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Friday, August 27, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: The Nature of a Servant

The Bible instructs us to be "imitators of Christ" (Philippians 2), but today I feel God urging me to explain again what this really means.  It isn't a new concept for most Christians, but far too often we avoid any in-depth study of this topic.  What was Paul suggesting when he began to explain Jesus' model for our lives by pointing out that Jesus "t[ook] on the very nature of a servant"?

Respecting Authority

The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor. -- Proverbs 15: 33 NIV
Earlier this week I explained what it means to "fear the Lord."  In essence, if we fear the Lord, we respect His authority and bow to His right to judge us and others.

Now, Jesus was and is God.  Even when He walked the earth, He had authority over all things, and therefore didn't have to obey anyone or submit to anyone's so-called authority over Him.  Still, to demonstrate for us what it really meant to respect authority, He chose not to exercise His rights.  God's plan to redeem mankind required that Christ submit Himself to the Jewish and Roman authorities to be murdered.  He didn't have to obey, but Jesus wanted God's ways and His plans to be exalted in everyone's eyes.  It wasn't about getting honor just for Himself on earth; He wanted God to be honored, and He wanted to honor humankind through His sacrifice.

In essence, by being humble, by humiliating Himself before others (because He could have prevented all the mockery He chose to endure), Jesus brought honor to Himself.  First, God honored Christ's humility by raising Him from the dead.  By this act, God brought all creation, throughout all time, to honor Him in a deeper way than they would have if Jesus had only sought the honor of mankind on earth, long ago.

In the same way, Jesus modeled for us the habit of bowing our heads to authority, because this brings us honor from those in authority over us.  It is in our fallen natures to seek honor from those that are beneath us, to make ourselves gods among men, but the greater honor is to be honored by those who don't have to do so.

Forgetting Ambition

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."  -- Mark 9: 35 NIV
 A servant, by nature, is stuck in a low social position, never expected to rise above this position to equality with the master.  Even in traditional fairy tales, when the servant climbed the social ladder, it was to a position higher than his or her original master.

As Paul pointed out in Philippians chapter 2, Jesus did not seek to be above God by doing this, nor did He even seek equality with God.  Jesus was content to be in the lowly position, servant to all, even God His Father.  He was content with the esteem that God gave Him, and accepted what He got from God as all that He needed or deserved.  Because He left this up to God, God gave Christ great honor, even seating Him on the throne above all creation and subjugating Christ's enemies under Him (Psalm 110).

In the same way, we should not seek to gain honor or a higher position for ourselves, but rather should view ourselves the way God sees us.  From God's perspective, we are nothing more than clay, animated by His breath.  From the greatest to the least of us, there is no quality or achievement that can raise us above this position.  Only God can do that, by bestowing upon us His special attention, calling us "friend" and sending His son to rescue us.  When we honor God with our whole hearts, He honors us with His redeeming love.

Loving at All Times

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. -- Proverbs 17: 17 NIV
When we decide not to love others, or to love them less than another, we are in essence looking down on them and judging that they are less worthy of love than we are.  To love someone is to raise him or her to a position in our hearts that is higher than ourselves--to honor him or her above our own worth.  Real love (not lust or fan club-gathering) is by nature a servant's attitude, that is, a position in life that does not change according to the situation.

Paul explained this quality in Christ when he wrote, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 8 NIV).  Not only did Christ demonstrate an attitude of servanthood to God His Father, but also He demonstrated an attitude of servanthood toward us, by treating us as friends who He loved, even when we did not show Him love.  To love someone unlikeable is to honor that person above our own feelings.

Wrapping it up: The Charge of a Servant

The principle purpose of a servant is to meet the needs of the master, and to bring honor to Him and all His household.  A servant's job is never about him, and a servant who is doing his job is not thinking about himself.  So when Jesus became a servant, He put behind Himself all of His needs and desires and sought only to fulfill those of His master, that is, God the Father, and those who He raised to a place of honor, that is, the whole human race (whether they choose to honor Him or not).

In the same way, those who obey God and imitate Christ are not thinking about themselves, but rather are always thinking about the needs of their Master and His household and accepting His correction and direction.  In every word and deed, in every facet of our lives, we are to put others above ourselves, including God our Lord, and leave Him the job of giving us honor.  Can we do that?  By His grace, with His help and His example, we can.
Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5: 2-4 NIV)


Shannon said...

Thank you for reminding us of the importance of humility. So often we focus on getting blessings and honor for ourselves, but we forget that the greatest blessing is to know God and become more like Him.

His ultimate goal is not to bless us. At least not in the way most people think of blessings (cars, money, popularity). He wants to redeem us from our sinful, selfish ways and make us more like Him, so that He can honor us with eternal life.

To all the readers out there, have you ever asked God to humble you? I imagine it's one of the rarest requests, right up there with prayers for patience.:) But if humility was such a major part of Jesus' character, isn't it something a true follower must develop?

Rachel said...

Thank you for leaving a comment. I'm a little slow to respond this month, apparently. You've made an interesting point. Most people don't like to pray for patience, because they are afraid of the trials it takes to get it. If we ask for humility, I guess we are asking to be humiliated--and who wants that?