Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:3-11
Jesus was a King. He didn’t behave the way we think a King of his caliber would have behaved, demand what we imagine a king at his level would demand, or do what we envision a king like this King would do. Unlike other kings who reigned as kings, he’s still King, today. It’s what makes him King of all kings.
There was nothing impressive about him. His attire, sandals, hair, appearance, looks, nothing caught your eye. You’d never presume you were in the presence of royalty. He didn’t talk like a king, ride a king’s steed or in a royal chariot. He was raised by a working family. His adopted dad was a worker of wood, a carpenter’s trade. His mother was a young housewife. His peers were ordinary, common people. Some were tax informants, a despised lot by Jewish people under Rome’s dominion. Rather than remaining privileged, he willingly came from a palace and grew up in this mission field of a world.
He surrendered a greater place with greater rights and lived in a trash heap in comparison. At his former home his friends would fly in to see him (without an airplane, mind you!), but here his friends usually limped in, some were even carried in to reach him. In his former Kingdom he reigned as co-creator, but he chose to become a slave to people of lesser power and eventually lost his life at their hands.
King Jesus was over all other kings because this King was God. And God, it seems became a man to rescue us from ourselves. He could have demanded to be treated for who he was, but he didn’t. He didn’t require the accolades of a King’s kid. Consequently, by the end of his short thirty-three years on earth, he was treated as anything but a Sovereign. They indicted him as a criminal and used a criminal’s charge to execute him with the cruelest punishment that could be exacted upon jailbird scum of his day, the Roman cross.
The King was charged with treason, betraying a lesser kingdom which was actually subject to his. This charge landed him upon the cross, a lacerated and bloody mess of a man. The sentence was served and the King died.
Jesus de-kinged himself and took the rap of a death sentence that hung over the prison doors of his offenders. His life was all about others. He was all about us—you and me. We were the reason the King of all kings stepped off his throne for a season and met us at our ugliest point in life.
On the surface it appears to be the end of a run of events that played out in failure, when actually this was the day when prisoners walked free, sin forgiven, people healed, the unlovely loved. This was the day he fulfilled his mission. The King stooped down to reach the lowest of the low, wrapped his arms around the world, and gave us a hug saying, “I just love you so much!”
Even so, it was part of a master plan. To the average person it may have appeared to be less than well thought out, but it was brilliant, perfect wisdom. King Jesus became a slave in order to set slaves free. He yielded to imprisonment and while in prison he unlocked the doors for fellow inmates. The King bowed low to lift us up.
Love reigned that day. The kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of our God. It was an unforgettable day, the day when the King was crowned KING, forever!
And now, hear this! Everyone who surrenders to this King’s rule is asked to do the exact same thing, the exact same way, to the same kind of people. We’re to posture ourselves like our King, and we do it for the same reasons he did. We do it for others.
I give up my rights to live for myself. Once this King becomes my King, my life becomes about others, too. And this is what causes so many to stumble. Too often we’re caught up with what God came to do for us. But you see, what he did for us was done for us so he could complete something IN us. We were not only given his example, we were given his nature to help us do what we could or would never do if left to ourselves. Bottom line—the life Jesus gives is about others. I’m set free, saved, loved, pardoned for the sake of others, so they can experience the same freedom of life.
I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve tried to impress people with my accomplishments, knowledge, experience, or my whatever. Silly me! God says, “Give it a rest. It’s not necessary. I changed the world by laying down my reputation and pedigree. Humility saved the world!”
It still does. He was the King, and yet he didn’t cling to his title or rights. He chose to forfeit privileges and position then says to us, “Have the same attitude and you’ll change your world, too.”
Mother Teresa had this attitude. She became famous for her ministry to the needy people in Calcutta, India. But she didn’t set out to become famous. She just wanted to be faithful. Later in life, Mother Teresa became famous for being faithful.
Last week I spoke to a pastor who leads a great church of a few hundred people in a small town of eight-thousand. He told me that a friend of his tried to talk him into relocating to a large city to do the same thing. “With your skills if you go to a large city,” his friend urged, “You would have a church of thousands!” There’s only one problem with his friend’s great idea. Long ago this pastor submitted to the King, and the King instructed him to give his life for others in that little town.
The story repeats itself from the King down to each of his servants. It was God’s plan to send him to the little town of Bethlehem rather than the bulging metropolis of Babylon. Sometimes, obedience appears so outrageously small, doesn’t it?
In between ministry assignments, I found myself looking for employment, a normal job, just so you know. I have a Masters degree in theology, even some doctoral level work from a major university. Theology degrees, I discovered, don’t market very well in the secular job market.
The only interview I landed was a cold calling, door-to-door sales position with a company specializing in family portraits. I remember going out with one of their salesmen to get a feel for the job. When I arrived home I fell across the bed and declared out loud, “I WILL NOT do this job! House-to-house, cold calling is terrible!”
My wife told me later, when she heard me she winced and thought, “Oh, don’t say that!” You probably aren’t surprised that I tell you this was the only company that would hire me. I found myself knocking on doors trying to convince people to buy a family portrait so I could keep food on the table and a roof over our head.
I missed speaking in front of people, making them laugh at my jokes, gripping people with my words. More honest, maybe I missed being the center of attention, all for the sake of the gospel, of course. Now, I was knocking on doors, the perfect job for those who like rejection, which was the last thing I needed, I thought. Certainly, it was the last thing I wanted. If I heard “No, thank you” once, I heard it a thousand times! Not fun. It was far below the platform I was used to.
One sunny day I knocked on the door of a beautiful lakeside home and an elderly lady answered. Eyes swollen and red, it was obvious she’d been weeping. Nevertheless, as if on autopilot I bounded into my memorized “spill” about my product when she stopped me. “Sir,” her voice broken, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but my husband just died.”
Bam! The owner of the company didn’t prepare me for this. I wasn’t given a pitch for this setting.
I did what came most natural for me. I forgot the product and became who I was at heart, a representative of One higher, my King and his Kingdom. I asked, “Would you like me to pray for you?” The door swung open and she invited me in. I prayed. She cried. So I prayed some more. She continued weeping. She didn’t need a portrait, she needed the King.
An hour later, walking away from her front door, headed toward my car, I could hardly see. I wept and thought, “So this is why you made me do this! You have people like her in mind.”
I drove away barely able to see the road. “The most depressing jobs,” I thought, “Sometimes opens the most important doors.” The remainder of my days on that job took on a new meaning. I still spoke to crowds, just one at a time.
“Bill,” the King spoke to my heart, “I’m remembered most for stopping at a well in Samaria to speak to a woman no one else would talk to, for giving an audience to a blind man my disciples tried to shove away, for visiting the funeral of a friend who had been buried for four days, for letting children sit on my lap, for healing the ear of a Roman soldier that my friend, Peter, cut off.”
“I understand,” I said.
But really, I didn’t. Not fully. I’m beginning to understand now, at least better than I did.
When the King wants to visit a lonely lady who has lost her closest companion in the world, usually important preachers with speaking engagements don’t have time or the right attitude to do it. Sometimes he has to take them off their platform to send them. Often, he will take away the platform altogether and give them no other option. He loves people that much.
The most important crowd you’ll ever speak to is a crowd of one. When you stoop low enough to reach the lowest you are at the highest place of honor. At these moments you have finally embraced the attitude of the King.
My Father, forgive me for seeking the honor of men, wanting to be esteemed in their eyes by their wisdom, rather than having your mind and heart. Grant me, I pray, the desire to have the heart of a child and the attitude of a servant, just like that of my Lord, Jesus. Deliver me from the need to impress people and free me to serve you by loving the one that you would send me to love. I pray this in the name of my King, Jesus Christ. Amen.