July 26, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV)
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
What would Jesus do? A helpful place to begin answering that question is to reflect on what Jesus has already done. To that end, our text from Philippians 2 provides profound insight.
In this current devotional series, I want to explore what makes leadership distinctively Christian, and why that kind of leadership is “good news” for the world around us. We will look at some biblical texts from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and from what some call Isaiah’s “servant songs.” In yesterday’s devotion, we reflected on the importance of compassion and sacrifice to our identity as human leaders who follow Jesus.
A few decades ago, many Christians began wearing a bracelet with the letters “WWJD” imprinted on them. The letters stood for the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” It was meant to be a reminder of their discipleship and seeking to follow Jesus in every aspect of their lives. While the bracelets have fallen out of fashion, the underlying question they pose remain for those who take their discipleship seriously: What would Jesus do? A helpful place to begin answering that question is to reflect on what Jesus has already done. To that end, our text from Philippians 2 provides profound insight.
In many English translations, the formatting of the text indicates this portion of Paul’s letter is not prose but poetry. It is likely one of the first recorded Christian poems. Perhaps Paul was quoting a hymn known to the early church. Whatever the source, it is a stunning summary of Jesus’ work as the Messiah. And, as I suggested yesterday, the Apostle Paul concludes from Jesus’ work that it is not only a redemptive gift for us to receive, but an exemplary pattern for us to follow.
What can we learn from Jesus’ example of sacrificial love? What would it mean for us live sacrificially for those who follow us as leaders?
First, sacrifice presumes that you have something of value to sacrifice. Sacrifice presumes dignity. Sacrifice is not being a doormat. It is not an expression of low self-esteem. Quite the opposite. As our text today reminds us, Jesus knew exactly who he was and what he was giving up for our sake. Strangely, the call to sacrifice is a reminder of our dignity as human beings. While we are not “in very nature God” as Jesus is, we nevertheless possess great value as God’s image bearers. Similarly, leadership comes with things of great value – authority, power, resources, status, and privileges. Christian leadership sees these as things to be used for the good of others, including sacrificing them for others in ways that are deeply costly to ourselves.
Second, sacrifice assumes choice rather than coercion. Or, to say it slightly differently, it is an act of power, not weakness. One of the risks in talking about suffering and sacrifice as a Christian virtue is that such talk can be weaponized against the powerless by the powerful. But Jesus said about his own sacrificial death, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:18a, NRSV). Of course, choice and coercion can intermingle in complicated ways, as it did in Jesus’ crucifixion. Still, as the Apostle Paul suggests, we can choose to embrace suffering for the glory of God and the good of others, even when we seemingly have no “choice.” Nevertheless, it is essential to that understanding that such a choice is one we make for ourselves, not one we impose on others. Abuse of the weak and the powerless is diametrically opposed to the biblical understanding of self-sacrifice.
Finally, sacrifice is costly. Jesus’ sacrifice cost him not only his life, but his reputation and dignity as a human being. Being crucified not only was a horrifically painful way to die, it was a death of ultimate shame and degradation. Jesus sets a high bar for us as his followers. Are we willing to offer up not only our lives, but our reputation and dignity for the sake of others? Sometimes, that can include being associated with those whom others find offensive. Christian leadership is costly, but that is the way it is supposed to be. In the words of King David, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God … offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24b, NIV).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when Jesus call us, he calls us to come and die. Not all of us will be called to martyrdom. But all of us who seek to follow Jesus will suffer for him. As yesterday’s text reminds us, “For [God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well” (Philippians 1:29, NRSV). In our suffering, it’s worth remembering that our sacrifice is an expression of our dignity and of our choice. As Christian leaders, it’s also worth remembering that self-sacrifice is not about us, but about the healing of the world around us.
Think about a time when you sacrificed for others. Was it an act of dignity and power on your part? Why or why not? In what ways was it costly for you, and how did it contribute to the well-being of the world around you?
Take some time this week and examine your leadership practices. Where are you asking others to sacrifice? How are you sharing in that sacrifice with them? Talk with someone close to you to get feedback on how you are balancing your expectations of others and of yourself.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We pray that the same mind that was in you may be in us. May we not only look to our interests, but may we also look out for the interests of others. Help us to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility to regard others as better than ourselves.
We ask in your name, Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling Archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Reflections: Why Make Such a Big Deal of Humility, Gentleness, Patience, and Forbearance?