Humble Servant – The Mind of Humility in Our Cross
What does it really mean to be a humble servant? Have you ever considered how difficult it is to be truly humble? I am not speaking of the false humility we all display when someone is showering us with praise for some task done well or some talent used successfully. We may smile, act as if we are embarrassed, and try to refuse the compliment. But many times our true feelings are quite the opposite. In our minds we may be shouting, "It's about time that someone finally noticed my accomplishments." No, this is not the humility of which I refer; this is not the mind of Christ. The reason true humility is difficult is that true humility takes on the form of a servant, and most of us would much rather be served than to serve.
Humble Servant – True Humility
Jesus gave us the greatest example of what it means to be a truly humble servant:
"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!" (Philippians 2:5-8).
Our text states that Jesus "humbled himself, and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross." In the generations following Jesus, the symbol of the cross became respected and even reverenced. But as the great old hymn proclaims, to the early church the cross was "a symbol of suffering and shame." It was the means of a torturous and humiliating public execution and always meant death to the person who took it up. Jesus took up His cross as a servant. His death was not for Himself but for those He came to serve, namely sinners. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 16:24, ". . .If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." He was declaring that anyone who would follow Him would have to die to himself and become a humble servant. To appreciate the humility of Christ, let us consider His choice to become a servant to His creation.
Humble Servant – God the Creator Takes on Human Flesh
It is difficult for our earthly minds to comprehend what heaven is like. It is even more difficult to understand that Jesus, Himself, as God has existed eternally with the Father and the Spirit. He is the Logos, the Word. In Genesis, He was the Word that created all things. John 1:1-3 states, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." All that exists was made by Jesus. He was not only in heaven, He created heaven. He spoke the sun, the moon, and the stars into existence. He is the one who brought forth every living creature. He formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life. He took the rib from Adam's side and fashioned it into a woman. The Psalmist proclaimed, "The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters" (Psalm 24:1-2)."
Can we even begin to imagine the love and the humility for the Creator Himself to leave the glory of heaven, to be fashioned in a robe of flesh, to live among His creation, be rejected by them, and then willingly allow them to beat Him, spit upon Him, and nail Him to an old rugged cross that He might take mankind's deserved punishment upon Himself? To allow this, knowing that He could simply pray to the Father and He would send twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53) reveals to us the humility, the willingness to be a humble servant, in the mind of Christ. Jesus had tried to teach this to His disciples during the brief time He spent with them. The argument among them as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom was settled when Jesus spoke,
"Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42b-45).
Even on the night Jesus would be betrayed, as He ate the Passover meal with them, Jesus taught them again what it means to have the mind of Christ.
"Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:3-5).
"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. 'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them. 'You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you'" (John 13:12-15).
When Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned in his letter to the Philippian Church and ultimately to all believers, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…" it was no small order. It is imperative that each of us understand and apply this principle if we are going to be free to serve God. How could we ever be obedient to the commands of Christ without having this attitude of humility and of being a servant? For it is only with the mind of Christ that we can love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them who hate us, and pray for them who despitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). It is only with the mind of Christ that we can esteem others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It is only with the mind of Christ that we can restore a brother who has been overtaken in a fault with the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we also be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Humble Servant – God the Creator Takes on Human Flesh
If we are going to be humble servants, free to serve God, than we must of necessity be free from any pride that would prevent us from serving others. Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient unto death that He might pay the ultimate sacrifice for those who were undeserving. Paul understood this principle, and after reckoning himself to be dead, he took on the mind of Christ that he might become the Apostle to the Gentiles. This was Paul's cross, and his reflection upon his obedience to it sounds much like the obedience of Christ to His.
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. . . All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 15).
Paul's life was sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel, and like Jesus, his life was ultimately taken by those he was sent to serve. There are countless stories of missionaries who have accepted their call and their cross, have gone into the far corners of the earth to take the good news of salvation through Christ, only to have their lives taken by those whom they were sent to serve. Such stories as these seem to be such a waste and so unfair when viewed with the natural mind. It is only with the mind of Christ that such sacrifice can be understood. When a believer decides to pick up his cross and follow Jesus, the world will always ridicule that decision. The world seeks the crown, but not the cross. As a believer, what cross are you being asked to bear and what service are you being called to give? We will not be free to serve God until our pride (our desire to be served) is exchanged for humility (our desire to be a humble servant).