Sermon: Jesus Wants Humble Service - Philippians 2

This sermon series by pastor Calvin Wittman answers three questions regarding what Jesus wants from believers. This second sermon from Philippians 2 shows there are five things we can say about servants, five things we must understand and employ in our lives if we want to become servants like Jesus.

Sermon series: What Does Jesus Want from Us?

  1. Loving Obedience - Matthew 7
  2. Humble Service - Philippians 2
  3. 2 Timothy 1
Scriptures: Philippians 2:5-11

There are two levels on which we can understand this passage. First of all we cannot help but see the powerful doctrinal truth. There is tremendous Christological significance in this passage. It gives us remarkable insight into the nature and work of Christ. It tells us of His equality with God and of His coexistent humanity. How He is 100 percent God and 100 percent man, all at the same time. It tells us of His obedience to the will of the Father and how He died on the cross. But it also tells us of His ultimate exaltation, how every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

But secondly, and just as important, is the contextual message which is extremely practical. We must see this section of Scripture in context with the surrounding Scriptures. We must see it within the context of the book as a whole and the overall argument Paul is making to the Church at Philippi. Paul is writing to them to instruct them on how they are to live. This is very practical. It is not, then, primarily a text about the theology surrounding Jesus, but it is a passage from a letter to a church, giving them Jesus as their example. It tells them that by following His example they can successfully live the Christian life. It sets forth Jesus, who was and is God, as the supreme example. It is He who we are to follow; it is His actions we are to emulate.

This is the practical message of the text, "Have this mindset, this attitude, among yourselves which was in Christ." If we are to comply with the admonitions found in verses 1-4 we must possess the same mind or attitude as Christ. Verses 5-11 show us how that is to be done by describing a servant from the example Jesus set. It is consistent with your new nature in Christ. You cannot allow Christ to live through you and not be a servant. Only through servanthood can you be obedient to God's call on your life.

Before we can understand what verses 6-11 have to say, we have to read the instruction given to us in verse 5. Verse five sets the stage for verses 6-11, it sets the tone, gives insight into and makes their application clear. The clear and unmistakable application is this. Verse 5 tells us to do what Jesus did, to think what He thought, to have the same attitude toward servanthood that he had. Verses 6-11 spell out in very descriptive terms not only what that attitude was, but how it was lived out in His life. Remember, and attitude remains an abstract, and intangible, until it is physically expressed, it is an unknown until it is exercised in actions. Attitude should always determine actions, because actions always demonstrate true attitudes. What you are is what you will do.

Verse 5, coming on the heels of verses 1-4, tells us that we are to be servants, just at Jesus was a servant. How was He a servant? Look at verses 6-11. You say, "I can't have the same ministry Jesus had, He was God, and I am not." True, but you can have the same attitude towards ministry, the same attitude toward servanthood, and that attitude will drive your actions. Here in verses 6-11 we find the timeless principles that apply to your life and mine.

There are five things we can say about servants, five things we must understand and employ in our lives if we want to become servants like Jesus.

1. Being a servant means giving up my rights for others

Look in verse 6 - Christ always has been, is, and always will be God. The original language here says that Christ was of the very same nature as God, that He was in fact God. This truth is the foundation of the church. Peter testified, when Jesus asked him, who do you say that I am, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Although He was manifested as a human, He continued to display the attributes and attitudes of Deity. There is a mystery, the hypostatic union.

Hypostatic union: A theological expression that refers to the dual nature of Christ. God the Son took to Himself a human nature, and He remains forever true God and true man - two natures in one Person forever. The two natures remain distinct without any intermingling, but they nevertheless compose one Person, Christ the God-Man. (Moody Handbook of Theology, glossary)

Jesus lived as 100 percent human and 100 percent God. He fought the same temptations, the same struggles we fight, because we are in the flesh. Yet because of His divine nature, He was able to overcome them and to live out His Divine nature in the flesh. And what Paul is saying is that because we have Jesus living in us, we too, although living in the flesh, can demonstrate the Divine nature. Jesus living in us enables us to live out the Divine nature. Jesus living in us enables us to overcome the fleshly desires, to overcome the temptations to live like the rest of the world, to overcome the desire to live for self rather than living for others.

Paul wants to make it very clear that Jesus was and is God. Not just a prophet, not just a teacher, not just a healer, He was and is God incarnate. John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

It is extremely important that we understand what Paul is saying. Jesus is in fact, God in the flesh. He is God.

Now, notice the next thing he says: "He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage."

In other words, Jesus did not hold on to His rights as God. He was not looking out for Himself, but for others. He surrendered His rights, for you and me. He gave up His privileges in order to come as a man and suffer a death we deserved.

Although Jesus had access to all the privilege and power to which his Divinity entitled Him, and although He could have exploited that privilege and power to dominate his creation, Jesus considered His Deity an opportunity for service and obedience. Instead of using all He had been given to His own advantage, He used it for others, for those who had nothing, He used it for us. All of the authority and power available to Him became a channel of giving rather than a conduit for getting. His focus was not on being served but upon serving others, not upon exalting Himself, but of emptying Himself in obedience.

The contrast is clear, it is striking and it is pronounced between the value system of the world and the value system of Jesus. In our world He who has the most money, has the most power has the most prestige and is worth the most. In the economy of Jesus it is just the opposite. He who is the highest is he who does not live for himself, but for others. He who would be the greatest among you is he who is your servant.

If you and I are ever going to be servants, if we are going to have the same attitude as Christ, we are going to have to give up our rights, give up our privileges, in deference to others. This is what Jesus did and if we will follow Him, this is what we must do.

Servanthood means giving up my rights for others.

2. Being a servant means becoming less so others can become more

Look at verse 7

Emptied himself - Literally poured Himself out, made Himself nothing, He emptied Himself of significance. How did He do it? By taking on the form of a slave, the very nature of a servant. Christ came as a servant, not as the Lord, even though He was and is the Lord. He gave Himself for others, even though all of creation should give to Him. He was God, living out a truly human life. (Fee, Gordon D. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1995. Pg 96.)

Jesus became a servant. He willingly left the splendor of heaven for the smell of a stable. He left the company of angles for the company of men. He who was omnipresent took upon Himself the limitations of humanity.

What a dramatic distance Jesus traveled from Heaven to the cross, from Robes to rags, from being served to serving. How far it indeed, from the golden streets of Heaven, to the cobblestones of the Via Dolorosa, from the Songs of Heaven's chorus, to the cries of an angry mob. What distance did He travel from Heaven's throne room to Bethlehem's manger, from being exalted to being executed? And why did He do it? He did it to be obedient, yes, but He did it because of love, because of love for you and me.

This is at the heart of what it means to follow Christ. It means to lose our life to save it, it means to be emptied of self in order to be able to be filled with Him and His passion for others.

It is no wonder that many people find the health-and-wealth Christianity so attractive, it is all about getting instead of giving, it is all about being served instead of serving, it is all about God obeying us instead of us obeying God.

Our fallen nature is not interested in being emptied, but in being filled. We are more interested in becoming something or someone that in becoming nothing and no one. It runs contrary to our fallen sinful nature to become less so others can become more. And yet, if we are going to be like Jesus, we must become servants, allowing others to become more at our expense.

3. Servanthood means being obedient whatever the cost

Look at verse 8.

He humbled Himself - It is impossible for us to grasp the depth of this statement, to understand the intensity of what God is telling us here. He who made all men, who knew the hearts of all men, who had all authority over men, humbled Himself and allowed Himself to be executed by men. But not just any execution, this was the cross.

The early church did not view the cross the same way we do. They did not wear them around their necks or in their ears as earrings. Can you imagine if someone today had a solid gold electric chair and put diamonds in it? People would think they were nuts. They viewed it as we might view the gallows. It was not simply a form of execution; it was the lowest form of execution, reserved for the lowest class of people for those who had no standing or rights. That Jesus, God incarnate, should die on a cross was indeed a scandal, as Paul says in Galatians 5:11.

In the world Paul shared with the Philippians, crucifixion was the lowest anyone could stoop, socially. Crucifixion was the cruelest form of official execution in the Roman Empire. Crucifixion was not the conversation of polite company and because of the cruelty of the executioners; the specifics of the process are not frequently described. Generally, however, the victim was first tortured in various ways and then fastened to a cross by impaling, nailing, binding with ropes, or some combination of all three. Death often came slowly over a period of days as the victim experienced increased blood loss, thirst, hunger, the attacks of wild animals and suffocation. You can see how it came as no surprise that the message of God on the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles (I Corinthians 1:23). In this we begin to understand the depths of humility to which Jesus sunk, in order to be obedient to the will of the Father.

But Jesus was obedient, obedient to even death on the cross.

It is on the cross that the true nature of God is revealed. God is love. He came to give Himself for us, to die for us, to die at our hands, because that's what it took to redeem us, to buy us back from the condemnation we brought upon ourselves through our sin.

There is nothing He will ever ask of us that will cost us as much as going to the cross cost Him. We can never give up as much as He gave up. We can never humble ourselves as much as He humbled Himself. We must, however, be willing to do whatever He asks, whenever He asks, wherever He asks.

For many of us, we have already predetermined the things God wants us to do. We have set the parameters of service. We will only serve in such and such a place, in this or that way, on this or that day. We have convinced ourselves that God would never ask us to do anything outside of that box. In reality we have simply decided we are not going to listen to Him when He asks us to go outside that box. We have selective obedience, and that is not real obedience.

Genuine discipleship involves being obedient to Christ, whatever the cost, whenever the call, wherever and however. There are no part time, partial disciples. With Jesus it is either all or nothing.

Servanthood means being obedient, whatever the cost.

4. Servanthood will be rewarded

Look at verses 9-11.

Because Jesus was obedient, because He humbled Himself, because He was willing to pay the price, He will be exalted. The Father has given Him the name at which every knee will bow and tongue confess that He is Lord.
 
The Principle here is this: God rewards our humble, obedient service.

  • Proverbs 22:4: "The result of humility is the fear of the LORD along with wealth, honor, and life."
  • Matthew 23:11: "The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
  • James 4:10: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Not all of God's rewards are for this life, some are for the life to come (living with heaven in mind rather than with this earth in view.)

Luke 14:11-14: "'For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.' He also said to the one who had invited Him. 'When you give a lunch or a dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back and you would be repaid. One the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'"

5. Being a servant is more about being than it is about doing

There is no genuine life in Christ that is not at the same time, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being transformed into the likeness of Christ. (Fee, Pg 101-102) Any religion that puts self above others is not and cannot be true Christianity. If Christ, being God, humbled Himself to become a servant for others, then how can we as His followers, who are not God, in any way exalt ourselves? If He died for others, how can we fail to live for others?

We tend to look for that one BIG experience where we can demonstrate our faithfulness to God, demonstrate our servanthood by giving of ourselves in some heroic fashion. But in reality that is not usually how it happens. In reality, it happens in the small, everyday, somewhat uneventful occurrences of our lives.

This attitude, this mindset of serving others instead of being served, of giving rather than getting of obeying rather than dominating is lived out in the myriad interpersonal exchanges we encounter every day. How we treat the checkout person at the grocery store, how we talk to the man collecting our garbage. It is, most often, not seen in how we treat those who are socially above us, but how we treat those who are socially beneath us.

Conclusion

Are you here to serve or are you here to be served? Is your attitude like the world's or is it like Christ's? Are you going through the motions of service or are you becoming a servant? The example has been set; the call is clear. All that remains today is your response, your decision, your commitment. Will you be like Jesus today or not?

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.