Read: Matthew 20
“But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
Servanthood. Now that’s not something you hear everyday from the CEO of a major corporation. It is not likely you will hear your boss say that the way to the top is by humbling yourself and giving your life as the servant of all. You will probably get a half dozen slick promotional pieces in the mail this week inviting you to a spendy leadership conference, but my guess is that not a single one will be promoting servanthood as the key feature.
Yet that is the upside down logic of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said the surest way to greatness is by way of descent—you’ve got to lower yourself into it. And that’s not something Jesus just preached; it’s what he practiced. Serving was the core value of his very existence and the primary purpose of his coming, according to Matthew 20:28,
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus understood, modeled and taught that greatness, as well as a whole host of other Kingdom values, came only by authentic humility and willing servanthood. C.S. Lewis described it this way: “Jesus descends to re-ascend.” Paul, in Philippians 2:5-11, said,
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul says the secret to spiritual authenticity and Christian greatness is to adopt the attitude of Jesus; to make his mindset our mindset. Verse 5 says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” What was that mindset? Verse 7 says Jesus “made himself nothing.” Literally, when he left heaven and was born into humanity, he emptied himself.
Emptied himself of what? Not of his Divine identity, of course. Jesus the man was always God. Take that away and our faith is no more useful than any other religion. Jesus set aside his divine prerogatives. He lowered himself to human status. And if that weren’t low enough, he descended further into the role of servant to all mankind. Really, the term “servant” is too clean! He literally became a bond-slave: one without rights or privileges of his own.
This amazing Jesus who crafted the solar systems with ease, stooped to learn a trade in his father’s carpentry shop. The Sovereign Lord whom all creation worships donned a servant’s towel, stooping to wash the feet of those who should have washed his. This incredible Jesus, ruler of all mankind, stooped to the humiliation of the cross to pay for sins that should have nailed you and me there! He emptied himself of his Divine prerogatives to become a slave to redeem us from our slavery to sin and death. So Paul says that if we have grasped the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus and the work of the Spirit in the least, then we will understand that at the very least, our duty is to think like Jesus thought, to serve like Jesus served, and to live as Jesus would if he were living in our place.
Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life away. That is your call, too.
It is said that a western tourist visiting India observed Mother Teresa stoop down and hold a dying leper in her arms. The tourist disgustedly commented, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!”
Mother Teresa looked up at the visitor and said, “Neither would I.”
That kind of stooping servanthood is eternally celebrated by heaven and is the pathway to greatness in God’s Kingdom.
I hope you will make the descent into greatness this week!
“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject…to all.” ~Martin Luther
What If God Took Over?
Servanthood is not a one-time act; it is a mindset, a way of life. Obviously, putting yourself into a serving role will not automatically give you the mind of Christ, but it’s a good start. Attitudes follow actions, so what action steps can you take to permanently orient your life toward this value? Here is a suggestion: Find a role where you can serve those who cannot do anything for you in return, except perhaps to say “thanks”.