In 27 BC, the Roman ruler Octavian came before the Senate to lay down his powers. He’d won a civil war, become the sole ruler of that region of the world, and was functioning like an emperor. Yet he knew such power was viewed suspiciously. So Octavian renounced his powers before the Senate, vowing to simply be an appointed official. Their response? The Roman Senate honored the ruler by crowning him with a civic crown and naming him the servant of the Roman people. He was also given the name Augustus—the “great one.”
Paul wrote of Jesus emptying Himself and taking on the form of a servant, Augustus appeared to do the same. Or had he? Augustus only acted like he was surrendering his power for his own gain. Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). Death on a Roman cross was the worst form of humiliation and shame.
Today, a primary reason people today praise “servant leadership” as a virtue is because of Jesus. Humility wasn’t a Greek or Roman virtue. Because Jesus died on the cross for us, He is the true Servant. He’s the true Savior.
Christ became a servant in order to save us. He “made himself nothing” so that we could receive something truly great—the gift of salvation and eternal life.
A few years ago, my doctor gave me a stern talk about my health. I took his words to heart and began going to the gym and adjusting my diet. Over time, both my cholesterol and my weight went down, and my self-esteem went up. But then something not so good happened: I began noticing other people’s dietary choices and judging them. Isn’t it funny that often when we find a scoring system that grades us well, we use it to lift ourselves up and put others down. It seems to be an innate human tendency to cling to self-made standards in an attempt to justify ourselves—systems of self-justification and guilt-management.
Paul warned the Philippians about doing such things. There were those were putting their confidence in religious performance or cultural conformity, and Paul wanted them to know that he had more reason to boast of such things: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Yet Paul knew his pedigree and performance was “garbage” compared to “knowing Christ” (v. 8). Only Jesus loves us as we are, rescues us, and gives us the power to become more like Him. No earning required; no score-keeping possible.
Boasting is bad in itself, but a boast based on false confidence is tragic. The gospel calls us away from misplaced confidence and into communion with a Savior who loves us and gave Himself for us.
I ran into an old friend who told me what he’d been up to, but I confess it seemed too good to be true. Within a few months of that conversation, however, his band was everywhere—from charting top singles on the radio to having a hit song pulsing under TV ads. His rise to fame was meteoric.
We can be obsessed with significance and success—the big and the dramatic, the quick and the meteoric. But the parables of the mustard seed and yeast compare the way of the Kingdom (God’s reign on earth) to small, hidden, and seemingly insignificant things whose work is slow and gradual.
The Kingdom is like its King. Christ’s mission culminated in His life, like a seed, being buried in the ground; like yeast, being hidden in the dough. Yet He rose. Like a tree breaking through the dirt, like bread when the heat is turned up. Jesus rose.
We’re invited to live according to His way, the way that’s persisting and permeating. To resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands, to grasp for power and to justify our dealings in the world by the outcomes they may produce. The outcome—“a tree . . . that the birds come and perch in its branches” (v. 32) and the bread that provides a feast—will be Christ’s doing, not ours.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was often asked that question as a child. And the answers changed like the wind. A doctor. A firefighter. A missionary. A worship leader. A physicist—or actually, MacGyver! (a favorite TV character.) .Now, as a dad of four kids, I think of how difficult that question must be for them. There are times when I want to say, “I know what you’ll be great at!” Parents can sometimes see more in their children than the children can see in themselves.
This resonates with what Paul saw in the Philippian believers—those he loved and prayed for (Philippians 1:3). He could see the end; he knew what they’d be when all was said and done. The Bible gives us a grand vision of the end of the story—resurrection and the renewal of all things (see 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21). But it also tells us who’s writing the story.
Paul, in the opening lines of a letter he wrote from prison, reminded the Philippian church that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus started the work and He’ll complete it. The word completion is particularly important—the story doesn’t just end, for God leaves nothing unfinished.
A marine biologist was swimming near the Cook Islands in the South Pacific when a 50,000-pound humpback whale suddenly appeared and tucked her under its fin. The woman thought her life was over. But after swimming slowly in circles, the whale let her go. It’s then that the biologist saw a tiger shark leaving the area. The woman believes the whale had been protecting her—keeping her from danger.
In a world of danger, we’re called to watch out for others. But you might ask yourself, Should I really be expected to be responsible for someone else? Or in Cain’s words: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The rest of the Old Testament resounds with the thunderous response: Yes! Just as Adam was to care for the garden, so Cain was to care for Abel. Israel was to keep watch over the vulnerable and care for the needy. Yet they did the opposite—exploiting the people, oppressing the poor, and abdicating the calling to love their neighbors as themselves (Isaiah 3:14–15).
Yet, in the Cain and Abel story, God continued to watch over Cain, even after he was sent away (Genesis 4:15–16). God did for Cain what Cain should have done for Abel. It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of what God in Jesus would come to do for us. Jesus keeps us in His care, and He empowers us to go and do likewise for others.
Had the wireless radio been on, they would have known the Titanic was sinking. Cyril Evans, the radio operator of another ship, had tried to relay a message to Jack Phillips, the radio operator on the Titanic—letting him know they had encountered an ice field. But Phillips was busy relaying passengers’ messages and rudely told Evans to be quiet. So Evans reluctantly turned off his radio and went to be bed. Ten minutes later, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Their distress signals went unanswered because no one was listening.
In 1 Samuel we read that the priests of Israel were corrupt and had lost their spiritual sight and hearing as the nation drifted into danger. “The word of the
“Speak, for your servant is listening” (v. 10). It’s the servant who hears. May we also choose to listen to and obey what God has revealed in the Scriptures. Let’s submit our lives to Him and take the posture of humble servants—those who have their “radios” turned on.
The security guard found and removed a piece of tape that was keeping a door from clicking shut. Later, when he checked the door, he found it had been taped again. He called the police, who arrived and arrested five burglars.
Working at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., the headquarters of a major political party in the US, the young guard had just uncovered the biggest political scandal of his lifetime simply by taking his job seriously—and doing it well.
Nehemiah began rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem—a task he took very seriously. Toward the end of the project, neighboring rivals asked him to meet with them in a nearby village. Under the guise of a friendly invitation was an insidious trap (Nehemiah 6:1–2). Yet Nehemiah’s response shows the depth of his conviction: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (v. 3).
Although he certainly possessed some authority, Nehemiah may not have rated very high on the hero scale. He wasn’t a great warrior, not a poet or a prophet, not a king or a sage. He was a cup-bearer-turned-contractor. Yet he believed he was doing something vital for God. May we take seriously what He’s given us to do and do it well in His power and provision.
“Dad, why do you have to go to work?” The question from my young daughter was motivated by her desire to play with me. I would have preferred to skip work and spend time with her, but there was a growing list of things at work that required my attention. The question, nevertheless, is a good one. Why do we work? Is it simply to provide for ourselves and for the people we love? What about labor that’s unpaid—why do we do that?
Genesis 2 tells us that God placed the first human in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (v. 15). My father-in-law is a farmer, and he often tells me that he farms for the sheer love of land and livestock. That’s beautiful, but it leaves lingering questions for those who don’t love their work. Why did God put us in a particular place with a particular assignment?
Genesis 1 gives us the answer. We’re made in God’s image to carefully steward the world He made. Pagan stories of the way the world began reveal “gods” making humans to be their slaves. Genesis declares that the one true God made humans to be His representatives— to steward what He’d made on His behalf . May we reflect His wise and loving order into the world. Work is a call to cultivate God’s world for His glory.
At the sound of the digital melody, all six of us sprang into action. Some slipped shoes on, others simply bolted for the door barefoot. Within seconds we were all sprinting down the driveway chasing the ice cream truck. It was the first warm day of summer, and there was no better way to celebrate than with a cold, sweet treat! There are things we do simply because of the joy it brings us, not out of discipline or obligation.
In the pair of parables found in Matthew 13:44–46, the emphasis is selling everything to gain something else. We might think the stories are about sacrifice. But that’s not the point. In fact, the first story declares it was “joy” that led the man to sell everything and buy the field. Joy drives change—not guilt or duty.
Jesus isn’t one segment of our lives; His claims on us are total. Both men in the stories “sold all” (v. 46). But here’s the best part: the result of this selling of everything is actually gain. We may not have guessed that. Isn’t the Christian life about taking up your cross? Yes. It is. But when we die, we live; when we lose our lives, we find it. When we “sell all,” we gain the greatest treasure: Jesus! Joy is the reason; surrender is the response.
The treasure of knowing Jesus is the reward.