January 22, 2009

He Took on the Form of a Servant

As I was contemplating Rich's note about Warren's prayer, I thought about how we as Christians often "bite and devour one another" rather than extending grace. It is very important to call sin out. But if we make our preferences law for others, we are in the wrong. The apostle told us that "Love covers a multitude of sins". I began a response to the note by saying that we all need a good dose of Philippians 2, but decided to scratch it and make it a post.

Here's a look at Philippians 2: 3-8. I did this exercise with one of my sons who is smack dab in the middle of a pubescent attitude about life. There are days when I wish to strangle him! But then, this passage applies to me, too, so I have to step back and take on the role of a discipler. Consider our attitudes about believers who may irritate us, like Rick Warren, Billy Graham, etc. Remember that although they may not have attained conviction in areas important to you, you are struggling with things that may seem simple to them. As you read this post, put your favorite "target" in here and see if your own attitude doesn't need a bit of adjustment. We need to exhibit the attitude that Jesus had when He saw us in our sin.

Do nothing from selfishness
(I, me, my -- don't make myself the most important thing in the world) We get upset when we don't get what we think we deserve, when we think someone else has something better than we have and it doesn't seem fair, and when people don't get the punishment we think they deserve.

James 4:1-3 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

or empty conceit.
(don't worry about what others think about you. Don't let the praise and admiration of others be your motive for doing things.)

Colossians 3:23, 24 Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and the Master you are serving is Christ.

but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
(put their needs ahead of yours)

do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
(my thoughts should be of how I can help others, how I can serve God, not of my own needs or rights or desires.)

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
("Don't you people get it, I'm God, give me some respect here...")

but emptied Himself,
(He had no beauty that we should desire Him. He didn't live in the best house—he had no house. For our sakes He was poor)

taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. He left all of heaven to serve us)

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(We did not deserve it one bit, but still He left heaven and came to earth to DIE for US)

If we could but see ourselves as the servant of the people we find irritating and see their needs as more important than our own, I think we would find far less to complain about, and plenty more to praise God about.


  1. Mary - Thank you for this reminder. I find this so difficult. I tend to give a break (a biblical break, I believe) to those in the spotlight, such as Rick Warren, Billy Graham, John Piper, and Alistair Begg, but I tend to expect perfection from those in my own church. And I know that I am far from perfection myself.

    My pastor often encourages us to realize, when we think about people who irritate us, that we are that irritating person to someone else. I hate to think of myself that way, but it's probably quite true.

    Focusing on the passages you've discussed here should help.

  2. I think I learned a bit about grace when I was in retail management. I told my employees that if I did something annoying, cruel, etc., that they should tell me about it. Professing my ignorance, I told them that 99% of the time I would have no idea I'd been offensive. Once they had enlightened me, if I didn't work to make the situation better (better communication, rethink my position, whatever), then they could chat amongst themselves all they wanted. But until they came to me, they weren't allowed to kvetch to one another.

    When you are in a leadership role, sometimes things seem quite clear to you, you respond to a given situation, and then someone says, "this is what I heard" but it wasn't at all what you intended. I chose then to learn to restate what I'd heard when others spoke, ask questions, and let people know that they weren't communicating clearly.

    Anybody who ever lived with me, like Lydia, can tell you how maddeningly irritating I can be without even trying. I have certainly given others enough reason to be upset.

    Just recently I had a little lecture with my kids about assigning motive to people. When someone does something irritating, say, "that irritated me." When you move beyond irritation of the action to assigning (your perception of) the motive behind the action, you have declared yourself to be omniscient. We may think we know why someone behaves as they do, but we cannot KNOW unless, like God, we can read the hearts and minds of men.

    Also, sometimes the irritation comes not from unclear communication, but from our internal perspective when listening. We hear things based on our mindset at the moment. It may have been clear to all others who heard it, but our perception was flawed because of something happening within us.

    All this to say that grace should be our knee-jerk reaction, not judgement. The person I find hardest to employ this with is my husband. I am pretty tough on him, and that's where I really need to work on this principle.

  3. Great post, Mary. And regarding your comment about personal offenses and irritations, perceived or otherwise, when you were a supervisor, I agree that Matthew 18 is the way to go - to take it private first.

    The only thing I noted about your comment is how some people (not you) misuse this concept of taking it privately at first.

    For example - a general policy you make is not a private offense. If people disagree with it, they can, and should, come to you about it, but there is no reason they can't talk to each other about it without coming to you first.

    The same thing with public teaching, or public discussions.

    I'm saying this, because many people try to shut down discussion by claiming a person should have followed Matthew 18 principles, when, in fact, the person was discussing or giving an opinion on public information, not a private offense.

  4. This is a good thing to discuss and to come to terms with. I know some of the context you're thinking in regarding Matthew 18 and I agree fully with you in that context.

    For example, if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says something I disagree with, I do not need to seek him out first before I discuss it on my blog. Leader at very high levels are unapproachable by the vast majority of us and we should be able to discuss their proclamations and theses without having to confront them about it first. However, we still should not assign motives, which is essentially a form of ad hominem. Often we don't even understand our own motives, much less having an understanding of others' motives.

    But in the case of folks who we are able to approach (friends, neighbors, teachers, pastors and elders, etc.), we should talk to them first. But as Mary encouraged with her employees, once we have spoken with those folks, if our complaint is legitimate or if we can back up our disagreement with scripture, if they continue to press forward with the questionable argument or behavior, we should feel free to discuss it publicly. This is actually a form of accountability for leaders--accountability to the general public.

  5. Excellent observations, Rich and Simple Gifts. There are matters of public policy that we may have a public discourse about without having to reach the person first.

    My point, however, has more to do with our personal attitude rather than the debate itself. We need to live "graciously". We should exhibit grace as our first response, "As much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Since what we think has everything to do with how we act, think graciously will help us behave graciously, even to people with whom we disagree.

  6. Mary, regarding your last comment, excellent. We should always look to see what is prompting us.

    And Richard, I, agree that categorically assigning motives is wrong. This is where genuine arguments and disagreements turn into nasty fights.

    If ever I speak about what motivates people, I hope I always take great care to use the word, "probably" or "probable," or some such wording in my speech or writing, because I can't prove what is motivating people. I can only look at recurring patterns, deviations from them, etc., and say what the probable motiviation might be.

    Also, as much as I've spoken against the Bulverisms the Bayly brothers commit ("you're just saying that about the word 'ezer' because you're a rebellious woman and I won't answer your question because you are rebellious" type stuff - what he did to Light Morton), the fact is, is that we do look for motivation all the time. Detectives trying to solve crimes try to ascertain probable motives.

    We just have to be very careful about our level of certitude in the matter.

    And not engage in a categorical assignment of a motivation (ie - you MUST be doing/saying this BECAUSE you are bad/deceived, whatever) when engaging in a disagreement.


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