True Servanthood: Philippians 2:1-4

Published April 7, 2014 by

On Sunday, Pastor Chris taught us about living selflessly as we embrace unity and strive for an others centered life. We imitate our Savior when we do this well. But living unified can be difficult when deep down inside of most of us there is an ache for an illusive happiness that seems just out of reach. We believe that we can find joy when we, master some technique, develop a stronger will or climb to a new height.

This mindset comes from an American culture we’ve grown up with. We are raised to believe that we “are masters of our own destiny”, and that the world is not going to “give” us anything. Consequently, aggressiveness is applauded as ambition. Forcefulness is considered a virtue, and those who know how to work the system are admired. Selfishness is not only acceptable, it is a way of life. These American ideas are in conflict with the teaching of Jesus.

Consider Mark 10 and this encounter between Jesus and two of his key disciples. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

James and John weren’t bad guys. They were faithful and they believed. They saw an opportunity and they went for it. But, pay close attention to how Jesus responds. He tells the disciples that their focus is wrong. They are looking to muscle their way into positions of honor and influence. They believe, if they can get the power, the position, the title, the notoriety, life will be good. They will know joy. Jesus tells them that they are mistaken, the key to being great is to become a servant. Jesus says the way up, is down. The way to advance is to take a lower position. The way to influence is to serve not give the orders.

In our scripture in Philippians 2:1-4, Paul begins with a series of rhetorical questions. It is as if Paul said, “Since you say you are united with Christ, and you say you have found great comfort in your relationship with Him and the work of His Spirit within you . . .then certain things should be evident in your life.” Certain things like a servants heart. A servant attitude is the key to our unity and one mindedness and the finest expression of our love. So, let’s try to understand what it means to live as a servant.

To live as a servant means to “give” before we “grab”. This is a strange concept to most but it is others focused. We spend a good portion of our life looking out for ourselves. We are constantly pushing and grabbing. Let’s face it, it is the American Way. We are raised believing that the one who is more forceful is the one who gets the most power. But this is a myth. The Bible tells us that the servant is the one who is most exalted. The servant is the one who is honored by God. The servant is the one who is most likely to reach others with the gospel. But how hard this is for us.

As we live as servants, we will serve God and not ourselves. Rather than seek our own glory and pursue our own agenda, the servant of God is concerned only about honoring the Lord. The true servant doesn’t care if they get the credit as long as God gets the honor. It’s similar to the way things are in athletics. If you play on a team the goal must be the team and not the individual. Sometimes the running back must block. Sometimes the slugger needs to sacrifice the runner along. Sometimes the star shooter has to pass the ball to a teammate. The goal is the team.

The servant of God knows the goal. The true goal is to bring honor to Christ and to bring as many people to a knowledge of Christ as possible. If that is our goal we must do whatever is necessary to reach that goal. It may mean reaching out to someone we don’t know very well. It may mean serving in a position that is not glamorous. It may mean working in the background and not claiming the center stage. It doesn’t matter because the goal of harmony and accord is His glory.

As a servant of God, we will work on our own failures rather than focus on the failure of others. Paul tells us that we will “consider others to be better than ourselves.” Paul is not saying that we are “inferior” to others. His command has nothing to do with the kinds of prejudice that is so much a part of our society. We are not to consider others better than us because of their race, their socio-economic status, their gender, their experience or age. We are to consider others better than us because we don’t know their heart but we do know our own. Therefore, we are to be fierce and painfully honest in looking at our lives while giving the benefit of the doubt for others.

As true servants, we will notice the needs that others have. Paul said, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The servant of God is a person who is aware of the needs of their neighbor. They are always aware of the struggles that others are going through. So often, we are so wrapped up with our needs, our impressions, our goals, that we don’t have time to consider others. But the servant is different.

This is true servanthood. . . . it is caring for another. It means learning to listen with your eyes, your ears, and your heart. It is putting service before rights, ministry before convenience. It is an attitude that comes only from the transformation Christ brings.

Tom Renew

Deeper In God’s Word


Paul G. Apple – A Devotional Commentary on the Book of Philippians

John MacArthur – The Marks of Spiritual Unity, Philippians 2:1-19

Ray Stedman – Reconcilable Differences Philippians 2:1-4

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