by Dr. Jeffrey F. Evans
I Peter 4:7-11
I came across two statements this week, the truth of which was hard to deny.
The first is by Bernard of Clairvaux who has been credited with writing the hymn: "Be Thou My Vision." In his most famous book ("The Love of God") he wrote: "What we love, we shall grow to resemble." / His point was clear: If we love Jesus we will grow (over time) to resemble Him.
And the second is by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who described himself as "not anti-Christian, or un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian," and pointed out the same thing from mere observation: "We are shaped and fashioned," he wrote, "by what we love." It's hard to deny.
In fact, the Bible says essentially the same thing when in Psalm 115:8 the psalmist writes and says of idols: "Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them."
And then scribbled off in the side column of my Bible I wrote: "We become like the things we worship." (Worship being one of the ultimate expressions of love and adoration).
And how does all that relate to today's passage? Very simply: If we love Jesus, then over time we will come to resemble Him. / Yet resembling Him will never occur until we display in our lives the attitude of a servant.
Jesus says in today's passage: "I am among you as one who serves." And it's not just one isolated statement! It's a description of one of His primary objectives in coming to this earth!
In fact, it's a one sentence summary of the attitude that guided everything He did while He was here on earth! The attitude of One that loved to serve / or showed His love to others by serving them -- and calls US to do the SAME.
As Martin Luther once said: "Love begins when we desire to serve others."
That's why Paul can say in Phil. 2:5-7: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (something to cling to) but emptied Himself, taking on the very nature of a servant..."
And as if that were not enough, Jesus summarizes His life in the same way in Mark 10:45, where He states: "The Son of Man did not come to BE SERVED, but to SERVE, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
That's what Jesus came to do: SERVE. Serve, by healing the sick / and the lame / and the blind / and the deaf / and the dumb. / Serve, by feeding the hungry / and associating with the outcast / and loving His enemies / and preaching Good News to the poor. /
Serve, by teaching and disciplining others / giving counsel the masses / praying for His saints / receiving the little children / and touching the untouchable. / Serve, by reaching out to love the unlovely / forgiving the guilty / and even raising the dead. His life, from beginning to end, was an ongoing example of a life lived in the service of others.
And it's not that He took no time for Himself when necessary. He did! Scripture makes that very clear. He got away alone / and prayed in quiet places / and rested when necessary.
But unlike many today (who are encouraged to do it with no one but them-selves in mind) -- when Jesus did it, it was never solely for Him! That's not how a person with a servants heart thinks. I need to do this or I'll be of no help to others!
They DO take time for themselves. But when they do it's always with the thought that they are recharging their batteries and seeking to be renewed and refreshed and refocused, so they can once again go out with vigor to pour themselves out in service to others -- just like Jesus did!
As Christians who are called to "imitate Christ" / or have the same attitude in US that was in HIM / we ARE to take care of ourselves! But we are to do it so that like Jesus we can be the best we can be for others!
Because you can't draw WATER from a dry or empty well! You can't help bear other's BURDENS (or heavy loads) if you're so weak and exhausted that you can barely keep your eyes open!
That's why as Christians we are to care for ourselves. Because otherwise we'll burn out / and become so emotionally depleted / and our well so dry / that we'll have no inner strength left from which to go forth and fulfill our life purpose of serving others in Christ's name.
You see, Clairvaux and Goethe were right: "What we love, we SHALL grow to resemble." / "We ARE [indeed] shaped and fashioned by what we love."
And yes, Psalm 115:8 is true: We DO take on the characteristics of that which we trust in, worship and adore.
Which means that if we love Jesus / and are thus growing to resemble Him / one of the ways that will be made manifest in our lives / will be by the fact that we will want to serve others. / Like Jesus, we will come to have the nature and attitude of a servant.
So, let's consider what this passage teaches us about the Christian vs. the non-Christian view of "greatness." Since Jesus uses the issue of greatness to contrast the self-serving attitude one finds in the world (which the disciples still seem to hold to at this point) (v. 25) / with the attitude of selfless servanthood which He obviously wants them (and us) to adopt in its place (v. 26-28).
So FIRST, let's start by looking at the self-serving attitude of greatness we are NOT supposed to have or adopt, and consider how that type of greatness is measured.
In verse 24 we read: "A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest." And the fact that such an argument occurs on the night of Jesus arrest, makes it all the more sad. Jesus is about to suffer and die in the most horrible way, and all they can think about is who (next to Jesus) should be considered the greatest.
And the question is, considered to be the greatest by "whom"? By God? By each other? / By the general populace? / Were they asking who it was (next to Jesus) that was the most popular among the masses? / Were they trying to measure greatness by debating who it was that would rank the highest in a popularity poll or a popularity contest?
Or did they measure greatness by who had performed the most miracles? Let me see, Peter has 17, John only has 12, and Judas has none! Or was their standard of measure the disciple that would have been considered the best preacher? / Or the one who had led the most people to Christ?
Or the one who was the most theologically astute and had aced the exam on the Kingdom of God / the new birth / the Trinity / the bondage of the will in sin / justification / sanctification / glorification / supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism!
Should it be the one who was the best administrator / or had the best prayer life / or was the most disciplined in doing their devotions / or had made the most disciples? How would you measure greatness?
It is a valid question? "How DOES one measure "greatness" in Christian circles?" And essentially, what Jesus says, is that WE are to measure it by criteria that is just the opposite of what the world uses.
The world measures "greatness" by how much wealth or power or influence or prestige one possesses or accumulates. / By the amount of talent / or success / or name recognition / or popularity they have. / By their looks / or bodily physique / or athletic ability / or intelligence quota. / By the house they live in / job they have / clothes they wear / salary they make / or car they drive.
And going along with all that is the sense that the more one possesses / or the higher one climbs on the ladder to greatness / the less they should have to do in terms of menial labor. The greater a person is (by the world's standard) the more they tend to use their power and influence to get other people serve them.
Yet the Christian view is just the opposite! Which is why D. L. Moody could once say, that success or greatness or "The measure of a man, is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves." Jesus would agree.
And although Jesus made THAT crystal clear nearly two thousand ago (giving us THAT LONG to reorient our thinking / and change the criteria by which we measure greatness) the church throughout the ages, and still today, tends to measure greatness the SAME WAY THE WORLD DOES.
In fact, in many cases the ONLY difference between the two is that we simply Christianize what the world does. That is, instead of admiring the secular rock star, we admire the Christian rock star / we don't envy and idolize the successful heathen millionaire (like Donald Trump) for us it's the successful "Christian" business man and millionaire. / It's not the more vulgar football or baseball star, it's the Christian one / and so on.
Yet that's not really what Jesus wants us to do. Because that's still using the wrong criteria to measure greatness. And as Jesus points out, what makes one great according to Him is having the heart of a servant / who willingly bends the knee to do even the most menial of tasks for others.
Like the tasks Jesus was doing on this very occasion, when He stooped to wash the disciples dirty feet / and served them their food at the table -- like a common household indentured slave.
Which brings us to the SECOND thing Jesus points out: "The kings of the Gentiles," says Jesus, use their worldly greatness to do two things:
#1) "They lord it (that is, their "greatness") over them." Or as one commentator paraphrases it: "The kings of the Gentiles are authoritarian." They live and act like dictators. / They use their position and authority to order people around / or force people to serve them / respect them / fear them / bow down to them / obey them / and make them rich.
Which brings us to the 2nd) thing people do with their greatness: They use their subjects for their own self-serving purposes, yet, "call themselves Benefactors," and require that their people do as well.
That is, they use them and make their people serve them, and yet, they make those same people they use call them things like, "Your Most Gracious Majesty," or "Most Generous One."
And Jesus follows those two things up by saying: "But you are not to be like that." As Christ-followers, therefore, we need to be very careful that we do not fall into the ways of the world by using the same criteria as they do to measure greatness -- not even if we "Christianize" it.
Because what Jesus tells us is that we are to use an entirely different set of criteria altogether. We are to use those things Jesus lays out for us in today's text.
Which brings us to our THIRD point: The way Jesus tells us that WE need to measure greatness, and what that greatness looks like. "You are not to be like that," He says, and then He goes on to say, "Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves."
To be like the "youngest" is to be humble, as Leon Morris notes, and "take the lowliest place." Even leaders, or "the ones who rule," says Jesus, are to do so by being humble servants.
Which means that in Christian circles / or even when Christians serve in non-Christian circles, it's NEVER TO BE top down leadership that sees authority as bringing privilege / but bottom up leadership which sees authority as bringing with it a responsibility to lower oneself / and serve those one leads as if they were their servant and not their leader! (This verse and the rise of democratic states or systems of government)
Jesus (speaking to men who would be leaders in the church) tells them they were not to lead in a "commanding," "authoritarian" or "demanding fashion" by which they use their authority to "lord it over people" or "boss people around." They were to lead people by serving them.
And few leaders (or heads of state) have achieved this ideal better than Queen Victoria of England who lived from 1819-1901. On the Sunday after her death,
Alexander Maclaren (the Scottish minister) preached on this text. And I found his message interesting, because in it he said to his people:
"There have been sovereigns of England whose death was a relief... but there has never been one on whose funeral bier have been heaped such fragrant wreaths of universal love and sorrow as have been laid upon hers... [even people who did not love England, he says, loved her]... Why?... She served her people by the diligent discharge of the duties that were laid upon her. / During her 63 years reign she left nothing neglected, nothing postponed, nothing undone... / Was there some shipwreck that widowed humble fisherfolk in their villages? The Queens sympathy was the first to reach them. / Were the blinds drawn in some obscure village because of an explosion? The Queens message was there to bring a gleam of light into that darkened home. / Did some great name in literature or science pass away? Who but she was the first to recognize the loss and speak words of gracious appreciation. / Did some poor shepherd die, in the area where she had her highland home? / The widowed Queen was beside the widowed peasant to share in her solace. Knowing sorrow herself only too well, she had learned to run to the help of the wretched. She never left the altitude of her throne freeze the flow of her sympathy."
After all, her example, as a believer, was the greatest Being that ever waked the face of this earth... / The One who was so exalted in status that He deserved to have people serve Him night and day / and attend to His every whim and desire / and fawn all over Him.
Yet instead, He humbled Himself and reached out to even the most despised, common and socially insignificant outcast, as One looking for opportunities to serve the people who should have been serving Him! He of all people deserved to be served, but He went among us, "as one who serves."
Jesus asked: "Who is greater, the one who is at the table (that is, being served), or the one who serves?" And he knew what every one of the disciples sitting there would have said: "The one sitting at the table being served by others, of course!" / He even points out that generally accepted norm when He adds: "Is it not the one who is at the table?"
Because He KNEW that's what every Jew would have said! In fact, even today, we'd probably say the same thing if someone asked us: "Who is GREATER -- the person who drives up in a Limo or a Lamborghini / and sits at the head of a table, in a tux, with a beautiful woman decked out in jewels and an evening gown at his side / OR the waiter and waitress that brings him his food and drink and jumps into action whenever he calls?"
Who is greater? Ask anyone randomly on the street, and they'd probably look at you with a confused look on their face! Because in our culture the person with more money and more influence and more power / the one who owns the corporation and lives in a mansion and drives the Lamborghini / is obviously "greater" (or a more important person) / than the waitress who lives in a small apartment / and depends on tips for her livelihood / and drives a 10 year old Toyota Corolla.
And you know what the saddest part of that whole scenario is? Jesus has given us nearly 2000 years to change the way we think / and change the criteria by which we measure greatness in a Christian society / and we still get the answer to His question wrong!
In fact, what many people fail to see is that He Himself is the answer to the question He asks! "Who is greater," He asks, "the one at table of the one who serves?" And people then and people now still continue to say: "The one at table." / Yet He settles it once and for all by saying: "But I am among you as one who serves."
I, the Son of Man / I, the Only Begotten of the Father / I, who have existed since before all worlds / I, who set the planets in their orbits / and told the sun to shine / and the plants to grow / and the mountains how high they could rise / and the oceans where their boundaries must be / I am among you as One who SERVES!
Amazingly, THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE did not come to lord it over people! He came to serve! Which is why Paul says: "Let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who BEING IN VERY NATURE GOD, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the very nature of a SERVANT..."
So in CONCLUSION, this is my question to you, my friends: Greatness (in the Kingdom of God) is measured by a willingness to serve. And not just by a willingness to serve, but by actual acts of service.
So I ask: Who do you serve? Does your life revolve around you, and what you want, and what you can get, or how you can get others to do for you, or does your life revolve around service to others?
Do you seek out opportunities to serve? Do you do it joyfully, even though it requires sacrifice on your part? / Do you do it out of compulsion / or a sense of guilt (feeling like you have to even though you don't want to) / Or do you, like Jesus, do it because you want to, even though you know you don't have to?
Folks, we were made to serve, not to be served. Yet sin got in the way and flipped things around, and made us enjoy being served instead. God intended that greatness be measured by humble service done to others. But sin made us think it was measured, as D. L. Moody rightly pointed out, by how many servants one has or can afford.
In fact, because sin makes us so focused on what we might be able to get people to do for us, God, in redemption, must give us and sustain us with divine power if we are ever to make lowly, humble, self-denigrating lives of service and performing menial tasks for others our ongoing goal in life!
He must "confer upon us a kingdom." That is, He must give us His divine power and authority or the fullness and anointing of His Spirit if we are ever to make living a life of lowly service our goal and objective in life.
It's not without reason that when the Apostle's looked for men to "wait on tables," feeding the poor elderly widows of Jerusalem in Acts 6, they looked for men, "known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom." / Something that is stressed again, when they say: "They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit."
WHY? Because doing menial tasks / or serving the needs of others (especially the least of these the brethren) day in and day out for years / often with little or no recognition or public applause or appreciation / is MUCH HARDER / and MUCH MORE DRAINING / and REQUIRES MUCH MORE DIVINE GRACE AND HEAVENLY ANOINTING / than being an evangelist, or healer, or preacher.
The same is true for all of us: God wants us to be servants. He takes notice every act of humble service, and it will not go unrewarded.
But to make it our life-long goal to live a life of humble / and habitual service / we need to have the power of God and be full of faith and have the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is more clear from Scripture, because nothing is more contrary to our sin nature than living life in the shadows as a humble servant to all.
by Steve Brandon
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