We live in a strange and interesting world, don’t we? A world of inherent contradictions. There are those in our world who say that we should all be equal, then there are those in this world who say that some should rule over others. Then there are those that say both of these things. That we should all be equal, but some of us should be greater at being equal. Or that some of us are destined to be better equals. We are told simultaneously to be greater and equal, not recognizing they are inherently contradictory things.
This world is full of these inherently contradictory cries to go this way or that way, and much of the media, television, and culture, especially the self-help culture, tries to encourage us to look within to find the greatness that we can be and can achieve.
We see this kind of thinking even among Jesus’ disciples. It is recorded several times in the gospels that the disciples argued with each other about who would be the greatest, and who would be the best among them.
There is this great flaw in human nature for people to think better of ourselves than we should. To try to puff ourselves up, to make of ourselves more than we should. We call this pride. There is a good kind of pride, like when you are proud of your son or daughter for doing something charitable or otherwise good for their sister or a friend or succeeding at school.
But there is a wicked kind of pride that emanates from us human beings and we see it all over the place. The dragon of pride within us that wants to rise up above others. And it wreaks havoc in our world. It binds people up, interferes with friendships, dismantles marriages, topples governments, and brings all sorts of terrors and strife’s. And it was into this very world that our Lord and saviour Jesus was born. And one of the things his coming did was force us to rethink how we think about who we are.
We should be on our knees, spiritually speaking, much more than we are. Let’s see what Paul says about this in Philippians.
Paul says here, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,…” Paul is addressing believers here. If you are listening to this and you are not yet a believer I will come back to that a bit later. Here he is directly addressing those with a love and hope in the gospel, those who have been transformed by the message of Jesus Christ, and those who know what love is through the lens of Jesus. Those who have been given the Holy Spirit and who therefore are filled with this renewed heart.
One of the most foundational truths of Christianity is that we need to be changed. Not everyone likes this message. Our culture likes to tell us that we should be accepted how we are, we are good the way we are. People should not expect you to change. How often have you heard it said that we need to learn to accept ourselves? This idea is built on a tiny grain of truth. There are aspects of ourselves that we will never be able to change, they are built into our genes and God designed us to be that way.
But we also know that we do a lot wrong, we sin, we are sometimes lazy, we are sometimes too critical, or to accepting of wrong. We know that we are flawed and we know deep inside of ourselves that we should do better and be better in many ways. One of our most fundamental needs as human beings is for transformation. This is so fundamental, that countless spiritualists and new-age teachers have turned this into a billion-dollar industry.
Christianity shows that true change comes first through repentance, and then trust in Jesus. It is not true that someone cannot be a decent person without Jesus. It is true that none of us can be what we are meant to be without Jesus. It is also true that none of us are good enough to earn entry into heaven, we need Jesus to make us righteous in his sight for this. We need to believe the gospel. If we have been transformed by the gospel, then Paul calls us to live a certain way.
“2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Paul’s words here cut like a sword in our own culture, don’t they? How often do we seek to do things from selfish ambition? Think about that. How often do we do things, that others might even see as good deeds, but we do them because we have selfish designs, selfish plans?
Even sometimes when we give gifts to others we do it for selfish reasons. We might want to get the glory of giving that gift. We might want to seek to outcompete what people are giving to us. We might simply do it so that some family members do not get upset about us not participating in their events, not because we really want to give. Or we might do it for some other reason. Such is the weight of sin in this world, that it can sometimes even corrupt the good things we do.
We do many things as human beings for selfish reasons. Selfishness motivates this society. Selfishness is a force that advertising companies and bosses at work seek to try and harness because it is such a basic human instinct and behaviour. It is a force that economists and governments use to try and incentivize our behaviour. Selfishness is the way of this world.
How refreshing then in a world of selfishness is it, when we encounter people who do things from truly selfless motives? How refreshing is it when people live like how Paul describes here, “3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” We spend so much time thinking about what we can get out of this life when one of the keys to the kingdom of God is thinking about what we can give.
Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive.” I think he meant two things with this. He meant that you will find more satisfaction in a life of giving than in just a life of receiving. Giving is its own reward, especially from a joyful and willing spirit. And he also meant giving will get you a better reward in heaven, as well.
And I am not talking about just giving more money to the church, that is not what this message is. We do encourage people to give offerings, but I am talking about that today.
I am talking about taking those moments in your life to think about how you can lift up your wife, and how you can lift up your husband. How can you show your kids they mean more to you than yourself? How can you show your friends, your extended family, your brothers and sisters in the faith, that you honour them, cherish them and want them to be lifted up? How can you help others be greater than you?
Christianity is not a religion about equality, that is an inversion, it is a religion about lifting up others. We often forget this, especially in our modern culture with its obsession with equality. But serving is the epitome of Christian living. This can be hard to do at times because our selfishness is strong. But when we consider others as more significant than ourselves, we will be a blessing and we will see blessings returned.
But what does all have to do with Christmas? Well, let’s see.
What it has to do with Christmas is really simple, it is exactly what our Lord did. Humbly taking on the form of a servant IS the Christmas message,
“5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
We are not saved by imitating our Lord Jesus Christ. But if you love the Lord and are saved by the Lord, and believe the Lord, do you not want to imitate him? What can be better for us?
Look what Jesus did, though he is God, he did not rely on his equality with God, but veiled his glory and became a servant.
Have you noticed how obsessed our modern world is with equality? In most forms, the cry for equality is just a cover for covetousness. People are always demanding more, to be heard more, to get more. For most people, the cry for equality is just their way of saying, “I want what that guy has.” This is covetousness, equality is just the catch-cry.
Jesus, however, is actually equal with God, because he is God the Son, and did he rely on his equality? No, instead of grasping for it, he took the form of a servant. The word servant here literally means bond-servant, or slave. The word is doulos, which you may know.
Jesus was not just a servant in the sense of achieving for us salvation, though he is that. He became a literal servant. Why do you think Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem? Yes, it was to fulfil prophecy, that the Messiah should be born there. But they were also there because the emperor commanded it be so. They were slaves of Rome. The Jews of this time did not rule themselves. They were controlled by Rome and were second- or third-class citizens at best. Really, they were servants who did not control their own destinies.
This is the world in which Jesus entered. The little babe that was born, the little child to which the wise men came and bowed the knee, was born a king, whose people were enslaved and needed redemption. He himself, though a king, was not treated like one.
And the greatest way he served us was by defeating the forces of sin, death and the devil on that cross, “7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” You know what a good servant does? They do what is best for those whom they are called to serve. And they do it with joy.
Jesus was willing to serve to such a point, that he was willing to give his life for us. We know in the garden, that he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39), because it was not easy. Serving is not easy. Do you think it was easy for God to become a man, to live in the flesh, to work hard for a living, and then be treated poorly, and eventually murdered, by his own people? None of this was easy, but he set his mind on the joy before him and achieved salvation for us all in the process.
We are saved by trusting in what Jesus did for us. Not by imitating it. But we are blessed by imitating it. We are truly and only truly blessed by living the way God wants us to live. And he does not ask anything of us, that he was not willing to do for himself.
The Christmas message is a message of servanthood. How God the Son, instead of asserting his equality, made himself a small child, that he might become a man to save us from our sins by dying on the cross and rising again to glory.
And because of this, every knee shall bow. Every knee,
“9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I said earlier in the message that I was going to address those who are not yet believers, those who are not yet saved. The message of Christmas is not just a message of servanthood and salvation and joy. It is also a warning, a warning that the king is here, and he IS going to reign. Paul is not just saying that every Christian will bow, he is saying that EVERY KNEE shall bow, even those who say today that they don’t believe in Christ.
Many unbelievers have understood that this has always been the message of Christmas. Herod understood this. Why do you think he tried to kill all of the children who were born? He didn’t want to bow before the true king.
You know who else understood this? Those who wrote some of our secular Christmas carols. Many of those songwriters wrote them because they could not bring themselves to sing the message of Christmas. Messages like this:
O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and e’er pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees O hear the angels voices.
O night divine O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
The message of Christmas is a message of supremacy, the supremacy of Jesus Christ, who IS Lord and who is one day going to return to judge the living and the dead. And many of the enemies of Christ have realized this, and therefore, they run from it. You can run, but you can’t hide from him for long. The king has been glorified. He came in humility the first time. He is coming in glory the next time. Repent and trust in him.
We all have only two options when it comes to the Lord Jesus: We either acknowledge him now and receive our reward as his servants, or we acknowledge him anyway when he makes every knee bow and every unbeliever is handed over for judgement.
My encouragement to you, if you have not already, is to bow before the king now. Trust in him and make him Lord of your life, before it is too late.
If you have already bowed, if you are already a believer, then let’s imitate our king and seek to be the servants he calls us to be. We should know our place, and if it was good enough for the king to serve, then let’s too serve wherever we can. Let’s pray.