Robert Jeffress - Developing A Servant's Heart
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Putting someone else's needs before your own isn't something that comes naturally, is it? We have to make an intentional effort to sacrifice our own comfort or convenience for the sake of someone else. But God wouldn't expect us to do anything that he wouldn't also do himself. In fact, Jesus is our ultimate model of servanthood and humility. And following his example brings us one step closer to experience a changed life that comes from a transformed heart. My message is titled, developing a servant's heart, on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Epitaphs. Do you know the word? An epitaph is an attempt to reduce somebody's life into a sentence or two that will fit on a grave marker. I came across recently some epitaphs that may or may not be legitimate, but they sound legitimate. Here is one: "Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a . 44, no Les, no more". That's kind of fitting. For those of you who are attorneys, you'll appreciate this: "sir John Strange, here lies an honest lawyer, and that is strange". Another one: here lies the body of Jonathan Blake, stepped on the gas instead of the brake. Or my own favorite here: I told you I was sick.
What about you? Have you ever thought if you were able to write your own epitaph, what would it be? What accomplishment, what attribute would you want those you leave behind to remember you for? Now that may seem a little ghoulish on a Sunday morning to be composing your own epitaph, so let's change the focus for a moment. Instead of writing your own epitaph, what if you were going to compose an epitaph for the empty tomb of Jesus Christ: a sentence that you think would best describe who he was and who he is. Perhaps: King of kings and Lord of lords. That'd be a good one. Or: the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Or: for by him, through him, and for him, all things were created.
Those are all epitaphs, by the way, that people actually wrote about Jesus Christ. They're found in the New Testament to describe Jesus. But the epitaph we might write for Christ, I think differs greatly from what Jesus would write if he were to compose his own epitaph. If he were to reduce to one sentence, what he would want people to know about him, what would it be? Do you know we actually have his epitaph in scripture? It's what he said about himself that he wanted you and me to know. In Mark 10:45 he said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many".
You know when you think about those words, they take your breath away if you really think about it. Here is Jesus who is equal to God, who before the world was created, was in heaven and being worshiped by all the heavenly beings. Here is Jesus who will one day be worshiped by every being in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: people will be bowing down before him in heaven. Revelation 5:12 says here is what we will be singing to Jesus - "Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing". I mean we are here to serve Christ, and yet, Jesus said: if there's one thing I want you to know about me, is that I didn't come to have you serve me - I came to serve you.
Is that not an incredible thought? Jesus puts a priority on servanthood. But what does it mean to be a servant of other people? Simply put: servanthood means putting the needs of other people above your own needs. It means making, meeting the needs of other people the priority in your life. You know one of the great myths people have is the older we get, the godlier we get. It doesn't work that way. Getting older doesn't mean you're going to become more godly. I know many churches right now - thank God, I mean literally, thank God our church isn't one of them, but many churches have become war zones because of battles between the senior adults and the young adults. Who's going to get their way in the church? No, we have to develop this idea of servanthood. We have to develop a heart that says: I came not to be served, but to serve.
How do we do that? How do we develop that servant's heart? Turn over to Philippians 2 for just a moment. You know the church at Philippi had become its own war zone, there were factions fighting, division, the church at Philippi had become a Burger King where everybody wanted to have it their way. And that's always the recipe for conflict in a church, where everybody clings to his own rights. What was the answer to that kind of division in the church? In a word it was: servanthood: putting the needs of other people above their own needs. Look at Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each one of you regard one another as more important than himself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others".
Well, gee, Paul, that sounds great, but exactly how do I do that? Well Paul gives us that illustration, that example that if we will look at carefully and emulate in our own life we can be a servant: and that illustration is Jesus himself. Look at verse 5, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus". What attitude? The attitude of putting the needs of others above your own. Do what Jesus did, Paul says. And of course what follows is one of the most beautiful passages in human literature. We call it the kenosis, the emptying of Jesus Christ.
The great scholar F.B. Meyer says these verses that follow are inapproachable and unexampled majesty. In fact these words were probably the foundation for one of the earliest hymns that were sung in the church, and yet sometimes we get so lost in the beauty of the passage we forget the teaching of the passage. And what follows beginning in verse 6 all the way to the end of the chapter are three essential ingredients for developing a servant's heart. Remember Paul is saying: I want you to do what Jesus did if you want to be a servant. What did Jesus do? What were the qualities that allowed him to become that servant? First of all, Paul mentions humility. You'll never be a servant, you'll never put other people's needs above your own without humility.
Now I'm not talking about false humility. I used to have a seminary professor who described what happens in many churches at 12 o'clock after the morning service. He used to call it: the glorification of the worm ceremony. He said: in so many churches at the end of the service the pastor stands at the back of the sanctuary and the members file by one by one to shake the pastor's hand. And the member will say: oh pastor, that was the greatest sermon I've ever heard. And the pastor will bow his head and say: oh, thank you dear brother, dear sister, but I am nothing, I am just a lowly worm in God's eyes. The glorification of the worm - neither person believes what he's saying at the time. It's false humility.
You know, you never find Jesus making any of those false humility statements. That's not what humility is. It's not saying you're nothing, that you have nothing good about you, that you have nothing to honor God with. Instead, Paul says: think soberly about yourself, God has given you certain gifts, he's given you certain hindrances, but you can use those for the glory of God. We're not talking about false humility when we're talking about becoming a servant. Think about Jesus. Again, he never said: I am a worm. He said: I am God's equal. I and the Father are one. He who has seen me has seen the Father.
Remember what he said to the apostle Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane after the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, and, you know, Peter took out the sword and cut that guy's ear off? And Jesus said: Peter thanks for the thought, but that's really not necessary. In fact in Matthew 26:53 he said, "Peter, do you not think that I cannot appeal to my father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels"? Know how many angels that is? A legion was 6.000 Roman soldiers, so 12 legions would be 72.000 angels. Jesus said, like that I could have 72.000 angels here. Remember it was only one angel, it took only one angel to kill 186.000 Assyrian soldiers, so that's a lot of angel power Jesus had at his disposal. He said: Peter, just like that, I could call all of these angels.
Now at first that may sound kind of braggadocious to us: Jesus, kind of, take it down a few notches here. Sounds like the rich kid who's about to be beat up by the school bully who says: oh, before you do that you better think who my daddy is. Well that's not what's going on here. Jesus wasn't bragging, he was simply stating a fact. He had equal authority to God the Father, but humility meant he was willing to let go of that authority in order to meet the greatest need that you and I have, and that's what he says in verses 5 and 6 of Philippians 2. Paul said, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus who although he existed in the form of God he did not regard equality with God a thing to be clung to, grasped, held on to".
And that leads to the second component of servanthood, humility, secondly sacrifice. Sacrifice. Jesus had everything. He was equal with God, but he was willing to let go of those things in order to meet the greatest need you and I have. Look at verses 6-8 again, of Philippians 2, "Who although he existed in the form of God didn't regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross".
That's important to understand: what is it that Jesus emptied himself of? He didn't empty himself of his Godliness, his God-like qualities. You know I can't empty myself, I can't give up being 5'8" tall or having brown eyes - that's who I am, I can't give those things up. In the same way Jesus could not give up being the Son of God, his omniscience, his omnipotence - what he gave up was his rights. He gave up his divine rights and privileges as the Son of God. Many of you right now are having to give up, perhaps dreams of an early retirement or comfort and relaxation in order to take care of aging parents, to let go of what you have a right to in order to serve a greater purpose.
What does it take to be a servant? It takes humility, honestly realizing what belongs to you and who you are in Christ. Secondly, to be willing to give up those rights that belong to you. And thirdly, there has to be the component of faith. Now listen to me, we will never consistently put the needs of other people above our own until we're convinced there's a payoff somewhere down the line for doing that. Now I know, I heard it the last time I said that when we talked about having an obedient heart: some of you winced at that thought that we have to be rewarded in order to do the right thing: well pastor, shouldn't we just obey God because we're supposed to and we want to? People who say that are more spiritual than God is because the fact is God created us: he knows we need an incentive to continually and consistently obey him. God never asked us to separate the concept of service from reward. He says ultimately there is a payoff for following God.
Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God", for the person who comes to God wants to have a relationship with God must believe two things. First of all that God is: that is, he exists, "And that God is a rewarder of those who seek him". That's what happened to Jesus. God eventually rewarded him for his service. Look again at Philippians 2:8-11, "And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow: of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
Now serving God may cause us to temporarily have to set aside our need for recognition and reward: temporarily we have to set that aside, but not eternally. There is a reward coming for those who follow Christ. You know eventually we have things happen in this life that are kind of a preview of coming attractions of the rewards that await us in heaven one day.
I remember hearing Billy Graham interviewed one time by Dianne Sawyer on ABC, and she said: Dr. Graham, I'm sure you're looking forward to heaven because of all of the rewards you're going to receive for your service to Christ. He said: I'm looking forward to heaven but not for that reason because I don't think I'm going to have that many rewards in heaven. I've received my recognition and rewards here on earth. I think the people who receive rewards in heaven are going to be those believers we've never heard about in this life: believers who have quietly served God without recognition or reward. That's what the Word of God is saying. Those who sacrifice, those who give up, what belongs to them in order to serve a greater purpose are going to enjoy the unending applause of heaven and the eternal approval of their God.
I said at the outset of this message: becoming a servant, putting the needs of other people among yourselves is a prerequisite for being a disciple of Christ, but it doesn't come naturally or easily to any of us. So as we close today, I'd like to close in these final few minutes with just three practical suggestions to help you, as Chuck Swindoll once said, improve your serve: how to become a better servant of God. How do you do that? Let's go back to those three components just a moment. First of all, about humility. About humility. How can you become humble? Recognizing what God has given you but giving him credit for it.
Let me encourage you, sometime this afternoon, sometime this week take a moment and write a paragraph that describes your epitaph: what you'd like people to remember about you, what you'd like your family to know about you. It might include some accomplishments about which you're particularly proud, it might be some qualities that people have told you they've appreciated in you: it might be some experiences you've had. There's nothing wrong with identifying those things. Write down a paragraph that describes you at your best, and then read the words of 1 Corinthians 4:7, "And what do you have that you did not receive, but if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it"?
You know my definition of humility? It's recognizing that any good thing in my life is the result of what either God or others have done for me. When you write down those things you're proud about in your life, take a moment to thank God for those things. If needed thank those people in your life God has used to bring those positive things into your life. Secondly, about sacrifice: again, that doesn't come necessary but it's an important component of servanthood - giving up something that belongs to you in order to meet the needs of other people. I'd like to encourage you to make a challenge to yourself of once a day letting go of something that is a right of yours in order to meet the need of somebody else.
For example, perhaps time is your most valuable commodity every day. Why not take 30 minutes that you might spend doing something for yourself, something you enjoy and use that time to help somebody else? Maybe somebody needs an encouraging phone call from you, or a text, or an email. Maybe there's somebody you can drop by and see at the hospital or someplace else, but 30 minutes meeting the needs of other people other than your own. Maybe you're one of those people who has some discretionary income: maybe using some of that discretionary income every week instead of spending it on yourself to spend it on somebody who has a legitimate need that you can meet.
And then thirdly, about faith. We said without faith you can't please God - without the assurance that God is going to reward you one day for your sacrifices, you'll never do that continually. I told you I keep a prayer journal, a list of things that I'm asking God for and record the answers. If you keep a prayer journal, here's a separate list you might want to keep. I know this is going to sound weird to you, but stick with me. Why not keep a running list of things you're expecting of God to reward you for one day? Things you believe God is going to reward you for, maybe not in this life, but in the next life, but sacrifices you are making to meet the needs of other people to be a true disciple of God.
You say: that sounds kind of weird, doesn't it? No, not if you believe God says he's a rewarder of those who diligently serve him. What sacrifices are you making that are worthy of God rewarding? Now I'm not talking about your responsibilities. Loving your mate doesn't count, okay. That's a normal responsibility. That's not an above and beyond duty. Caring for your children, obeying God's commands - those are all part of what we're responsible to do, but I'm talking about those things that are above and beyond your call, real rights that you have that you are voluntarily giving up for somebody else. You know just as there is no reward without sacrifice, there will be no continual sacrifice without the assurance of reward. Jesus Christ was willing to give up his rights as God to meet our needs not because he was obligated to do so, but because he was a servant at heart. Are you?