Scripture Reference: John 12:24-26, John 15:5, John 17:21, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 5:25, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:1-18, Colossians 1:29
The Basics Of ServiceRev. Philip Miller | October 10, 2021
Scripture Reference: John 12:24-26, John 15:5, John 17:21, Galatians 2:20, Galatians 5:25, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:1-18, Colossians 1:29
Selected highlights from this sermon
Who is the greatest person you’ve had the privilege of knowing? Not the most glamorous, but the greatest. While society’s definition of greatness focuses on the external, God’s idea of greatness centers on the internal.
In this message, Pastor Miller takes us back to the basics of being humble, servant-hearted Christians—a true greatness that God intends to grow in us through His Spirit by conforming us to the image of Christ, that we might share in His glory and joy forever.
The other day I had lunch with a brand new acquaintance, and he asked me one of those questions that could have come straight out of one of those ice-breaker books. You know the ones I’m talking about, like “101 Great Conversation Openers?” You know, that sort of thing?
He asked me this question. He said, “Who is the greatest person you’ve had the privilege of knowing?” And I thought, “Well, that’s a dumb question.” (Not really.) But I did think, I thought, that this is actually a good question. At first I started to think about celebrities. Almost instinctively that’s what came to my mind. Famous people, people with big egos, and big press, and big money. And then I realized I had two problems. One, I don’t really know any famous people, and secondly, that’s glamour, not greatness.
The question was “Who’s the greatest person you’ve had the privilege of knowing?” And he didn’t ask, “What is the most glamorous person?” And I realized there’s a difference. Glamour impresses from a distance. Greatness makes impact up close. Glamour is all about the outside. Greatness is on the inside. Glamour draws attention to itself. Greatness focuses attention on others, doesn’t it?
So after a while of pausing and thinking I finally answered, “I think my Grandpa Miller.” He passed away earlier this year and went to be with Jesus, but he was the very best encourager I have ever met. He believed in his kids and his grandkids. He was good, and kind, and faithful, and selfless, and loving, and generous. And friends, that’s true greatness, isn’t it?
Isn’t that amazing, that all the marketers tell us life is about glamour, don’t they? Amazing careers, big houses, fun cars, fashionable recreation, looking young forever, right? Instagram worthy vacations, early retirement, thick hair and white teeth.
But all of a sudden at a funeral we see through all that, don’t we? We remember what’s true. We don’t talk about glamour. We talk about greatness at a funeral. We talk about friendship and tenderness, and selflessness, and sacrifice, and generosity, and care, and faithfulness, and love. And all of those things spring from a common well, and that’s humility. Humility. Humble people are great people. Humble people put other people first. Humble people admit when they’re wrong. Humble people ask for forgiveness. Humble people show genuine interest in others. They show empathy and genuine love. They encourage and invest in other people. They give of themselves freely. They’re generous and selfless and sacrificial and servant-hearted. That’s what humility is. That’s what greatness looks like. And here’s what’s amazing to me. This very greatness that we admire in other people is the very same greatness that God intends to work in your life and mine. By the power of His Holy Spirit, as He conforms us to the image of Christ, He is calling us to share in His eternal glory to our greatest joy forever.
Friends, God intends to make you and me into people of true greatness, servant-hearted people, humble like Jesus Himself. And that kind of true greatness is what we’re going to talk about today.
Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Philippians 2:1–18. You’ll find today’s reading in the pew Bible there, the blue one, on page 980 to 981. We’re going to see four insights this morning about true greatness. We’re going to see:
- The Priority Of True Greatness,
- The Model Of True Greatness,
- The Secret Of True Greatness, and
- The Beauty Of True Greatness
The priority, model, secret, and beauty of true greatness.
All right? Let’s jump in. But first, let’s pray and seek the Lord’s face together.
Father, we want to be great, not as the world defines it, but as you define it. We want to be great like Jesus. Help us to learn what this looks like, and what it requires of us. Be our teacher. Empower us to change and become new today. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
So first, The Priority Of True Greatness, The Priority Of True Greatness. Chapter 2, verse 1 here in the book of Philippians: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Just park there for a moment. There are four “ifs” here, four conditions. Let’s see if they apply to us, okay? First, if there’s any encouragement in Christ. So, as Christ has reached down to you, friends, in His saving love, as He has enfolded you into His forever family, have you experienced encouragement? If you have, say yes. Okay. If there’s any comfort from His love, have you, friends, have you felt the comfort of the love of God?
Say yes. If there’s any participation in the Spirit, has the Spirit, friends, has He drawn you in faith to Christ as He is in you and with you, and empowering you for participation in His spiritual family? Have you participated in the Spirit, friends? Say yes. If there’s any affection or sympathy, have you experienced the affection and sympathy of Christ in your life? Do you know His affection, His love for you? Do you feel His sympathy and compassion for you in your weakness? If you have, say yes. Okay. So this is for us. Paul says then, “Complete my joy.”
How would we do that, Paul? Three things: By being of the same mind. I want you to think as one. I want you to be one, united together, moving in the same direction, having the same mind, having the same love. Number two, that you would love one another with the love that Christ has loved you first. And three, being in full accord, and of one mind. So there’s a rational: “Be of the same mind;” There’s a heart: “Have the same love;” And there’s an embodied action: Be of full accord, and of one mind, moving together in one purpose, bound together in one unity and spirit; together, united as one, mutually working together.
This is what John 17:21 records Jesus praying for us, the church. He says, “I pray that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, that they may be in us.”
So what Paul is saying here is, “If you are united with Christ, if that’s true of you, then I want you to live in unity with those who are in Christ.” It is not just enough to be united with Christ. That unity will flow down through us into the Body, into the family of God, bringing unity among us as brothers and sisters.
Now, how would we do that? (chuckles)
Verse 3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
He says, “I don’t want you doing anything from selfish ambition or conceit. No private agendas, no showing off, no ego, but in contrast, in humility, count others more significant than yourselves.” Put them first. Prioritize others. Put their needs ahead of your own. “Let each of you look not just to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Don’t just look out for yourself to make sure your needs are getting met. Look out for others. Make sure they get get what they need.
See, Paul is unpacking what he meant when he said back in chapter 1, verse 27, when he says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Remember that? He’s showing us what that looks like. You want a life that is worthy of the Gospel? It looks like this. Live in unity with one another. Be humble and selfless. Don’t just think about your stuff, but think about those around you, because, friends, God desires a united family filled with humble love. God desires a humble, ignited family, filled will humble love.
Friends can you imagine how wonderful it would be, church, if we would live like this every day of our lives? I don’t know about you, but I long for this kind of mutual, loving, selfless, humble, others-focused community. It would be a little taste of heaven, wouldn’t it? Because it’s a glimpse of the heart of heaven, a glimpse of Jesus Himself, isn’t it? Because He’s the model of true greatness. That’s where Paul goes next, the model of true greatness.
Verse 5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” He says, “Have one mind.” What is the one mind? The mind of Christ! Verse 6: “…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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Here, friends, is the ultimate example of what Paul is calling us to. He says, “Here’s your model. It’s Christ Himself. I want you to follow Him. Imitate Him.” Because, friends, the way of Jesus is not just a set of beliefs that we adhere to. It is a lifestyle that we follow.
Paul says, “I want you to imitate Christ. Even though He was in the form of God, sharing in all of His glory and power and majesty, and rights and privileges from all eternity past, He didn’t count equality with God something to be held on to, grasped tightly. But no, He relinquished His rights, His privileges. He took on the form of a servant. He was born in the likeness of humanity. He became one of us, mortal, frail, human forever. And being found in human form, He humbled himself even further by becoming obedient to the point of death, and not just any death, but death on a cross, the most shameful death known at the time.”
And Paul says, “Look at Jesus. By rights He didn’t have to do any of this, but He set His rights aside in humility and selfless service to rescue us and lay down His life in our place and for our sake, to bear all of our sin and shame, and to make us right with God.” It’s the only reason we are here. It’s because He didn’t hold on to what was rightfully His. He laid it down to serve you and me.
Listen friends, Jesus did nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit. In humility He considered us more significant than Himself, and He looked to the interests of others. You see this. He gave Himself away for you and me.
“Therefore, (verse 9) [on the basis of His humble service and selfless radical self-giving love] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Amen? And isn’t this remarkable? Jesus gave up His glory. He gave up His name. He gave up His honor. He gave up His rights. He humbled Himself to serve and offer Himself as a sacrifice for us. And the Father, listen, the Father gave it all back and then some. He highly exalted Him, bestowed the name above every name, cosmic confession of His Lordship, redounding to the glory of the Father!
And how did Jesus come into all of this glory? How did He do it? Through servant-hearted humility and others–first, sacrificial love. Friends, Jesus’ path to glory ran through the cross. And Paul says, “Look to Jesus. Follow Jesus. Imitate Jesus!” And it’s not just Paul who says this. Jesus calls each of us through the cross to glory. Jesus calls each of us through the cross to glory.
Remember John 12:24–26? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
He says, “You want to be honored by My Father? You want to secure your life forever? You want to be truly great in the kingdom of God? Then take up your cross and follow Me. Lay your life down, and you will find it. Give yourself away, and you will find your true self. In humility, become the servant of all, and you will be great in the kingdom of heaven. Die to your selfishness. Die to your pride. Die to your insistence on having your own way. Die to having your own rights upheld. Die to having your preferences met.”
Friends, there is so much in me that needs to die for the beautiful life of Christ to come to life in me. There’s so much that needs to die because I’ve got a problem. You know what it is? I’m selfish. (chuckles) I instinctively think of myself first. By default, I look to my own needs. By nature, my focus is on me. And you’re thinking, maybe you’re sitting here and you’re thinking “Boy, I’m so glad my friend or my spouse is here to hear this message. They really need to hear this.” Well it’s you too, you know that, right? If you don’t believe me, I’ll prove it to you. Let’s say you’re in a group photo at work, or something like that, and they snap the picture and it’s a whole bunch of you. And the photographer brings the phone over and says, “Hey, check this. Is it a good picture?” Who do you look at first? (chuckles) You look at yourself, don’t you? And what makes it a good picture? If you look good! Was I sucking in? Was I looking all right? Was my chin up? Right? We automatically look to ourselves first, and friends, there is so much that needs to die in us for the life of Christ to be resurrected into our existence.
Jesus calls us to follow Him through the cross to glory, to lay down our lives for others, just as He laid down His life for us. That’s where true greatness is born. Now, how do we do that? How can we, selfishly oriented beings, learn to die to ourselves? If it was easy we would have already done it. What’s the secret? How do we become people of humility and selfless love like Christ?
Well, The Secret Of True Greatness comes next. The Secret Of True Greatness. Look at verse 12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” There’s a paradox here, do you see it? A tension in these verses.
He says first, “You work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, nobody’s going to to do this for you. (chuckles) You have to take responsibility for the working out of your own salvation with fear and trembling. It’s not going to happen by accident. You’re not going to wake up some morning and go, “Huh, I’m holy!” all of a sudden. That’s not going to happen. You’ve got to take some ownership.
But look at the second part: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” See, the only reason you’re able to work out your own salvation is because God is working in you in the first place, you see. Without Him, there’s no willing, and there’s no working. (chuckles) Got it? It is God who works in you both to will, desire, resolve, appetite, longing to be better and holy, and it is He who empowers the work of your doing. You work out your salvation, but He works in you the work you work out. (laughs) Is this starting to make any sense?
This salvation that God has planted in you, friends, by grace, through faith in Christ, is coming alive in you and it will bear fruit through you, and He says, “I want you to work it out.” You’re responsible for bearing the fruit of Christ in your life. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take effort, striving! Do it with fear and trembling. Why? Because God is on the inside, dwelling in you by His Holy Spirit, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight. So every desire for humility, every longing for a self-sacrificing life, every moment you want to be more others focused in your love is a moment from the Spirit of God Himself. It is coming in you. The desires are being birthed in you, and it is His power that is now working through you, in every doing, in every faltering attempt at obedience, it is from Him. We work out what He is working in. Do you see the paradox, the tension? It is both your dealing and God’s dealing at once.
This is why Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
You say, “Wait a minute, Paul, which one is it? I’ve been crucified and I no longer live, or the life I still live? Which one is it, Paul? “
Yes, yes, I have died and yet I live. It is my life and yet it is Christ, you see, and at once He is working in us what we then work out.
Colossians 1:29, again Paul. He says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy which he powerfully works within me.” (laughs) For this I toil. That’s an effort word, right? Struggling, straining with all his energy! “There is output here,” Paul says, “which He is powerfully working within me.” It’s His energy. It’s His life. “It is coursing through me as I yield to them.” Or as Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
So friends, the key to transformation lies in obedient surrender. The key to transformation lies in obedient surrender. We obey. That’s our part, but not in self-effort. In active dependency and surrender to the Holy Spirit who is working in us and through us. And we surrender, but not passively. We surrender to the leading and desires of the Spirit. We yield to His direction and we put it in gear.
In the words of Galatians 5:25, “[We] keep in step with the Spirit.” We don’t lag behind. We don’t run ahead. Hand in hand, step by step, we move when He moves, and not a moment before and not a moment after. We put our feet in front of each other, and let the Spirit lead.
Keep in step with the Spirit and He says, “Slowly but surely you will walk into the true greatness of the life of Christ Himself, which will become your own.” Is that not a beautiful thought?
Now, let’s look at The Beauty Of True Greatness, The Beauty Of True Greatness. Verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and depraved…(I memorized this in a different version)children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the word, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise, you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
He says, “If we are to become truly great like Jesus, full of servant-hearted humility and others-first sacrificial love, we’re not going to be grumbling and complaining and griping. We’re not going to be disputing or arguing, or fighting.”
What would it look like instead? Blamelessness, innocence, unblemished children of God! That’s who you are. You would bear the family resemblance of our Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, our Brother, and the Holy Spirit whose life is now our own, and we would shine, shine as lights, as stars in the universe, in
this crooked and twisted generation, a light of hope to a lost and dying world, holding fast, not to our own rights, but holding fast to the word of life to the very end. Paul says, “I want to see you faithful, enduring, holy in every way, righteous before the throne of God in glory. That’s what my whole life is about,” Paul says. “I’m laboring and running this race. This is why I’m in the game. I want to see your faithfulness to the very end. And that would be my great joy, even if this is my last act and my life is being poured out, and this is my final two days on Earth. If that’s true, I rejoice because this was worth every moment to see you become glorious like Jesus Christ. And that’s my joy and I want you to mingle your joy with mine.”
And all of this comes down to whether you will say yes to the way of Jesus, whether you will step, you and I, whether we will step into this call to true greatness, to become like Christ. Will we give up our rights and privileges? Will we humble ourselves? Will we become a servant? Will we sacrifice? Will we give of ourselves? Will we put others first? Only then, friends, will we have unity and humble love in the family of God. Only then will we be revealed as the blameless children of God that we are. Only then will we shine like stars, like lights in a crooked and twisted generation. Only then will we hold fast to the very end to the glory that Christ is calling us to.
Friends, becoming truly great like Jesus means going against the flow. Becoming truly great like Jesus means going against the flow. Friends, we’re not going to learn sacrificial, self-giving, others-focused love from this twisted and crooked generation. Right? We’re not going to learn that from ourselves. We’re not going to learn how to, in love, lay down our rights and privileges from our cable news stations. We’re not going to learn how to become sacrificial servants of all from our political leaders. We’re not going to learn how to look out for the interests of others from our social media channels. No, if we’re going to become truly great like Jesus it’s going to mean going against the flow.
I was talking this week with a bunch of Chicagoland pastors all throughout Chicago here, and much of our conversation centered around how disheartening it has been over the past year, watching the world infect our churches. It is so angry out there. It is so bitter, so divisive, so toxic over every imaginable issue. Masks or no masks, vaccinations, no vaccinations, race, politics. You name it!
It is so toxic out there and we were lamenting how, instead of shining like lights in crooked and twisted generation, our churches have been so often infected by the prevailing culture around us. Instead of shining with sacrificial, self-giving, humble, others-focused love, we have so often been grumbling and disputing like everyone else.
And friends, friends, may I plead with you for the sake of Christ, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any comfort from his love, if there is any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that on the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”
D.L. Moody once said, “I know of nothing that speaks louder for Christ and Christianity than to see a man or woman giving up what they call their rights for others, and in honor preferring one another.”
So here’s the takeaway: True greatness means becoming a servant of all. True greatness means becoming a servant of all.
Remember what Jesus said. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Now here’s the fact of the matter. Most of us will not give our lives away in one fell swoop, will we? We’re not going to do it. It’s not a once and done deal. It is the accumulation of a thousand small acts of selfless love and sacrificial service. That’s how we give our lives away. It happens when you take out the garbage, or clean up the mess, or share the last bite, or hold our tongues, or when we allow ourselves to be inconvenienced for others, when we give more than our fair share, when we choose to break the silence, when we say “I’m sorry” first, when we extend forgiveness if someone’s not really sorry enough yet, when we choose to bless our enemies, when we choose to lend a hand. As the Spirit prompts and leads and empowers, we step out and obey.
I want to leave you with one question. It’s a servant’s question. The question is, “How can I help?”
“How can I help?” Anybody can use this question. When you’re tired and exhausted and thinking about yourself, find someone and ask, “How can I help?” And whatever they say, just do it in the strength and joy of the Spirit that will cause you to become more like Christ. It’s not glamorous but it’s the stuff of true greatness. And in the end it’s what really matters.
Would you pray with me?
Father, we love you. Father, forgive us for our selfishness. Forgive us for our pride. Forgive us for our ego. Forgive us for living our own way and following our own desires instead of following the Spirit, instead of following Christ. Father, teach us to give ourselves away, to become people of great beauty and glory and greatness in the kingdom of our Father, that we might become like Christ who gave up everything for us. Teach us to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ we pray, by the power of your Spirit, to the glory of your name, Amen. Amen.