by Jim Ball
But I am among you as one who serves.
Those were not empty words. And Jesus does not let us get away with projecting a false Christian servant-leader model. Jesus doesn’t let us fool ourselves with lame rationalizations by in effect saying in our own minds, “I can be a servant leader in my heart and at the same time continue to lord it over those within my power and influence.” His teaching and example are very concrete. To be the youngest is to be last in power and influence. Those who served at table were not those who did such service temporarily. No, they had a full-time, 24/7 servant status. They had masters whose power and influence they were under.
To be crystal clear, the Gospel of John reports that Jesus even washed the disciples’ feet. Afterward he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? … You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am … I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (Jn 13:12-15).
In Philippians Paul gives us perhaps the greatest interpretation of Jesus’ example of service and how it is to inspire us to live out the same attitude. We should consider others not only equal to ourselves, but better than (or superior in authority to) ourselves (2:3) just like a servant in the first century would. He goes on to say:
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! (Phil 2:5-8)
Jesus as a human being is not only the true image of God; he is also the preexistant Son of God, Creator of all things. He not only empties Himself of His Divine Sonship, “pitching his tent among us” or becoming finite flesh and blood just like us, he becomes servant to the servants (us), even unto death.
The Rev. Jim Ball is EEN’s Executive Vice President for Policy and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.