I have been a born again Christian for the last 21 years and in full time ministry since the year 2000, (Almost 13 years.) One of the most surprising discoveries I made after my conversion was that problems do exist in the church too! In fact I learned sometimes you have more problems in the church than it is in the world.
As a pastor I have been an observer of these problems as well as a victim sometimes. Recently I took time to reflect on these situations of the past and I have come to understand man’s desire to be in the limelight is the driving force behind many Church problems.
It is interesting to observe this attitude actually existed among Jesus’ 12 disciples also. The Bible says it often triggered problems among them. Jesus on the other hand came to be a servant. He came to sacrifice his life for us. In the gospels we never find him pursuing his own interests. His whole life and ministry was for others. The Bible calls this behavior “The attitude of Christ”. In it we discover the antidote for man’s desire to be in the lime light. It joined the disciples and it can unite us today. Lets see what does it mean to be of the attitude of Christ.
Read: Philippians 2:6
A. NASB renders the above verse as “…but emptied Himself…” Some scholars argue this phrase means that Jesus when he was incarnated ceased to be God. This is not satisfactory because the participle “being” (in the sense of “existing”) is in the present tense and states Christ’s continuing condition.
B. The correct interpretation is that Jesus actually divested himself of his heavenly privileges and glory in order that we on earth might be saved. This was evident in his life and public ministry. Given below are a few outstanding examples.
I. His humble birth: (And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn – Luke 2:7).
II. The hour of temptation: (The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” – Matthew 4:3; “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” – Matthew 4:6)
III. At the garden of Gethsemane: (“Or do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and that he would send me more than twelve legions of angels right now?” – Matthew 26:53)
IV. At the cross: (and saying, “You who were going to destroy the sanctuary and rebuild it in three days—save yourself! If you’re the Son of God, come down from the cross!” – Matthew 27:40)
C. The divestment of heavenly privileges and glory was the key to incarnation. It is the Lord who had never known any form of sin that lowered himself and made his dwelling among the sinful, (John 1:14). Accomplishing this task wasn’t easy, (John 3:19) .
Lesson: Jesus’ incarnation reveals three selfless attributes he possessed.
I. He believed man’s salvation is more important than himself, (John 3:16).
II. He didn’t seek to prove himself, (Matthew 27:40)
III. He didn’t abuse his power to satisfy his own ends, (Matthew 26:53).
In the light of the above order there are three things we also must divest ourselves of for the sake of the unity in the body of Christ.
I. Self importance, (Philippians 2:3a)
“eritheia” is the Greek word used in place of “selfish” in the above verse. It means “placing importance on one’s own private and selfish ends;.” Such motives produce strife and contention that threaten the unity of the church .
The true Christian will always let go of his own importance, (Philippians 2:1-2). Identifying and dealing with it however could be tricky because self importance often masquerades itself as a real need. For example a member of the church who falls ill may blame his busy pastor for not visiting him.
The only way we can overcome our selfish motives is to look not merely to our own interests, but the interests of others also, (Philippians 2:4). This however cannot be done unless we love each other with the love of God, (… Love is not selfish… 1 Corinthians 13:4). Jesus did not deserve to die on a cross. Even so he wanted to set us free, so much he chose to end his life on a cross, (Romans 5:6-8). We too shall sacrifice our own importance and place more value on other people if we love them like Christ loved us.
II. Competition, (Philippians 2:3b)
Rick Howerton says this about competition. Too often, competition creeps into Christendom. Pastors find themselves feeling as though they’re competing with other churches for members. Church staff members compete for volunteers. Para-church organizations compete for dollars. Christian bookstores are competing for customers. Christian record companies compete for sales.
People often say that competition is healthy and motivational. This is not true because competition has always centered around the self, (Matthew 20:24; Luke 22:34). A person driven by competition has only one aim in life. He needs to prove himself. Paul calls it “vain conceit” because Christians who compete appear extremely successful, but inside they are afraid of failure .
There’s only one antidote for competition in the Bible. Seek to prove yourself to God – not man. We can use our skills and qualifications to impress a man. Even so these things don’t impress God at the least. The only way we can prove ourselves to God is through means of competing and overcoming our own selves by seeking to overcome our sinful desires by the power of his grace given to us.
This is exactly what Jesus did when he was tempted to turn stones into bread, (… if you are the son of God…). He competed against his own hunger and the temptation to prove that he is the son of God and returned from the wilderness victoriously.
III. Misuse of power, (Luke 9:54-55)
In Jesus’ time hospitality was important and necessary because travelling was very difficult and inns with good accommodation facilities were very rare. In those times denial of admission to hospitality was the worst insult one could heap on a guest. The disciples when they were rejected sought Jesus’ permission to call fire from heaven upon the Samaritan village. It’s not the rejection that determined their abusive behavior but the deep sense of emotional insecurity, that rejection created in them.
There are two remedies for misuse of power. First to use it in a responsible manner. Jesus’s stern response to the disciples reminds us that with great power comes great responsibility, (“for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” Luke 9:56 – NSV). When God exalts us to places of power and authority he does so for his own glorification.
The second remedy is to acknowledge our identity in God. Jesus himself experienced rejection. Judas betrayed him, his disciples deserted him and Peter denied him three times. Jesus was aware of all these, (Luke 22:34; John 6:70-71). Even so he washed the feet of them altogether. Jesus didn’t feel threatened by the aforesaid issues because he was mindful of his individuality in relation to his father, (John 13:3) and the father will exalt him in due time. What is our identity then? It’s called servant hood, which is the second facet of Christly attitude.
2. Servant hood
Read: Philippians 2:7
A. Servant hood was an essential quality in the life and ministry of Jesus, (Mark 10:44; Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27). He often encouraged his disciples to become servants of each other because unity cannot be maintained without it. The passion to be great however had continually plagued the disciples, (Matthew 18:1-4; Matthew 20:20; Mark 9:33-37).
B. Jesus wanted them to understand that the desire to be first – to be superior and honored above fellow Christians – is contrary to the Spirit of their Lord and the unity intended for them. In the night that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet all of them had come to the banquet room directly from the street.
C. In general on such an occasion the host would have appointed a servant to the menial task of removing the sandals of the quests and washing their feet. Since the meeting was obviously meant to be secret, no servants were present. None of the disciples were ready to volunteer for such a task, for each would have considered it an admission of inferiority to all the others.
Lesson: In conclusion of this section I want to present you with 2 pitfalls in servant hood and the solution from Jesus’ life and ministry.
I. Servant hood and insecurity
The most common hindrance to servant hood is rejecting it altogether for the fear of being underestimated, loss of control and manipulation. These issues are always a part of servant hood. It should be noted however that Jesus didn’t use them to excuse himself from serving his followers.
Jesus knew his disciples will desert him, Peter will deny him thrice and above all Judas had sold him out already . But he washed their feet. He was concerned about the spiritual needs of the 12 than his own. Unlike Jesus we often feel we can’t attend to others because we are overwhelmed with our own problems. To be frank the Christian’s attitude towards servant hood must be shaped by his convictions of the gospel not the circumstances.
II. Fake servant hood
Fake servant hood is the second pitfall to watch out for in ministry. Dr. Ajith Fernando warns ministers against it in his book titled “Jesus Driven Ministry”. People who fake servant hood appear to work hard and follow the instructions carefully. They look like ready to help others at any time of the day. But deep inside they are bitter. They feel that others are exploiting them. They say that they do not work for recognition, but they are angry that their labor have been taken for granted.
Servant hood is costly and this is best understood in the Greek version of the Bible. In Greek “doulos” is the term used in place of “servant”. Although this is rendered “servant” in English it actually means “slave”. We all know slaves are not entitled to any rights. They cannot complain. Such is the concept of Biblical servant hood.
III. Servant hood and affirmation
Just like dictatorship and abuse of power, fear of servant hood also is a fruit of insecurity. There’s no way it can be eliminated to the fullest, but we can deal with it to a great extent if we seek God’s affirmation in life. This is a sense that comes to us that God has spoken to us individually and affirmed that we belong to him and are accepted by him. Jesus probably did not need this kind of affirmation but God affirmed (Matthew 3:17) and reaffirmed (Mark 9:7) Jesus’ work so that it shall serve as an example.
Divine affirmation is important because security needed for servant hood flows from it. John confirmed this when he wrote “ Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God” (John 13:3).
The apostle Paul confirms this further. When he said that Jesus took the form of a servant it does not imply an exchange, but rather an addition. The “form of God” could not be given up, for God cannot cease to be God. Likewise people may not regard the Christian who fulfills the work of a servant. But nevertheless we are who we are in the eyes of God.
Let me finish this section with a story. One day the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was waiting for the train to go to a conference when a woman who did not know he was Leo Tolstoy indeed called him saying, “Hey! You… Come over here. Here’s a letter. Deliver it to the gentleman living in that apartment”. Tolstoy did exactly as he was told and was given a “Kopek” (1/100 of a Ruble) upon his return to the station. Surprisingly the woman was attending the same conference where Tolstoy was the speaker. At the end of the conference the woman came running back to him and apologized for her ignorance. “You assigned me a task and I got it done” was Tolstoy’s reply.
Read: Philippians 2:8
A. Empathy: “A process whereby one person enters into the deepest possible awareness of what another person is experiencing at a given moment. Empathy includes intellectual understanding and shared information as well as fellow-feeling” (The New Dictionary of Pastoral Studies)
B. In the Bible we find many theological reasons why incarnation was necessary. In the context of Philippians incarnation was necessary in order that God could empathize with sinners, (“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin” Hebrews 4:15 – NIV Year 2011 edition).
C. Empathy demands that the empathizer steps in to the other person’s situation. Hence it cost God his son Jesus Christ. Not only his death (in which he suffered separation from the father and divine wrath) but in his life on this earth as well.
I. He lacked: He created and owns the whole cosmos. Yet he did not even have a place to lay his head, (Matthew 8:20)
II. He labored: Being the creator of food and time he had no time to eat or rest because ministering to others was his first priority .
III. He was misunderstood: His own parents did not realize that he was supposed to be in his father’s house.
IV. He was on the run: People who did not believe that he is the son of God, sought to kill him. He had to go into hiding to stay alive until his hour is right.
V. He was despised: People despised him regardless of his sound teachings and the miracles he performed.
VI. He suffered isolation: His disciples isolated him when he needed them most. Peter denied him 3 times. Judas betrayed him to the enemy.
VII. He faced rejection: He was not welcomed in the village of the Samaritans.
Lesson: In Acts 6:1 we recognize a situation occurring in consequent to lack of empathy. In it a simple disagreement between two ethnic groups almost evolved into a larger tension affecting the functionality of the church as a whole. After the problem was brought into the attention of the apostles they offered a successful solution. Although the solution sounds simple to the casual reader it confirms 2 conclusions we approached in the light of the incarnation and servant hood.
I. Empathy is an act: Sadly many in the church today confuse empathy over sympathy which is simply an emotion. Consider this illustration.
Imagine you are visiting a prisoner. To sympathize with him would be to go to the jail and visit him by sitting behind the glass and talking into a telephone. You both see each other but can’t touch. You are reaching out to him, but you retain a safe distance for your own protection. If you empathize with the prisoner of course, you ask the jailer to unlock his cell. You enter the tiny room and sit with him on his cot and may be pray with him.
The disagreement between Jews and Greeks over the distribution of food occurred in a time the church was growing and the leadership was very busy. They strongly believed that the ministry of the word deserves top priority. Still they took time off to discuss the issue in detail and approach a solution. This is empathy in action.
II. Empathy is serving: Consider an another illustration. In a restaurant waiters and waitresses are always in the far bottom of the staff hierarchy. It’s them that take most of the blame because they interact with the customer at the ground level. Should the dishwasher do a bad job the waiter is blamed. Should the customer think food isn’t delighting enough the waiter is blamed. Should the chair isn’t comfortable the waiter is blamed.
Likewise in comparison to preaching ministry work at the tables was definitely a difficult and an insignificant task. Probably everybody in the church respected the apostles who stood in the spotlight while the delegates at the tables were not. Still these men must have worked hard to please the complainants.
At any moment you transform your sympathy to empathy you become a servant to the person you empathize with. You throw your interests, freedom, position at his mercy. It certainly doesn’t sound pleasant. But this is empathy and it keeps the unity .
Let me finish this segment with another illustration. The film “Freaky Friday”, revolves around a middle aged widow known as Tess Coleman who wants to get married to someone she loves and her 15 year old daughter Anna who doesn’t want Tess to remarry.
Both the mother and the daughter often collided with each other over this issue because each is focused on what she wants for herself and is insensitive to the other. Then one day they are mysteriously made to swap bodies and walk a mile in one another’s shoes. The only way they can switch back is to do some unselfish act for one another.
Read: Philippians 2:8b
A. In order to understand the depth of Jesus’ obedience we must gain a clear picture of his sufferings first. Salvation was intended for man’s entire being, (Body, Mind, Spirit) Therefore Jesus suffered in three ways, (after all he was fully human).
I. Physical sufferings: He was beaten severely. Forced to carry the cross to the mountain peak. Lost a lot of blood in the process and was executed using the most horrible method of the day, (Deuteronomy 21:23)
II. Emotional: Jesus was weighed by the knowledge that he would soon bear the terrible trauma of taking the sin of the whole world. It had an indescribable degree of stress, (Luke 22:44).
III. Spiritual: In bearing our sin he experienced God’s wrath as well as separation, (Matthew 27:46).
B. This act of obedience stands out from everyone else because we find many people in the Bible whose obedience was driven by a lack of options, (Jonah 1:1-17; 2:1-10) and obligation (Esther 4:16).
C. Even Aristotle said once, “Wicked men obey from fear; good men, from love.” The latter was absolutely true in the case of Jesus. He did not oblige to obey, (John 10:18). He had other options but did not take the easy way out, (Luke 4:7).
Lesson: Someone said, “You cannot obey the invisible God unless you obey the visible spiritual leaders he has appointed over you.” Spiritual leaders such as Pastors are representatives of God’s authority in the church. They are appointed by God, (Romans 13:1)
In the New Testament “apeitheias” is the Greek term used in place of disobedience. It means “opposition against divine will”. Then disobedience to spiritual leadership is opposition against divine will because it’s God who appoints all forms of leadership, (Romans 13:2). God doesn’t tolerate such behavior because it has a very negative impact on the unity of the church. We read a fine example of this in Numbers 16:1-35. Moses wasn’t a perfect leader. He owned his own faults and failings. Still it was God’s will that Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
God is fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders he appoints. Although our brains cannot fathom it he knows how to use the leader’s weaknesses as well as strengths to serve his divine purpose, (2 Corinthians 12:9). So he wants us to obey them whole heartedly.
This doesn’t imply that leaders are free to do whatever their hearts desire. God holds them accountable for everything they say and do. In Numbers 20:8-11 God told Moses to speak to the rock, out of which water will gush out for the Israelites to drink. Moses instead of talking struck the rock twice with his staff. This angered God very much. He barred Moses and Aaron from entering the promised land. The point is judgment belongs to God and we are to obey our leaders wholeheartedly.
Read: Philippians 2:9-11
Paul concludes his exhortation to Philippians in a reference to Jesus’ exalted status as Lord. A grand example of the divinely rewards awaiting everyone that humble themselves in the presence of God. This exaltation to Lordship was 3 fold.
A. Recognition (Philippians 2:9) – The father reaffirmed that Jesus is Lord before the very nation that crucified his son calling him a blasphemer and an accursed, (Acts 2:36-37)
B. Authority (Philippians 2:10) – Jesus alone has the authority to forgive and set man free of every bondage, (Isaiah 45:23a; John 10:30)
C. Allegiance (Philippians 2:11) – In the light of Isaiah 45:23b all (believers and unbelievers both) shall confess that Jesus is God and proclaim their allegiance to him.
We cannot tell when or how God shall reward us when we live a life that upholds the attitude of Christ. But Jesus’ exaltation promises that God always reward such sacrificial attitudes. Let me end with a story.
After 25 years as a missionary in Africa, Samuel Morrison was coming home on the same ocean liner that brought Teddy Roosevelt back from an African safari. The dock where the big ship pulled into New York Harbor was jammed with what looked like the entire population of New York City. Bands were playing, banners were waving, choirs of children were singing, multicolored balloons were floating, and newsreel cameras were poised to record the return of the President.
Mr. Roosevelt stepped down the gangplank to thunderous cheers, applause, and a shower of confetti and ticker tape. If ropes and police had not restrained the crowd, he would have been mobbed!
At the same time, Samuel Morrison quietly walked off the boat. No one was there to greet him; he slipped through the crowd alone. Because of the crush of people there to welcome the President, Morrison couldn’t even get a cab. He began to complain in his heart:
Lord, the President has been in Africa killing animals for three weeks and the whole world turns out to welcome him home. I’ve given 25 years of my life in Africa, serving You, and no one has greeted me or even knows that I’m here.
In the quietness of missionary Samuel Morrison’s heart, a gentle, loving voice whispered, “But my dear child, you’re not home yet!”