Philippians 2 contains some of the most beautiful, miraculous, life-changing words of Scripture. This well-known passage describes the self-emptying of the Son of God, His servanthood, His sacrifice, and His exaltation. We tend to feel very familiar with this passage, so that if we’re not careful we might miss the important lessons we are meant to discover here. The servanthood of Jesus is deeply crucial to us as believers, because it is meant as an example. I wonder if Jesus could have emptied Himself, come as a human, but not been a servant. Maybe He could have died for mankind without walking the road of deep, painful humility that He chose—not just humility in his death, but in his birth and his life as well. But He didn’t just come to die for us, but also to lead us in the way that we should go. He walked before us, humbly serving, humbly suffering, so that we would be able to see what it looks like to live a life that is pleasing to God.
We never would have been able to figure this out on our own. Let’s be honest—even with the beautiful example of Jesus’ life, even with His words and Paul’s words and Peter’s words, we still struggle to figure this out. We are saved so that we can serve others. We are called to humility and servanthood. We can be so clueless, fighting our way to the top, while all the time Jesus is calling us to take up our cross and follow Him lower. There is always room at the bottom. And in God’s kingdom, true greatness is found at the bottom. The least shall be greatest, the last shall be first, the poor in spirit shall be rich, the hungry shall be satisfied, the servant shall be the leader.
This makes no sense to our flesh at all. It is completely opposite to the world’s philosophy that calls us to seek greatness, wealth, power, and personal achievement at all costs. Here we see the distinct dichotomy between our thoughts and God’s thoughts, the world’s ways and God’s ways. Unfortunately, in many churches and Christian organizations, we see the world’s philosophy hard at work as people struggle for power and prestige and for “looking good.” Jesus cared about none of that. His life is a clear, convicting example of what is truly important to God—and it is almost never what is important to us. We are lovers of self, lovers of comfort. Even when we serve others, we are so often thinking of ourselves and becoming proud of our ministry. This is harsh truth, but if we truly want to follow the example of Christ, we need to look this hard truth in the face. John the Baptist said it so clearly: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
We tend to look to the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet as the clearest example of His humility, and indeed, it is a beautiful story and where our lesson will land. But we are mistaken if we think that it was only there, at the Last Supper, for fifteen minutes, that Jesus showed Himself to be a servant. In truth, Jesus’ entire life was one of service to people. He sought out the lowliest, marginalized people, and He served them. He submitted to His earthly parents—people He had created in their mothers’ wombs. He spent His entire ministry sacrificing sleep, comfort, a schedule, and a home to meet the needs of humanity. Very seldom do we see Him actually accepting the service of others. He told His disciples that to be served was not His purpose in coming, but to serve—and to give His life. And He is our example.
As we consider the servanthood of Jesus, may we be challenged to live our own lives in service to others. This is Paul’s purpose in Philippians 2—to describe to the church how they are to live, with the mindset of Christ shared among them. He exhorts them to care for others with love and encouragement and humility, to consider one another higher and better. How do we do this? Paul answers—by having the mind of Christ. And as we pursue lives of sold-out, sacrificial, lower-still humility and love for others, Peter promises us that we will be lifted up in due time. When we try to lift ourselves up, it is only harmful. We end up with our faces in the mud (or worse) every single time. We end up with ruined testimonies, ruined relationships, even ruined lives. The lifting up that God promises us in 1 Peter 5:6 is never harmful to us, for God always is working for our good.
Imagine the impact we could make for eternity if we lived lives of service as Jesus did. I am reminded of John’s words at the end of his Gospel—“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus lived a relatively short life, but He lived it fully in obedience, humility, and servanthood. What would our lives look like if we lived to the end of our days with this mind among ourselves?
Oh God, teach us to go lower– and to expect always to find You there, among the least of these.