Biblical Models Of Christian Leadership, Part 2 - The Servant Model (1)Related Media
The Servant Model Of Christian Leadership
In part 1 of this two-part series on Biblical models of Christian leadership, I outlined the principle and paradigm of “the shepherd model” for leadership. In this article, I want to discuss the second biblical model for Christian leadership - “the servant”.
A. The Principle Of Servant Leadership
In addition to the term “shepherd,” the Bible clearly indicates that leaders of God’s people are to be “servants”. The common term used today Christian circles is “servant leader”, which I think is an attempt to reflect a biblical approach and attitude to leadership – namely, the leader as servant; or, a leader who serves. The term “servant leadership” sounds like an oxymoron, but it really isn’t when we understand what the term means and implies. The term becomes less confusing when we understand it as follows: the position is “leader”; the attitude is “serving”.
In any event, the whole notion of “servant leadership” is included in “shepherding” that we have already discussed because the two terms are vitally integrated – both are leadership positions and both demand the attitude of serving. So, perhaps the term we should use is “shepherds who serve”, or “servant shepherds.”
Servant leadership means that the leaders serve those they lead in order to make their followers happier in their work environment, more appreciated, more productive in their work, more rewarding, more fruitful, more challenging. The job of servant leaders is “to work hard to provide others with the resources and working conditions they need to accomplish their ministry goals. They make others feel more important than themselves. They have others’ best interests at heart” (Aubrey Malphurs, Dynamics, 46-47).
Solomon was certainly a leader. He got things done. He was a great planner and visionary. But he was not a shepherd – in fact, quite the opposite. So much so that, after his death, the people of Israel, whom Solomon had abused with his authoritarian rule, said to Rehoboam, his son: “Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kgs. 12:4). Now, how did Rehoboam respond to this request. He turned to two groups of people for advice – his fathers’ elders and Rehoboam’s young peers. It is very informative to note the contrast between the advice that Solomon’s elders gave to his son, Rehoboam, and the advice that Rehoboam’s new, young counsellors gave him.
Solomon’s elders said (and note this verse well): “If you will be A Servant to these people today, and Serve Them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kgs. 12:6-7). That was good advice borne out of experience! But Rehoboam’s new, young advisors said the opposite: “Thus shall you say to them: My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s waist. And now, whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges” (12:10-11).
Unfortunately, Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and followed the advice of his young men, his peers and actually increased the burdensome demands on the people instead of lightening them. The result was disastrous.
The Lord Jesus most thoroughly exemplifies this principle of servant leadership. This is clearly taught by Paul in Philippians, where he instructs them to pursue this principle themselves (2:3-4) and then gives the ultimate example of Jesus (2:5-16).
So, what does this paradigm of servant leadership look like?
B. The Paradigm Of Servant Leadership
To examine this paradigm, we are going to study to two biblical texts – 1 Cor. 3-4 and Phil. 2:5-16.
Textual Study #1: 1 Corinthians 3-4
The subject in this text is: “What is the role of pastors / ministers? Over the history of the church, two extremes have been apparent:
1. Clericalism in which the clergy are raised up on a pedestal above everyone else.
2. Anticlericalism in which clergy are opposed or considered unnecessary or even unbiblical.
Largely, in evangelical circles, our view of church structure and leadership is balanced between the priesthood of all believers and the leadership of those who labour in the word.
The Corinthian church was divided into parties / factions, each one claiming a certain leader as their head. These were “personality cults”. This, Paul says, is pure “carnality” (3:1-4). This division into personality cults is the activity of people who are driven by the flesh, not people who are led by the Spirit. That’s why Paul had to speak to them “as” to carnal and not “as to spiritual people” (1). He isn't here creating two classes of Christians (spiritual Christians vs. carnal Christians). Rather, he is saying that their divisive behaviour (party politics) was the activity of fleshly people not that of spiritual people. The division of the church into leadership (personality) sects / cults was a wrong view of ministry, church structure, and spirituality.
One faction was saying, “I am of Paul” (1 Cor. 1:12). But Paul replies, “Was Paul crucified for you?” (13). Answer: No! Conclusion: Then he is not the head of the church. Another faction was saying, “I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). You might think that this group was the right one, the most spiritual. But Christ has nothing to do with a spirit of division and party-making. Paul responds, “Is Christ divided?” (13). Answer: No! Conclusion: Then he is not identified with one group vs. another. He is the one head of the whole church, not of a faction within the church.
This state of affairs gives rise to Paul’s question in 1 Cor. 3:5, “What then is Paul and what is Apollos...? He is essentially asking, “Who do you think we are? Who do you think apostles / church leaders are? The answer is, they are “... ministers through whom you believed as the Lord gave to each one” (3:5). That’s what we are, Paul says, servants of Christ and the church through whom you believed. We had distinct roles according to the gifting God gave us. Thus, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (6). We exercised our God-given gifts in our service for God for the benefit of the church. So, don’t give the glory to Paul or Apollos for “neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but God who gives increase” (7). We couldn’t make the seed of the Word grow to save our lives. We merely planted and watered like good servant farmers in God’s field. All the glory goes to God – he alone can make the seed spring up into abundant life.
Furthermore, the one who plants (Paul) and the one who waters (Apollos) are one. We aren’t divided, even though our gifts and functions in the church are different (8a). We have a common, single task, focus, and goal. We are “God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (9b).
That’s the structure of ministry: God calls us into his service as his “fellow-workers”; He gives to each of us our own “reward” according to our own labour (8b); and “you are God’s field / building (9b), the sphere in which God is working to produce a crop and a home for his people.
In 1 Cor. 4, the apostle Paul begins to answer the question he asked in 1 Cor. 3:5. “Let a man so consider us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (4:1). So this is who and what pastors and church leaders are:
I. Church Leaders Are Servants Of Christ (4:1a)
This is where it all begins. We cannot be ministers of the Word (preachers / teachers) or leaders of the church (elders, pastors, deacons) unless we are first “ministers / servants (lit. “underlings”) of Christ.” So, Paul is painting a picture here of how church leaders must view themselves, not as men with high rank and honour, but lowly, humble servants of Christ and of his church – “underlings.”
Now, to keep the picture balanced, lest the members of the church despise their leaders or consider them unnecessary, Paul clearly teaches in other places that church leadership is a noble calling (1 Tim. 3:1) and church leaders are to be honoured, even doubly honoured (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17) for who they are and what they do. This is how church members must view their leaders. But the view of church leaders of themselves and the attitude with which they are to serve is that of servants (“underlings”) – not underlings of the church, but underlings of Christ.
So, church leadership (Christian ministry) begins with one’s relationship to Christ. He is our head; we are his servants. This denotes obedience, submission, devotion, accountability. When we are confident in and committed to this relationship to Christ, this liberates us from the tyranny of criticism and judgementalism by church members.
That’s why Paul says, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself (i.e. my conscience is clear) yet I am not justified by this (just because I have a clear conscience does not mean I am right or clear of offense), but He who judges me is the Lord” (4:3-4). The Corinthians (under the influence of false apostles) were being very critical of Paul accusing him of misusing his authority and not keeping his word. This type of false accusation and unsubstantiated criticism is not what church leaders bow to. The Lord is our judge. “Therefore, judge nothing before the time” – don't get drawn into premature judgements. Wait, “until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (5). That’s when the truth will be manifested. That’s when true justice will be administered. That’s when each one will have appropriate praise from God, for that’s who we are accountable to.
Application. Paul says he has “figuratively transferred these things (i.e. the principles he has just outlined) to myself and Apollos” (6a), so that “you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against another” (6). So, the principle of servanthood is just as applicable to Paul and Apollos as anyone else and they demonstrated it in their leadership. Thus, the Corinthians should learn from them (Paul and Apollos) not to be “puffed up” about one leader over and against another. Their sectarian view of leadership (breaking up the church into parties under the acclaimed leadership of various prominent personalities) was not what they saw demonstrated in the lives of Paul and Apollos.
Challenge. Paul sets out direct challenges to us:
1. “Who makes you differ from another?” (7a). What makes you different from anyone else? What right do you have to make such distinctions among yourselves such that you divide yourselves up into various factions?
2. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (7b).
3. “If you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as though you had not?” (7c)
Conclusion. Verses 3-7 emphasize that pastors / ministers are accountable to Christ for their ministry. Of course, the question is always raised, “Well, aren’t they accountable to the body of Christ, the congregation?” Of course they are. But Paul isn’t dealing with that here. He is dealing with the elevation of certain “names” by certain factions, which ministers of Christ must always oppose. We do not serve the self-interests of self-appointed factions in the church. We serve the interests of Christ alone in ministering to his people.
Further, Paul is pointing out our highest accountability. Accountability to the church is not the highest accountability. Accountability to Christ is our highest, most serious, most holy and most frightening accountability, because ultimately we will stand before Him and all that we have done will be judged because he sees and hears everything (wood, hay, stubble, which are useless and will be burned up, or gold, silver, precious stones, which are valuable and will remain).
II. Church Leaders Are Stewards Of God’s Word (4:1b-2)
“Stewards of the mysteries of God” (1b). “Mysteries of God” refers to those truths which were formerly concealed but now revealed. They are mysteries because we could never have solved them on our own and we could never have conceived how God would solve them. What “mysteries” is Paul referring to? Mysteries like: who would be the Messiah, when would he come, how would he redeem his people? How would God bring together both Jew and Gentile equally into one body?
These truths were revealed by the N. T. apostles, the stewards / trustees of God’s revealed truth, and preachers today continue to bear this stewardship responsibility.
Application. We are responsible for teaching the truths once for all delivered to the saints. Teaching is our primary responsibility (1 Tim. 3:2) - not teaching our own ideas but teaching revealed truth. And we are required to “be faithful” (2) – i.e. trustworthy. Trustees must handle in a trustworthy manner the deposit (of truth) that is entrusted to them. Unfortunately, there are many unfaithful ministers, untrustworthy stewards, like pastors who deny the trustworthiness of the Bible, the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ - pastors who don't study or teach the Bible; pastors who reduce the Bible to little more than a myth. They change it to mean what they want. They delete the parts they don't like.
Challenge. We need to resolve to be faithful stewards of the Word as it is written and teach it clearly and accurately with application to contemporary audiences, not twisting it to suit ourselves.
III. Church Leaders Are The Lowest Of The Low (4:8-13)
We are “a spectacle to the world” (9). The imagery is of a condemned man / criminal, who, before a packed arena is thrown to the lions, to the delight and entertainment of the audience. Paul is saying: We ministers are not fat cats, sitting in middle class suburbs enjoying the privileges of position, power, and wealth. We aren’t like you rich Corinthians who seem to already be reigning like kings, who seem to be enjoying the benefits of a realized eschatology, for whom everything is “now”; nothing is “not yet”. They were living as though the kingdom of God had already come in fullness. But such is not the case in reality as you can see in Paul’s own life. Suffering precedes glory, the cross [e.g. hunger, thirst, poor clothes, beaten, homelessness etc. (11-12)] comes before the crown.
We are the scum of the earth, “the off-scouring of all things” (13). The imagery is of the scum from dirty pots and pans in the kitchen that is washed down the sink or thrown into the garbage. They were considered the dregs of society. This is the picture Paul paints to show the contrast between the Corinthians (their lifestyle, their self-importance) and the apostles. He reverses his description of what they were like when God called them – weak, foolish (1:26f.). Instead, now they are “kings, rich”, whereas he is a “fool for Christ” (10).
Nonetheless, in his situation he is a model for all ministers of the gospel who are to demonstrate the life and example of Jesus. When we are cursed / reviled, we bless. When we are persecuted, we endure. When we are slandered and defamed, we exhort and encourage.
Challenge. How far removed is this picture of ministry from ourselves? Most of us cannot apply Paul’s imagery to ourselves. But the point is, don’t try or expect to be a popular pastor. The gospel, properly and fully preached, is an unpopular message because it reveals the truth about us, because it is an exclusive message (one way, one Saviour), and because it demands a holy life.
IV. Church Leaders Are The Spiritual Fathers Of Christ’s Church (4:14-21)
Paul is not writing to shame or humiliate the Corinthians, but to warn them “as my dear children” (14). True spiritual fathers are few and far between. There are lots of guardians (the slave who supervised a boy / a son re: discipline, dress, food etc.), but “not many fathers” (15a). Guardians are not motivated by love for the child, but duty to the slave master. But Paul had “begotten them through the gospel” (15b). They were his spiritual children. “Therefore, imitate me” (16) and in case they had forgotten how he behaved, he was sending Timothy to “remind” them (17). Some were “puffed up” (18), thinking that he would not come and check them out, but he was coming to find out if they truly were spiritually powerful people or just all talk.
Challenge. True pastoral leadership is marked by gentleness, care and concern, and discipline (when needed). Paul didn’t want to come to them “with a rod but in love and in the spirit of gentleness” (21).
Textual Study #2: Philippians 2:5-16
As we go through this passage, please remember that the apostle Paul is drawing a vivid picture here of the ultimate example of servant leadership. What we want to find out here is what is it about Christ’s leadership that we (like the Philippians) need to learn from and begin to practice. That’s why Paul has this passage here – to instruct the church in what it means to be a true servant leader.
The church at Philippi was divided (2:1-3a) by disputes, arguments, complaints; by people pushing their own agendas and promoting themselves. Paul exhorts them: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit“ (3a). Instead, he wants them to “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (2).
What they needed was to imitate Christ in his humility (3b-4) so that they would be united, by regarding each other better than themselves. Hence, Paul says, “but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (3b), by acting in each other’s best interest, “not by each of you looking out for his own interests, but rather for the interests of others” (4).
They needed to change their attitude! Attitude is the key to acting in other people’s best interests. Remember, “The position is leader; the attitude is serving.” Thus, the apostle Paul says that...
I. Servant Leaders Need To Express The Right Attitude (5-11)
Attitude is so important for how we live and particularly for how we lead. You’ve probably heard your mother or school teacher at one time or another say: “You need to change your attitude, young man.” And that’s what Paul says to the Christians at Philippi. He says: “You’ve got an attitude problem. You need to start working together. You need to show mutual concern, not self-ambition. You need lowliness of mind, not self-conceit. You need to look out for one another’s interests, not your own. You need to change your attitude! You need the attitude of Christ! “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (5). He is the supreme example of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others (the true servant leader); of humility out of love and respect for others.
This is the way to lead the church in unity, by lowering self and elevating others, just as Christ lowered himself so that others could be exalted. To shepherd God’s people properly, we need to express Christ’s attitude to one another. First…
1. The Attitude Christ Expressed In Emptying Himself… “who being in the form of God did not consider equality with God something to be held onto” (6). Before coming into the world and taking on human form, he was “in very nature God” (NIV). Paul is Not saying that Jesus was God in “form” (i.e. appearance) but not in reality. No, to be in the “form” of God means that he possessed all the characteristics of God that are essential to the reality of being God. That’s who he was. He was nothing less than God (Jn. 1:1). But despite being God, He did not consider his “equal-to-God” position with all its rights and privileges something to be held onto at all cost. Quite the contrary. He let it go. Unlike human monarchs and presidents who desperately hold onto power and position, He let it go! “He emptied himself” (7a).
Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. He gave up heaven to stoop to earth (6-7). Rather than fighting for his own rights and position as the Philippians did, Christ “emptied” himself. He made himself of no reputation, divesting himself of his privileges but without in any way ceasing to be fully God.
He gave up his glorious position to become despised (cf. Jn. 17:4). The One who was adored by the angels of heaven became despised by the human race.
He gave up his infinite riches to become poor. He became voluntarily poor (no place to be born; no home to live in; no bed to sleep in; no tomb to be buried in). He took on our burden / debt of sin (cf. Jn. 1:29). The sinless One became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
He gave up the independent exercise of his divine rights to become obedient. He became the perfect servant whose mission was to do the Father’s will. As someone else has said: The only One who had “the right to assert his rights, waived them” (Wuest, cited in Hendriksen, 109). Majesty was given up for meekness. Self-existence was replaced by self-renunciation. Superiority was set aside for submission.
This is the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, that God became a man without ever ceasing to be God. This is the attitude, the mindset that Paul is urging on us as leaders – complete selflessness that looks out for the concerns of others. Not grasping onto our own rights and privileges, but letting them go for the benefit of others.
What did this “emptying” look like? How did He do this? “... (by) taking the form of a bondservant” (7b). This was an act of self-abasement, self-impoverishment. Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. He took the form of a servant / slave – i.e. He took it in addition to, not in place of, his deity. The One who was in the form of God also took the “form of a servant.” That’s how he could be our Saviour - because he is the God-man, fully God and fully human, and thus the perfect sacrifice for our sins, our perfect substitute.
The “form” of a slave does not mean that he “appeared” as a slave but really was not.
He actually took the lowest position on the economic and social scale – someone without rights or privileges, the servant of all. Christ entered world history not as the “Lord” but as a “slave”. He came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.
Christ emptied himself by the position that he took. And, Christ emptied himself by the nature that he took. “The likeness of human beings” (7c). Now Paul uses a different word – not “form” but “likeness”. Paul is saying that Christ was “similar to our humanity in some respects and dissimilar in others” (Fee, 213). He was Similar in that he was genuinely and fully human, like us. But He was Dissimilar in that he was at the same time fully God. Thus, the “likeness” has to do with his full humanity but sinless nature (cf. Rom. 8:3) – like us but not exactly, because he was not solely human: he was God manifest in flesh (cf. Heb. 1:3).
Servant leaders need to express the right attitude. First, the attitude of Christ expressed in emptying himself. Second...
2. The Attitude Christ Expressed In Humbling Himself: “...being found in appearance / fashion as a man, he Humbled himself” (8a). As God, he chose “to empty himself” and as man he chose to “humble himself”. This is the attitude that Paul wants us to adopt - self-renunciation for the benefit of others!
Christ gave up his divine superiority to take on human inferiority. He was born in a stable to a no-name, disrespected virgin. He grew up in obscurity and lived in poverty. He did miraculous acts of kindness for which he was persecuted. He came to his own people who did not receive him. He was ridiculed, mocked, tortured, and crucified.
He took the lowest position on earth. Just as He gave up heaven to stoop to earth, so He gave up life to submit to death (8). That’s how he humbled himself by “becoming obedient to death” (8b). He gave up everything to become nothing, even giving up his life to submit to death – The Ultimate Act Of Self-Sacrifice. And this was no ordinary death - “even the death of the cross” (8c). This was the most painful of deaths. This was the most shameful of deaths – a condemned man carrying his own cross to a desolate place outside the city; crucified between two thieves; mocked by the religious leaders and the crowd. Death on a cross was an accursed death (Gal. 3:10, 13). He bore the curse of God on account of our sin.
This is the mystery of redemption: God on a cross! No wonder the rulers of this age could not grasp it for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). The One who did not consider equality with God something to be held onto at all costs, in fact let it go by voluntarily setting aside his divine rights and privileges, by humbling himself and appearing in world history as a man, so that we could see God in flesh and know the love of God expressed in its fullness through his death on the cross – The Ultimate Act Of Self-Humiliation.
As Gordon Fee puts it: “The Divine Weakness (death at the hands of his creatures, his enemies) is the Divine Scandal” (Fee, 217). God on a cross was and is a scandal. It went against everything the 1st century disciples knew and expected of the Messiah. It contradicted human wisdom that the Gentiles sought and it contradicted the divine sign of power that the Jews looked for.
Christ emptied himself and humbled himself, taking the lowest position on earth. But God gave him the most exalted position in heaven: “Therefore, God has highly exalted him” (9a). Lest you doubt that the One who took the lowest place and suffered such ignominy could possibly be God the story of redemption continues. Obedience to death on a cross was not the end. God has exalted him like no one else (Eph. 4:10). He raised Christ from the depths of death to the heights of heaven. He exalted Him from the lowest place on earth to the most exalted position in heaven where he is now seated at the right hand of God, crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 1:3; 12:2; Eph. 1:20-22).
His exaltation reverses his emptying. The One who took the lowest place is honoured with the highest place (cf. Matt. 23:12). The One who was condemned by man is exalted by God. The One who was crucified is the one who is crowned. The One who became poor is gloriously rich. The One who was rejected by man is fully accepted by God. The One who became a servant now rules as King. The One who wore a crown of thorns now wears a crown of glory. The One who was weak is now all powerful. The One who was our sacrifice is now our High priest.
Christ’s self-emptying and self-humiliation are now displayed as proof that he is equal with God. This is God’s vindication of Him – that he is truly God. The mystery and paradox of God on a cross is resolved. His humiliation and crucifixion are but the prelude to his exaltation by God so that what appeared to be defeat was in fact victory.
God gave him the most exalted position in heaven. And God gave him the most extolled name in the universe (9b-11): “…the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (9b-10a). It is the purpose of God that the name of Jesus (the Saviour of his people) will take on special significance – not that of an earthly name but of an exalted Saviour.
God Gave Him A Name That Will Be Revered By Every Creature: “…those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth” (10b). The homage that alone is due to God by his creation (Isa. 45:18-24a) is assigned here by God to Christ. This is the ultimate vindication of his deity. This is not just the homage of those who have been redeemed by him, but the bowing of every creature to his universal lordship and sovereignty. Every knee means heavenly beings, living humans, the dead, and the underworld of demons. When this name is known, just the mention of it will cause everyone to bow the knee in homage. The redeemed will bow in rejoicing and the damned will bow in remorse.
His most extolled name reverses his humiliation. The One who was mocked with a purple robe, scourged with cruel whips, humiliated with a crown of thorns, spit upon by wicked men, and condemned with despicable injustice will be acknowledged by every creature.
God gave him a name that will be revered by every creature. And He Gave Him A Name That Will Be Confessed By Every Tongue: “…that at the name of Jesus every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (11). The “bowing of the knee” is the reverence of the lesser to the greater and the “confession of the tongue” is the acknowledgement of the creature to the Creator. His name that was once so despised will cause every knee in creation to bow and every tongue to confess that the Lord is Jesus Christ. He is God, the universal sovereign (cf. Acts 2:36). Jesus, the suffering Saviour, is the exalted Lord.
This is the grand finale to his humiliation and exaltation – the highest position and the divine title of Lord; the One with all power and authority. This is the ultimate goal for which we expectantly wait - the homage of every knee; and the confession of every tongue so that Jesus Christ has his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. And all this “to the glory of God the Father”. For when the Son is honoured, so is the Father. The unity of the Godhead is perfect.
That’s the model for us. If we are to shepherd the church of Christ in unity we need to imitate the chief Shepherd. The key is having the attitude / mind of Christ - lowering ourselves for the benefit of others.
So, first, servant leaders need to express the right attitude. And, second…
II. Servant Leaders Need To Engage In The Right Activity (2:12-16)
“So, then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed (not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence), work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (12). When your mind is transformed by the attitude of humility, your activity will be transformed by the attitude of obedience. Changing our mindset isn’t enough. Rather, a true change of mind toward one another must transform our behaviour with one another. Obedience is the underlying characteristic of Christ-likeness without which we cannot worship and serve in unity.
This is Paul’s challenge now. He’s told us How To Think; now he challenges us How To Act as servant leaders. It’s one thing how you behave when someone is watching, but the true test is how you behave when no one is looking. That’s what shows whether you are truly obedient and loyal, isn’t it?
So, how do we express our obedience to Christ? By…
1. Working In Ways That Show Our Salvation In Christ (12-13): “...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (12b). This has nothing to do with the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer - although that is biblical and I believe it. This has nothing to do with working For our salvation. This has to do with what one commentator says is “working out what God in his grace has worked in.”
We need to put into practice the “attitude” of Christ so that our salvation is evident in how we live and act together as a church, not in disunity, striving for our individual rights, but in humility serving one another.
We serve the One who will one day be universally acclaimed. That should cause us some fear and trembling, shouldn’t it? How can we be so individualistic, so self-centred, so preoccupied with self interest when we see how Christ acted? We need to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”
But, you say, how can we do that? We can do it because “…God is the One working in you both to desire and to work for His good pleasure” (13). God is the One who gives us the indwelling power to do it. He works in us in such a way that we desire His good pleasure and that’s what we work for – not for our own pleasure or our own interests but God's!
We maintain our obedience to Christ by working in ways that show our salvation in Christ – working together in God’s power and for God’s pleasure. And by...
2. Living In Ways That Show Our Transformation In Christ (14-16): “...do all things without complaining and disputing” (14). Complaining and disputing have no place among those who are being obedient to Christ, who have the attitude of Christ. To live in ways that show our transformation in Christ means ...
Showing Our Morality In Christ: “...being blameless and harmless” before the world, “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation” (15a).
We are to be people who stand out in the world - people of integrity, uprightness, forthrightness, transparency, with nothing to hide and nothing to be accused of. People who beam the light of the gospel into a morally and spiritually dark, corrupt, and perverted world. People who stand out in a crooked and perverted world by working in ways that show our salvation in Christ; and by living in ways that show our transformed morality in Christ.
Our transformation in Christ means showing our morality in Christ and Showing Our Testimony For Christ: “...among whom you shine as light-bearers in the world” (15b). We shine as lights for God in the world by “holding forth the word of life” (16a). This is the mark of people who are the presence of Christ on earth. They show their morality in Christ – “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault”. And they show their testimony in Christ – “holding forth the word of life” (the gospel), both in their words and in their works.
Summation: Do you see what Paul is saying to us as church leaders? To be true servant leaders of God’s people, we need to express the right attitude to one another and we need to engage in the right activity with one another. And the example that underlies all this is Christ himself - “Let this mind be in You which was also in Christ Jesus.” If He was willing to give up everything and become nothing so that we who were nothing might have everything, how much more should we do the same for those whom God has entrusted to our care and leadership! If Jesus was willing to empty himself of his divine rights and humble himself to the lowest possible place, should not we be willing to humble ourselves in order to effectively serve God’s people - respecting one another and serving one another as Christ did. This is what Paul is calling us to in this text.
If we have the attitude of Christ, we will be united with those we lead, by expressing the right attitude to one another (the attitude of servants not masters; givers not takers; respect not contempt) and by engaging in the right activity with one another (working in ways that show our salvation in Christ; and living in ways that show our transformation in Christ). As Gordon Fee puts it: “The principle is love (selflessness), the pattern is Christ (humility), the power is the Spirit, and the ultimate purpose is the glory of God” (Fee, 227).
Will you commit to being like Christ in attitude and activity as a leader? If so, what are you going to do about it? Perhaps you’re saying: “I need to Change The Way I Think. My attitude of loftiness needs to change to one of lowliness. My attitude of arrogance needs to change to one of humility. My attitude of self-ambition needs to change to one of sacrifice.”
Or, perhaps you’re saying: “I need to Change The Way I Act. I’m not really working out my salvation with fear and trembling that one day I’ll have to give account to God for how I act. I’m not really showing Christian morality in the way I behave. I need to be upright, transparent, honest, righteous in my dealings with others. I need to “shine as a light” for God in this dark world by sharing the gospel to those who need Christ as the opportunities arise.”
If so, would you make that commitment today? Perhaps you need to change your thought life by thinking about the things that are Christ-honouring - things that are good and pure. Perhaps you need to change your family life by putting Christ first in your priorities and conversations. Perhaps you need to change your work life by displaying Christ to those you work with. Perhaps you need to change your church life by ministering to others in meaningful ways for their benefit. Perhaps you need to change your evangelistic life by being ready to speak for Christ whatever the situation.