Donald Macleod, Scottish theologian and professor, writes:
“How often is the incarnation brought before God’s people as their chief incentive and motivation to service. Paul urges us to think the way Jesus thought. He humbled himself. He made himself nothing (Philippians 2:3-8). He said, ‘I don’t matter!’
There is scarcely a month that a church is not wrecked by Somebody. That is the whole problem: There is always a Somebody. If we were willing to humble ourselves and be nobodies, the church would not be wrecked. That is what the church needs: Nobodies who have crucified their egos and left them on the far side of that great word of Jesus: ‘Let a man deny himself’ (Mark 8:34).”
Jesus said: “I am among you as one that serves” and “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” The Apostle Paul reiterated Jesus’ philosophy of leadership: “Ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, we are his debtor to serve him until he does. The mainspring of our service must not ultimately be love for men, but love for Christ. If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we would from a dog; but if our motive is love to God, no ingratitude can hinder us from serving our fellow men.
How Jesus Christ has dealt with us must be the secret of our determination to serve others. No matter how others may treat me, they will never treat me with the spite and hatred with which I treated Jesus Christ. When we realize that Jesus Christ has served us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.
— Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
What does it look like to live as a family for others? As THE MAN for others, Jesus saved us rather than Himself at the cross and, “every time we reflect on the cross, Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here for you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying’” (John Stott). From the incarnation to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the skies, Jesus is there for others. As we contemplate all that He has done for us, we begin to change in some major ways. We begin to live lives of radical humility, sacrificial service, and bold risk-taking.
First of all, becoming a family for others cures us of our spiritual cancer of pride to live a life of radical humility (Philippians 2:1-11). As C.S. Lewis says, “pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love…” Unchecked pride leads to one activity… grumbling and complaining (v.14). One way we cultivate this blessed gift of self-forgetfulness is by actively identifying evidences of God’s grace in the lives of others. Paul calls attention to God’s work in the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus. Begin to observe how the Spirit reveals His fruit and His gifts in the lives of others around you and intentionally encourage and thank them for what you see the Lord doing. Consider this: What is one way that you will resolve to weaken pride and cultivate humility?
Secondly, becoming a family for others liberates us from complaining to sacrificially serve others for God’s glory (2:12-24). Like Timothy of old, we resolve to serve the interests of Jesus Christ in the lives of others (v.21). Reflect on this: What is one way that the Lord is calling you and your family to serve others for His glory?
Thirdly, becoming a family for others liberates us from the enchantment of security and galvanizes us to take risks in building Christ’s church (2:25-30). Here we examined the life of Epaphroditus who risked his life in serving Christ. We take risks when we sacrifice our own interests, comforts and resources to make much of Jesus Christ and prove that He is more precious to us than anything else. Ponder this: What is one risk that the Lord is asking you to take for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom?
Safety is a mirage. It didn’t exist for the Apostle Paul, Timothy or Epaproditus. It doesn’t exist for you. They had two choices: waste their lives or live with risk. Today we enjoy the privileges of the gospel because of the risks they took. Let us follow in their train for risk is right!
I was recently examining the minutes of our elders’ meetings during this past year and came across this devotional thought I had shared with our leaders a year ago from the esteemed preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on Psalm 100:2. It challenged me anew to pray that cheerfulness and joy would mark my service and ministry to the Lord and King of the church.
Delight in divine service is a token of acceptance. Those who serve God with a sad countenance, because they do what is unpleasant to them, are not serving him at all; they bring the form of homage, but the life is absent…Our God requires no slaves to grace his throne; he is the Lord of the empire of love, and would have his servants dressed in the attire of joy. The angels of God serve him with songs, not with groans. A murmur or a sigh would be a mutiny in their ranks… Do you serve the Lord with gladness? Let us show to the people of the world, who think our faith to be slavery, that it is to us a delight and a joy! Let our gladness proclaim that we serve a good Master.
Recently, one of our leaders at Trinity wrote me: “I was really moved this morning as I read a comment from David Brainerd, “…Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am..” ( John 15:5, 7-8 )
David Brainerd did not live to see his impact for the Lord in his lifetime. He died when he was 29 years old and his biggest impact for the kingdom came after his death as hundreds of men and women were challenged to invest their lives for the sake of the lost after reading his journal. The list of folks whom God led to consecrate their lives in service to Jesus were people like William Carey, Henry Martyn, and John Wesley.
There are many lessons to learn from a life like David Brainerd’s, but here’s an important one. At times when we grow discouraged about our own lack of perceived impact for Christ and the times of fruitlessness and meager results, Brainerd’s story reminds us to exercise caution in assessing own own service for Christ. We don’t know the complete story yet and will not this side of heaven.
Thus, let us take courage today from knowing that God continues to use frail and crooked sticks like us to strike the straight blows to advance His kingdom’s rule and reign in this world! This is truly the miracle of the ministry.
May He do so today through us for the glory and honor of His great name!
Here’s a thoughtful nugget from one of the greatest Christian writers and thinkers of our generation, James I. Packer:
“The way to find out whether a particular service was evangelistic is to ask, not whether an appeal for decision was made, but what truth was taught at it.” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 56)