Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote about a very driven pre-med student at Stanford University who dreamed of passing all his fellow-students on the way to the top of the medical field. While traveling around India after his junior year, the student met a guru who asked him…
“Don’t you see you’re poisoning your soul with this success-oriented way of life? Your idea of happiness is to stay up all night studying for an exam so you can get a better grade than your best friend. That’s your idea of happiness?! Your idea of a good marriage is not to find a woman who’ll be your soul mate, but to win the girl everybody else wants! Well, that’s not how people are supposed to live. Come and join me and my disciples in an atmosphere where we all share and love one another.”
Well, turns out, this guy was ripe for the guru’s message. So he called his parents and told them he was dropping out of school to live in a commune. Six months later, his parents got a letter from him: “Dear Mom and Dad, I know you weren’t happy about my decision to drop out of school, but I want to tell you how it’s changed me... For the first time in my life, I’m at peace. There is no competition here; There’s no trying to get ahead at someone else’s expense. This way of life is so in harmony with my inner soul that in only six months I’ve become the #2 Disciple in the entire community, and I think I can be Number One by June!”
Sadly, I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us. In fact, it was something Jesus’ firsts disciples struggled with. In Luke 9:46, for example, we’re told that “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.” In Matthew 20, the mother of James & John comes up to Jesus and asks Him if her two sons could sit on either side of Him when they all get up to heaven. Of course, that got the other disciples upset.
So, Jesus says, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different.” In other words… “You know how the leaders around you live for power and success. But that’s not what our community is going to look like.” “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And so, to all those fixed on resume-building, status-seeking & ladder-climbing, the Apostle Paul writes these challenging words in Philippians 2:5-7… “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to. Rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…”
Now, most commentators understand this passage to say that in spite of the fact that Jesus was God, He made Himself nothing and became a servant. That makes sense, right? He’s God… He certainly didn’t need to become a servant. I mean, that’s one of the cool things about being God! And yet, I think Paul is saying pretty much the opposite. It’s not that Jesus became a servant in spite of being God, but rather, He became a servant precisely because He was God. You see, “being in the very nature God,” Jesus could do no less. It is in the very nature of God to serve.
Jesus was clearly at the ultimate top of the proverbial ladder. Come on… He was God! But Paul says that He didn’t consider His position as God something to be grasped or clinged to. He didn’t consider His position as a reason why He shouldn’t serve those who should, in fact, be serving Him. And so, rather than model the kind of life that seeks to “climb the corporate ladder,” Jesus, who stands at the top of it all, climbs down the ladder to its lowest rung… not only making Himself nothing by becoming a servant, but dies a criminal’s death on a Cross.
And so, once again, because it was in His very nature to do so… Jesus showed us and the world not only what He (as God) was like… but what He wanted His followers to look like. Instead of stepping on others on the way to the top, we’re to put a towel over our arms and begin serving the world around us. Just as Jesus was the spitting image of the Father… we’re meant to reflect to the world around us the heart of Jesus… the heart of compassion, love, mercy, humility, forgiveness, and servanthood. And, if this is combined with a fierce missional spirit and a passion for prayer, then there’s little doubt that, as a real peacemaker, you can change the world!