Lenten Series: “Having Our Mind Transformed Into the Mind of Christ”… Sermon #2–Servanthood
Servanthood: Am I First, or Is God?
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church—March 12, 2017
Romans 8:5-6; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 22:14-27
I recently attended a Parent’s Conference. I know—strange, because I’m not a parent. But I was there to glean some knowledge to pass on to the people who are parents in our congregation, and in my spheres of influence.
It was an enlightening time, to be sure. One of the main speakers for the day was Dr. Kevin Leman. Dr. Leman has written dozens of books about parenting, and has a very specific “no frills” approach to rearing children. When sharing about how to deal with selfish and picky children, he shared a great illustration about a young mother who had recently come to him with a problem.
This young mother was beside herself—at her wits end. She had three children, and the youngest wouldn’t eat anything besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pop tarts. No matter what she tried, no matter what food she prepared, the youngest in the family turned his nose up at the food, stomped his feet, and demanded that he be made a special meal. And of course, the mother would give in. She feared for his well-being! The kid needed to eat something, she reasoned!
After explaining the situation to Dr. Leman, she asked him what she should do. How should she deal with such a selfish and stubborn child? Instantly, the doctor knew the solution.
“Tell me a food that he doesn’t like that you make often,” he asked.
“Well, pretty much anything,” she thought. “He doesn’t eat spaghetti. What kid doesn’t like that?! But he refuses to eat it.”
“Can you make spaghetti tonight?” Dr. Leman asked.
“Yes, I think I have the supplies on hand,” she reasoned.
“Okay. This is what I want you to do: Make spaghetti for the family, and have everyone sit down for the meal. But don’t call your youngest to the table for supper.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Trust me…”
The young mother went home, and followed the instructions she was given. She cooked a lovely meal, and she, her husband, and two of her three children sat down and began enjoying the spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread. Soon, the youngest noticed that everyone else in the house was in the kitchen, and he crept in to investigate.
“What are you doing?” he asked, a confused look on his face.
His mother replied, “Oh, we’re having supper. But it’s spaghetti, and I know you don’t like it. So I didn’t bother to come get you.”
The youngest looked around the table, with his siblings heartily enjoying plates full of noodles. His stomach grumbled. “Well, I guess I could try some,” he mumbled. He got himself up on his chair, and helped himself to the meal.
From then on, that boy was “cured” of his selfishness and pickiness—a success in parenting, I’m sure.
That little kid sure sounds like a lot of us in this world today, doesn’t he? We come to the table with a “me first!” mentality, focusing on our needs, on our wants, and forgetting about the rest of the world around us.
The Apostle Paul, in the text from Philippians that we’re focusing on all through Lent, describes a much different way that Christ lived in the world. Verse 2:7 says, “He [Christ] made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” And because of this, Paul instructs the Philippian Christians—and us—to take on this servant-minded attitude. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
As we walk this Lenten road together, discovering what it means to live with the mind of Christ, we’ll soon discover that the Christian life is about a radical re-orientation of the way that we think. Following Jesus calls for us to open our hearts and lives to the Spirit. It means that we allow Him to transform us, to mold us and shape us. That’s what Paul is getting at in this passage in Philippians. He’s saying that when we are united with Christ, that a truly mystical and amazing thing happens—God begins the work of transforming our mind-set into the mind-set of Jesus. And part of living with that mind-set—the mindset of Christ—means living with the mind-set of a servant.
This teaching—having the “mind-set of Christ”—is a concept that the Apostle Paul taught several times to the churches that he was bringing up all throughout Judea and beyond. As the early Christians struggled to find their identity as believers, Paul knew that they would fail unless they fixed their eyes on Jesus. His teachings continually talked about being transformed by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26), trusting in the grace of Christ (Romans 3:21-26), and relying on the strength of the Spirit to help them through any trials or temptations they might encounter (Galatians 5:16).
In Romans 8:5-6, Paul points out a contrast between those who have the mind-set of Christ, and those who have the mind-set of the world.
First, there are people who “live according to the sinful nature” and “have their minds set on what their nature desires”. (Romans 8:5).
We might be tempted to think of these people and wag our disapproving finger at them. “Tisk, tisk”, we say. “What awful people they are—I’m definitely not like them!” But in reality, this is most of the world. This is the ordinary mindset of ordinary people who live ordinary lives in the ordinary way of the ordinary world. This mind-set looks at the world and says, “Me first!” It says, “I’m the most important.” It says, “Everything else in this world is measured by how it fulfills what I need or want.” It’s a mind-set that can’t see past the nose on its face.
It’s a mind-set that makes me think of how my Father always used the ketchup at the supper table. If we were eating cheeseburgers or another food that needed ketchup, he would get the ketchup out for himself, squirt a sizeable amount on his plate, close the lid, and then walk back to the kitchen and put the bottle away in the fridge. The rest of us would be left sitting there with dejected faces, wondering why we weren’t offered the ketchup as well. And of course, one of us would then have to make another trip back into the kitchen to retrieve the bottle for our own use. This is the “ordinary world mind-set”.
But then, Paul offers up another, counter-cultural mind-set. And that is the mind-set of the Spirit. “…but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5)
The people who set their minds on the desires of the Spirit live contrasting lives to those people who set their minds on the things of their sinful nature. Instead of ordinary lives, they live extraordinary lives. They live lives focused on the desires of God, and the heart of God. They put God over and above themselves on the “importance scale”, and in so doing are able to expand their vision for the things that God sees, loves, and has a heart for. Instead of focusing on just the nose on their face, they are able to focus on God, and the world that He loves. And they are able to be used by God to be a servant, just as Christ was.
This counter-cultural, servant-focused mind-set of Christ is displayed beautifully as Jesus ate His last Passover meal with His disciples. Jesus knew that He would soon face the horror of the cross. He realized the suffering that was to come. As He ate the meal of the sacrificial Passover lamb, He knew that soon He would be the ultimate and final Sacrificial Lamb. And so, it was with great love that He lifted up the bread and broke it, like He knew His body would soon be broken and beaten, and said, “This is my body, given for you.” (Luke 22:19) And He took the cup, knowing that soon His blood would be poured out, just like the wine had been poured out, for the sins of the world, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) A servant’s heart in action—Jesus giving all of Himself for us, a broken and hurting world.
And yet, even as we see Jesus’ servant heart, servant mind-set shining in this moment, we also see the mind-set of the sinful nature shining through in the hearts of the disciples. As Jesus is living out what it means to give of Himself completely to others, the disciples completely miss the point—and begin to argue about who among them is the greatest. Ugh. It’s a moment where you just want to do a “face-palm” and shake your head. Really, disciples? Really?! Here’s Jesus on His way to the cross, on His way to make the ultimate sacrifice for all of mankind. Here’s Jesus displaying the ultimate servant mind-set. And the disciples can’t see past their own noses. Jesus is laying down his life, and they’re arguing about who’s going to get honor and prestige. I don’t think there’s any better way to define the two different “mind-sets” that Paul talks about in Romans.
Let’s face it—we’re all at times afflicted with the “me-first” mind-set. We all, at times, choose to navel-gaze, to focus more on our own needs than anyone else’s. After all, society tells us that “We’re worth it”, and we should “Just do it”, right?
Author and Pastor James Harnish once presented a top-ten list to his congregation: “You might have a ‘Me-first’ mind-set if…”
“10. you pulled into a parking space ahead of the guy…who had been waiting with his turn signal flashing while the other car pulled out;
“9. you sneaked into the expressed checkout lane in a crowded grocery stored with more than ten items;
“8. you emptied the last scoop of ice cream, finished the last piece of pecan pie, or sneaked away with the last chocolate chip cookie in the jar when nobody else in the family was looking;
“[7. you noticed that your Mom was walking in the door with an arm full of groceries, but you sat watching TV instead of helping her unload them;]
“6. you passed along that dirty little rumor about a friend because it somehow made you look better;
“5. you voted for a candidate solely on the basis of what would benefit your bottom line with no regard for what might benefit people who have less than you do.
“4. you accepted credit from your boss for a job you knew someone else had done;
“3. you assume that anyone who doesn’t like the same movies, music, or TV shows that you do is clearly a person with little or no taste;
“2. you gave your spouse a birthday gift that was something you really wanted for yourself.
“1. you feel a sigh of relief in knowing that you aren’t as poorly dressed, ill-mannered, unimportant, unintelligent, or just plain tacky as all the self-centered sinners who are sitting around you in the congregation.” (James A. Harnish, “Living with the Mind of Christ” .p.19)
If you saw yourself in any of those “me-first” actions, you’re not living with the mind-set of Christ. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He came to lift others up, not Himself. He came to put the needs of others above His own. He came to make Himself uncomfortable, so that others could experience love and grace. He came to be a servant.
That’s who God is—that’s the nature of God. In Philippians 2, Paul uses the words “humble”, “servant”, and “obedient” to describe Christ. In Romans 8, he reminds us that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace”, and “righteousness”. These are all characteristics of servanthood—and they’re all opposite of a “me-first” mentality.
“When Jesus healed a man who was blind and poor, provided food to hungry people, took children in His arms, touched a person suffering from leprosy, wept beside His friend’s grave, forgave a woman who had committed adultery, redirected the life of a greedy tax collector, took a basin and towel and got down on His knees to wash His disciple’s feet, and even surrendered His life on the cross for us…He was demonstrating for us in human terms the [servant] love that is in the heart of God.” (James A. Harnish, “Living with the Mind of Christ” .p.20)
Giving Himself as a servant to others is not just what Jesus did; it defines who Jesus was, and who Jesus calls us to be. It’s so easy to get caught-up in living our lives the “ordinary” way—just caring about our own wants, needs, and desires. That’s what everyone else around us is doing! That’s what we’ve always known! But when we give our lives over to Jesus, when we ask the Spirit to step into our hearts and begin to transform us, we are surrendering ourselves to a life lived in the extraordinary power of God—a life lived focusing not on the tedious, meaningless things of this world, but rather on the large and amazing and wonderful things of God. When our minds begin to be transformed by God, we will begin to turn from looking at our own stomachs, to looking at the world in front of us that God has called us to be a servant to.
So today, my question for all of us is: Where is God calling you to lay aside your “me-first” mind-set, and to take up the “servant” mind-set of Christ? Where are you being prodded to allow the power of the Spirit to begin to transform you, so that your mind and your life begins to reflect the love, grace, and power of God? I pray that our hearts will be receptive to God’s leading, and our hands will be ready for His tasks. Amen.
(*This sermon series for Lent is adapted from the book, “Living with the Mind of Christ” by James A. Harnish”. Many ideas have been used from this helpful book.)