Monday, March 23, 2009

Morphing Into Servanthood

One of the things a congregation should do is equip people to serve. It appears in the promises of membership, as one of the aspects of faith through which people promise to support the congregation – “…prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness…”

Often when we think of serving, we think of particular actions, like preparing a meal or volunteering in a clothes closet or going on a mission trip. How often do we think about the attitude that underlies these actions? How often do we think about the motivation behind them?

See, not only did Jesus serve, he took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). The word “form” is from the Greek word morphe, which is in the English language as the verb “morph,” very common in the superhero/fantasy vernacular. It is used when a character takes on a new identity.

In taking on a servant’s form, Jesus was doing more than going through the motions of serving others. He was taking on the identity of a servant. “Though he was in the ‘form’ of God,” he voided himself of this “form” (2:6) in order to take on another form altogether.

It reminds me of the difference between a politician serving soup in a homeless shelter for the sake of a photo opportunity versus a person whose only thought is to help other people in every single moment. It is about an authentic attitude of servanthood guiding our every action. The acts themselves are manifestations of the attitude.

One of the “General Rules” for Methodists says that they will “continue to evidence their desire of salvation” by “doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all.” In other words, taking the form of a servant, in humility and selflessness, always regarding the needs of others before one’s own needs.

It's interesting to me how that word also carries a different meaning. Sometimes when you're talking about an object having the "form" of something, you mean that it is shallow. As in someone who claims to be something that they are not, like an "in name only" kind of deal. It is possible to be all form and no content.

I know that the church sometimes does that, kind of pretending to be the church or acting as if it is the church, all the while functioning actually as a social club, or a place of business, or a family chapel. Certainly there are individual Christians that do so, too. As if the "form" of servanthood is a mask one can put on and take off, but isn't any deeper than that.

This meaning of "form" is not the meaning conveyed in Philippians 2, however. Jesus did not just put on a human mask over a divine identity. (This heresy is called docetism, I believe.) Rather, the incarnation is about God truly becoming human, flesh and blood, a really real in your face human being.

Christians serve a Lord who is a Servant - one of the beautiful paradoxes of our faith. As churches equip people to serve, we are striving to live Christlike lives. Regarding others in all we say and do and are means morphing into servanthood, just like Jesus did.

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