Philippians 2:17-30; Luke 22:27
Heavenly father, we just thank you for the opportunity for us to gather together to worship you. We praise you as our creator God and thank you for the salvation you’ve availed to us through your son Jesus Christ. We pray that we would be led by the spirit to give thanks and to praise you and to enjoy our life, our walk, our relationship with you, Lord Jesus. We pray today that by the Spirit, and through the word, our hearts might be instructed and encouraged, that we could walk closely with you to your honor and glory. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I came across this phrase last week, obviously not the first time I’ve seen it, but it just really struck me in Luke 22:27, where Jesus said this, “but I am among you as the one who serves.” I want us to think about that a little bit because we’re going to be looking at that theme here in Philippians 2. I was, at first, naive enough to think that I was going to preach through that whole passage up there on the wall (Philippians 2:17-30), but actually what’s going to happen today is we’re probably not going to though through any of it. We are going to introduce the text by dealing with this theme of being a servant according to Christ example. But if you look at that phrase, how striking is it! “But I am among you as the one who serves.” We will come back to that in a bit, but first let’s look again at Philippians chapter two.
This text has so much to say about how we are to relate to one another and what is to be the nature of our conduct before God. It says, in Philippians 2:3, “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Don’t merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Here God calls us, through the Apostle Paul, to be servants–to have the mind of a servant. Notice it says in verse 5, have this attitude in yourselves–or have this mind, this mind of Christ, this way of thinking, this attitude, this perspective on life–the same one that Jesus had. See that here, which is a striking thing to consider, that God has it for you to think as Jesus thought and to live like Jesus lived. That’ll bring us back to our phrase in a while. Then also not just to think that way, but to live that way and that’s why verse three is talking about, and it is no easy thing. Servanthood, according to Christ’s example, won’t happen by accident in anybody’s life. Imagine this verse rewritten according to the world’s way of thinking, it would be something like “Do all things from selfishness. Look out for number one. If it feels good, do it. It doesn’t matter if you must trample over people and their feelings. As long as you get what you want in the end, that’s all that matters.”
God’s version is very different. Have the mind of a servant according to the example of Christ. Live the life of a servant according to the example of Christ, where to put it succinctly, and to kind of summarize a whole bunch of matters means loving Jesus by loving and serving others. In fact, there’s a lot of confusion today in the church about issues related to worship. A lot of people lump that into just the music side of things and think that in itself that that constitutes worship. The atmosphere, or having the lights adjust just so, etc. That’s worship they think. Now, here are the nuts and bolts of worship. Here’s worship as far as God is concerned, a worship that is pleasing and acceptable to Him. It looks like this. It looks like loving Jesus by loving and serving others. It’s very practical. It’s very real. It’s very much in keeping with who Jesus is, very tangible.
In Philippians chapter 2 we have four examples given to us of this kind of servanthood. The first example is Jesus Himself. It’s explained to us what that looks like in this wonderful description. “Although He existed in the form of god, He did not regard equality with god a thing to be grasped.” Reading then between the lines, so to speak, instructed from other scriptures, we know that He’s the eternal Son of God. We know that He’s the creator of all things. We know that all things have been created by Him, through Him, and for Him. We know that all the fullness of the deity dwells in Him. We know that, as He said, if you see me, you’ve seen the Father. We know that He is the one that was revealed to us, and when they beheld Him, they beheld His glory. He is the glorious lord Jesus Christ, the One who, before He came, enjoyed the richness and fullness of having a place with no sin and the worship of angels and nonetheless came here. That’s who we’re talking about. It’s He who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself.
That’s not an easy thing to comprehend, especially in talking about emptying Himself from that height to that depth, or as it says, in another text: “We know the grace of our lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” That’s incredible. He became poor. He deliberately became poor. He divested himself of all his riches on purpose. That’s amazing. Taking the form of a bond servant being made in the likeness of men being found in appearance as man. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. What an incredible thing it is that, Jesus being who He is, should take on that task and be willing to humble himself in that way and to live the life of a servant. Incredible. Amazing.
So, we have this example. As you go on to this chapter, you have three more examples. In verses 17 and 18, the example the apostle Paul, as a servant, where he talks about being poured out as a drink offering in service to others. Then in verses 19 down to verse 24, we have the example of Timothy, of whom Paul says, amongst other things, that he has no one else like him. He says to the Philippians that Timothy is unlike the others. They’ll look out for themselves, but Timothy will seek Christ’s interests in being genuinely concerned for them. Then in verses 25 to 30 we have the example of Paul’s dear friend, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, Epaphroditus. You read in the passage of how he ministered to the Apostle Paul and even came close to death in risking his life in caring for him. Having the mind of Christ and living according to Christ’s way of living.
We’ll come back to these examples of next week. But today we want to finish our introduction by looking again to Luke 22 and the phrase I brought up in the beginning of the message, “But I am amongst you as one who serves.” And we want to focus in especially on how contrary the mind of Christ is to the world’s way of thinking.
So, here we are in Luke 22:14-27, “When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
Of course, we need to understand some very important truths about Jesus, if we are to understand what’s going on here. Who is this Jesus? Well, this is the eternal son of god. This is the creator of all things. This is the one who was born of a virgin, took on humanity, took on human flesh, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. This is the one who lived this life and did all those miracles, authenticating his identity. This is that One. And here He is having this last supper with His disciples. And what is the theme of it? Well He’s talking about His pending death, right? His sacrifice on the cross. Of course, this is keeping with the rest of His life, because everything we read about Jesus, from beginning to end, is about serving others. It doesn’t matter. Flip the page anywhere in your gospel account and read about Jesus and you’re not going to find an example outside of that. That’s what He’s always doing. He’s always serving, loving, caring. That’s the fabric of His life. That’s who He is. And in that context, He says “But I amongst you as one who serves.” Stop and think about that for a second, because there’s never been a life like that ever before on this planet. There’s never been anybody who was born and came into this world exclusively devoted to serving others.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to do what? To serve and ultimately give his life a ransom for many. How remarkable is that? It’s not what we would have expected. Not what we would have thought. God is coming to this world. What if we were to paint a scenario in our own sin-darkened minds as to what that might look like. No one would have imagined that God would come in such a way. It is as Martin Luther once said, “The mystery of the incarnation, that God would take on human flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” But not only did He take on human flesh, He embraced servanthood. It’s amazing! And that’s what we read of here. And what is He doing? Of what, is He speaking? He’s speaking in anticipation of His pending sacrifice for sin, the pinnacle of His servanthood.
Now who are those who are there with Him? Well, 11 of them are men who will soon desert Him. He’s soon headed to the cross. They will then head for the hills. That’s what’s going to happen, right? And He knows that. He knows all about them? He knows what we are made of. That’s the 11, what about the other? The other one is going to betray Him. He had been following, listening, and appearing to be a disciple, for all those years. Jesus had been a friend to him. But then Judas turned traitor.
Jesus knows all about that. He knows about the 11 and all their imperfections. He knows about the one and the fact that he’s going to betray Him, and yet what is He doing? Serving them. And not just serving them here. He is yet to serve them in preeminent fashion when He makes His way to the cross. He speaks to them of the pending matter which will become the matter of first importance—the gospel message of His death for sins and resurrection. It is remarkable. It is astounding. Jesus speaks here of servanthood and sacrifice and His pending death. What are His disciples doing? What is their response? What is the reaction in this context, in this setting? Well, you read of it in verse 24, “And there arose among rose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.”
Are you kidding me? As Jesus is talking about dying on a cross, or pointed to that anyway, the disciples are arguing about which one of them is the king of the hill. That’s the discussion that’s going on here. Isn’t that amazing? And you know what else I notice in verse 24–they really are no different than any of the rest of us does. This is the way it is. It happens everywhere you go. Everybody wants to be the king of the hill. They want to be noticed. They want attention. They want wealth. They want to be prominent. They want fame. Being the top dog. Having power. Being in the high position. Having people look up to you. These are all common fare. So, I suppose it’s not really that surprising that they’re arguing amongst themselves about who is greatest.
But notice Jesus’ response in verse 25, “And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’” So, He’s talking about the way things are in the world, the way it is with those kinds of kings and those kinds of kings tend to lord it over them, domineer them, and take advantage of their power. To be authoritative, to abuse their power, and to be glad to have it.
Looking through the course of history we see this. Or, with the Old Testament Kings of Israel. Look around the world today—to N. Korea, Iran, the former Soviet Union. What do you see in these places? You can find countless examples of kings who lord it over their people. And you will find the same in other settings—in schools, at work, in families, on the streets. People are glad to be served.
Notice the term that was used of them, “benefactors,” which is to say they benefit from that. They are benefactors. They get the benefit of lording it over others. That’s the great lie of communism. They claim that everybody will be on an equal plane. Yeah, right. Well why are all those people at the top living it up while all the others are barely surviving in poverty? That’s the way it works in the world. People are prone to selfishness. They would rather be served, than to serve. There’s a tendency in sin to think the universe revolves around us. That we are at the center of it and that everyone else in our lives revolves around us and their job is to keep us happy. That’s the way the world thinks. It’s true. That’s why a guy can write a book entitled, “Looking out for Number One,” and that could be a best seller. People love that message.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. Understand this–that is the nature of sin. In fact, this all started with the devil who wanted to have God’s place. And that’s how he tempted Eve. He told her she could be like God. She could be in a high position.
That’s the way things are. In fact, in Mark chapter 10, Jesus uses similar language in speaking to the disciples regarding the same matter but on a separate occasion. And realize this about the disciples—they were like slow learners like us, they didn’t always get it.
This is when James and John came with the request to sit at the privileged seats next to Jesus. He responds. The others become indignant and Jesus uses the situation to teach them these same truths that He will repeat to them again on a later occasion. Mark 10:42-45, “Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Notice this phrase, “But it is not this way among you.” And it is of the same spirit as the other in which Jesus says, “But I am amongst you as One who serves.” The rulers of the Gentiles might “lord it over,” and in that economy greatness is ascribed to those on top, but it is not so among you. It doesn’t matter if the rest of the world lives that way. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you see at school. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you see at work. Doesn’t matter if you see it on the TV screen and they portray that as an appropriate lifestyle program after program, movie after movie does not matter.
That’s not who God is and that’s not what He’s called his children to. In fact, in this passage, this is what it says regarding God’s perspective on such matters. In God’s economy things are turned upside down. The world says greatness is having people serve you, but God says, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. Jesus is the great example. If anyone ever came into this world possessing a right to be served it was Jesus, the One who created all things.
Jesus asked, (Luke 22:27), “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table?” Perhaps by this point the disciples are getting wise to Jesus, thinking it probably to be a trick question. The answer is simple—the one who reclines! But then Jesus surprised them again, “But I am among you as the one who serves.” In God’s economy, things are different. In God’s perspective, things are different. Not just man’s way improved, but something radically different, such that we would never even think about it, and have no power to do, it apart from the Holy Spirit.
Think of it! What happened when the word became flesh and dwelt among us? How did He show up? What did He look like? Did He have a royal entourage? Did He have a host of servants that were there to accompany Him? Did He have riches? Was He carried about? Was that the nature of his life? Did He have a fine home? Did have everything He wanted? Was He always receiving praise? Is that the way it was for Him? No, it wasn’t. It was day after day, week after week–because we read about it–being surrounded by people with needs and He would meet one need and here come another and He would go through his day loving serving, ministering, caring. That was his life. And as He’s living his life and as He looks ahead to what God has for Him from the beginning, it had been planned from his very birth that He would die. His life on earth would be for his short time of stay upon the earth. One hundred percent service.
That’s amazing! And one of things we can say about that, is we see the heart of God manifest to us in Jesus. God manifest to us. Emmanuel, God with us, is not whom we would have expected. He is not as we thought He would be.
How does He measure up according to the thoughts of our culture, of our society in this day we live? You recall that it says in 2 Timothy 3 how in the last days difficult times will come. And then we have a list of the characteristics of men in these last days. Do you know what is the very first thing listed? That men will be “lovers of self.” So how does Jesus’s character and life compare to this time in which we live? They are radically apart. The life of Jesus is up over there, and our culture is far removed and down in the depths. And make note of this. It takes no special ability or effort or smarts or power to be a lover of self. You don’t have to be trained or educated. You don’t need to do anything. The youngest baby can do it. And note this also. There is nothing virtuous or positive about being a lover of self. It is common fare. Lovers of self are all about. But then what of this life of Jesus—to have the mind of Christ, to walk as He walked, to put the needs of others ahead of one’s own. What of that? Well, that’s something very different. No, that’s not a common commodity. You’re not going to find that on the broad path, that leads to destruction. You’re only going to find it on the narrow way that leads to life. It’s only going to in the lives of those who are born again, and it’s only going to happen for those who are empowered by the Spirit, because there is no other way.
But when you see it, it’s a beautiful thing. That’s what we see in the life of Jesus. I love His glorious example. I look at His life and say, wow—that He would live that way and extend Himself in loving service and sacrifice! How beautiful is that? According to who God is, in his grace and love and mercy. I’m captivated by it, and though I don’t know about this life of service—it’s a little bit scary and can’t even imagine what it all means–I know that’s what He’s called me to, that’s where I want to go. That’s how I want to live my life. I want to hear from Jesus one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I don’t want to waste my life away on selfish pursuits, that maybe make me feel better about myself. I would rather live my life in a way that’s honoring to God in a way that’s according to the heart of God in a way that matters for eternity. Right? And that’s what this phrase–
“but I am amongst you as one who serves” — is about.
Do you see it there? But I am amongst you as one who serves. What about you? Can you say that in your marriage? I am amongst you as one who serves. Or, in your family. I’m among as one who serves. Or, even in the workplace or in the community. I am among you as one who serves. It’s challenging sometimes. You love Jesus by loving and serving others, but what if they don’t like you in return? What about your enemies? Well it seems to me that Jesus didn’t let that stop Him. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. No, I don’t think there’s any opt out on this matter. Am I amongst them as one who serves? Here’s the thing. We don’t have to wonder whether God regards that matter highly or not. We know what happened for Jesus. He kept on serving until the serving took him to a cross where He died for our sins. God was well pleased in the matter. And then Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. So, we don’t have to wonder.
I don’t know if you’ve ever read this story about the Skin Horse, but it kind of speaks to our theme this morning—and to these two different perspectives on life.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Heavenly father. We’re so thankful for your grace and mercy towards us. We are so very thankful first and foremost for Jesus, as our savior. Thank you for a life of service that ended in the ultimate act of service of all. You’re willing sacrifice for our sins by which we are saved. But thank you too for your example to us, and in as much as you exhort us to have the mind of Christ, to live according to your example, we pray by the Spirit of God indwelling us that it would be true, that we would grow more and more in that, that it would be attractive to us because it’s who you are. And we simply want to praise and thank you again that you are our God and that you are altogether worthy in every respect. Amen.