At God’s Core: Service

September 5, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


800px-Meister_des_Hausbuches_003

Credit: Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Meister des Hausbuches, 1475

A while back, I was having a conversation with a friend who was going through a difficult time.  He was struggling relationally, vocationally, and financially.  And yet, throughout his struggles, he had managed to keep a remarkably clear head about what was most important.  “No matter how bad things may get,” he told me, “I still want to find ways to help and serve others.  It helps me take the focus off my own pain and remember just how important other people really are.”

I could not agree more.  This is wise insight from a good friend.  Serving others is a surprisingly great salve for a troubled soul.

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul writes about the difficult times Jesus endured – specifically, His most difficult time of dying on a cross.  Paul also explains that as Jesus endured these times, He did so with the heart of a servant:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  (Philippians 2:5-7)

The Greek behind this passage is interesting and worth a moment of our reflection.  The passage above is taken from the ESV, which notes that though Jesus was God, He became a servant.  The ESV translates Jesus’ servanthood concessively.  That is, the ESV makes it sound like Jesus’ divinity and His servanthood are somehow logically antithetical to each other, or, at the very least, in tension with each other.  Jesus is God and has all the power, perks, and privileges that go along with being God, and even though He could have retained all those power, perks, and privileges when He came to this earth, He conceded them to become a servant.

The actual grammar behind this passage, however, is more ambiguous.  The word for “though” in Greek is hyparkon, a participial form of the verb “to be,” which, at the same time it can be translated concessively as the word “though” as the ESV does, it can just as easily and legitimately be translated causally as the word “because”:  “Jesus, because He was in the form of God…emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.”

If I had to choose between a concessive or a causal translation of hyparkon, I would opt for the causal translation.  Here’s why.

To translate hyparkon concessively makes it sound like somehow the nature of God and the nature of a servant are at odds with each other.  But what if God is, in His very nature, a servant?  What if, as John Ortberg says, “When Jesus came in the form of a servant, He was not disguising who God is, He was revealing who God is”?[1]  What if the grandeur of God and the servanthood of Christ don’t conflict with each other, but correspond to each other?  What if Jesus not only explaining His mission, but revealing God’s nature when he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)?

Sometimes, we can be tempted to treat service as a bother, a burden, or, worse yet, as something that is beneath us.  But being a servant should never conflict with who we are.  It should reveal who we are.  Jesus was a servant not in spite of who He was as God, but because of who He was as God.  God is a servant at heart and so it only makes sense that Jesus would comes as a servant!  Likewise, we should be servants not in spite of who we are as business people, managers, or people who can command respect, but because of who we are as God’s children.

This is what my friend understood when he talked to me.  He wanted his service not to be incidental to his life, but core in his life.  May we want the same.

_________________________

[1] John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 115.

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