Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:5-7
I often find myself baffled when I read these verses in Philippians. Jesus “emptied Himself,” which is an incredible enough thought. He left heaven, His home, where glory existed like we cannot even imagine. And He was the center of that glory.
Yes, that on its own makes my head spin and my heart soar.
But, we are told more. We see that Jesus took “the form of a servant” and was “born in the likeness of men.”
Jesus did not simply leave His glory. He became the lowliest of men. Isaiah 53:2b-3 tells us that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
The Servanthood of Christ
Over and over in the Gospels, we see Jesus touching the untouchables and ministering to the lowest of the low. Many of us may do the same, but we have restrictions. We swoop in to help, then retreat to the safety of our own homes and lives. Jesus, however, served even in His retreats. How many times do we see Him trying to escape to pray or give Himself and His disciples time to rest? Yet, the people still either follow Him or anticipate where He is going and beat Him there.
So, He gently tells them that He needs His rest, and He’ll be back with them in a few hours or the next day. Right? Oh, wait…that’s not what my Bible says. Instead, we see Him embracing the people again and again and again.
Then, through Paul, we receive the command to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” The NASB words it slightly differently, instructing us to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”
I am supposed to be a servant, just like Jesus was.
What About Boundaries?
I confess, this is a struggle for me because I need boundaries. I need rest. This world tramples servants. It uses and abuses them. Chews them up and spits them out. It has no consideration for the needs of a servant, nor does it recognize that a servant has rights.
When we try to serve in this world, we run up against an entitled generation that believes they have every right to demand our servitude.
I am reminded of a scene in Ralph Moody’s book Little Britches. Young Ralph, at the tender age of eight and nine, is already pulling a great share of the work on his family’s struggling ranch when he meets a girl named Lucy. Lucy’s father taught her that “smart” men did not have to do manual labor like ranchers because “they knew the world owed them a living and there were easier ways to get it than doing hard work.”
This is the way of the world, believing that those of us who believe in work owe our servitude to those who are “smart enough” to avoid the work.
For this reason, the picture of Jesus as a servant – and the example that we are to follow – is a bit of an oxymoron. Jesus served, but He was never trampled. Even as He went to the cross, He retained every ounce of His authority. He did not give in to this entitled world. Perhaps He surrendered a time of rest or a calm meal, but He never relinquished His boundaries.
His example, therefore, is not one of a servant according to this world’s perception. Instead, it is one of heavenly servitude, calling us to surrender only to Christ Himself just as He surrendered Himself to His Father while in service to this world.
How do we follow that example? How do we erect and maintain boundaries while still giving fully of ourselves? How do we build healthy relationships of servitude while also working to minister to and even redirect an entitled generation?
Drawing Others to Christ
First, we remember that our surrender is to Christ alone, not to the whims of those we serve. We are not called to serve according to this world’s demands.
What does that look like practically? Well, the world demands that, if we are true Christians, we will hand over our resources to meet needs that our neighbors refuse to work for. Christ demands that we draw our neighbors in and find ways to allow them to work alongside us, even if that means reducing our own provision to help them earn their own.
The world demands that we give and give with no strings attached. Christ demands that everything we do must be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), and therefore our giving must be done in a way that draws mankind to Himself. Our service cannot help but have strings attached!
Helping Others to Christ
Second, we remember what Jesus really said. This world distorts Jesus’ words, especially His commands regarding love. The world says, “You’re only good Christians if you show love to us the way we demand it to be shown.” The Word says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:25)”
Jesus told us to show love for our fellow believers. How? Through obedience to Christ and godly concern for one another. Through considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24).” By choosing to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)”
When the world sees us loving one another through our good and bad, lifting one another in our weaknesses, and encouraging one another in our strengths, they see something their competitive, self-centered mentality cannot fathom.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word exhort means “to incite by argument or advice: urge strongly” and “to give warnings or advice: make urgent appeals.” Our love for one another is not shown through coddling but through service and love that hurts before it heals. That challenges before it endorses.
Jesus’ example of service is not an example of being tread upon but of making others fit for the kingdom of God.
Following God’s Leadership
Third, we remember where our responsibilities lie. Wives and moms, do you know what that means? No matter what doors or avenues are open to us, our first role of service is in our homes. This does not mean we never work. (Remember the Proverbs 31 woman?) This does not mean we become doormats for our husbands and maids for our children.
Instead, it means that the things we discussed above – service to Christ and exhortation of our fellow believers – are practiced first in the home. They are practiced by setting boundaries that will allow us to follow Christ’s example before our husbands first and foremost. They are practiced by teaching our children to serve, not by making sure we give money or food to every homeless person (although we might at times be commanded to do so!), but by forming such a communion with Christ that we sense when He is instructing us to serve in a way that will draw men to Himself.
Perhaps this means you show your children how to be in this world but not of it by bringing them home for school. Perhaps it means that you train them to be shining lights and gird them with the protection they need to be set apart in a local school.
It might mean that you serve your husband by helping contribute to the family income through work inside or outside the home. It could mean that you serve him by maintaining the home while he financially provides.
It could mean being involved as a family in a wide variety of responsibilities and activities so you can demonstrate family godliness in the wide world. Or perhaps it means that you set firm schedule boundaries around your time, energy, and family so you can be energized and ready to follow God’s leadership at a moment’s notice, fitting something into your day that would not have fit had your schedule been full of activities.
When we read the command to emulate Jesus’ attitude of servitude and view it through the world’s eyes, we see a burdensome view of the servant’s role: one of chains, bondage, and surrender to the control of others.
When we read it through God’s eyes, however, we see something very different. We see freedom to serve God’s way, not man’s. We see freedom to serve alongside one another instead of surrendering what we have to meet the desires of someone who refuses to serve. And, we see a security of service within Spirit-led boundaries that keep us and our loved ones nourished and strengthened day in and day out.
That, my friends, is the form of a servant.