On Fridays I’d like to share a devotion with you from our teaching in the Book of Philippians. Today we start…at the beginning!
The Greatest Title of All
Philippians 1:1: Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: (KJV)
How would you start a letter? Dear Tom? Dearest Susan? To whom it may concern? We don’t put much thought into a greeting or salutation. But Paul is different from us. He is a teacher, a rabbi, and an educator. He is a Christian theologian. A true teacher uses every situation as an opportunity to teach.
Perhaps you grew up in the house of an educator and everything was a lesson. You couldn’t eat a leggo waffle without it being a grammar class. You couldn’t ask for syrup without it being a class. A simple question like “momma, where’s the syrup at?” would result in a stern look and the reply, “behind the preposition, ‘at.’” But mom, “I didn’t ask you about prepositional phrases, I just want some syrup on my waffle.”
Paul is a teacher. He’s a rabbi. He’s an instructor. He uses everything to teach a lesson. What may seem like a simple greeting – to an instructor – is an opportunity to teach a lesson. Don’t ever think verse one is just a courtesy salutation. Even Paul’s greeting is intended to communicate deep truths about the plan of God.
“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ”
You hear a lot of titles circulating in Christianity: Senior Pastor, Lead Pastor, Reverend, Brother, Sister, Evangelist, Teacher, Apostle, Prophet, Bishop, Elder, Deacon, Superintendent, Presbyter, Suffragan Bishop, just to name a few. Our infatuation with titles is not limited to the church. In society you hear Doctor, Honorable, Commander, Captain, Admiral along with all sorts of suffixes attached to one’s name: PhD, BS, BA, MBA, DDS or MD.
I’m sure in religious circles you’ve been introduced to, “Evangelist Smith”, “Missionary Jones”, or even “Apostle so-in-so.” I remember when I was a young minister in my father’s church a man visited a service and announced that he was “apostle” so-in-so and his ministry was to go to various churches and “set things in order!” My father was no pushover. The man didn’t stay long after realizing my dad was not about to give this stranger the microphone or allow him to do anything in the service! He was quick to assign the title “apostle” to himself. I’ve met a lot of people in my life in the church and seen just about everything. In all that time, I don’t once remember someone anyone ever introducing himself or herself: “Hi, I’m servant Tom” or “Hello, I’m servant Jane”. “Servant” is a title rarely mentioned.
Has anyone ever heard of someone being promoted to “Servant?” We’ve all heard of someone being promoted from youth pastor to assistant pastor. Or Pastor to Senior Pastor. Or Senior Pastor to Bishop. Have you, even one time, heard someone answer “servant” to the question “What are you?” or “what do you do?”
Look up Romans 1:1, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1, Revelation 1:1. What is the common thread in all these verses?
Paul begins his letter to the Philippians by letting them know he was, first of all, a servant. Who are you? Apostle Paul? Bishop Paul? Reverend Paul? No, I’m servant Paul and this is Servant Timothy. We are servants of Jesus Christ. Keep in mind this is the man who wrote two thirds of the New Testament. This is the man whopreached before Kings, Dignitaries and Roman rulers. God brought special miracles by the hands of Paul. Even the devils knew him by name. If there was ever a figure in the New Testament church who might think himself to be worthy of an admirable title, it was Paul. Yet he makes it plain in the beginning and throughout the letter that he is, first of all, a servant of Jesus Christ.
There has never been a man more deserving of lofty titles than our Lord Jesus. If there was ever a person who deserved to be served rather than serve others, it was Jesus. He is the Son of God. He is the very God of heaven come in human form. He is worthy of worship, adoration and praise. He is worthy of being served by all. Yet Jesus repeatedly showed the attitude of a servant.
What Jesus taught is counter to the philosophy of the world. The world says those who are great are the ones who are being served. The world says, “you’ve really arrived,” if you get to a status in life where others do things for you. Jesus’ teaching and example was just the opposite. Jesus said the greatest are the ones who are doing the serving. Some may think they are above serving others, but there is nothing above serving. It is the highest calling.
What are some practical ways that we can demonstrate the heart of a servant? In the local church? In the Community? Where and how else can we follow Jesus’ example of being a servant?
Key Concept: The Book of Philippians is an instruction manual on how to find peace and joy in life and in ministry. Paul declares that he is, firstly, a servant. Jesus taught that joy that comes from being a servant. So, in the very first verse of the Book of Philippians, we can draw an important conclusion about joy: Joy comes to those who serve.
The world teaches that happiness comes from getting – that joy comes from being served and having people do things for you. Jesus taught just the opposite. Jesus taught that joy comes from serving others.
Until next Friday,
~Pastor Matthew Ball
**In our comment section below, please share a personal example of how you have found joy in serving!