Many scholars believe that one of the earliest and most popular Christian hymns is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2. Having told the Philippian disciples, “Your attitude [or mindset] should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Paul then quotes this supposed hymn to Christ which would have most likely been sung in the chant-like form common in the early church: “Who being in the 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)
What is important about this hymn is that it captures the church’s understanding of Jesus’ mind-set at a very early date, an understanding that no doubt has been passed on by the apostles and others who had seen it lived out as they walked the roads of Galilee and Judea—with Jesus in the flesh.
Verse 5 more literally reads, “Have in you this mind that was also in Christ Jesus.” Servanthood was a mind-set for Jesus. Ashe lived each day, his mind was set—not on how much he could gain, not on how much power he could accumulate, not on who he could impress, and not on how much he could gain, not on how independent he could become, but on whom he could serve and how he could best serve them. This is servanthood at its best. Not an attitude of, “Oh, yes, I do need to squeeze in some serving today,” but minds set on serving in all the situations we find ourselves in throughout the day. When the apostles were arguing with one another over who would sit on his right and left hand, he addressed their petty squabbling by saying, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to befirst must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark10:43-45).
Matthew in 12:18-21 quotes from Isaiah 42, one of the first chapters in Isaiah that introduce what are now called the Song of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 40-66). There is little doubt that Jesus was shaped and directed by what was written in these songs. The Jews, including Jesus’ disciples, were looking for a national liberator who would bring political and social salvation by exercising force and “exorcising” the foreign demons. With this in mind they found very little in the servant songs to attract them. Suffering and serving were not on their wish list. However, Jesus was on a different track. He understood that life is found, not by those who overpower, but by those who serve. He wanted to introduce people to the blessings of the kingdom of God and teach them that the greatest is he who serves.
With a mind set on serving, there were other things his mind was not set on, and being comfortable was one of those things. If your mind is set on comfort, there will be opportunities to serve that will pass you up because you fear that your comfort may be disturbed. Jesus certainly would have passed up his most important works of service had this been his mind-set. In a similar way, we cannot have our minds set on serving and at the same time set on looking good. (No one can accuse Jesus of this one!) In such cases, our willingness to serve will be at the mercy of someone else’s opinion of how being a servant makes us look. Jesus ignored what others thought in favor of a commitment to serve, regardless of what kind of reviews he received.
The amazing thing here is that Jesus fundamentally thought of himself as a servant. He did not, like so many leaders, both religious and secular, see himself as a dignitary who needed to do some acts of service to maintain credibility with the people. He saw himself as a servant who needed to lead others to be servants as well. A servant is one who is present to meet the needs of others, and this is the rudimentary role Jesus took for himself. His philosophy was “I am not here for myself, to how much I can get out of all of this. I am here for others.” Talk about a mind-set that can transform churches, marriages, families, neighborhoods and work places—this is it!
Whether he was describing himself as the good shepherd (John 10:11), the living bread (John 6:51), or the great physician (Matthew 9:12), Jesus saw himself as the one who was here on Earth to meet needs. He was not here to earn so much money each year, have the latest model chariot, or get pampered. He was the one who was here to meet vital needs in the lives of others. This is a challenge to all of us because our minds are forever going back to ourselves and“What is in it for me?” But in Jesus, we have a model of one who did overcome and set his mind not on himself, but on others. By the grace of God, you and I can learn to do the same.
Just one caveat: I do not think most of us are in danger here, but be careful that you do not start with this and run off to some ascetic extreme. What has been said so far does not mean Jesus never enjoyed anything, never had a great time and never ate anything that tasted,“almost as good as heaven.” There are clear indications that Jesus enjoyed food, had fun at parties and weddings, and thoroughly enjoy time with good friends. In fact, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). Jesus enjoyed life! Paul would later speak of “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). I doubt Paul learned this as a Pharisee. It sounds to me like something that made its way down from Jesus. The servant is no stick in the mud. The servant can joyfully receive— it’s just that he is not primarily here to get, but to give.