glory and the independent use of His own attributes as God. He chose to accept human limitations—the body and nature of a man—and live on earth dependent on the will of God the Father. He needed to do that for us, to fulfill our need. That’s what the scripture says in Hebrews 2:14,17:
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil)… Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Philippians 2:7 describes Jesus as a servant, or more specifically, a bondservant—someone in bondage or servitude to someone else. Can be willing or unwilling. Jesus did not pretend to be a servant. He was not an actor playing a role. Throughout the Gospels, we see Him willingly serving others. For us women, while on earth, Jesus demonstrated that He loves women by serving them.
· He spoke to them publicly when a rabbi wouldn’t even speak publicly to his wife.
· He let them support Him with their own money.
· He let women travel with Him during His public ministry. A definite no-no for rabbis.
· He let women be the first witnesses to His resurrection.
· He was sensitive toward women, performing miracles for them out of His compassion.
· He never spoke condescendingly to women, never made derogatory jokes about women, never humiliated or exploited women.
And women who know Him love Him! Right? And want to serve Him! Women of His day responded to His example and His love by doing the same. Did you know that a number of women traveled with Jesus, helping to support Him and His dozen hungry disciples out of their own means? We read this in Luke 8:2 and 3. They were giving of themselves, no doubt doing the laundry and some on-the-road cooking. They loved Him.
Jesus is our servant still—He is our high Priest interceding for us in prayer. We saw that in the Hebrews verses. One commentator said that doesn’t mean we should be ordering Him around saying: “Fix this, or fix that.”
His human nature died; His divine nature didn’t. He did that for us, with the joy of our redemption in mind.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that with the joy of our redemption and His glorification set before Him, He endured the cross. And, He took back to heaven His glorified human body. Did you know that? When we see Jesus, He will still be like us! Jesus was the perfect example for us of a true and joyful servant. Now, the third question.
Paul says in Phil. 2:5 that our mindset/thinking pattern should be the same as that of Jesus. We are to serve one another, as He did and does for His Body, the Church. The Church Universal as the Body of Christ is not an organization but something living. It transcends all cultures, languages, and geographic and political boundaries. Knowing we are part of this gives us radically different reasons for behaving well—reasons such as preserving and encouraging that fellowship among all believers produced by the Spirit indwelling each of us. What each of us does affect positively or negatively the other members of this organism, the universal Body of Christ represented to us in our local church body.
It’s so easy to approach church as we do any other organization or business—as a consumer. We shop around for the best church with the most to offer our children and ourselves. Consumer Mentality. We come to our classes, expect childcare for our children, enjoy the fun, sometimes leave a little money, and then go on to the next shopping or activity. The Church is a living organism, not a store. God designed the Church to depend on the individual members serving one another.
How do we serve Jesus through serving one another? What is it like to be joyful servants? Let’s follow Jesus’ example.
We need to consider others as worthy of preferential treatment. The scripture doesn’t say we are not to look out for our own interests, but only as there is equal or greater concern for the interests of others. To be a servant involves taking care of ourselves so that we can give more effectively in serving Jesus through serving others. That involves getting rest, food, exercise, recreation, a shower, and an occasional retreat. Those things benefit us. One JOY lady started a diet and exercise program for herself so she could serve Jesus with more energy. When God would call her to do something, she wanted to be physically ready to do it.
Jesus had privileges as God, reigning over the universe. But He did not consider His equality with God as something selfishly to be held onto. He thought of us and our needs. He did this so we didn’t have to continue living selfish lives. He has enabled us to be others-oriented. All those things listed in Phil. 2:1 are ours. We have been cared for very richly so that we don’t need to be thinking about ourselves all the time. We can instead concentrate on one another: serving Jesus through serving one another as He did. And, that means everyone, even those in leadership. Jesus taught that to his disciples in Matthew 20:25-28. The Church is to have a totally different mindset from that of the world. Jesus is our example in this.
According to 2 Corinthians 4:5, if I am to have the mindset of a servant this is how I should think: “I yield myself to Christ to be a servant, to use what I am and have for the glory of God and the good of others.” Romans 12:1 tells us to take our everyday, ordinary life—sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life—and place it before God as an offering. This is our spiritual act or of worship. The Greek word used there generally refers to the ones who served in the Temple, dedicated to the service of God who were both serving God and worshiping God at the same time. Our service is to be an extension of the worship we render to God.
A word with similar meaning but specifically applying to women is found in the Titus 2:3-5. Older women (age, maturity, experience) are to be reverent in their behavior. That doesn’t mean to go around acting like a nun all the time. The Greek word translated reverent is similar to the one referring to the spiritual act of worship in Rom 12:1. We as women are priestesses serving in the temple of our God—the temple being our own bodies. God doesn’t dwell in buildings anymore. He dwells in people. Therefore, there is no sacred/secular division in a woman’s life. What you do at church is no more sacred service than caring for your families and homes. All is service to God within His temple—your body. If we are serving Jesus as Lord, then serving others will develop as a very natural way of life. Routine jobs around the house are no longer boring chores but instead are opportunities to serve one another in love.
Eugene Peterson, a Christian author and translator, puts it this way: “We learn a relationship—an attitude toward life, a stance—of servitude before God, and then we are available to be of use to others in acts of service… A servant Christian is the freest person on earth!”1 You are free because you are serving willingly. Like Jesus did.
What counts as service? First, at home, meeting the needs of your family. In I Timothy 5:10, Paul describes good works for women as including “bringing up children (not just your own but children within your sphere of influence), showing hospitality (this would include serving strangers also), washing the feet of the saints (day to day tasks at church, helping other Christians), helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” Notice that the list covers many areas of life and practically all areas of service to the family of believers as well as to outsiders. In your daily life, you can encourage others to have Paul’s perspective on life that was “to live is Christ.” Do you realize that part of that includes allowing others to serve you? Let them have the joy.
The focus of serving is Jesus, not on earning favor with God or with people. Cynthia Heald, a well-known author, puts it this way: “True service always finds its source in loving our Savior, wanting to hear His Word, and then promptly obeying. As we listen to the Lord in faith with a willing heart, he can use us and produce His fruit in us.”2 In John chapter 12 is the beautiful account of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus with the most precious item she owned—a jar of expensive nard. Her act of service was motivated by her love for Jesus. It serves as an example to us of how to serve Jesus with our hearts. We can’t serve Him physically, but we can serve Him through serving His body, the Church.
Author Warren Wiersbe made this comment in his commentary on Philippians: “Many people are willing to serve others if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. Jesus became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”3 He goes on to call this the submissive mind. He says that the woman with the submissive mind does not avoid sacrifice. She lives for the glory of God and the good of others; and if paying a price will honor Christ and help others, she is willing to do it. Wiersbe goes on to say that “sacrifice and service go together if service is to be true Christian ministry.” That true service costs something. What do you think about that?
Do you realize that humans are more likely to buy into an idea that costs something? Cult leaders know that. Communists know that. When recruiting men, communists would ask someone boldly to undertake something that would cost him. The willingness to sacrifice was one of the most important factors in their success. It’s what attracted and held youths in the movement as well as among extremists who advocate their cause through killing innocent people. How much greater and more beneficial is the cause of Christ! Wise Christian leaders know that sacrifice is necessary if there is going to be true growth and ministry. Service can’t always be easy.
There is a difference between sacrifice and suffering. Suffering is usually imposed on you by someone else. Sacrifice is something you are willing to give. The humble mind doesn’t talk about how much you sacrifice but how much you receive back from the Lord. And, you don’t whine. Whining has no place in willing sacrifice. We live in a nation of complainers. Everywhere we turn we hear complaints. Joyful servants don’t whine. Doing a job and then griping about it is not service.
Jane Austen, a nineteenth century author, wrote novels that were humorous commentaries on the social behaviors of her time—Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. In the latter, she draws a stark contrast between whiners and true servants in the form of three sisters. The older is haughty and doesn’t even try to serve anyone else but herself. The younger sister complains continually about how she takes care of everyone else but receives no respect from anyone. Actually, she complains continually and spends more time trying to draw attention to herself than serving anyone. The middle sister Anne is the true servant, cheerfully caring for others, not drawing attention to herself. The only one experiencing joy is the one who is spending less time thinking about herself and her own needs.
Saying no to some things is okay—to be more effective in what we are doing. Some tasks or situations in a ministry need to be eliminated or changed because they are not an effective way to serve Jesus. As sisters in Christ, part of the Body of Christ, knowing how our actions affect everyone else in the Body, we need to do this the right way. There is a difference between complaining and seeing a problem and working toward a solution. Here’s another way to think about it: “Bloom where you are planted and rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God (or someone else) did not do.” Joyful servants willingly sacrifice.
Romans 15:1-7 is a parallel passage to today’s lesson. In it, Paul exhorts believers to be patient with one another, try to please one another, accept one another, and seek unity with one another so that “together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 6).” We are living, breathing, walking, and talking representatives of the living God. We are living letters to the world around us. We are telling the truth about who God is by the way we live as well as by what we say. And, that glorifies God.
One day all will bow before Him and confess that He is Lord. Of course, it is possible for people to bow and confess today, and receive His gift of salvation. If you have never done this, now is the perfect time. Now that you know who Jesus is, you can talk to your leader about how to trust in Him.
Serving one another is not the main goal, serving Jesus is. The other is the means. He is our source of joy. Therefore, we can be joyful servants for Him. Serving Jesus is from the heart, not a task. Joyful servants willingly sacrifice and don’t whine about it. Ask yourself: How am I serving Jesus? Try some things out to see what’s a good fit. True Christian service is fun, for you. And, gives glory to Him.
1 Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 66, 68.
2 Cynthia Heald, Becoming a Woman of Grace, p. 79.
3 Warren Wiersbe, Be Joyful, p. 63.