Posts tagged ‘Humiliation’

At God’s Core: Service


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.

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

ABC Extra – Jesus Likes It When You’re Humiliated

No one likes to be humbled.  After all, being humbled is, well, humiliating.  Being humbled wounds your ego.  Being humbled shatters your pride.  Being humbled can even make you question your competence.  But although being humbled is not an enjoyable experience, Jesus says it is a good – and sometimes even a necessary – one.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we studied the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18:9-14.  Jesus ends His parable with this thought:  “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14).  This one, seemingly simple, statement is worth pondering.

First, it is worth noting that Jesus’ statement concerning humility and those who are humbled and exalted does not prima facie show it self to be apparent in the lives of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisee, who haughtily “thanks God that he is not like other men” (verse 11) and the tax collector, who cries out, “God, have mercy on me, the sinner” (verse 13) do not depart from the temple any more visibly humbled or exalted than when they came in.  In fact, it is reasonable to suggest that they did not feel any more humbled or exalted than when they came in.  The Pharisee leaves still secure in his own righteousness.  And the tax collector leaves probably still struggling with guilt from his past misdeeds.  However, regardless of how things may appear to outsiders or even feel on the inside for the Pharisee and the tax collector, something radical happened spiritually:  the Pharisee has been humbled and the tax collector has been exalted.  Jesus says so.  Thus, it seems possible for a person to be humbled or exalted in God’s Kingdom and not even know it.  And so, even when we feel humiliated by the world, we trust that, through faith, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).  God exalts His people, even if hiddenly.

The second thing worth noting is that, in God’s Kingdom, exaltation comes in and through humiliation.  The Greek word for “exalt” is hypso.  This word is taken up by the apostle Paul in his famous hymn from Philippians 2:8-9: “Being found in appearance as a man, Christ humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”  Here the word for “exalted” is hyperhypso, the prefix hyper- intensifying the thrust of the verb.  In other words, Jesus is not just exalted, He’s hyper-exalted!  But notice the route He travels to arrive at such exaltation:  He humbles Himself and becomes obedient unto death – even death on a cross.  Thus, exaltation for Jesus involves not just a lofty heavenly perch, but a humiliating death.  Jesus Himself speaks similarly when He prophesies, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  Again we find the word hypso, this time translated as the phrase “lifted up.”  In the Gospel of John, to be “lifted up” does not mean to be lifted up in exaltation on throne, but to be lifted up in humiliation on a cross.  Humiliation is exaltation for Jesus!

So what does all this mean?  It means that in the Kingdom of God, humiliation and exaltation are closer than we think.  Indeed, we find exaltation in humiliation.  This truth should lead us to humble ourselves in service to our God and to others.   Consider:  Who is it that needs your strong hand?  Or who is it that needs your gentle words?  Who is it that needs your time in companionship?  Or who is it that needs your prayers for healing?  These tasks may seem menial and humble, but these are exactly the kind of tasks to which we are called.  For in such humble service, we are exalted – not in the way the world views exaltation, but in the way God grants exaltation.  And that’s the kind of exaltation we want anyway.

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March 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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