Set Free for Selfless Service

Monday, April 18, 2016

I recently watched “THE MAD WORLD OF DONALD TRUMP” on TV. His rise to prominence as a contender for the President of the USA is astonishing. He presents himself as one who will boldly stand against the political establishment and speak up for the silent majority of ‘true Americans’ (apparently that means white, uneducated, middle-aged men). His language is often inflammatory, and has been accused of inciting violence. He especially reserves his vitriol for anyone who stands in his way or challenges his ideas. I couldn’t help but conclude that he wanted the ‘top job’ for the sake of power - for his own glory. 

Watching Donald Trump in action got me thinking about leadership, service, and St Paul’s. We have a Core Value that shapes the way we think about leadership and service at St Paul’s - SERVANT LEADERSHIP.

In the Presence of Greatness

My fear is that maybe there is a little bit of Trump in us all. The first disciples of Jesus weren’t immune from pride and self-glory. Take Jesus’ interaction with them in Mark 9: They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. They were walking with the ultimate example of humility and they were having a full-scale dispute over who was the greatest! It should have been obvious - JESUS IS!

In Mark 10 the dispute seems to have been settled in the minds of James and John as to who was the greatest. They approach Jesus with a special request: Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. Their hearts are on full display with that request. There is nothing subtle and nice and acceptable about it. James and John have tasted greatness and power and position, and they want it. Of course they recognise its Jesus’ glory, but they want to be right there with him so that they get a bit too. 

Thankfully, Jesus is merciful and gentle with pride driven hearts. He calls in the disciples and turns their values on their head: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45). 

These words from Mark 10 are the reversal of all human ideas of rank and greatness. If we define greatness as this world does then we end up with individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursuing self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. The words from Mark 10 are the profound reversal that MUST occur in each of our lives if we are to have any possibility of true greatness in God’s eyes: whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 

However, we need more than a definition, and even more than Jesus’ personal example of humble service. To learn true humility what we need is Jesus’ death: For even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. True greatness is not possible without his unique sacrifice. 

Jesus is the only one who has given his life as a ransom for the sins of many, and this is what separates him from every other form of sacrificial service that people render. Jesus’ sacrifice alone makes it possible for us to achieve and experience true greatness in God’s eyes. At the source of all Christian service in St Paul’s, and across the world, is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us from our bondage to ‘SELF’ and into selfless service. Our selfless Christian service exists only to draw attention to its source – the Lord Jesus. If we serve in order to make a name for ourselves we rob Jesus of the glory that is due to him for setting us free to serve. 

Jesus is the Starting Point
The starting point for many Christians when considering how they will serve in the local church is their ‘gifts’. They start by looking inwards, asking: “what are my gifts?” It’s a mistake; Jesus is the starting point. Philippians 2 calls all Christians to have the same attitude of humble service as Jesus demonstrated: 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

The next verses then go on to reveal the selfless, sacrificial, servant mindset of the Lord Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

During an interview on “Face the Nation” with John Dickerson, Donald Trump said he possesses more humility than many would believe. I agree with him, many wouldn’t believe it! Trump’s self-assessment of humble character doesn't seem to be obvious. Unlike the description of Jesus in Philippians 2. Jesus is the greatest example of selfless service and humility. We are to look first of all to Jesus. 

So is now the time to talk about our gifts? Not yet! Having looked outward to Jesus we keep looking outward to the needs around us. Before the question of what my gifts are is the question of what needs does the church have? Another way to put this might be, ‘what is the church working towards together and how can I be part of that? Ironically, we often discover new gifts when we are meeting needs. 

Having looked outward to Jesus and needs, its time too look inward - but not at gifts! When it comes to serving others there is something far more important in the Bible than gifts - our character. Unfortunately, it is possible to have gifts without graces. There are only a handful of passages in the Bible about gifts but every page challenges and forms our character. The fruit of the Spirit is a great place to start: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (integrity), faithfulness (courage), gentleness (humility) and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a). Leaders need to display these fruits, and recognise them, and encourage them in others. 

After looking to Jesus, then needs, then character we can now look at gifts. Every Christian has been gifted with gifts for service of God and his people. One of the roles of leadership is to recognise and encourage and release gifts in God’s people. That is the biblical pattern of 1 Timothy 4. 

In the next couple of years I would like to see St Paul’s reject the spectator culture that gives rise to the rule that 80% of ministry is done by 20% of people. I’d like us to be a church OF ministry teams, rather than a church WITH ministry teams. A church WITH ministry teams is a culture that says: ‘there are opportunities that are there if you want to - if you are keen’. A church OF ministry teams says: ‘everyone needs to be served, and everyone has a role to play in serving others.’ Being a church of ministry teams is not the easy way. When we take our eyes off Jesus it’s easy to want to be served by others more than to serve others, or to only serve in ways that are comfortable to us. But as we keep our eyes on Jesus we will remember why we serve, and the source of our power and motivation to serve.

Steve Jeffrey

Senior Minister