A Servant’s Heart
(Philippians 2: 1-18)

At one time or another in our lives we’ve probably been in a position where the question of loyalty became an issue. You’ve asked yourself questions like, Is this person loyal to me or to the organization, or Where do their loyalties lie? Can you put your trust in this person to do the right thing? Once, I was the president of a large labor union, having beaten the founding president in an election because the members wanted to go in a different direction. I was pretty sure I couldn’t trust the secretary he had hired so I was pretty guarded in my dealings with her. My suspicions were confirmed when I found out that several of the board members were holding secret meetings with the deposed president plotting my demise. I’ve taken over organizations inheriting a staff that was used to doing their jobs a certain way and were very resistant to change or innovations. A great lesson in passive-aggressive behavior. There’s nothing like hiring your own people as, in the interview process, you let them know right up front what your mission is and what role they will play in accomplishing the objectives. I was once one of those loyal employees who was extremely grateful to have been hired and wanted to do the best job possible. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by insecure people who delighted in running to the boss to tell him what I had just done. Death by a thousand cuts.

Then there are those rare occasions when you take a job and inherit an employee who is on board with the mission of the organization, doesn’t feel threatened by change and wants to do all they can to see you succeed for the sake of the organization. Jana Finlay was one of those rare persons. We had a great working relationship because we both knew who we were really working for. She wasn’t one of those employees who couldn’t wait to warn you about this person or that person. If there was something I wanted to do she would suggest that I ask this person or that person to help out. If I came up with an idea that might require extra work she didn’t complain because she knew it was in the best interest of the church. She was the kind of employee who would tell you if you were about to step on a rake. She was especially helpful to me as this was my first assignment and she had already worked for two pastors and knew all of the Methodist things I did not know about the business of church. She did this job so well because she had a servant’s heart and her job was more than just a job, it was a service. When she took this job over six years ago she came from a denomination that is not as gospel focused as the Methodist Church. I think working for the two previous pastors, Reverends Ireland and Price, infected her with a case of Methodism for which there is no known cure. Jana’s position here transformed over the years from one that merely helped her pay the bills into one that I think she felt was a ministry. She got to know the people and saw them during times of great joy and times of unbearable grief and sadness. She saw and experienced the healing power of Jesus Christ and what it meant to have a close and personal relationship with God. I am confident of this because when I visited her in the hospital on her last day she was not afraid. She was experiencing pain but she was at peace. When I asked what I could do all she asked for was our prayers. During her time here I know that she came to acknowledge and accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and her Savior and that she is experiencing the joy of living in the kingdom of heaven.

Jana, I think, is the kind of person that the Apostle Paul is talking about in our Scripture reading for today. Paul says, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus. Paul is reminding the church in Philippi that Jesus came to live among them and serve, not to be served. He came to show them, and us, how to put others before self, to be a servant. We are told that a servant is one who seeks to meet the real needs of others or of the person they are serving. Jesus was trying to get us to understand that our lives should be a ministry to others rather than a service of self. He was trying to show us what it meant to willingly give of oneself to minister for and to others and to do whatever it takes to accomplish what is best for others. Jesus kept trying to impress upon his followers that greatness in God’s kingdom is never to be found in position or power or in the praise and opinions of men, but in servant-like service to others. One of the greatest hindrances to service or servant living is the desire for some form of exaltation whether in position, praise, prestige, or power.

Jana’s ministry was one of working together with the pastors and those in church leadership positions. This illustrates the point that when we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity. Having that servant’s heart causes us to consider the interests of others as more important that our own and it links us with Christ, who was a true example of humility. When, as a congregation, we start showing genuine interest in others we take that positive step forward creating and maintaining a unity of purpose among believers.

Paul goes on to say, God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes. Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may be blameless and pure, innocent children of God surrounded by people who are crooked and corrupt. Among these people you shine like stars in the world because you hold on to the word of life. Jesus Christ was humble, willing to give up his rights in order to obey God and serve people. Like Christ, we should have a servant’s attitude, serving out of love for God and for others, not out of guilt or fear.

So, what’s the first step? Paul tells us, it’s attitude. You can choose your attitude. You can approach life looking to be served, or you can look for opportunities to serve others. If we say we follow Christ, we must also say we want to live as he lived. We should develop his attitude of humility as we serve, even when we are not likely to get recognition for our efforts. In his full humanity, Jesus showed us everything about God’s character that can be conveyed in human terms. To be like Christ, we must train ourselves to think like Christ. It is God that gives us the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Often it is in doing God’s will that we gain the desire to do it. Do what he wants and trust him to change your desires. The secret to a changed life is to submit to God’s control and let him work.

A transformed life is an effective witness to the power of God’s word. I firmly believe that the time Jana spent here at Community United Methodist Church transformed her life and through her servant’s heart she became an effective witness to the power of God’s word. Because of this I have every confidence that Jana has heard the master say, Well Done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.

Please pray with me.

Most gracious and loving God, you sent your son to live among us and to show us by his example how to be humble and to think of others above self. Humble us Lord and help us to change our attitude to one where we put the needs of others first and to do those things that change the lives of others. Help us to do it in a way where we don’t seek or crave the praises of men. Cause us to act in ways that bring the praise, honor and glory to you. Give us that servant’s heart that transforms our life causing us to be effective witnesses to the power of your word. As we submit ourselves to your control and direction work within us training us to think like your son so that we will experience the overwhelming desire to do your will at every opportunity. Send me Lord and I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart. In the name of your precious and most humble son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.